I recently had the strange task of going through my late Grandfather’s things. I found items that invoked strong and wonderful memories from my early childhood, but also a great sadness knowing that I would not see this wonderful man again.
I also found things that I was not meant to find. Things never meant for me to see: letters, photos and snippets of information that hinted at a man I would never and could never know. My Grandfather’s private things. I love getting to know this whole other side of a man who was such a strong influence on my life, who was my rock.
I now believe very strongly that in our Digital Age we need to think more about our legacy and what we leave behind for people to find. How will future generations get to know us? How will they remember us? Handwritten letters, actual photos – we need physical things for our history. We should not digitise our lives.
How then can this Digital Age be an Age of Inspiration?
Amongst Gramp’s things was a set of model soldiers – the mounted band of the 9th Lancers (his regiment) – I happily passed these onto my son. He loves them – we sat for hours carefully unwrapping them and inspecting each one. At the bottom of the box was an odd item, no box, just bubble wrap. We carefully unwrapped this one expecting a soldier, but what we found was a small box with a lizard on top. It looked like it was made of bronze, and it looked really very old.
No one could fathom it out – so we turned to the internet – 1st stop Facebook – of course! Digital photos uploaded in a second and a status update – easy. No joy there but a comment by a friend gave me a great idea.
I went to the British Museum website, navigated to the contact us page and guessed at the Greek and Roman department. I sent an email with some photos. Easy peasy.
What happened next was amazing, uplifting and inspiring. Within hours the museum had emailed me back, letting me know that Dr Alexandra Villing would get back to me. Dr Villing, emailed me back – this funny box was ancient – really properly ANCIENT.
“It is a rather well-preserved example of a votive box, also known as relic-box or animal coffin, which originally may have contained parts of a mummified lizard (since a lizard is represented on it). Small bronze boxes like this were common offerings in Egyptian temples especially during the latter part of the Egyptian Late Period (7th – 4th centuries BC). For more information on their use and meaning, see e.g. a recent article written by my colleague Aurélia Masson …”
Over supper last night, I had a blast winding up my husband and children and making them guess what the funny box was – oh knowledge is power! Eventually I spilled the beans and they all (8yo, 10yo and 40something old!) were blown away. Sitting on our table was our very own piece of history – our treasure.
My son skipped off to school this morning with a 2500yo relic in his bag, overjoyed with the idea he was going to show all his friends this lizard coffin. My son’s love of history has increased immeasurably. He has been inspired.
When Gramps grew up there was no internet, no digital world, nothing. He saw the world go from paper mail to email and beyond – from trench warfare to moon landings, and again beyond. He always maintained his connection to the physical world writing letters, collecting things, etc.
I got to have supper with an ancient Egyptian artefact and watch three pairs of eyes widen in wonder. This Digital Age is undoubtedly an Age of Inspiration – we are a lucky bunch for living in this time.
BUT, the physical thing – the box – this was the thing that brought the joy and the love. Being able to reach that far back in history is amazing. This Digital Age lets us access information, but digital information should not surpass the physical. You cannot beat holding history in your hands.
(The next question is how did Gramps come to have this lizard coffin!?)