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Mhairi Maxwell, Jennifer Gray

Design-Archaeology: Bringing a Pictish inspired drinking horn fitting to life

Mhairi Maxwell and Jennifer Gray

Affiliation: Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art

Conference Activity: Presentation Thurs 10th July

Keywords: Authenticity, Recreation, Design-Archaeology

Project Summary:

The Glenmorangie Early Medieval Research Project recreated objects from the period c.300-900AD in collaboration with artists, designers and makers. Contemporary skills and traditional craft were used, informed directly from the archaeological evidence. This process of recreation has allowed us to experience these ancient objects as new, giving us insights into how they were made, experienced and used. This paper will present the collaborative processes involved in the latest recreation of a silver terminal fitting for a large drinking horn with Researchers and Curators Mhairi Maxwell and Martin Goldberg, and Designer and Maker Jennifer Gray. Digital design and modelling processes were blended with traditional hand making techniques to recreate the silver zoomorphic fitting. The final piece was displayed as a ‘work in progress’ (illustrating its conception from 3D modelling and printing through to the final silver cast object) in the National Museum of Scotland’s Creative Spirit exhibition.

Our design-archaeology approach towards material culture allows for a new way to re-evaluate Early Medieval insular art. Jennifer Gray’s work connects the innovative and traditional methods of recreation used by the Glenmorangie Research Project; there has always been a tension between authentic craft techniques available to the Early Medieval people and new technologies available to us today. In this paper we will negotiate questions of authenticity, transparency and creativity that were raised by our particular collaborative approach to recreation.

The process of designing and making has added to our understanding of these types of fittings; highlighting the decisions made by the maker along the way, their aesthetic qualities and probable functional features of Pictish drinking horn fittings. This piece would not be possible without Jennifer’s experience of both traditional and current digital methods. This project demonstrated that new technological approaches can be blended naturally into a piece of work as a means of enhancing what’s gone before, to bring the past alive.

Objects included in the Exhibition: The finished recreation of a Pictish Inspired Drinking Horn, prototypes and maquettes used in the design and making process.


Adamson, Glen, 2013, ‘The invention of Craft’, London, Bloomsbury

Benjamin, W. ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical production’ 1936 (reprinted 2008) Translator – J. A. Underwood, Penguin: Great Ideas: London.

Latour, B and Lowe, A. 2011 ‘The migration of the aura, or how to explore the original through its facsimiles’ In Thomas Bartscherer (editor) Switching Codes, Version 3. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. pp.1-13

One question that arises from your project: Authenticity – What do we learn from making a digitally enhanced object which sits convincingly in an exhibition alongside objects using materials and techniques available in the early medieval period?

Full paper

Maxwell, M. & Gray, J. (2014). Design Archaeology: bringing a pictish drinking horn to life. In K. Bunnell & J. Marshall (Eds.), All Makers Now: Craft Values in 21st Century Production, International Conference Proceedings, Autonomatic Research Group, Falmouth University, 10/11 July 2014 (pp. 97 – 102). Falmouth University, ISBN 978-0-9544187-9-3