Before we moved south I walked the Wall and explored various other sites – click on the category of “Hadrian’s Wall Walk” on the right of the screen to find them all. In January 2022 we were on one of our regular trups north, and visited the Great North Museum in Newcastle again. It is a funny place, such a mix of stuff – local, anthropological and the Wall gallery. What I really wanted to see was the art exhibition involving projection onto seven of the altars. It was a stunning light show – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=558FKNwxUGQ. We watched it three times – here are some still photos. Stunning.
This is the text of a Newcastle University press release, published on 27 October 2021
Seven Roman altars at Newcastle University’s Great North Museum: Hancock have been transformed in vivid hues thanks to an innovative creative project called Roman Britain in Colour.
The display is a collaboration between the Museum and Hadrian’s Wall Community Archaeology Project (WallCAP), working alongside creative studio NOVAK.
The seven altars feature animated videos projected directly onto the stone surface, giving visitors a sense of how colourful they were when made around 1900 years ago.
The animations also offer artistic interpretations of the altars and the gods associated with them. For instance, the altar to Neptune, Roman god of freshwaters and rivers, was found in the River Tyne. It depicts a blue underwater scene filled with fish.
The altar to Oceanus, god of the sea, is animated with seaweed, starfish and a crab, whereas the altar to Fortuna drips with bright crimson, perhaps suggesting a ritual using wine or the blood of a sacrificed animal.
Other altars with new animations are dedicated to Jupiter, supreme deity of the Roman pantheon, Minerva, goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, and Antenociticus, a native British god only found at Condercum Roman Fort – present-day Benwell in the west end of Newcastle.
Dr Rob Collins, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and WallCAP Project Manager, Newcastle University, said: “Roman altars are a great source for understanding the culture of the Roman Empire, but they can seem boring and uninteresting for people that do not know how to ‘read’ them. Working with NOVAK and the Great North Museum: Hancock, the altars come alive and invite you to look more closely at the artistry and information that they hold.”
Andrew Parkin, Keeper of Archaeology at the Great North Museum: Hancock, said: “We’re used to the look of sandstone altars and reliefs in museums but we forget that they were originally painted in bright colours. The paint has been lost over the centuries but researchers have found trace amounts of pigment using ultraviolet light and x-rays. These new projected animations really make the altars stand out and add greatly to the Hadrian’s Wall gallery in the museum. The team at NOVAK have done a fantastic job in creating the artwork and mapping the projections precisely onto the stones.”
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, WallCAP aims to improve the heritage of Hadrian’s Wall, by understanding the risks to the monument, and working with local communities to identify, secure and protect the heritage and cultural significance of Hadrian’s Wall.
So while we are used to seeing altars looking like this, this exhibition has been an eye-opener.