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Siberia: At the Edge of the World - Manchester Museum

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Im a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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Follow the bear
A brown bear watches as you enter the Siberia exhibition at Manchester Museum, whether in welcome or warning is hard to tell.

Siberia Manchester Museum
Siberian Brown Bear, photo by Paul Cliff

It's only the first taxidermy exhibit you encounter, others include Ross's Gull, a rare bird, discovered in 1823, a reindeer and a Manchurian Crane, which is bigger than many of the children who visit the museum with their families. It takes its place alongside displays of freshwater fish, butterflies and, the less appealing, bloodsucking insects.
Manchester Museum Siberia Ross's Gull
Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), photo by Paul Cliff

Siberia: At the Edge of the World, is a stimulating opportunity to escape the city shops and traffic, and learn about a culture where the ability to live alongside nature is essential to survival. One of the best illustrations of this are the reindeer-fur boots, which can keep feet warm in the harsh winters (Siberia can be as cold as -50 C).

In addition to hunting for survival, Siberian people also use natural resources for their religions and culture. A prime example is walrus bones which, after meat has been removed, have been utilised in traditional carvings and engravings. Another glass case contains an amulet, which has been used, in Northern Kazakhstan, to protect houses from evil.

Modern Siberia accommodates a diverse population and most of its inhabitants live in cities, however, we are reminded that the Siberian Arctic people are some of the last truly nomadic hunter-gatherers remaining. Many are settled in villages where UNESCO provides 'nomadic schools' for herders' children.
Manchester Museum Siberia
A future owner of the tundra (Nenets), photo by Lyudmila Lipatova

In addition to taxidermy and artefacts, there are some well-selected photographs on display, including one of Tundra people reading Newsweek.

Siberia is a territory rich in minerals and, along with fishing and fur, they have been a crucial part of its economy. Perhaps the most ostentatious exhibit is a Malachite clock, made of ornamental stone, which is both bright green and boasts a bronze sculpture of Peter the Great. It was a gift from Tsar Nicholas 1 to the 6th Duke of Devonshire and is on loan from Chatsworth House.

No account of Siberia would be complete without a solemn reminder of the way is was used as a mass prison both under the Tsars and Soviet leaders, most notably, Stalin. Perhaps the most moving exhibit is Eufrosinia Antonovna Kersnovskaya's book, Rock Painting, which depicts 20 years of her life and exile in labour camps.

Dr Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Arthropods at Manchester Museum and Dr David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections at the museum, wanted the exhibition to look beyond stereotypical views of Siberia. In this context, it's interesting to learn that the territory's summer temperatures can be as hot as 40 C.
Manchester Museum Siberia
City of Nizhnevartovsk, northern West Siberia, photo by Ivan Shapovalov

A more serious issue to do with temperature is that of climate change. The carbon which Siberia keeps under a 'lid' of permafrost could be released by climate change and the thawing that is a consequence of it.

As the Evenki proverb, quoted, says: "Don't catch all the fish in the lake, leave some for your children."

There will be a Big Saturday: Siberia day on 24th January, with traditional music, arts and a guided tour for families. On the same day, Dr Alexander D. King, from the University of Aberdeen, will give a talk on shamanic practices in Siberia today.

The origins of The Manchester Museum lie in the collection of the Manchester manufacturer and collector John Leigh Philips (1761-1814). After his death, a small group of wealthy men banded together to buy his 'cabinet', and in 1821 they set up the Manchester Natural History Society. The museum expanded in 1977 into the former Dental School. It is a university museum and its collections, including dinosaurs, mummies and live animals, are designated by the government as being of national and international importance.

Refreshment can be found at Caf Muse, with breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus.
Manchester Museum
Manchester Museum Exterior, photo by Alan Seabright

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Why? Escape into another world
Phone: 0161 275 2648
Where: Manchester Museum, Oxford Road
Cost: Free
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