Installing Skeletons: Our Buried Bones

Curator Ruth Martin answers the age old question: what does it take to change the temporary exhibition gallery from one show to another?

On Tuesday 29 August we started to say goodbye to For All Seasons: our family friendly, hands-on exploration of the seasons.

A gallery space with a large sandcastle for playing in and a 'face in hole' board. the space is very bright and airy, with lots of colour.
The previous exhibition For All Seasons in the temporary exhibition space at Leeds City Museum.

The first major change that we needed to make for Skeletons: Our Buried Bones was the colour. Instead of the light, bright and airy feel in For All Seasons, we needed to create something much more atmospheric and fitting for the new exhibition. So in came a lot of very dark grey paint…

a large open space with nothing in it except painting tools - the walls of the space are painted very dark grey.
Repainting the walls of the temporary exhibition space dark grey 

As the exhibition is a touring partnership with Wellcome Collection and the Museum of London, and it has come to Leeds from Bristol, the kit of parts that you’ll see in the exhibition also had to make their way up the motorway to Leeds.

the temporary exhibition space is now painted dark grey but contains a lot of light. Cases just arrived in the space and are still in their packaging. They are placed in rows in their final position.
Installing the cases

Once all the cases were in place, we could make a start on installing the skeletons. These are all laid out anatomically, on black gravel. This painstaking installation work was done by Jelena Bekvalac and Rebecca Redfern, Osteologists from the Museum of London.

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We also undertook some conservation on some of the bones. Here you can see where Helen Butler from Museum of London has repaired a pelvis. Once the adhesive, which is completely reversible, was dry, the tape was removed.

Two hands with blue gloves holding skeleton's bones and putting them in cases full of little grey rocks
Pelvis repaired with reversible adhesive 


Alongside each skeleton is an image of where they were found, taken by Thomas Adank. Not only are these gorgeous images, they also make the point that our ancestors are all around us: buried under our feet and still almost a part of our day to day lives. This image is one of my favourites from the exhibition, and shows the section of A1 where two Iron Age skeletons, a man and woman buried in a grave together, were found.

Two iron age skeletons (found buried in a grave together) with an image of the section of the A1 where they were found.

As well as the main display of skeletons, we’ve created a Leeds Lab in the exhibition where you can get on your white coat and have a go at being an Osteoarchaeologist. Creating these activities gave us a few problems to solve – how to attach fake bones to a table is not something I’ve ever had to think about before. This part of the gallery has lots of hands on activities to try, and it really complements the scientific evidence on display in the main exhibition.

When the work was all complete, and after the gallery was given a final clean, we were ready for press previews. We opened the gallery up to TV, radio and photographers who jumped at the chance to come and interview Jelena and Rebecca from Museum of London, as well as to get up close to the finished display.

TV, radio broadcasters and photographers at the press preview for Skeletons: Our Buried Bones

And just a few hours after this photograph was taken, we opened our preview for invited guests – the next day we were open to the public.


By Ruth Martin, Exhibitions Curator.

Skeletons: Our Buried Bones is open now, until Sunday 7 January 2018. Check out the Skeletons webpage here.

Skeletons: Our Buried Bones is a collaboration between Wellcome Collection and the Museum of London, touring to Glasgow, Bristol and Leeds over 2016-2018.

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