Previously I have blogged about archaeological dimensions and themes in zoos here, here and here, oh and also here. Twice on my mini-break in Anglesey I have visited the Anglesey Sea Zoo situated beside the Menai Strait with views over to Caernarfon and I feel compelled to mention a few material culture dimensions to this small but packed zoo dedicated to marine life from British waters.
I was intrigued to see how nautical material culture was widely deployed within this zoo in three ways.
First, the tanks employed nautical material cultures to create settings for the various undersea life on display, from old toilets to boats, lobster pots to (presumably replica) archaeological artefacts. In this way, human interventions within Britain’s undersea habitats are foregrounded, helping to communicate the conservation themes of many of the displays.
Second, in places, a panoply of nautical artefacts, from diving suits and fishing nets to lifesavers and ship’s wheels, deck the route of visitors. This reminded me of the commemorative use of similar materials within church commemoration of the centenary of the First World War as discussed here. Surely a clear example of how the same nautical artefacts can accrue very different associations depending on the context of their display. In the zoo, I guess the attempt is to create an ‘immersed’ experience (pun intended) for the visitor.
Third, I was fascinated to see archaeology on display: select artefacts retrieved by diving on a series of shipwrecks around the North Wales coast. Seemingly all post-medieval artefacts, I was surprised to find this dimension of human interaction with undersea environments so strikingly central to the zoo. Here are some photos:
In summary, it seems that undersea animals attract a particular connection between lost and old material culture in the public imagination, employed to create links to marine life and their conservation, as well as to instigate an aura of immersion for the visitor in nautical realms. Finally, artefacts create a sense of the long-term connection of people with the sea, although I imagine there is plenty of potential for expanding and enhancing connections between the human past and present in visitor attractions such as this one.