dioramas in mud

Perhaps it all started with the Borrowers in the miniature village of Little Fordham, but I have a real love of dioramas and saw some fantastic examples in Peru earlier in the year.

Dioramas are 3-dimensional life size or miniature models often used for museum display. They can help visitors understand events, places and landscape in a unique way. They are particularly useful in enabling reconstruction of buildings, giving a sense of scale, form and materials which is virtually impossible from one-dimensional plans drawn on paper.

The miniature dioramas used in the site museum at Tucume are particularly fantastic from an earth-building perspective.  Tucume was a major pre-hispanic site comprising earth-built pyramids constructed by the Lambayeque people and afterwards re-used under Chimus and Incas rules (around 10th to 16th centuries).

The dioramas at Tucume are ‘action scenes’ giving a sense of both ‘what the past looked like’ and also ‘what people in the past were doing’, showing the process of mudbrick making and construction of monuments.

In terms of representation of people, the past and the building materials and culture I’m not sure what messages this dioramas present, but I think they might have a bit of a mixed message, (and perhaps a gender imbalance).

Either way they are brilliant pieces of interpretation helping to understand the use of earth as a building material.


Other dioramas are included in hands-on activities at the Alexander Keiller Museum (Avebury) which has a brilliant Silbury Hill model in which the separate parts of the construction (the turf, through to the chamber) can be removed to help understand how the earthwork monument was constructed.

Heritage interpretation is now often a multi-pronged technological undertaking concerned with reconstruction via moving images on screen – these are also brilliant methods of helping understand how buildings and landscapes worked in the past. But there is an immediacy and accessibility of the diorama, particularly for understanding the human scale of archaeological and historical structures.

About Louise Cooke

Louise Cooke - landscapes, archaeology, earth buildings and other interesting things
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