'My job is to listen to objects': Dr Janina Ramirez on Lost Relic Hunters
Lost Relic Hunters follows the work of one of the world’s most prolific collectors of antiquities, Hamilton White, and his long-time friend and business partner, Carl Cookson.
In this series - a follow up to Lost Relics of the Knights Templar - the intrepid duo are joined by leading cultural and art historian Dr Janina Ramirez who provides her expert opinion on Hamilton’s items, illuminating fascinating tales and characters from history.
Together they will trace the origin of truly astonishing relics and historical pieces from Hamilton's collection, which could change our understanding of some of the most iconic periods of British and European history.
Sky HISTORY caught up with Janina to talk about the new series and find out what it was like working with Sky HISTORY's very own Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Sky HISTORY: Are you looking forward to making your Sky HISTORY debut?
Dr Janina Ramirez: I'm curious because for me this series seems to have evolved over a long period of time through difficult circumstances because of the pandemic and it just feels really exciting to see the finished product.
Lost Relic Hunters is a follow up to Lost Relics of the Knights Templar. How is this season different?
While the first series showed you these unimaginable Templar treasures, it was just one tiny section of Hamilton's collection which is like nothing I've ever seen. In world class museums you can see good examples of artefacts from every period. Hamilton has a miniature version of that in his back garden. It is absolutely staggering.
What was it first like when you first saw Hamilton's collection?
I just wanted to get in there and start rummaging around. It was such an experience for me because everybody has something that really lights up their eyes and makes their heart race, and for me it just happens to be old objects.
Once I started speaking to Hamilton and once I got a handle on his passion and his knowledge, I realized he feels like me. He doesn't do it to be the guy that's got the amazing collection. He does it because he simply loves it. He loves objects in a way I do. This is a world class collection, and he's sharing it with us.
What are you looking for when you examine historical artefacts?
Each of these objects tell a story and all I've done in my career is listen to objects talk because they were witnesses to the past. I love objects that tell us about real life day to day life. What I'm drawn to is a combination of things: medium, material, the way it feels in the hand but also its symbolism. If there is something I can interpret, something I can read, something I can contextualise, it gives me an in.
So, for example with the Celtic gold [from episode 1] when Hamilton presented that to me I couldn't get over how much I wanted to read and interpret it. Even the tiny slivers of gold that show women with spears and swords and halos, all these symbols need to be interpreted.
Which episode stood out for you and why?
I loved the pilgrimage episode (Episode 4, Pilgrim Warriors). Nobody looks at Pilgrimage badges. I do because they carry such heavy symbolism but to have an hour of television, dedicated to pilgrim batches: This is brilliant!
The pilgrims walking the Santiago de Compostela [a medievel pilgrimage route across Northern Spain] aren't just wandering down to the local church and saying a few prayers. This is hard core tourism, that's high risk which puts these badges into context as a medal of survival.
When we look in museums it's are usually the only stuff that the elite, that the kings and queens would have owned but Pilgrim badges aren't. They're the sort of thing, you or I would take home from a trip to a special place. They connect us with real people so I enjoyed that.
Why are object like this so valuable for your research?
As an art historian, my job is to listen to objects and ask them to tell me their story. My way of looking at the past is holistic rather than a specialist who just only focuses on weaponry or only focuses on the trade and industry. I will bring in documentary evidence and literature as well, theology, philosophy, ideological changes that are happening at that time.
Was it fun getting to know Carl and Hamilton?
They're brilliant. Making TV is not easy these things are not instinctive or intuitive. And what I felt by series two is they've eased in and relaxed and understood the technicalities of making documentaries. And we had fun. I like them, and I like being with them and having this adventure with them. So, the only regret is that I couldn't be in it more because I would love to travel with them and to have gone to those locations with them