Things you didn’t know about the British Museum

I found today this fun post on the British Museum blog that contains interesting facts most people don’t know about the BM.  Did you know that the most searched-for thing on their website is ‘Egypt’? Or that the 1972 exhibition of Tutankhamun’s treasure was the most popular. Ever?  Those didn’t surprise me at all and I knew of some other facts mentioned in the listicle; however, there were some cool things I wasn’t aware of…

Take a look here: 29 Things you (probably) didn’t know about the British Museum.

Millennial Court at the British Museum during my 2003 visit.

Millennial Court at the British Museum during my 2003 visit.

 

 

One last look at the marbles

Just before the holidays, Mark the marble guy dropped by the NCMA to take one last look at the classical marble sculptures before he could hand over his reports and catalogue entries. Again we had to work in the dark galleries of the museum, but luckily we didn’t have to start as late as before… the sun sets much sooner in winter!

Assisted by Caroline “the Younger” (who was my intern in the spring), we reexamined the troublesome Hercules and just a few other sculptures with Mark’s nifty and very powerful flashlight, his new portable microscope and under ultraviolet lights. We also took photographs (UV and VIL/IRR) of details based on our earlier “night at the museum” sessions.  This should be the last examination of the marbles and the research on these works of art is pretty much completed… but the project continues with the study of other ancient objects from different Classical cultures and made from different materials.

South Italy and Sicily: the research continues

The research on the NCMA’s classical collection continues and that is making me really, really happy. It might not be related to ancient Egypt or Nubia, but at least it’s ancient! Very late in November, our intellectual travels took us to South Italy and Sicily, where the ancient Greeks established colonies. Keely H, who is an expert on this material, took a look at the small collection from the art historical and archaeological standpoint; she was assisted by yours truly as well as Stacey, NCMA conservation technician. Objects conservator Corey was examining the collection from the conservation perspective.

The collection consists of various ceramic vessels, some of which are wonderfully coloured… but are all these pigments actually ancient?  That is the question!  We are trying to find the answer by looking at the objects under UV lights, by X-ray fluorescence (which was done by NCMA paintings conservator Noelle who is not on the photos), and hopefully even by sampling for further testing in later months.  Stay tuned for that!

Back into the ancient groove

After having spent most of the past year being buried up to my neck in Art Deco automobiles and motorcycles, I was more than delighted to get back in to the ancient groove in November and December, even though I worked evenings and weekends to make sure everything was done in time. This involved mostly lectures, talks and PowerPoint presentations, but it was all related to ancient things…

On November 19,  I taught my Egyptology Seminar (it had been rescheduled from the spring because of the various deadlines for the exhibition). Also, due to this same lack of time, it was only a half day event instead of a full day affair, but it was very well attended nonetheless. The theme (well, title, really) was “Taking Care of Business at Pharaoh’s Court” and I  presented with short lectures a number of important individuals who helped shape Egypt during its long history–Imhotep and Hemiunu (both from the Old Kingdom), Ahmose son of Ibana (New Kingdom) and Mentuemhet, the mayor of Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period. Luckily, Dr. Bonnie Sampsell—the author of the Geology of Egypt, who happens to be not only a geologist but also an amateur Egyptologist—kindly helped by giving one of the seminar talks. She presented Senenmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s trusted architect and royal nanny. That gave me some time to breathe…

On November 21 I spent the whole day at North Carolina State University as guest speaker, invited by Dr. Dru MgGill, archaeologist at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  I presented the scientific methods used in museums to study ancient ceramics for the students taking Special Topics in Anthropology, Pots and People: Ceramics Analysis in late morning. Then, after a tasty lunch with my colleague, I spoke to two groups taking Unearthing the Past: Introduction to World Archaeology.  I introduced them to the archaeology of ancient Sudan (Meroe and Dangeil) and mused the work of an archaeologist employed in a museum.  Few students actually think of this option when considering jobs related to archaeology and material culture.

These were intense and very tiring months, but at least I was back into the ancient groove!!

City of Aleppo

Now that I am on vacation, I have more free time than originally thought and thus am presenting another ARCHAEO-Crush for December. My crush is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is a city that we see constantly in the news these days… all for the wrong reasons. Aleppo.

CITY OF ALEPPO
Type: archaeological site (urban)
Civilisation: Ancient and modern Syria, various empires and kingdoms
Date: At least from the 3rd millennium B.C.E. to today

ARCHAEO-Crush: Strategically placed for commercial and military endeavours between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, the city has had a long history probably going back 5,000 years and has been known under various names. Having been occupied continually, there has been very little archaeological excavations in the city proper. In the 3rd millennium, it was part of the Kingdom of Amri as well as the Akkadian and Amorite empires; it was also mentioned in cuneiform tablets from Ebla. During its long history, Aleppo was taken by the Hittites, conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and handed over to the Seleucids after his death. Aleppo flourished during the Hellenistic period and its prosperity increases even when Syria becomes a Roman province in 64 B.C.E.  The city remained important during the Byzantine period and lived on beyond the fall of Antiquity (end of the 5th century).

During the Middle Ages, the city was conquered by the Arabs in 637 and became the capital of the Hamdanids in 944. Aleppo was besieged (but not conquered) during the Crusades and was in turn in the hands of the Fatimids, Seljuks, of Zengi, Nur ad-Din and Saladin, of the Mongols, Mamluks, and Tamerlan prior to being annexed to the Ottoman Empire in 1516 (until 1918). Aleppo was under French mandate before it declared its independence in 1944.

Bucket list status: I visited Syria in 1999 and Aleppo was on my list of cities to visit during my trip. I had studied the architecture of this city in Islamic architecture during my undergrad at Université Laval and was fascinated by the Aleppo Citadel. I just had to go see it… which I did (that is why many the photos presented here are of the Citadel).  It is fortified Medieval castle dating to 1230, featuring an imposing entrance with an impressive bridge/staircase. Unfortunately, this feature was destroyed by rebel bombardments in the summer of 2014. While in Aleppo, I had to stay at the Baron’s Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote (in part) Murder on the Orient Express and where Lawrence of Arabia also stayed. I thoroughly enjoyed Aleppo and Syria, the fabulous archaeological sites, the historic monuments, the wonderful people and the stunning landscapes.

Additional information: The historic centre of Aleppo is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986 (number 21). Its recent destruction is all the more devastating. It is absolutely heart-breaking to see a city and its population being massacred… Aleppo is now on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013.

Statue of Hemiunu

Work has kept me away from An Archaeologist’s Diary more than I ever thought it would so far this year… and December is not going to be any different! So today’s  ARCHAEO-Crush is for October, November and December… and it was inspired by one of the men whose accomplishments were presented in my Egyptology Seminar last weekend.

Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4 (circa 2613-2494 B.C.E.)

ARCHAEO-Crush: This Old Kingdom statue is remarkable in a number of ways, First of all, the physique of the man depicted here is more than stunning in its appearance.  He is stocky and fleshy in a manner seldom seen in Egyptian art, which normally depicts men as eternally youthful, slim and with well-defined muscles… which is not the case with Hemiunu.  Was the man really this corpulent and he wanted to be represented in a realistic manner? Or was his massive physique synonymous with wealth and accomplishment, indicating his important status in the Egyptian government and society?
Both hypotheses are possible because Hemiunu was indeed a very important man in ancient Egypt.  The colourful inscription on the base of his statue gives us numerous titles and offices. Among other titles, Hemiunu was of royal blood (the son of either Snefru or Nefermaat), the vizier (prime minister) during the reign of King Khufu, a priest and the overseer of all the construction works of the king.  As the latter, he was in charge of all the architectural projects initiated by the king for whom he worked.  And he worked of King Khufu…. and you know what that means, right?  Hemiunu was likely the man in charge of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza! Not too shabby an accomplishment, that!

Bucket list status: The first time I saw this statue with my own eyes was at the Royal Ontario Museum when the statue was part of the Egyptian Art during the Age of the Pyramids exhibition. The Hildesheim Museum, where Hemiunu normally resides, was under renovation and it travelled to Toronto.  I have since been to Hildesheim to him again… he’s always so impressive.

Additional information: When Hermann Junker discovered the statue in Hemiunu’s mastaba at Giza, the head had already suffered some damage. The nose was smashed and the eyes had been gauged out.  The face of the statue was restored in the early 20th century based on Hermiunu’s features as seen from a relief from the MFA Boston that shows him with an aquiline nose.