Someone’s Trash is another’s Treasure

Archaeologists are not just looking for temples and tombs… we also like to understand materials, technologies and industries. A good example is this post from the iMalqata blog.


Diana Craig Patch

My goal this season at the Industrial Site is the identification of an area at Malqata where glass and faience were manufactured. As you may remember from previous blogs, I started working in 2015 in an area west of the Audience Pavilion because I noted that many sizable pieces of slag were scattered on the surface of old spoil heaps from The Met’s earlier excavations. This waste is associated with furnaces, but none of the earlier excavators noted that they had found either slag or kilns in this area.

obsidian The spoil heaps west of the Audience Pavilion at the start of the excavations of the Industrial Site

emiz-2017-n150e175-l5_mixedslag-color-adjusted Slag from the Industrial Site. Similar pieces suggested that this was the place to look for kilns or furnaces.

I was not disappointed when, during the 2015 season, the first square I worked in produced not only slag but sherds from…

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Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the first month of 2017 is an Anglo-Saxon treasure discovered in 1939 in Suffolk, England.


Type: funerary tumulus containing a ship burial and various artefacts
England, Anglo-saxon kingdom of East-Anglia
Date: Middle Ages, 7th century

ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of Sutton Hoo is one of the most important discoveries in British archaeology because it brought a wealth of material evidence to a historical period until then lacking in artefacts. The site of Sutton Hoo is located on a rise near the River Deben and includes several tumuli containing burials–several of which had been plundered prior to the 1939 excavations.  The treasure presented here today was discovered in mound no. 1.  The excavations revealed ship burial belonging in all likelihood to a king, who was buried with spectacular funerary goods. Other than the 27 metre-long ship (of which only a ghost form–wood stains in the sand–a few planks and iron rivets survive), we find personal effects of gold and garnet such as a large belt buckle, the ornamental lid of a now-disintegrated leather purse, shoulder-clasps for a stiff leather cuirass as well as more utilitarian objects like drinking horns, bowls, spoons, textiles, a cushion stuffed with feather and combs, amongst others.
However, the most spectacular find was that of a long coat of ring-mail (hauberk), a round wooden shield of which only the metal fittings remain, an iron sword, spears… and a magnificent parade helmet. It is an extremely rare artefact and it took a British Museum conservator several years to reconstruct the helmet–at least what’s left of it. (That would be about 500 small pieces.)  A full replica of the helmet can be found in the same vitrine.
The artefacts has been placed around the body of the deceased, which had completely decomposed in the acidic soil. Initially, the lack of a body led scholars to believe the burial was a cenotaph. However, in 1967 traces of phosphates discovered in the soil after scientific analyses indicated that a body had decomposed there.  The identity of the deceased cannot be known, but that King Rædwald or his (step-)son Sigeberht are possibilities.  Even more fascinating is the fact that this ship burial is one of the very, very few burials of this type outside of Scandinavia.

Bucket list status: I have seen the Sutton Hoo treasure during  a month-long research trip at the British Museum in 2008. Even though I was researching Egyptian art, I absolutely had to see the Sutton Hoo helmet about which I had heard so much.  I am fascinated by British history (although I am not quite sure why) and this was on my list of things to see. The craftsman ship of the artefacts is astonishing and the connections between other European cultures during this area are quite interesting.

Additional information: According to the laws in England at beginning of the 20th century, the owner of the treasure was to be the owner  of the land on which it had been found. In a most magnanimous gesture, Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner  of the land, gave the entire treasure to the kingdom, for all to enjoy and learn from.  This kind of selfless generosity is as rare as the Sutton Hoo treasure itself.  Thanks to Mrs. Pretty, the helmet and the other wonderful artefacts can now be found in Room 41 at the  British Museum.

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!!