Chinese Terracotta Army

Today, I’m combining two chronicles—Did You Know? and ARCHAEO-Crush—using one group of artefacts: the Chinese Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Did you know that on this day back in 1974 two local farmers in Xi’an came upon this incredible discovery while digging a well?  Archaeologists soon arrived to investigate and the rest is history…

Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di's terracotta army, intended to protect him in the Afterlife. (Photo taken by my Dad during his trip to Xian.)

Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta army, intended to protect him in the Afterlife. (Photo taken by my Dad during his trip to Xi’an.)

CHINESE TERRACOTTA ARMY
Type: artefact (funerary statuary)
Civilisation: ancient China
Date: 210–209 BCE
ARCHAEO-Crush: I love those terracotta warriors and other figures.  There are so many of them (more than 8000 soldiers, horses, chariots and non-military figures) and remarkably each one has individual features. There aren’t two alike! What I find utterly fascinating (and horrifying) is that the statues were fully painted, but in just a few minutes the pigments dry up and flake away with exposure to the dry air at the time of excavation. After much research, scientists and conservators have been able to consolidate the pigments with polyethylene glycol 200 (PEG200) and electron beam polymerization. I find conservation absolutely fascinating… You may have hear of PEG before as it is also used in the consolidation of water-logged wooden artefacts like Viking ships.
Bucket list status:  I have seen a selection of soldiers, chariots and horses in The First Emperor: China’sTerracotta Army, an exhibition held at the High Museum in Atlanta in 2008-09. I would definitely like to see them again, this time in China.  It’s at the top of my bucket list!
Additional info: UNESCO World Heritage 441
The science geeks interested in learning more about the conservation aspect can read the Getty’s 2010 Conservation of Ancient Sites along the Silk Road (PDF available online, at the virtual library on their website), which features a scientific article (pages 35-39) on the consolidation of the colour pigments of the terracotta army.

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Women in Science

Today, I participated in the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation’s Women in Science spring conference, which was held at the Museum.  The GSK Foundation funds and mentors female students enrolled in science programmes in North Carolina.  I gave a tour entitled ‘Ancient Art, New Science: When Curatorial Research Meets Materials Analysis,’ which  was a special tour of the ancient art galleries that focused on the scientific analyses we have been conducting over the last few months.

I was delighted to be asked and I said yes immediately because I feel I owe so much to GSK: I started out at the museum practically 10 years ago as GlaxoSmithKline Curatorial Fellow and GSK later funded position and my research on the Egyptian collection as well as the publication of the catalogue. GSK’s support of the Museum’s curatorial research (conducted by fellows who are ABD doctoral students or recent PhDs) over the years has been tremendous. I’m beyond grateful to GSK…

My tour included Bacchus, which was brought from the conservation lab for this special occasion, Hercules, the Celestial god or hero and the Egyptian Head of a deity.  As you can imagine, I talked about UVF, VIL, IRR, pXRF, marble sampling and thermoluminescence. The participants seem to have greatly enjoyed the visit because I got many interested questions, enthusiastic comments and requests for my business card. A few hours of my time was the least I could do for a foundation that’s been so generous to me and the Museum. It was a fun and enriching day…

Art in Bloom (Greece and Rome)

Continuing with on my floral and spring theme, today I present the four floral arrangements that were in the Classical galleries.  These cover more square footage than the Egyptian space and more floral designs could be incorporated.

Inspired by Aphrodite of Cyrene
Floral design by Carol Inskeep

Orchid arrangement inspired by the marble statue of Aphrodite

Orchid arrangement inspired by the marble statue of Aphrodite

Photographing against a sunny background is not ideal, but you see Aphrodite as an elegant silhouette. Placed behind her was an arrangement of white orchids coming out of glass vessel placed in a square container with blue glass pebbles…   just like the beautiful goddess emerging from the sea! I thought this design very witty and elegant. (My fave of those in the Classical galleries.)

Inspired by Head of a Woman in the Guise of a Goddess
Floral design by Gene Harbaugh

Floral arrangement next to the bronze head of a woman

Floral arrangement next to the bronze head of a woman

This design is well paired with the bronze female head, especially in terms of colour. It is simple, elegant and feminine, but not overly so. A sort of wreath. Yet, the squat bouquet leaves me wanting more…

 

 

Inspired by a Greek Hydria
Floral design by Sally Robinson

Arrangement of dried flowers inspired by a water jar (hydria)

Arrangement of dried flowers inspired by a water jar (hydria)

This one left me thoughtful… the dried flowers were an interesting component playing with the earth-tone colours of the ceramics in the gallery.  However, the fact that a hydria is a jar used specifically for carrying water is lost (although the vase was the colour of the seas).

 

 

Inspired by Herakles
Floral design by Jinny Marino

Flowers for Herakles

Flowers for Herakles

Interestingly, the use of the anthurium, a plant with a rather phallic red spadix, brings a touch of masculinity to the arrangement. Well, it is inspired by a statue of Herakles, a very burly one at that!  The added metal elements make reference to the Herculean strength of our marble man. Pun intended.  Herakles is the Greek version of Hercules.

I have come to the conclusion that my favourite floral arrangements at Art in Bloom were simple with crisp and elegant vertical lines; very contemporary looking.  Enjoy the arrival of spring!

Art in Bloom (Egypt)

Spring has sprung and to celebrate I thought I would share with you a couple of photos from the Museum’s Art in Bloom event, held this weekend.  Art in Bloom is exactly what it sounds like: Art. In. Bloom.  During four days the permanent galleries are delightfully decorated with superb floral arrangements that are inspired by the works of art in the collection.  Today, I am presenting the floral designs (and my impressions of them) influenced by two works of art in my Egyptian galleries.

Inspired by the False Door of NiankhSnefru, called Fefi
Floral design by Linda McLendon

Floral arrangement inspired by Fefi's False Door.

Floral arrangement inspired by Fefi’s False Door.

This was actually my favourite of the Egyptian inspired designs, although I’m not quite sure I fully see the false door in it.  (And there wasn’t a description on the label, so I really don’t know what inspired the designer.) I find the design deceptively simple and very elegant and perhaps that’s how Ms. McLendon saw the false door.  The white flowers certainly speak to the door’s unfinished state and the colour of the limestone.

Detail of Linda McLendon's floral design.

Detail of Linda McLendon’s floral design.

 

And I absolutely loved the vases—they have an Asian look, undoubtedly the reason why I was attracted to them. It’s actually hard to see on the photo featuring both the flowers and the false door together, so here’s a close-up. I have to admit, this photo does not do justice to the piece. You don’t see the wonderful colours of the wooden vases and the crispness of the blooms.  They are very precise, like the hieroglyphs on the door.

 

 

Inspired by the Bust of Sekhmet
Floral design by Karl H. Hastings, Jr.

Floral arrangement inspired by the goddess Sekhmet.

Floral arrangement inspired by the goddess Sekhmet.

I’ll be honest with you: this design did not strike my fancy. Actually none of the ones with flattened flowers or top heavy designs grabbed me.  The designer’s poetic description of the ‘ goddess of war and healing from a parched and weary land’ is also opposite of my impression of this powerful deity and the civilisation I love so  much. I see Sekhmet as a wild creature that can be tamed on occasion, two opposites that complement each other. She vibrant and full of energy, none of which I feel in this design.

And while Egypt is surrounded by desert cliffs and may appear lifeless to many, the flood plain and marshes are filled with amazing wildlife life and flora so beautifully depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.  Herodotus said it, Egypt is a gift of the Nile… it is full of life and promise.

Botany in Ancient Egypt – Part 2

Here’s part 2 of the Herbology Manchester post on plants in ancient Egypt. Enjoy!

Herbology Manchester

by Jemma

Part 1 of this blog post (https://herbologymanchester.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/botany-in-ancient-egypt-part-1/) focused primarily on how the ancient Egyptians acquired their extensive botanical knowledge. This second blog post will now look more closely at some of the plants that they commonly used – some of which you may know!

An Egyptian mummy wrapped in garlands of unidentified plants. An Egyptian mummy wrapped in garlands of unidentified plants.

Papyrus

One of the most well-known plants associated with ancient Egypt is Cyperus papyrus. The most famous use for this plant was to make an early form of paper. However, papyrus was used by the Egyptians for multiple purposes and was not limited solely to the production of paper. Other common uses of papyrus include the production of ropes, mats, baskets, sandals and chairs. The plant was also used to hold together bouquets of flowers and eaten as food. The open head of a papyrus plant was also a hieroglyph called ‘wadj’, meaning ‘green’, or…

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Botany in Ancient Egypt – Part 1

Spring is on its way to Raleigh! Little buds are visible on trees and at the Museum we’re preparing for a big Art in Bloom event. Campbell at Manchester reblogged this post this morning and I thought it fitting for the new season about to begin. I’m reblogging from the original post on Herbology Manchester.

I’m so glad spring is almost here!

Herbology Manchester

by Jemma

During my research into the Materia Medica collection (plant, animal and mineral based medicines used in from the 1800s) at the Manchester Museum, I have notice a recurring feature; many of the plants had in fact been used by humans for thousands of years and a large portion of these by the ancient Egyptians!

Plants featured heavily in Egyptian culture: in food, medicine, religion, perfumes and beyond. Early medicinal texts, such as the Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BCE, provide detailed insight into their extensive herbal knowledge. Unfortunately no complete record has yet to be found, but the fragments that have survived show just how knowledgeable these ancient peoples were when it came to plants and their uses. Many of the applications documented are the same used right up until the introduction of modern medicinal practices. Even today, large portions of herbal remedies used as ‘alternative’ medicines feature plants…

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The destruction of Nimrud

There’s a reason I don’t like reading the news: it’s depressing, truly depressing. How can I not be devastated when I read that the ancient city of Nimrud has been bulldozed?  Amidst the numerous online articles focusing on the perpetrators and the situation the Middle East, BBC News offers a great write-up of the site’s historical and archaeological importance. (It’s refreshing but once you understand how amazing Nimrud is/was, the destruction is heartbreaking.)  You can read Unrivalled riches of Nimrud, capital of world’s first empire and discover more.

I dedicate this post to all my friends who are specialists of the ancient Near East. I feel your pain.