My ARCHAEO-Crush for this month is something that doesn’t look like much, but is rare and interesting to archaeologists.
Ox-hide copper ingot at the Museum of Prehistory and Early History in Berlin. Photo by yours truly.
OX-HIDE COPPER INGOT
Type: artefact (ingot) Civilisation: Ancient Cyprus Date: 2nd millennium BC ARCHAEO-Crush: In 2009, I visited the Neues Museum in Berlin and toured all the galleries–not just the Egyptian and Nubian ones at the Ägyptisches Museum, but also those at Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (both museums are housed in the same building). One of the artefacts that really impressed me was this ox-hide copper ingot, an object that might appear very boring to many.
Before I tell you why I was very intrigued by this object, let me first explain what it actually is. It is an ingot of copper and its shape is similar to a stretched skin of an ox (sometimes, but not in this case, they have ‘handles’ at each corner, like the legs of animal). According to the label, the ingot weighs 25.67kg (a little over 56 lbs) and it is believed to have been discovered in the sea between Turkey and Cyprus in 1907 (although the location has since been lost). Such copper ingots were raw material traded all over the ancient Mediterranean and it seems that Cyprus was the main producer of copper during the second millennium BC.
The ingot really made an impression on me because it’s the kind of object you see bring brought as tribute on the walls of beautifully decorated New Kingdom Theban tombs–like that of Rekhmire, Nebamun, Useramon, etc… Men carry them on their shoulder and they are exactly of this ox-hide shape. Very few are still extant because the copper would me smelted and mixed with tin to make bronze objects. What is remarkable is that ox-hide ingots have been recovered from shipwreck sites, where entire cargoes disappeared under the seas. (That also appealed to me because I use to scuba dive when I was a teen.) A famous example is the Ulu Burun wreck, where more than 10 tons of ingots were found! (Click on the Ulu Burun link for info about the underwater excavation of the wreck and images of the ingots on the website of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M.) Bucket list status: I have seen this particular ingot only once, but it certainly impressed me! Additional information: The ingot’s inventory number is MK 618/1913 and, if I remember correctly, it was in a gallery dedicated to Schliemann’s collection of artefacts from Troy and the cultural history of Cyprus.
During holidays like (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out my archaeological/Egyptological Memory game, which I set up on the coffee table in the living room. When I walk by (while otherwise puttering around the house), I try to find matching pairs of artefacts or galleries of the Neues Museum in Berlin.
A memory game fit for archaeologists and Egyptologists, given to me by my good friend Dana (who happens to be an Egyptologist herself).
When 5pm rolled around, I was officially off for the long Thanksgiving weekend and the game came out. I have already found four out of thirty-six pairs. (Still looking for Nefertiti.) Even though I do have some activities planned this weekend, I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all by Sunday evening!
Are you looking for a little something archaeological to do with the family during the Holidays? If yes, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History is presenting an interesting exhibition about Agatha Christie and archaeology. Indeed, the Queen of crime is intimately linked to archaeology: not only did she used several important historical and archaeological sites in a number of novels, she also was married to archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she accompanied on excavations in Mesopotamia.
Excerpts about the exhibition from the Museum’s website:
Pointe-à-Callière is mounting Investigating Agatha Christie, an original exhibition focusing on an exceptional woman whose unusual life and compelling novels left their mark on international literature. The exhibition, to run from December 8, 2015 to April 17, 2016, will look at Agatha Christie through her work, her imagination and her world, including archaeology. It is one of the major international events planned to mark the 125th anniversary of the famous novelist’s birth, on September 15, 1890. … Christie drew heavily on archaeology and history as inspiration for many of her famous novels, including Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came to Baghdad, Appointment with Death and Death Comes as the End. She also described daily life on dig sites in a fascinating little book entitled Come, Tell Me How You Live. She wrote that an archaeologist and a detective have much in common: both must come to understand an event (recent or in the distant past) using their observation skills and clues that are brought to light, piecing them together and relying on a bit of luck, too!
No wonder many archaeologists are fans of Christie’s novels! Indeed, I count myself amongst them: I am quite fond of Hercule Poirot (slowly but surely, I have been re-reading all the Poirot stories in order). I’m very much tempted to go see this exhibition. Perhaps I might have time during the holiday…
When I did laundry earlier this week, the ribbon from my pyjama bottom came out of the waistband. As I threaded it back on, using a safety pin, I mused about the little container I use to store all my safety pins: a photo film canister.
Digital cameras having replaced the film ones, the little canister is now an obsolete object, a rare thing. Strangely enough, film canisters were rather useful archaeological digs back in the day. Team members would “collect” them during the year and bring them on the dig each season. We had tons! What were the film canisters used for, you ask? Well, they came in really handy to store the small tiny objects like beads and amulets, which were carefully placed inside with a label and cotton batting so they wouldn’t rattle around. Nowadays, small objects get placed in mini Ziploc bags, but they aren’t quite as protected as in the film canisters. Small objects now need to be placed in baskets separately from the big artefacts because the latter can crush the small items. In this day and age, there are probably very young archaeologists who have never used a film canister on a dig…. Heck, maybe some of them have never used film cameras!
Today was a rainy and gloomy Monday… but a couple of things kept me busy all day so I barely noticed the rain. I spent most of the day reading applications submitted by university students interested in the curatorial internship I am offering at the museum next term. Some candidates were excellent, others were excellent but not qualified in ancient studies and others were… well, not qualified at all.
One thing that bugged me today as I reviewed applications was that I had to refuse one–from a student who was qualified and had a perfectly good application that was submitted on time–because their documentation was incomplete…. but through no fault of their own. Because their professor never sent in their recommendation letter… Professors are busy, yes. But if you’re too busy tell the student that you can’t do it so they can ask another prof who has less on their plate. That way their chances at an interesting learning opportunity won’t be ruined because of your tight schedule… Frustrating.
The end of the day got a little more frustrating because our internet crashed and for an hour before I left I couldn’t send notices out to the students. Instead, I changed task and looked up some references in archaeology journals to include in a peer review for an article I looked at this weekend. I did find what I needed but because the internet was still out and it was 5pm, so I thought it was time to head out to the gym. Now perhaps I should get back to that peer review….