Is archaeology a dangerous job?

Ah! A question about the dangers of archaeology.

Is archaeology a dangerous job?

Madaba5Yes and no. It depends on the country in which you work. Digging in a third world country where there is a civil war or harsh living conditions: yes, it is dangerous. Digging a First Nation site north of Toronto, barely half an hour away from your home: no, it is not. Still, like with any other job, you have to be careful and aware of your surroundings and take medical precautions to avoid illness.

The future of gallery teaching

This morning, I was in the NCMA’s Egyptian galleries teaching a class of students at Havelock High School (which is about 2 and half hours east of Raleigh)… using our very nifty SECU mobile distance learning cart.  The class had already 3D-printed a replica of the Amulet of Isis and Horus (which we scanned back in February) but they could see the original in the vitrine next to me as I talked about it.

We also chatted about Nehebkau (another amulet) and one of the school groups visiting the galleries with their art teacher stopped to listen to me… and then photobombed the lesson when they realised I was actually talking to other high school kids. It was hilarious… everyone was waving at each other… and Emily and I were laughing. Yes, ancient Egypt is that fun!

Thanks, Emily, for taking the pictures and manning the cart!

Off view

If you were to take a walk in the Classical galleries at the museum this week and the next, you’d notice that some vitrines are completely empty of artefacts. The reason? These are being studied by private objects conservator Corey Smith Riley.

Corey’s looking at material, manufacture, condition and previous conservation treatments for all the Greek objects (ceramics and bronze). It’s part of the research project I have been managing for the last three years, the study of the Classical collection for the catalogue. Corey’s work is a follow-up to Taking a look at Greek ceramics.


My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of April is a wonderful site in Syria that has suffered tremendously in the last year and has been in the media a lot recently.


Type: site (ancient city with various monuments)
Civilisation: Ancient Syria (part of/controlled by various empires during its long history)
Date: Bronze Age to Middle Ages, 2nd millennium BCE to 1st millennium CE

ARCHAEO-Crush: Palmyra is a ancient city in an oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert.  The Romans were the ones to give the city its name in the 1st century BCE, but the site is also known as Tadmor and it predates the Roman period. In the 19th century BCE, the city is mentioned in tablets from Mari (another Syrian city) as a stop for trade caravans and nomads. Indeed, due to its location (between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates), Palmyra connected the Roman world and Mesopotamia and became a wealthy city on the route between the East and West.
There are fantastic ruins in Palmyra: the Grand Colonnade, Triumphal Arch, various temples (to Bel and Baal-Shamin, for example), an agora, a senate house, a theatre, tower tombs and even Christian churches. There are also baths, which date to the rule of Diocletian but are labelled “bathes of Zenobia” on the signposts. Actually, Zenobia is one of the famous personalities of Palmyra. She was the second wife of Odaenathus, Rome’s client ruler of Palmyra. When her husband and his son from a previous marriage  were assassinated, she became the regent of her very young son and declared herself queen of Palmyra (some say she was behind the murder). However, Zenobia had no desire to remain a client of Rome: in 269 CE she seized Egypt, then conquered much of Asia Minor and declared her independence from Rome. Emperor Aurelian defeated her armies in Antioch (Turkey) and Zenobia was captured.  Palmyra’s prosperity declined after her death (sources differ about the rebellious queen’s actual fate). The city was taken in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, in 634 and was ruined by an earthquake in 1089.

Bucket list status: I was tremendously fortunate to vacation in Syria after the dig at Madaba, Jordan, back in 1999. Syria is spectacularly beautiful… and I had a fabulous time at Palmyra.
Additional information: Palmyra has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1980 (no. 23) and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. Unfortunately, several monuments in my pictures were destroyed by ISIL in 2015.  You can find heartbreaking before and after photos of the monuments here.  You can also read ASOR’s Cultural Initiative Special Report on Palmyra.

Art in Bloom 2016 (Etruria and Rome)

In this third and last post about floral designs inspired by ancient art, I’m presenting those found in the Classical galleries.  They include one Etruscan piece and four marble sculptures–the last one being my absolute favourite for 2016.

Inspired by the Antefix in the Shape of a Satyr’s Head
By Michael Whaley

While I can see the shape of the satyr’s head and his messed up hair in the floral arrangement, I have to admit that it did not inspire me one bit.  I didn’t like the use the of flat green leaves to create the shape.  However, by the comments I overheard, the design was pleasing to other people…

Inspired by the Bust of Marcus Aurelius
By Angela Marchesi

I liked this one, but I’m not quite sure why… The use of the red anthuriums brought a little regal touch to the composition and I liked the addition of the papyrus… (I think it’s papyrus… the name of the plants used the arrangement was not listed on the label.)  Marcus Aurelius visited Egypt (at the very least Alexandria) during the revolt led by Avidius Cassius. The designer also used thistles and although the Roman presence in Scotland was intermittent, I find the use of this plant interesting here (thistles were quite popular this year). To me, it sort of spoke of the width and breadth of the Roman Empire.  I wish the designer would have included a description of her design and she pulled inspiration from… me, I’m probably reading too much history in all of this!

Inspired by Torso of an Emperor in the Guise of Jupiter
By Sarah Callahan

This floral composition is wonderful and very imaginative!  The florist described her composition as the god Jupiter  gazing down at the emperor… you can totally see Jupiter in the tall column with its planet-like flowers and grasses.  The emperor would be the smaller column. Very delightful!

Inspired by Aeschylus
By Brian Hyde

DSCN4810I quite like this floral arrangement… the pussy willow branches have always been some of my favourite plants (they grew near my house when I was a kid).  The colour–a wonderful dark green–and the velvety texture of the composition are very soothing. It’s almost like the forest had become very Zen.  The arrangement is simple but very elegant.  It’s right up my alley.

However, I’m not quite sure I get the connection with Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian (he wrote between 70 and 90 plays, but only seven survive).

Inspired by the Mosaic
By Steve Taras

This last floral design is my absolutely favourite of Art in Bloom 2016!  It is wonderful in so many ways.  The use of the marble trays speaks to one of the materials in the mosaic and the colourful flowers are like the glass tesserae that create the pattern.  While the stems are cur short, the flowers are not crammed in the trays like sardines… they breathe… and they actually look like colourful cupcakes in an elaborate cupcake tree!  The levels and vertical lines are also reminiscent of Classical architecture.  The whole arrangement speaks to me… it is superb!

That’s it for Art in Bloom 2016.


Art in Bloom 2016 (Egypt)

With this second post about floral arrangements found in the ancient galleries, I’d like to present the two that were located in the Egyptian section.  I’m also including another floral design inspired by something Egyptian that is found elsewhere in the Museum.

Inspired by the Amulet of Isis and Horus
By Cydney Davis-English

At first, this arrangement didn’t really grab me–probably because I couldn’t see a connection to the actual work of art. However, after reading the description offered by the florist, my opinion somewhat changed. I truly appreciated her effort to rehabilitate the name of this Egyptian deity…. Let’s face it, when we hear the name ‘Isis’ in the media these days, the great Egyptian goddess is not what comes to mind. Unfortunately.

Inspired by the Face from a Wooden Coffin
By Sherri Suttle

In terms of flowers, this is not really what I would associate with an Egyptian coffin. I think it might be because the colours are so dark. They are usually so much more vibrant than that…  The design is not bad per se, but it doesn’t feel very Egyptian to me.  However, the ‘Kiss of Death ginger’ sparked a conversation between me and my friend Corey and complete strangers.  None of us knew what the heck ‘Kiss of Death ginger’ was!  It’s that think that looks like a pine cone.  We actually had to Google it. In a way, the name of that plant (if not the plant itself) was fitting for a coffin!
And now the Egyptianizing surprise I mentioned above. This can be found in the European galleries…

Inspired by the Banquet of Cleopatra and Antony
By Julie Vaughan

My first view of this particular floral arrangement was the back of it (photo on the left).  And I did not like it!  However, as I went around to see the front I realised the back was much better… because I really, really did not like the recto (photo on the right).  I have come to realise that I don’t particularly like when flowers with short stems are crammed together like sardines.  What I did find amusing, though, is that when you look at the verso of the arrangement, you see another picture of Cleopatra. Take a look a the picture on the left and you’ll see in the background our friend Cleo about to dunk a pearl in her cup of vinegar. (Yes, we have two paintings of Cleopatra in that one gallery of the Museum.)

Art in Bloom 2016 (Mesoamerica)

Again this year the Museum is hosting its fabulous Art in Bloom event, which was extremely popular in 2015.  The fundraiser, which started yesterday, runs through Sunday and, in the next few days, I will share images and impressions of the floral installations in my ancient galleries. Let us start with Mesoamerica…

Inspired by Standing Female Figurine from West Mexico
By Joseph Barnes

I find this floral arrangement very simple yet elegant. However, I find it more inspired by ideas and impressions of the cultures of ancient Americas rather than the figurine itself.  The round yellow flowers remind me of maize kernels and large-bead necklaces, the use of wood brings impressions of people living in harmony with nature…  I’ll admit that as far as Nayarit figurines go (we’re talking about the one alone in the upper left corner of the display case), this one is not particularly inspiring… I find the flowers more alluring than the work of art!