Viking ships of Roskilde

The present ARCHAEO-Crush counts for the months of March and April (again I find I have so little free time). It is an interesting group of Danish artefacts from a museum in Roskilde.

VIKING SHIPS OF ROSKILDE

Type: artefact (wooden ship remains)
Civilisation: Scandinavia, Middle Ages, Viking era, 793-1066
Date: 11th century

ARCHAEO-Crush: The remains of the viking ships at the museum in Roskilde were discovered in Roskilde Fjord, in a sailing channel between Peberrenden and Skuldelev. The five ships were deliberately sunk during the 11th century to create a barrier to  defend the most direct route to Roskilde.  The remains represent five different types of vessels.  Skuldelev 1 is a large ocean-going trader use to transport cargo on high seas (think North Sea, Baltic Sea and even North Atlantic Ocean). While it is impossible to know who owned it, this type of vessel was used by merchants and chieftains on trading expeditions.  Dendrochronology indicates that it dates to 1030.  Skuldelev 2 is a large warship dating to 1042 and built near Dublin, Ireland (a Viking settlement called Dubh Linn founded the 9th century, where a much older Celtic village already existed according to the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, author of synthesis of geographical knowledge of the Graeco-Roman world). The crew of this type of longship counted 65-70 men and the vessels belonged to chieftains whose exploits are celebrated in Scandinavian sagas. In comparison, Skuldelev 3 is a much smaller vessel. It is a trading ship used on the Danish coast and the Baltic Sea for the transport of goods or people. The vessel was powered by wind with the use of the sail, but, in very calm weather and on short distances, the oars could be used as well. There isn’t a Skuldelev 4 because the remains thought to be a fourth vessel turned out to be part of Skuldelev 2. So we go directly to Skuldelev 5, which is also a longship albeit a small one–its  crew was only 30 men .  This type of warship had 13 pairs of oars and was the smallest in a war fleet.  As for the last ship, Skuldelev 6 was a fishing boat. Originally built in Norway with pine, the boat was modified with oak and  birch and transformed into a simple transport boat, manned by a small crew.

Bucket list status: I have seen these fabulous ships on a day trip to Roskilde after a conference in Copenhagen. I would have loved to sail on one of the replicas of these ships. There is one for each of the boats in the MuseUm Habour! At least I got to board on Sea Stallion from Glendalough, the replica of Skuldelev 2, the large warship.

Additional information: You will find additional information for each of the ships on the museum’s website, Vikingeskibs Museet: size, draught, speed, crew, number of oars and even place of construction! (And more!)  All you have to do is click on the blue links in the main section above. Be sure to read the Education section of the ‘Professions’ tab of the site for even more details.

Tomb of the Griffin Warrior

An article I was reading this morning replaced at the last minute what I had planned for February’s ARCHAEO-Crush.  Yes, this Mycenaean treasure is super cool…

TOMB OF THE GRIFFIN WARRIOR

Type: burial (intact, no less!)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece, Mycenaean civilisation, circa 1600-1100 BCE
Date: circa 1450 BCE

ARCHAEO-Crush: The Tomb of the Griffin Warrior (so-named because of an ivory plaque featuring a griffon found between the man’s legs) was discovered at Pylos (Greece) in May 2015 and excavated during that summer by a team from the University of Cincinnati, led by archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker.
Situated in an unexplored field near the Palace of Nestor (erected later), the tomb has remained undisturbed for 3,500 years, from the day the warrior was laid to rest until today. The discovery came as a surprise to the archaeologists, who were flabbergasted at the richness of the tomb’s contents.  Surprisingly amongst the numerous pots, cups, pitchers, and basins deposited into the grave, none are actually made of ceramic. They are all made of metal–bronze, silver or gold–speaking to the power and wealth of the man buried therein. There are several weapons, various pieces of jewellery, including hundreds of gold, carnelian, amethyst and amber beads, combs and mirrors as well as hundreds and hundreds of other objects. (More than 1500 artefacts were discovered in this tomb alone!) What most impressed me, however, were the perforated wild boar’s teeth that were part of the warrior’s helmet–just like the one given to Odysseus in Homer’s Iliad! (I don’t recall ever seeing one before, but there was a drawing that struck me in the article and you can actually find real examples in museums. A Google search led me to this one at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.)
Because of the early date of the burial (this is the beginning of Mycenaean civilisation), it is interesting to note that most objects are in the Minoan style, the previous Bronze Age civilisation of ancient Greece (circa 3650 BCE –1450 BCE). There are many other very interesting things to learn about this tomb and its fabulous contents, but it is too much to present here. I will leave the reading to you: you can find several articles here. The write-up I was reading this morning is this one.

Bucket list status: It’s a treasure I have yet to see with my own eyes. I have been discussing Mycenaean art with a colleague the last couple of weeks and when he sent me an article about the tomb this morning, I remembered that I had only glanced at the announcement of this discovery. As I actually read in depth the article, I thought it would make a great ARCHAEO-Crush post.
Additional information:  There is an official website entirely dedicated to the ‘Grave of the Griffin Warrior.‘  You can find out more about the discovery and the project, and find great shots of the excavations as well.

Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

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

SUTTON HOO SHIP BURIAL

Type: funerary tumulus containing a ship burial and various artefacts
Civilisation:
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.

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.

Beetlemania!

My ARCHAEO-Crush for September is not a specific artefact, but an ancient Egyptian symbol that has transcended time and can be found as a decorative motif in other cultures and historical periods.

WINGED SCARAB

Civilisation: Ancient Egypt

Date:
various periods

ARCHAEO-Crush: In ancient Egypt, the scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) is a symbol of resurrection associated with the rising sun, appearing on the eastern horizon after dying in the West the previous evening. The winged scarab was thus a popular funerary amulet and motif associated with the deceased and his funerary goods. At the NCMA, we find a winged scarab drawn on top of the head of Amunred’s coffin (Late Period) as well as incised in the gilded pectoral of Golden Boy (Ptolemaic Period). In a recent post, I also mentioned the short term loan of a faience amulet of a winged scarab temporary exhibited in our permanent galleries. This type of amulet could be sewn to a bead net shroud that covered the mummified body of the deceased, helping them reach the afterlife and achieve immortality.
The Egyptians’ observation of the natural world was the impetus for the association between the dung beetle and the sun. They had noticed that these beetles pushed around dung balls that contained their eggs and imagined an invisible scarab similarly pushing the fiery ball of the sun across the sky–the avatar of the sun god Khepri. The fact that the scarab babies emerged from the dung ball (from which they had fed as larvae) only reinforced the connection with resurrection, new life emerging from the decay of death.
The scarab beetle is one of the Egyptian symbols that has transcended time and has become a decorative motif in subsequent historical periods and different cultures.  In more recent times, we find it beautifully incorporated in decorative art and jewellery.

Bucket list status: Well, the bucket list status isn’t quite applicable in this Beetlemania post, but I do have a new favourite dung beetle: the wonderful  winged scarab on the front of the 1936 Stout Scarab, an Art Deco automobile in the Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s presented at the NCMA from October 1 to January 15, 2017 (which I curated with guest curator and automobile expert Ken Gross). Although a bit odd-looking, the car is absolutely fascinating! Its interior is spacious and some of the seats can be reconfigured for various activities. The perfect car for an Egyptologist who wants to read, cogitate, nap, work, meet with colleagues or dine (it includes a table and a long couch-like seat)!

Additional information: The winged scarab at the front of the car is undoubted inspired by the fresh new wave of Egyptomania that swept the world during the Art Deco period resulting from the discovery of Tutankhamun’Ts tomb in 1922. This is the perfect finishing touch for a car whose monocoque body and chassis combination  resembles the exoskeleton of a bug.

Venus of Meroe

My ARCHAEO-crush for the summer–June, July and August (blame this on the fact that my schedule has been unbelievably busy)–is a wonderful Sudanese Venus.

VENUS OF MEROE

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic Period
Date: 2nd-3rd century
ARCHAEO-Crush: The Venus of Meroe is called Venus because of  because she was found in the so-called ‘royal baths’ at Meroe and the position of her body that reminds us of Hellenistic and Roman statues of Venus… but not so much because of her proportions. Indeed, the Meroitic Venus is not as svelte as those from the ancient Mediterranean with their mathematically calculated proportions. This lovely Venus represents the Meroitic ideals of beauty normally found in Meroitic art, with ample forms synonymous with fertility and wealth.
Also, unlike Greece or Italy, there is no marble in Sudan. This statue is made of sandstone covered with painted stucco to make it smoother and lustrous in appearance, perhaps to resemble painted marble.  (Sandstone is rather rough and granular.)
It is interesting that the Kingdom of Kush, which was never controlled by the Romans, held some interest in Hellenistic and Roman art.  Except for a few skirmishes when Egypt became part of the Empire and the Romans got their butts kicked by a Meroitic queen (but they later signed a peace treaty), Kush had little to do with Rome.  Yet we find we find in Sudan some objects influenced by or from the ancient Mediterranean… and these are often luxury goods.
Bucket list status: I have seen this charming Venus a number of times when visiting the Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich.  She is wonderfully displayed in the  Nubia gallery.
Additional information: The statue was discovered along with others during John Garstang’s 1912-13 excavation season. Take a look at the photos in this article and near the bottom, you’ll find an image of Garstang and his wife Marie at the bottom of the bassin of the baths, surrounded by sculptures and several fragments that once stood on the steps surrounding it Garstang is actually holding the Venus in his arms.

William the Hippo

My ARCHAEO-Crush of the month of May is the non-official mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

WILLLIAM THE HIPPO

Type: sculpture (faience statuette)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reigns of Senwosret I to Senwosret II, circa 1961–1878 B.C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: This little statuette is absolutely adorable! A small faience hippopotamus with aquatic plants drawn on its blue body.  Little William from the Metropolitan Museum (the name was given him in 1931 by Captain H. M. Raleigh) was discovered at Meir in  a shaft associated with the funerary chapel of the steward Senbi II’s tomb. The reason for its presence  in the tomb is religious and magical, because, let’s not forget, that hippos are extremely dangerous. (One of the three most terrifying animals in ancient Egypt, the other two being the crocodile and the lion). The animal was a menace to any small craft on the Nile and could wreak havoc in the fields.
The small faience hippo represented the forces of nature that could be harmful to the deceased in the Afterlife, forces that could be controlled or appeased: William the hippo–by his form, colour and the aquatic plants on his body–represented the forces of water and the Nile. With William in his tomb, Senbi II could control the Nile in the Afterlife.  However, in order to prevent the hippo from harming him, three of its legs were intentionally broken.

Bucket list status:  I have seen William a few times and he’s not the only faience hippo at the Met.  There are also other hippos in museums all over the world.

Additional information: William can be seen in Gallery 111 at the Met; he’s number 17.9.1 in the collection.