The El Kurru Heritage Project

Great post about the village of El Kurru, Sudan.

Kelsey Museum

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

For the past several years, I’ve spent part of the winter in the small Sudanese village of El Kurru, and every year I fall a little bit more in love with it. I work there with Kelsey Research Scientist (and Kurru dig director) Geoff Emberling on the excavation and preservation of an ancient, royal cemetery.  Two years ago, the Kurru project team began to deliberately focus on community engagement as a way to forge stronger links between the local community and the ancient site.

This work has evolved slowly, beginning from plans to present the site to tourists (of which there are a surprisingly large number). El Kurru is an interesting site, with a big pyramid, two beautifully-painted subterranean tombs, and a large rock-cut temple. But the site is only a small part of what I love about El Kurru…

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Art in Bloom 2017: Mesoamerica

In my third and last post for Art in Bloom 2017, I’m sharing the floral design found in the Mesoamerican gallery.

Inspired by the Incense Burner
By Ailsa Tessier

It seems like all the floral arrangements ever designed for the Mesoamerican artefacts are always so elegant. This one is no exception. Inspired by the incense burner, you can almost see the smoke rising from the arrangement with the thin branches and the arum lilies in the vases in the back. With several vases, the arrangement has depth and texture fitting with the nature of the artefact and its purpose.  I like it.

And that’s it for Art in Bloom 2017!

Art in Bloom 2017: Greece, Rome and South Italy

In my second post about Art in Bloom, I am presenting the floral designs associated with artefacts from Greece, Rome and Greek colonies in South Italy.

Inspired by the Torso of Aphrodite
By Diane Joyal

Numerous people mentioned how wonderful it was that the designer had included a seashell-shaped vase for this arrangement.  I’ll admit that I did not even notice… because I was puzzled by the two vases.  The pale-coloured arrangement represented exterior forces of nature, while the darker one the ‘watery feminine domain of the inner world.’  I did not get it.  However, the roses and the myrtles are actually flowers associated with Aphrodite, so kudos for that.

Inspired by the Theatre Relief
By Erica Winston

I enjoyed the vibrant and contrasting colours of this arrangement, which, according to the label, matched the strong forms of the relief.  Considering that the relief is related to theatre, this is a great idea… although I do find that the forms in the relief are not that strong (especially when you see the relief straight on)!

Inspired by the Double Vase with a Central Handle
By EW Fulcher

Oh! This is my favourite of the ancient art inspired arrangements! Excellent work! I love how the designer replicated the shape of the actual artefact, but also mimicking the decorative lines painted on them. I would have loved to see pink flowers instead of the orange ones, simply to reflect the bright pink used on this wonderful South Italian vessel. It is such an astonishingly vivid colour! Okay, I’ll admit being somewhat biased because the South Italian ceramics were studied this fall and we’ll be analysing the bright pink pigment in the coming months!
This floral arrangement gets the ‘curator’s favourite’ ribbon!

Inspired by the Celestial God or Hero
By Steve Taras

I think it’s a bit too easy to use pale-coloured flowers to illustrate a white marble sculpture. Considering that the statue represents either Helios, the Greek god of the sun, or one of the Dioscuri–Castor or Pollux–the twins sons of Leda who are the patrons of sailors (who appear to them as St. Elmo’s Fire), also associated with horsemanship.  A bit more colour would have been appropriate and welcome.
That being said, Steve Taras won my curatorial ribbon last year with his spectacular mosaic of flowers… Not so this year.

And to end this particular post, l am adding another classically-inspired floral arrangement, but this one is neo-classical Roman goddess displayed in the European galleries. In this instance, the white orchids absolutely work, especially associated with the rattan structure that is both imposing and fragile. The design beautifully represents the goddess.

Inspired by the Venus Italica
By Carol Innskeep


The third and last Art in Bloom post will come soon!


Amara West: a new book for children

A wonderful post from my colleagues who work at Amara West. The delightful book for children mentioned in the post can be downloaded in English or Arabic.

“This book presents everyday life in Abri, Amara East and Ernetta island as a part of the broader history and culture of the area. Abri lies in the centre of the Sikood region which is located in the middle of modern Nubia, Sudan, some 725 km north of Khartoum. This book is to engage children with local heritage, including the local archaeological sites.”

Amara West project blog

Book cover A book for children, Life in the Heart of Nubia, presents local heritage found within the communities, from traditional lifestyles to archaeology.

Tomomi Fushiya, Leiden University

I arrived at the Amara West dig house in Ernetta island towards the end of the 2017 season with a final draft of the children’s book,  Life in the Heart of Nubia. Designed as an introductory booklet for schoolchildren in the local communities around Amara West – Abri, Amara East and Ernetta – the book explores the lifestyles, culture, language, oral histories and archaeology of these communities.  It is shaped by members of these communities and their responses, and also questions we received from them during the interviews and outreach programmes over the last two years.

In November 2016, I had travelled to Abri to discuss and plan the book with those who were willing to volunteer in their spare time on this…

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UN Security Council adopts historic resolution for the protection of heritage

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova addressed today’s public briefing of the United Nations Security Council on “Maintenance of international peace and security: destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorist groups and in situations of armed conflict,” where the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2347 for the protection of heritage.

Bokova said:

“The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime, it has become a tactic of war to tear societies over the long term, in a strategy of cultural cleansing. This is why defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives.”


You can read the the details on the UNESCO website, where you can view the video as well.

Bacchus TNG

The NCMA recently received a (matching) federal grant for a project I elaborated with Mark the marble guy, Corey the objects conservator and the staff in the Museum’s Art Conservation Centre (you can read the press release here). This grant will help us to complete a de-restoration project begun on the Statue of Bacchus more than 30 years ago. (Not kidding!)

You see, the Statue of Bacchus is a composite made of two ancient parts: a head (dating to the 1st-3rd century) and a magnificent torso (2nd century) as well as postantique legs, a left arm, a tree trunk and a base that were brought together to create a whole sculpture in either the late 16th or early 17th century. (Originally, it also had a right arm, but that’s been missing since before it came to the museum.)  The Statue of Bacchus was donated to the NCMA in 1958 and by 1961 the Director was asking specialists in classical art what they thought of the sculpture. They pointed out that the head and the torso were not from the same ancient statue and suggested that the statue be de-restored so the antiquities could be exhibited separately. At the time, the Museum had neither the money nor the staff to tackle such a project…

So Bacchus languished until the 1980s when it was determined that indeed the two ancient components were made from different marbles and the head was removed from the torso.  A few years later, in 1990, the post-antique leaves and grape clusters were removed from the head, which was displayed in the galleries. Unfortunately, the rest of Bacchus went back to storage… until rescued and displayed in the Kunstkamer between 2002 and 2013–not good enough to be in the Classical galleries.


While the statue of Bacchus did need a little cosmetic treatment to hide some unsightly damage, the torso embedded in it is more than good enough. It is spectacularly rare and should definitely be on display!  It is one of five  torsos of this type dating to the Roman imperial period in the whole world! (Seriously!) And the only one in the Americas.  While today completely de-restoring sculptures is rare done, leaving such an amazing and rare sculpture in art historical limbo, half de-restored is unthinkable. (As a wise Jedi Master once said, Do. Or do not. There is no try.  In other words, you either completely de-restore the statue. Or you leave it whole. You don’t half de-restore it.)  So the project is to continue and finally complete this 30-year-old de-restoration.

However, all of us working on the project felt very strongly about the postantique fragments. These limbs, tree trunk and plinth have art historical value and we believe should not be relinquished to the art historical dust bin. Technology and conservation techniques have greatly improved since the 1960s and 1980s, and part of the project is to create replicas of the ancient components (head and torso) and recreate Bacchus as he was 300+ years ago by adding these replicas to the postantique, historical core.  We’ll even have a new right arm sculpted for him! Furthermore, the de-restoration also gives us a very rare opportunity to study the methods and materials used to create this complete sculpture from various fragments.

All of this art + science is very cool and exciting and we’ll have an exhibition at the end of the project and lots of education programming.  We already have a web page about the Bacchus Conservation Project and, because we need to match the grant before we can start, we also have a donation area (click on the ‘donor list’).

Back in the 1960s, the Museum Director  suggested that they leave this important project to a future generation. I guess we are The Next Generation!


(Cue the Star Trek TNG soundtrack! Ha!)

Ethics of Acquiring Cultural Heritage Objects

On Thursday and Friday, I was in Virginia–specifically at Washington and Lee University in Lexington–to attend a conference on the Ethics of Acquiring Cultural Heritage Objects.

It all started on Thursday evening with a keynote lecture delivered by Neil Brodie, archaeology professor at Oxford whose research concentrates on  the illicit antiquities trade. In his talk, Dr. Brodie mentioned that the network and system of laundering antiquities has changed significantly in the last 10-20 years. The old system, which comprised rare and spectacular objects, suave art dealers, famous auctions houses, wealthy collectors and large museums, is dying out. The heart of the new system continues to be stolen antiquities, but these are much smaller, portable and easily concealed (which makes them easy to miss by authorities). Promotion of these illicit objects is made via social media and traffic occurs on the websites of small, unscrupulous  merchants  or via eBay.  Prices are much lower, but the quantity of available artefact is much greater. Unlike big auction houses whose reputation is at stake in looted antiquities claims, smaller merchants simply reinvent themselves after paying a piddly sum if caught, and continue their illicit business under another name! (Seriously, something needs to be done about this!)  What a fascinating lecture that was!

Friday’s programme offered several lectures by specialists in various fields such as archaeology, anthropology, art history as well as economics and criminal justice.  The focus was primarily the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, the prey of various types of looters and terrorists. I would have liked to see more presentations concerning unprovenanced objects that have been in museum collections for more than 30-40 years, acquired when lack of provenance was not an issue. These objects are the ones that conservators of my generation have to contend with on a daily basis. These objects bought on the art market are found in most museums, especially those that have never conducted archaeological excavations in the late 19th or early 20th century and benefited from partage (the division of finds between the host country and the excavators).  Only the presentation by James Cuno mentioned the merits of partage (which he believes should be reinstate with various modifications and for a variety of reasons); he also talked about the continued role of the museum in the protection cultural heritage.

Working away from work is always fun, especially when participating in great discussions of relevance to today’s chaotic world.