A really weird package came for me in the mail a few days ago. It was from the marble guy with whom I’m working on the Museum’s marble sculptures. A gilded and pointy thing made out of wood. With it a simple note that said: Can you guess what this is?
As I walked back to my desk, it hit me like a bolt of lightning! It was a little ray of sunshine! Our statue of the Celestial god (possibly Helios, the Greek god of the sun) wears a headdress that has little holes in it. These may have held gilded metal rays to create a radiant crown (a bit like the Statue of Liberty). My colleague had send me the mock-up of a ray to insert in the headdress to determine the correct proportions. Once that is figured out, a set of twelve rays will be made to recreate the golden crown for a photo.
Our verdict: the ray needs to be thinner and shorter.
On Sunday, I was invited to lecture at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University for the American Research Center in Egypt, Georgia Chapter. My talk, however, was not on ancient Egypt, but on ancient Sudan. I was happy to lecture about Nubia because it seems I’m always talking about Egypt! It was entitled Excavating Kush: Exploring the Architectural Landscape of Nubia and focused on the sites of Meroe and Dangeil, where I have worked. It was well attended by enthusiastic people, which was great.
It was a long weekend, mostly because it’s a 6 hour drive to Atlanta and I spent a lot of time on the road. Actually, it’s about the same time one spends on the bus from Khartoum to Dangeil! Ha!
In the middle of the week, Herakles left the West Building for a visit to the photo studio before heading to the conservation lab. Although he weighs about 1020 lbs(!), it only took a few minutes to move the big guy off his pedestal. All you need is brawn, brain and some smooth materials.
Heracles is a very complexe sculpture and we need to look at him even closer than we did before… Actually, we need to look at his knee joins. I’ll let you know when he gets his quasi-surgical operation!
Just before the holidays, Mark the marble guy dropped by the NCMA to take one last look at the classical marble sculptures before he could hand over his reports and catalogue entries. Again we had to work in the dark galleries of the museum, but luckily we didn’t have to start as late as before… the sun sets much sooner in winter!
Assisted by Caroline “the Younger” (who was my intern in the spring), we reexamined the troublesome Hercules and just a few other sculptures with Mark’s nifty and very powerful flashlight, his new portable microscope and under ultraviolet lights. We also took photographs (UV and VIL/IRR) of details based on our earlier “night at the museum” sessions. This should be the last examination of the marbles and the research on these works of art is pretty much completed… but the project continues with the study of other ancient objects from different Classical cultures and made from different materials.
The research on the NCMA’s classical collection continues and that is making me really, really happy. It might not be related to ancient Egypt or Nubia, but at least it’s ancient! Very late in November, our intellectual travels took us to South Italy and Sicily, where the ancient Greeks established colonies. Keely H, who is an expert on this material, took a look at the small collection from the art historical and archaeological standpoint; she was assisted by yours truly as well as Stacey, NCMA conservation technician. Objects conservator Corey was examining the collection from the conservation perspective.
The collection consists of various ceramic vessels, some of which are wonderfully coloured… but are all these pigments actually ancient? That is the question! We are trying to find the answer by looking at the objects under UV lights, by X-ray fluorescence (which was done by NCMA paintings conservator Noelle who is not on the photos), and hopefully even by sampling for further testing in later months. Stay tuned for that!
After having spent most of the past year being buried up to my neck in Art Deco automobiles and motorcycles, I was more than delighted to get back in to the ancient groove in November and December, even though I worked evenings and weekends to make sure everything was done in time. This involved mostly lectures, talks and PowerPoint presentations, but it was all related to ancient things…
On November 19, I taught my Egyptology Seminar (it had been rescheduled from the spring because of the various deadlines for the exhibition). Also, due to this same lack of time, it was only a half day event instead of a full day affair, but it was very well attended nonetheless. The theme (well, title, really) was “Taking Care of Business at Pharaoh’s Court” and I presented with short lectures a number of important individuals who helped shape Egypt during its long history–Imhotep and Hemiunu (both from the Old Kingdom), Ahmose son of Ibana (New Kingdom) and Mentuemhet, the mayor of Thebes during the Third Intermediate Period and the Late Period. Luckily, Dr. Bonnie Sampsell—the author of the Geology of Egypt, who happens to be not only a geologist but also an amateur Egyptologist—kindly helped by giving one of the seminar talks. She presented Senenmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s trusted architect and royal nanny. That gave me some time to breathe…
On November 21 I spent the whole day at North Carolina State University as guest speaker, invited by Dr. Dru MgGill, archaeologist at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. I presented the scientific methods used in museums to study ancient ceramics for the students taking Special Topics in Anthropology, Pots and People: Ceramics Analysis in late morning. Then, after a tasty lunch with my colleague, I spoke to two groups taking Unearthing the Past: Introduction to World Archaeology. I introduced them to the archaeology of ancient Sudan (Meroe and Dangeil) and mused the work of an archaeologist employed in a museum. Few students actually think of this option when considering jobs related to archaeology and material culture.
These were intense and very tiring months, but at least I was back into the ancient groove!!
One of the many projects and tasks that occupied me last week was the ongoing research on the NCMA’s classical collection. This time around, it was the Etruscan objects and other early Italic material that was under study.
Professor Nancy de Grummond was in town for the examination. It was an intensive two-day study, but it was great fun to learn from her. She is a wonderful wealth of information about all things pre-Roman.