Metal Heads! (The archaeological kind.)

Last week, the objects under study for the classical catalogue were the ancient metals (bronze statuettes and gold finger rings). Ancient bronze specialist Carol M. visited the NCMA to examine our (very lovely) pieces and Corey was there as well for the conservation assessment. However, Noelle, our very tech-savvy conservator of record for the research project, had all the fun!

Some of the statuettes were x-rayed and the fabulous Head of a Woman in the Guise of a Goddess was zapped in the eye with the XRF (to obtain the composition of the silver used for her eyes).  Noelle also brought the Head to the mail room this morning so it could get weighed!

Cue whatever heavy metal band you’ve got on your playlist and take a look at these cool pics!

 

La vie en rose

Earlier this morning, the classical galleries were closed for ‘research and conservation.’  Bill, our chief conservator, and I were there to take samples of the bright pink pigment found on the South Italian ceramics.  We have a good idea of what this pigment might be but we’ll send samples to a colleague in Italy for scientific confirmation.

Sampling is always a delicate procedure because it is destructive.  Bill had to scrape some of that fabulous pink off the four vessels that use it in their decoration. We picked locations on the vessels that are less visible when you’re visiting the galleries and viewing the pots.  You shouldn’t notice where the pink pigment was scraped off.

The results will be published in the NCMA’s upcoming catalogue of classical art.

 

VENI, VIDI, VICI

Last week, the study of the classical collection continued when Laurel Taylor came to the Museum to look at the other Roman artefacts (not the Roman marble statues that have already been studied). Corey Riley was there as well, taking care of the conservation assessment. The collection of Roman ceramics is rather small and not of good quality compared to other ceramics we have from elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean.

Two of the objects were not even Roman and two others were probably forgeries!  The rest were cute if not spectacular. Although we had fun, I guess our Roman study session was more like  VENI, VIDI, SED NON VICI.

Artifact Investigation

I love those artefact conservation posts! Here is one from Carrie at the Kelsey about a bowl from Karanis covered with some mysterious white stuff. (And I love a good detective story as well!)

Kelsey Museum

CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

I love a good mystery, and nothing (save a really good crime novel) is better than an artifact mystery. I love the thrill of investigating an object, identifying its agents of deterioration, and nabbing those culprits one by one. I also really enjoy teaching new conservators how to use investigative tools to make their own observations. I recently spent a day looking at an object with Ellen Seidell, a U of M junior who is interning in our lab. The ceramic bowl – excavated at Karanis in 1929 – was covered with feathery white crystals, as well as a drippy, peeling surface coating. I had my suspicions as to what these were, but wanted Ellen to learn for herself how to identify unknown materials.

To do this, we examined the bowl under longwave ultraviolet light. This is a useful tool not only for…

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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.

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.

Statue of Hemiunu

Work has kept me away from An Archaeologist’s Diary more than I ever thought it would so far this year… and December is not going to be any different! So today’s  ARCHAEO-Crush is for October, November and December… and it was inspired by one of the men whose accomplishments were presented in my Egyptology Seminar last weekend.

Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4 (circa 2613-2494 B.C.E.)

ARCHAEO-Crush: This Old Kingdom statue is remarkable in a number of ways, First of all, the physique of the man depicted here is more than stunning in its appearance.  He is stocky and fleshy in a manner seldom seen in Egyptian art, which normally depicts men as eternally youthful, slim and with well-defined muscles… which is not the case with Hemiunu.  Was the man really this corpulent and he wanted to be represented in a realistic manner? Or was his massive physique synonymous with wealth and accomplishment, indicating his important status in the Egyptian government and society?
Both hypotheses are possible because Hemiunu was indeed a very important man in ancient Egypt.  The colourful inscription on the base of his statue gives us numerous titles and offices. Among other titles, Hemiunu was of royal blood (the son of either Snefru or Nefermaat), the vizier (prime minister) during the reign of King Khufu, a priest and the overseer of all the construction works of the king.  As the latter, he was in charge of all the architectural projects initiated by the king for whom he worked.  And he worked of King Khufu…. and you know what that means, right?  Hemiunu was likely the man in charge of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza! Not too shabby an accomplishment, that!

Bucket list status: The first time I saw this statue with my own eyes was at the Royal Ontario Museum when the statue was part of the Egyptian Art during the Age of the Pyramids exhibition. The Hildesheim Museum, where Hemiunu normally resides, was under renovation and it travelled to Toronto.  I have since been to Hildesheim to him again… he’s always so impressive.

Additional information: When Hermann Junker discovered the statue in Hemiunu’s mastaba at Giza, the head had already suffered some damage. The nose was smashed and the eyes had been gauged out.  The face of the statue was restored in the early 20th century based on Hermiunu’s features as seen from a relief from the MFA Boston that shows him with an aquiline nose.