My ARCHAEO-Crush for this month is something that doesn’t look like much, but is rare and interesting to archaeologists.
Ox-hide copper ingot at the Museum of Prehistory and Early History in Berlin. Photo by yours truly.
OX-HIDE COPPER INGOT
Type: artefact (ingot) Civilisation: Ancient Cyprus Date: 2nd millennium BC ARCHAEO-Crush: In 2009, I visited the Neues Museum in Berlin and toured all the galleries–not just the Egyptian and Nubian ones at the Ägyptisches Museum, but also those at Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte (both museums are housed in the same building). One of the artefacts that really impressed me was this ox-hide copper ingot, an object that might appear very boring to many.
Before I tell you why I was very intrigued by this object, let me first explain what it actually is. It is an ingot of copper and its shape is similar to a stretched skin of an ox (sometimes, but not in this case, they have ‘handles’ at each corner, like the legs of animal). According to the label, the ingot weighs 25.67kg (a little over 56 lbs) and it is believed to have been discovered in the sea between Turkey and Cyprus in 1907 (although the location has since been lost). Such copper ingots were raw material traded all over the ancient Mediterranean and it seems that Cyprus was the main producer of copper during the second millennium BC.
The ingot really made an impression on me because it’s the kind of object you see bring brought as tribute on the walls of beautifully decorated New Kingdom Theban tombs–like that of Rekhmire, Nebamun, Useramon, etc… Men carry them on their shoulder and they are exactly of this ox-hide shape. Very few are still extant because the copper would me smelted and mixed with tin to make bronze objects. What is remarkable is that ox-hide ingots have been recovered from shipwreck sites, where entire cargoes disappeared under the seas. (That also appealed to me because I use to scuba dive when I was a teen.) A famous example is the Ulu Burun wreck, where more than 10 tons of ingots were found! (Click on the Ulu Burun link for info about the underwater excavation of the wreck and images of the ingots on the website of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M.) Bucket list status: I have seen this particular ingot only once, but it certainly impressed me! Additional information: The ingot’s inventory number is MK 618/1913 and, if I remember correctly, it was in a gallery dedicated to Schliemann’s collection of artefacts from Troy and the cultural history of Cyprus.
During holidays like (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out my archaeological/Egyptological Memory game, which I set up on the coffee table in the living room. When I walk by (while otherwise puttering around the house), I try to find matching pairs of artefacts or galleries of the Neues Museum in Berlin.
A memory game fit for archaeologists and Egyptologists, given to me by my good friend Dana (who happens to be an Egyptologist herself).
When 5pm rolled around, I was officially off for the long Thanksgiving weekend and the game came out. I have already found four out of thirty-six pairs. (Still looking for Nefertiti.) Even though I do have some activities planned this weekend, I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all by Sunday evening!
My ARCHAEO-crush for the month of October is a treasure… a real treasure that was unfortunately found by a treasure-hunter, not an archaeologist.
TREASURE OF QUEEN AMANISKAKHETO Type: artefact (jewellery) Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush Date: Merotic period, reign of Queen Amanishakheto, 10 BCE – 1CE ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of the Kandake (queen) Amanishakheto–which is more than the gold jewellery presented here–was discovered in her pyramid at Meroe (pronounced May-roe-ay); however probably not in a funerary chamber inside the core of the pyramid as claimed by the explorer treasure-hunter Giuseppe Ferlini, but more likely in the burial chamber below the pyramid. Unlike Egyptian ones, the structure of Kushite pyramids does not make these inner chambers possible. Considering that Ferlini and his men completely dismantled the pyramid from the top down, it’s possible that he thought the chamber was inside it when in fact he was already beneath it–that poor pyramid is destroyed to its foundations! This was in 1834… and twelve earlier the pyramid was recorded as practically intact. (Insert sobs here.) I have to admit I have a soft for the Meroe pyramids…
As you can imagine, Ferlini sought to sell his fabulous discovery and part of it was acquired for the royal Bavarian collection (jewels pictured above) and are now part of the collection at the Staaliche Museum Aegyptischer Kunst in Munich. However, he had difficulty finding a buyer for the second half of the Meroe treasure. Although to Meroiticists like me these objects are beautiful, they do not quite compare in quality of craftsmanship with material known from the Hellenistic world at the time. Plus, given that Meroitic art was little known at the time and that it combines known Egyptian and Hellenistic motifs along with obscure Meroitic ones, it is no wonder that people were hesitant to buy it. In any case, it was Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius who convinced the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin of the authenticity of the treasure and recommended its acquisition in 1844. Hence the reason why part of the treasure is in Berlin.
Meroitic treasure from a Kushite pyramid in Sudan… to me that’s a treasure, indeed! Bucket list status: I have seen the treasure in both Berlin and Munich (and today’s photos date from my September trip to Munich). Additional information: The pyramid of Amanishakheto is Beg. N. 6 in the North Pyramid Field at Meroe.
My ARCHAEO-Crush of August is one of the most beautiful ancient Egyptian sculptures… one that is somewhat controversial. Isn’t it always the case with Nefertiti?
Photo of the bust of Nefertiti that I took in 2009 during my last visit to the Museum.
THE BUST OF NEFERTITI Type: artefact (painted sculptor’s model) Civilisation: Ancient Egypt Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of King Akhenaten (14th century BCE) ARCHAEO-Crush: It goes without saying that this is one of the most beautiful and most well-known sculpture from ancient Egypt. This spectacular bust represents Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose name means the beautiful one has come. The statue is carved from limestone and augmented with plaster and beautifully painted in polychrome. It was discovered in 1912 by Ludwig Borchardt of the German mission excavating at El-Amarna–the city founded by Akhenaten. The statue of Nefertiti wasn’t discovered in a tomb (we still haven’t found the queen’s tomb despite rumours you may have heard recently) but in the studio of a sculptor named Thutmose at Amarna. Early in the 20th century, the Egyptian Antiquities Service would share the archaeological discoveries excavated by foreign missions working in Egypt–this is called ‘partage’ (from the French word meaning ‘to share’) and it seems that Borchardt may not have presented this particular discovery looking its best so that it would be given to Germany rather than kept in Cairo. The bust is now at the Ägyptisches Museum (Egyptian Museum) in Berlin, which is located in the Neues Museum on Museum Island. Some scholars have also grumbled about its authenticity, thinking that it was actually made in 1912 and that the bust is in fact modern! The beautiful Nefertiti–a real ancient women of whose origins and death we know very little–will undoubtedly remain mysterious for a little while longer… and so will her now-famous and incredibly beautiful bust. Bucket list status: I have actually seen this sculpture twice: the first time in its old home at Charlottenburg and more recently when the Neues Museum reopened. One should drop by the Egyptian Museum just to see her… she’s the Mona Lisa of Berlin! It’s worth the brouhaha. Additional information: There are loads of books that have been written about Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten or the so-called Amarna Period…
I’m really liking WordPress! It’s so quick… and that’s why after just a few minutes of work you have a new page to peruse in the Photo Diary. Today, I’m uploading some of my faves from the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin. There are many works of art dating to the Amarna Period in Berlin–including the bust of Nefertiti–and those will be presented later. Right now, you have wonderful pieces from the rest of the Egyptian collection. Enjoy! Just select Ägyptisches Museum (Berlin) from the drop-down menu under Photo Diary.