Ox-hide copper ingot

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 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.

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How to Observe in Archaeology

I greatly enjoyed this post and thought I would share. I love the advice to amateur archaeologists… back in 1920! (Keep up the good work, Anna!)

Ancient Cypriot art in Leeds

Recently I came across this intriguing slim volume, a guide to amateur archaeology in the Near and Middle East, produced at the recommendation of the British Museum’s Archaeological Joint Committee and published by the Museum in 1920. It was edited by G.F. Hill, Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, with individual chapters by experienced scholars.

Title page of How to Observe in Archaeology Title page of How to Observe in Archaeology

It’s essentially a ‘how-to’ guide for travellers who fancied having a go at archaeology on their way through the Near and Middle East, or in the intervals of their duties in these regions (while it is not explicitly stated, a male traveller is clearly assumed, and indeed the joint authors are all men). The Committee appear to have taken the view that the energies of amateur excavators and collectors should be directed in order to minimise damage to archaeological sites, as well as adding to scientific knowledge…

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