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.
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!
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 Bostonthat shows him with an aquiline nose.
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.