Today opens at the British Museum a new and very interesting exhibition: Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds.
Sunken below the waters of the Mediterranean for over 1000 years, the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus as well as their recently recovered underwater treasures are the subject of this blockbuster exhibition. Not to be missed if you’re in London between 19 May and 27 November.
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.