Update: Recent archaeology and antiquities related news

Below please find a selection of news items from the past few weeks dealing with archaeological discoveries and research, antiquities and ancient art that we felt to be of special interest. All links will open in a new tab or window. Enjoy –

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A breakthrough moment in the modern interpretation of antiquities

As an artist myself (yes, I have come to accept, to my own astonishment, that in addition to being an antiquities dealer / antiquarian / art historian, I am, at last, an artist) I often find myself influenced, even if sometimes subliminally, by the ancient and medieval art and artifacts I handle every day (see a few images related to this below). So when I saw a newly released YouTube video from The British Museum, in which they collaborated with both Turner Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading art galleries, situated on Margate seafront, on the same site as the boarding house where the great painter J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town), I was ecstatic.

The British Museum and Turner Contemporary commissioned UK artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, though it is worth noting that the Samian Ware bowls in question would not have been considered “art” in their own time, simply practical objects; that is, craft. This type of collaboration, when properly executed, can offer modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past. Some younger or more aesthetically extreme viewers might see the ancient objects as mere “dead people’s art,” while some more narrow minded viewers of any age might see the modern response to the artifacts as fluff or not even art at all. Well, where art is concerned one cannot please everyone. But collaborations of this sort are valuable and I wish they would become more common.

Here’s an image of a Roman Samian Ware bowl gifted by Clio Ancient Art to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA a few years ago, similar to those involved in this project:

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Here is a piece I created last year that responds to both Medieval English tiles (a favorite topic) and Islamic “calligrams”- figurative calligraphy.

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This is an example of a group of 13th Century English floor tiles at Exeter Cathedral.

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And here is a 17th Century Persian calligram, with the “Bismillah” phrase in the form of a bird.

calligram

Here is an enameled copper pendant I made, responding to an ancient Egyptian faience flat amulet of the god Hapy, one of the four sons of Horus and god of the inundation – the annual flooding of the Nile. Flat amulets of this sort were often sewn into the wrappings of mummies, particularly from the New Kingdom period onward.

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And here is an original example of a flat faience amulet of Hapy, dating to the 22nd Dynasty.

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Of course, I could go on with many more examples. But the key point here is that modern and ancient art share a great deal in common, at the most basic levels. If we stop to self-examine our response to one, we may gain valuable insights into the other. That is what made the British Museum’s collaborative project so important and, I think, groundbreaking. Here is the link to their YouTube video on this project:

Shipwrecks and samian ware: commissioning art with Turner Contemporary

Here is a link to artist Hannah Lees’ website, with examples of her work, including more detailed views of what she created for this project:

http://www.hannahlees.com/p/a-mysterious-principle-which-is-in.html

Lastly, here is a link to my own art, available on my personal (not Clio’s) Etsy shop:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/PastPresentArtCraft

 

 

Object of the week: A large Roman knee brooch

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This week’s featured object highlights the nature of travel and mobility, as well as the adoption of regional clothing styles, in the Roman world. Among the countless varieties of Roman fibulae – brooches for securing clothing at the shoulders – there were some easily recognizable general categories, including plate brooches, bow brooches, disc brooches, etc. The earliest and by far the most common category of distinctly Roman brooches was the bow brooch. This simple clothespin-like form evolved into many shapes and styles, some of which were purely local. Our object for this week is a type of bow brooch that developed over time across a wide area, from the Roman Danube frontier in central Europe to England.

The earliest knee brooches, so named because of the dramatic bend in their bow, appear in the Roman province of Pannonia, what is today the Danube region of Hungary and Croatia, in the early 2nd Century AD. These have a very “industrial” feel, with strong, squared edges and right angles, with only simple geometric decoration either cast or incised just above the catch plate. Later, in the second half of the 2nd Century, these develop a semicircular head plate which is often decorated with rouletting along the edge. In the Danubian region finds of knee brooches seem to be exclusively associated with military contexts, such as the forts along the upper Danube.

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Upon arriving in Britain, presumably with military units reassigned from the Danube frontier, the knee brooch developed further. But instead of being found in strictly military contexts, Romano-British knee brooches, such as ours, are found as temple and shrine offerings, in civilian settings, and at military sites. Ours is very well preserved and shows the decorated semicircular head plate type in its fully developed form. The knee brooch continued as a common type in Roman Britain until about the beginning of the 4th Century, before being replaced by the crossbow type.

Readers interested in acquiring this object may find it on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261523289/a-large-roman-bronze-knee-brooch-150-250?ref=shop_home_active_90

Or on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/131920055095

Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Programme Completed

A new post on the Staffordshire Hoard website has announced completion of the cleaning and conservation project. With many tiny fragments emerging from the soil during this process, the total number of pieces is now about 4,000. Several pieces have been reconstructed from these fragments, with surprising results. The research phase is continuing and a catalog, research reports and much more will be available online in 2018. The Hoard website already has an excellent photo gallery of some of the key objects. Read the latest here (opens in a new tab or window). – http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/news/staffordshire-hoard-conservation-programme-completed

Antiquities News Update

There have been several exciting antiquities related developments in the news over the past month, particularly in the field of Roman archaeology. Here is a roundup of some we found especially interesting (links open in a new tab or window). –

* A great short video on one artifact from The British Museum’s multicultural Sicily exhibition – https://youtu.be/rLhfKLGEY2U

* Rare discovery of Late Roman official buried in Leicester –
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160707101031.html

* Roman Ceramic Factory Found in Israel – http://www.livescience.com/55523-roman-pottery-shop-israel-photos.html

* Bronze figure of Roman goddess unearthed at Arbeia
in South Shields – http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/bronze-figure-roman-goddess-unearthed-11673851

* August Blog update on excavations at Vindolanda Roman Fort – http://www.vindolanda.com/_blog/excavation

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

Medieval Antiquities in London: The British Museum and Museum of London

In dealing with antiquities, one tends to focus on objects truly “ancient” in that they belong to cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. Defining precisely what is ancient or an antiquity is itself something of a puzzle, with scholars, dealers, curators and collectors all having varying opinions. Clio Ancient Art has defined any object made prior to the year 1500 AD as an antiquity. This allows art and artifacts from the later Byzantine Empire, Medieval Europe (or at least Europe prior to the full flowering of the Renaissance) and Medieval Islam to be included.

Great Britain is fortunate to be among those societies that live every day with the physical evidence of a continuum of culture all around them. Most English museums, even in small communities, have excellent collections of the art and artifacts of every day life, ranging from the stone age to the industrial era, including the loosely defined “Middle Ages” – In England, the period beginning with the Roman departure from Britain and ending with the rise of the Tudor Dynasty. Those living in London are especially fortunate in having two spectacular collections of Medieval antiquities to visit: The British Museum and the Museum of London. This photo essay examines a few personal favorites from among countless marvelous objects dating to this broad period of time. All photos should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Post-Roman, early Medieval, Saxon Brooch, Saxon shield boss, Museum of London

A Saxon silver gilt brooch and gold shield bosses, all dated to around 600 AD and found in the greater London area. Behind them, an early hand made Saxon pottery vessel. Museum of London.

Saxon art, Saxon England, Saxon brooch, Museum of London

A brooch made of copper decorated with gold plates, gold wire and polished garnets. Dated to about 650 AD, it belonged to a wealthy Saxon woman who was buried in what is now Covent Garden with beads, rings and other personal items. Museum of London.

Viking spearheads, Viking weapons, Museum of London, Viking London

Viking bronze spearheads found in the Thames and dating to the 700s and 800s AD. Museum of London.

Anglo-Norse, Anglo-Saxon art, Museum of London

A grave marker dated to shortly after 1000 AD, found near St Paul Cathedral in 1852. The style is Anglo-Norse and was popular in both Scandinavia and late Saxon England. It depicts a stylized lion in combat with a serpent. Museum of London.

Constantinople, Byzantine Art, Byzantine Empire, Byzantine triptych, Borradaile tryptych

Known as the Borradaile Triptych, this magnificent work of ivory was created between 900 and 1000 AD in Constantinople (today known as Istanbul), capital of the Byzantine Empire, and made its way to a convent in France at some time in the Middle Ages. The British Museum.

Ivory comb, British Museum, Medieval Art

An otherwise indecipherable Latin inscription on this comb of elephant ivory, an exotic material, contains the word “God” suggesting it was made for religious ceremonies. It dates to between 1080 and 1100 AD. At this time in England, combs were used to groom the priest prior to consecration of the bread and wine to avoid their being contaminated. The British Museum.

Medieval glass, Venetian glass, Islamic glass, Museum of London

Fine glass imported from distant lands was no doubt an expensive commodity in Medieval London. The green Islamic glass vessel at left dates to around the 10th Century. The two finely enameled Islamic glass shards at bottom center were made in Egypt or Syria in the 13th or 14th Century. The enameled glass at far right was made in Venice around 1300 AD. Museum of London.

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

This remarkable enameled gold cup was commissioned by Jean Duc de Berry for his nephew Charles VI of France in 1391. The wars between England and France saw it pass to the English royal household in 1435. During Henry VIII’s reign Tudor roses were added to the stem. James I gave it to the Spanish ambassador in 1604 to mark a peace treaty and it was gifted to a Spanish convent in 1610, where it remained until appearing on the Paris art market in 1883.

Tristram and Isolde, Medieval tiles, British Museum

Wealthy private homes, churches and key public buildings often had floors covered in decorated ceramic tiles. The tile making industry flourished during the 13th, 14th and early 15th Century. This group of tiles tells the beginning of the popular story of the adulterous love affair between Tristram and Isolde. The full story sequence would have included over 30 of these groups of tiles. They were probably commissioned for an important private residence. Late 13th Century. The British Museum.

Medieval art, Medieval enamel brooch, British Museum

This brooch was made in either England or France around 1400 AD. It features white enamel with a pink tourmaline, a stone that would have been rare at the time and probably came from Sri Lanka. Henry of Lancaster, later King Henry IV of England, is known to have given this type of white enamel jewelery to his friends. The British Museum, on loan from All Souls College, Oxford University.

Fishpool Hoard, Medieval art, Medieval coins, Medieval jewelery, British Museum

Above and Below: The Fishpool Hoard of gold coins and jewelery, buried around 1464, based on the latest coins in the hoard. It consists of nearly 1,300 gold coins and many pieces of fine jewelery. It seems to have been buried by a Lancastrian sympathizer fleeing the Battle of Hexham (during the Wars of the Roses), as the Lancastrians were defeated by the Yorkists there.

13 WPMed hoard 1 BM

To see Clio’s selection of medieval antiquities, especially Saxon, Visigoth, Frankish, Norman, Byzantine and Islamic objects, visit these pages: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p1.htmland http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p2.html

UK Portable Antiquities Scheme Releases 2013 Annual Report

The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, along with The British Museum, have issued the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2013 Annual Report. The Report shows how, more than ever,  this model of public participation in the finding and recording of archaeological data can have huge benefits to finders, museums and the broader base of archaeological and historical knowledge. It is a model that should be emulated by many other countries in and beyond Europe.

Some amazing key facts from the Report –

* One million finds have now been recorded by the Portable
Antiquities Scheme (PAS) since 1997.
• 80,861 PAS finds were recorded on the PAS database in 2013 (finds.org.uk/database).
• 90% of finds were found by metal-detectorists.
• 91% of PAS finds were found on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes.
* The great majority of PAS finds are returned to the finder.
• 993 Treasure cases were reported. It is hoped that many of these will be acquired by museums for public benefit.
• Important new Treasure finds included eight Bronze Age gold bracelets from Woollaston, Gloucestershire (2013 T805), a Civil War coin hoard from Staveley, North Yorkshire (2013 T635) and a post-medieval silver ewer from Kingston Russell, Devon (2013 T476).
It is worth noting here that if about 90% of PAS finds are returned to the finders, in just 2013 this would amount to over 70,000 individual objects being available to enter the marketplace for antiquities and related items. Those who claim, with no actual proof, that the antiquities market is flooded with looted objects should consider this number. In the space of a decade this would approach nearly a million objects, many tens of thousands of them being marketable Celtic, Roman, Saxon and other antiquities. All perfectly legal under British and international law.
The PAS 2013 Report is available to download or view in PDF format here – http://finds.org.uk/documents/annualreports/2013.pdf