Ancient vessels have usually gone through a lot before making their way into a comfortable museum store. First they have to survive the dangerous business of production and come out of the kiln intact and as intended. If they pass muster, they then have to make it through being packed up and shipped off to market, near or far. Then there are the ministrations of their new owners to be borne, with all the risks of having chips come off here and there through rough handling. Sooner or later, every amphora knows some clumsy owner is going to end up knocking its handles off. And then into a pit with it, where its carcass suffers further indignities as rubbish is thrown in on top, or into a tomb where the ceiling might fall in and inflict yet more distress. Only to be in danger once more from the swing of the excavator’s pick. (more…)
Field archaeologists are experts in recycling – give us a random selection of old bits of string, nails, cardboard or whatever and we’ll transform them into some terribly useful bit of kit that costs next to nothing. Or failing that, a spectacular costume for the end-of-dig fancy dress party. My personal highlight was the year I morphed into Princess Leia, accompanied by R2D2 (the dig vacuum cleaner with a few judicious additions. I had to make the noises myself).
But the most common and recognisable piece of recycling would have to be the small finds boxes. Objects come in all shapes and sizes, so there is always a scramble in field work to find the perfect container to keep that bone pin from breaking as it makes its route from registrar to photographer to illustrator. Then comes the moment when objects need to be shipped abroad, and another scramble is on to find packing materials to keep everything safe in transit.
Museum storerooms are by their very nature elusive creatures; the demands of finding space for the sixty-plus thousand objects in the Institute of Archaeology collections means that objects often lie cheek to jowl with one another fighting for both room and attention. For the curator, exploring a busy storeroom means that every now and again you will encounter the unfamiliar, the exciting, and sometimes the downright bizarre. Like this recently rediscovered object, known officially as 46.10/22.
I first met 46.10/22 in an overcrowded drawer, mixed in with pottery from former excavations at the site of Jericho, from the modern-day Palestinian Autonomous Authority. Jericho itself is the stuff of legend – notorious for its trumpet-sensitive walls in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 5 – 6), from which account we derive the desire to ‘wish someone to Jericho’. But it has taken on other resonances in modern culture: as a tourist destination, the theme of a song by legendary 70s band Stray, or reinvented for television as a spy thriller and now an American town at the centre of a post-apocalyptic drama. Its also been the home of a few archaeological ‘discussions’, including a rather entertaining debate in 1990 between Manchester Museum’s Piotr Bienkowski and biblical archaeologist Bryant G. Wood (“Jericho was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, not the Late Bronze Age”, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5, 45-6, and “Dating Jericho’s Destruction: Bienkowski is Wrong on all Counts”, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5, 45-9). (more…)