How to look 3,000 years younger

One of the most exciting outcomes of my research into the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection is the opportunity to give the objects some conservatorial TLC. They have now been transferred to the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, where Emma Bowron, the Museum’s Conservator, is based. This has the added advantage of keeping them safely out of the way while the Department of Classics moves home over the summer, to join our colleagues in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies in the Michael Sadler building.

Emma has now cleaned several of the ceramics, and I’m really pleased with the results. The colours of the clay and paint have come up clean and bright, and give a much better sense of what they must have looked like when newly made. Emma’s achieved these results using a steam cleaner, and it’s amazing how the accumulated dirt of centuries has lifted away.

Steam cleaner used by Emma to clean ceramics

Steam cleaner used by Emma to clean ceramics

The delicate banding on this alabastron is much more evident now, and it’s easy to see how the craftsperson who made it has worked with the features of the natural material to enhance its rounded shape with rings of colour.

Alabastron after cleaning © University of Leeds

Alabastron after cleaning
© University of Leeds

These two plates, which were already striking, are even more so after cleaning. Their colours are fresh and bright, and the difference in the base colour of the plates is much more obvious.

Plate after cleaning © University of Leeds

Plate after cleaning
© University of Leeds

Plate after cleaning © University of Leeds

Plate after cleaning
© University of Leeds

One issue which I hadn’t anticipated is that the cleaning has revealed the restoration work done on some of the objects, such as the second plate above and this Punic jug, where the white infills are now clearly visible.

Punic jug after cleaning © University of Leeds

Punic jug after cleaning
© University of Leeds

This raises the question of whether to paint the infills to mask the restoration, or to leave it as it is (or to add a new layer of grime to make the issue go away!). On balance, I think I prefer to leave the jug as it is. There is no surface decoration that the repairs might detract from in aesthetic terms; on the contrary, they are part of its history and it seems right that they are visible.

There are still some strange accretions on some of the objects, which look as though they have been lying in water at some point. Emma commented that these look like accretions from seawater, which is intriguing, as it’s not at all clear when or how this might have happened. This is one part of their history which will have to remain unknown.

Jug with accretions © University of Leeds

Jug with accretions
© University of Leeds

The next step is to clean the glass objects, which I’m really excited about. Further photos to follow!

How to Observe in Archaeology

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. There is a sense of weariness in the description of what too commonly occurs:

‘The inexperienced traveller is apt to pick up a number of objects haphazard, without accurately noting their find-spots, and even, getting tired of them, as a child of flowers that he has picked, to discard them a mile or two away. If the first act is a blunder, the second is a crime’.

It’s full of fascinating period details; travel by camel is taken as a matter of course, and readers are advised to be firm in bargaining for the sale of antiquities, as ‘your donkey-boy will soon spread your character’. Magnifiers and pocket-knives are recommended as gifts, presumably to secure the help of local people in finding sites of interest. The section on photography in particular is a reminder of how much easier life is with modern technology; no more grappling with glass plates and bellows, or increasing the contrast of objects with charcoal, ink or chalk – a practice which would surely be frowned on these days. There’s a pleasingly make-do feel to some of the advice: ‘Tin-foil is very handy for squeezes, and may be saved from chocolate for this’, and ‘Lids of biscuit tins serve well’ for photographic reflectors. Clearly then, as now, chocolate and biscuits were essential for archaeological work.

There is a striking change in attitude from the previous generation of archaeological exploration, which was very much a free-for-all. The authors are keen to put down ‘those pests, the curio-hunting tourists’, and have strong words to say about the importance of observing local laws of antiquities and taking proper records:

‘The traveller who makes it his object to loot a country of its antiquities, smuggling objects out of it and disguising the sources from which they are obtained, does a distinct dis-service to archaeological science… Such action is equivalent to tearing out whole pages from a history and destroying them for ever’.

The chapter on Cyprus is written by J.L. Myres, who led the British Museum’s excavations at Amathus in 1893-94, the possible source of the University of Leeds’ ancient Cypriot collection. His advice is practical and down-to-earth, revealing his experience in the field:

‘Taking into consideration the utility of good building material to the present owners of such sites, active co-operation to preserve ancient masonary is not to be expected, unless local patriotism and expectation of traffic from tourists can be enlisted in support of Government regulations.’

His advice on recording tomb-groups shows the growing awareness of the importance of recording the totality of finds, as reflected in his own excavation notebooks:

‘Most of our knowledge of Cypriote arts and industries comes from this tomb-equipment, which should therefore if possible be preserved entire and kept together, tomb by tomb’.

The reader is particularly directed to be on the look-out for ‘Cypriote inscriptions’, which ‘are of great value and interest, and have been often overlooked among building material drawn from old sites.’

Bilingual inscription from Curium

Bilingual inscription from Curium

Arguably the most exciting chapter is that on Palestine, written by R.A.S. Macalister. His aim seems to be to depress the pretensions of the amateur archaeologist:

‘Study of the pottery… is an absolutely essential preliminary. Without an acquaintance with this branch of Palestinian archaeology, so thorough that any sherd presenting the least character can be immediately assigned to its proper period, no field research of any value can be carried out.’

‘A knowledge of the various Semitic alphabets is necessary for copying inscriptions… a good knowledge of Arabic is indispensable – not the miserable pidgin jargon usually spoken by Europeans…’

If the would-be archaeologist is not discouraged by his less than encyclopaedic knowledge of pottery, or his imperfectly colloquial Arabic, the author has further words of caution:

‘The explorer of rock-cut tombs must be indifferent to mud, damp, evil smells, noxious insects, and other discomforts, and he must be prepared to squeeze through very narrow passages much clogged with earth. He is recommended to be on his guard against scorpions and snakes.’

Macalister alludes with nonchalance to his own exploits in the field:

‘There are occasionally unexpected and dangerous pitfalls: and hyenas and serpents often shelter in the caves. The present writer has explored many of them entirely alone, but this is, on the whole, not to be recommended.’

He was evidently of the Indiana Jones school of archaeology.

Cover of How to Observe in Archaeology

Cover of How to Observe in Archaeology

The small volume has practical rounded corners, making clear it is intended to be used in the field. My second-hand copy is regrettably clean (as much as its near-century of age allows), and doesn’t appear to have seen active service. Perhaps it belonged to an armchair archaeologist, who dreamed of travelling through the East by camel, taking squeezes, and making measurements with a theodolite; but never quite made it.

Gone but not forgotten

Lately I’ve been thinking about Henry Crowther’s magic lantern slides of ancient Cypriot ceramics, and regretting those which no longer survive in the Leeds City Museum’s collection. These images are the shadows which remain of objects which have been lost, deaccessioned or destroyed.

For example, this lentoid flask with a single strap handle is marked ‘Enkomi, Cyprus’.

Lentoid flask from Enkomi, Cyprus. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lentoid flask from Enkomi, Cyprus.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

This means it’s almost certainly the one sent to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society by the British Museum in 1902, described by A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, as a ‘flat-bellied flask of plain red ware.’

BM list

Extract from A.S. Murray’s note. © British Museum

There are two tankards, one with two bands of incised decoration and a thumb-grip, the other with a raised band below the lip and a simple loop handle. The colours are rather deceptive as they were added by hand by Miss Violet Crowther, Henry Crowther’s daughter, but suggest that both of these were of red ware.

Tankard with thumb grip and incised decoration. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with thumb grip and incised decoration.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with looped handle. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Tankard with looped handle.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There’s a dish with a small loop handle and painted decoration, which looks quite heavily restored, judging by the cracks and the gap in the pattern. The decoration looks like stylised Bronze Age helmets, though I’m not entirely sure…

Dish with painted decoration. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Dish with painted decoration.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

There are also some lamps, including this three-wicked example; I particularly like the leaf-shaped projections near the handle. The vine-and-grape decoration, with a long-haired head in relief, presumably indicates Dionysus and perhaps suggests it was for use in a banqueting setting.

Lamp with triple wick. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lamp with triple wick.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

I’m intrigued by the decoration on this smaller lamp, which seems to show an eagle holding an ear of wheat in its beak. I’m not very clear on the symbolism, but this may be associated with the god Baal; I haven’t seen anything quite like it before.

Lamp with ?eagle and ear of wheat. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Lamp with ?eagle and ear of wheat.
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Most of these probably perished in the Second World War bomb, but it’s just possible that some may turn up one day; we know that there are quite a few objects currently with Artemis, the School Loans Service. I’ll certainly be looking out for them!

Great news for the collection

The University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection is currently in storage, and hasn’t received conservation attention for some time – probably not since the repairs made by Mr A.M. Woodward, Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, almost exactly a century ago. Thanks to the generosity of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange and the Department of Classics, this is about to change.

Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society

Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society

Over the coming months, Emma Bowron, Conservator at Leeds City Museums, will be carrying out conservation work on the collection, including some much-needed cleaning! This will pave the way for the collection to go on temporary display at the Leeds City Museum and the University, before finding a new home in the Department of Classics. I’m planning a range of outreach activities to go with these displays, and am looking forward to sharing the collection more widely.

UNIV.1913.0020  Glass 'candlestick' vase - in need of a clean. © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0020
Glass ‘candlestick’ vase – in need of a clean.
© University of Leeds

I’m really pleased to have secured funding for this conservation work, which will help to ensure that the collection survives intact for the next phase of its long existence, as well as looking its best for new audiences in the months and years ahead. Thanks again to the Leeds Phil and Lit, and to the University’s Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange and Department of Classics, for their support.

Amathus in Nottingham

As well as Leeds (if my theory is correct – see previous post), the British Museum sent objects from its excavations at Amathus to a number of other museums, public schools and colleges in 1895. According to a minute by A.S. Murray, these were:

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to track down these Amathus donations, with help from the organisations’ curators, who have been very generous in taking the time and trouble to further my research. I’d love to visit more of the collections in person (in particular, Dublin and Manchester are high on my list), but I was lucky enough to have a day trip to Nottingham last month to see the Amathus collection, kindly hosted by Rebecca Arnott, Collections and Access Officer.

First I made a visit to the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, impressively situated overlooking the city, and set in beautiful gardens – well worth climbing all the steps!

Nottingham Castle Museum

Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

I really enjoyed the Ancient Greek gallery, which was both fun and educational and got the maximum value from the Ancient Greek objects on display. But my favourite was the  ‘Every Object Tells a Story’ gallery, an inspiring ‘celebration of decorative art objects’ examining the stories behind them. This has much in common with my approach to the ancient Cypriot collections in Leeds. I loved the juxtaposition between a beautiful vase made by potter Magdelene Odundo, and three ancient Cypriot juglets and a figurine, which encourages new ways of looking at both the modern and the ancient objects, given more resonance by being displayed together.

Display of ancient and modern ceramics © Nottingham Castle Museum

Display of ancient and modern ceramics
© Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

But the main purpose of my visit was to go ‘behind the scenes’ and look at the objects from Amathus, which are not currently on display. My aim was to see if there was any correspondence between these and the objects in the Leeds University collection, which would tend to support the theory that they were originally from the same source.

There certainly were a few parallels. For example, both collections include small juglets of Black on Red ware, with neck-ridge and decorated with black bands on glossy red slip.

NCM 1895-23 Black on Red juglet © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-23
Black on Red juglet
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0011 Black on Red Juglet © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0011
Black on Red Juglet
© University of Leeds

They also both have pilgrim flasks, of similar shapes and sizes:

NCM 1895-36 Pilgrim flask © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-36
Pilgrim flask
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0001 Pilgrim flask © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0001
Pilgrim flask
© University of Leeds

This isn’t particularly surprising; both of these are very common types of objects, and probably feature in many collections of ancient Cypriot artefacts. One object I found more intriguing was this fairly crude clay bottle:

NCM 1895-39 Bottle of red clay © Nottingham Castle Museum

NCM 1895-39
Cylindrical bottle
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

UNIV.1913.0016 Bottle of red clay © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0016
Cylindrical bottle
© University of Leeds

As the photos show, it’s not dissimilar to a bottle/jar in the Leeds collection, with a narrow foot, small, flat handles, and deeply incised scores at the neck. The Nottingham example is currently in several pieces; the neck (not shown) has roughly the same dimensions, and the same slight flare, as the Leeds bottle’s neck. I haven’t yet managed to identify the Leeds bottle; it’s not a typically Cypriot shape, and may well be an import. The presence of similar ceramics, slightly outside the mainstream, in the two collections may perhaps indicate that they come from the same source; or it could equally well be coincidence!

I really enjoyed my time in Nottingham and am looking forward to going back again – not least to further explore the Museum and Art Gallery, and quite possibly the café. My thanks to Rebecca for arranging my visit, and to all the other curators who have helped with this project.

Where did it come from? Part II: An Amathus connection?

As previously mentioned, the Leeds University ancient Cypriot collection came to light in the University’s cellars in 1913, where Lady Bodington supposed it had been overlooked since her husband, Sir Nathan Bodington, ordered it for a University fundraising event.

This may well have been the case; but there’s an alternative explanation, which might also help to account for another mysteriously overlooked collection. The British Museum sponsored excavations at Amathus in Cyprus in 1893-94, led by J.L. Myres and A.H. Smith. In 1895 the Trustees agreed to a proposal from A.S. Murray, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, to donate objects from these excavations to a range of museums, colleges and universities around the country. These included the Yorkshire College, Leeds, of which Nathan Bodington was the Principal. A letter from Nathan Bodington accepting the offer on behalf of the College survives in the British Museum’s archives.

The trail then goes cold; there is no record of the collection arriving in Leeds, or trace of it in the College’s annual record, although this generally gives full details of all donations. The Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society was often used by the Yorkshire College’s students, but again, the Society’s annual report makes no mention of any donation. This contrasts with the treatment of a further gift of Cypriot antiquities from the British Museum in 1902 to the Museum of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, which is written up in full in that year’s annual report.

Given this silence in the official records, it seems at least possible that the University’s collection is this same donation from the British Museum’s excavations in Amathus. There’s no way of knowing for sure; but there are a few factors which tie in with this theory. The collection covers the right timescale, from the Cypro-Geometric to the Roman period. Also, some of the pottery is decorated in a style typical of Amathus, with freely applied red and brown stripes and circles on a background of buff slip.

UNIV.1913.0013 Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0013
Bowl with decoration typical of Amathus
© University of Leeds

There are also some parallels between surviving objects in the University of Leeds collection, and those of other museums and colleges who were sent donations from Amathus by the British Museum in 1895. That said, there are plenty of objects in those collections which aren’t reflected in the surviving University collection; for example, there are no figurines. However, Lady Bodington intended to give part of the collection to the Leeds Girls’ High School, and this may well have filled in some of the gaps.

The British Museum possesses Myres’ notebooks from his excavations in Amathus, which provide brief records of tomb contents, and illustrations of unusual pieces. These raise a number of tantalising possibilities; could the University of Leeds jug marked 292 be one of the ’2 small painted jugs’ recorded by Myres in the tomb of that number?

UNIV.1913.0002 Jug marked '292' © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0002
Jug marked ’292′
© University of Leeds

And could the unusual Punic one-handled jug, probably an import from Carthage, be the ‘jug of red clay’ illustrated by Myres from Tomb 291?

UNIV.1913.0033 Punic jug © University of Leeds

UNIV.1913.0033
Punic jug
© University of Leeds

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 - '1 jug of red clay' © British Museum

Myres notesbook, Tomb 291 – ’1 jug of red clay’
© British Museum

On the face of it, it seems unlikely; the British Museum donated duplicates, i.e. common items, to other institutions, rather than anything out of the ordinary; but there is certainly a similarity between the shape of the Leeds jug and Myres’ sketch.

Whether or not this collection originated from Amathus, it merits research and a higher profile, not least to honour Nathan Bodington’s contribution to the study of the ancient world in Leeds, which prompted Lady Bodington’s donation. Just over a century after its rediscovery, the collection is entering a new phase of its existence with new opportunities to ‘encourage a taste for archaeology’, in line with her wishes.

Expert advice

One of the things I’m really enjoying about this Ignite project, funded by the Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds, is the opportunity to work with people and organisations with similar interests, to share what I’m doing and get the benefit of their advice on the best ways to explore and present the University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection.

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas Kiely, Curator of ancient Cyprus at the British Museum, kindly came up to Leeds to consult on the collection and allow me to test my theories on dates, shapes and styles. We had a great day working through the 24 pieces, in the refined surroundings of the Brotherton Room in the University’s Brotherton Library.

The Brotherton Room, University of Leeds © careerweb.leeds.ac.uk

The Brotherton Room, University of Leeds
© careerweb.leeds.ac.uk

It was really helpful to get an expert opinion on a number of issues which had been perplexing me. Not least, the elegant juglet I mentioned before – which looks a great deal like stroke-polished Plain White pottery from the Hellenistic period.

Lekythos © University of Leeds

Lekythos
© University of Leeds

Hellenistic lekythos

Plain White Hellenistic lekythos
© SCE IV/3

Thomas pointed out various aspects of the objects I hadn’t noticed before, including the string-cut marks on some of the bases showing where they had been cut off the potter’s wheel.

Base of Bichrome bowl © University of Leeds

Base of Bichrome bowl
© University of Leeds

I’m now keen to do ‘table talks’ on the objects to share their unique characteristics with anyone who’d like to find out more about the collection. Hopefully this will be something I can pursue at a later stage of the project.