A visit to Wakefield

In search of the lost history of the objects mentioned in my previous post, I contacted David Evans at the Wakefield Museum to have a look at the Educational Resource Service accession register. I’m always impressed by the helpfulness of museum professionals in accommodating me and my research, especially since on this visit I had my junior research associate (aged 6 months) along with me.

The Wakefield store is a treasure trove of objects not currently on display in the Museum, including the records of the Educational Resource Service. David also kindly showed me a few ancient Cypriot objects from the ERS which are now in the Wakefield collection, including a medieval jar with beautiful lustrous blue-green glaze, and a lentoid flask with strap handle and just-visible white painted bands of decoration.

Medieval Cypriot jar © Wakefield Museums

Medieval Cypriot jar
© Wakefield Museums

Cypriot lentoid flask © Wakefield Museums

Cypriot lentoid flask
© Wakefield Museums

The accession register turned out to cover a large span of the history of the collection, from 1963 to 1988, and helped to pinpoint the change of title from the School Museum Service to the Educational Resource Service in January 1986. There was also a card index file, which included additional information on some of the items.

Making matches between the objects I’ve found so far, the accession register entries, and the rather opaque (to me) card index system was not straightforward, but I have been able to glean some additional information about the Cypriot objects which formed part of the ERS collection. As Mr Woodward, former Senior Advisor to the ERS, had recalled, some came from the British Museum, presumably duplicates which were passed on without having been accessioned. The BM is recorded as the source of a tempting list of Cypriot artefacts, including a chariot model, but sadly none of them readily identifiable among the objects I’ve seen to date.

Others were purchased from the Folio Society’s ‘Collectors’ Corner’, and later from Charles Ede Ltd., and more from D. Reaney, a dealer in antiquities in Long Eaton in the 1960s. From these records we learn that the lentoid flask was one of three, costing either £14 or £22, and that the blue-green glazed jar was dated to C13th – C14th AD. Unfortunately, there is little solid information linking the extant objects to their dealers, and still less about where they might have originated from.

Nevertheless, I’m now following up these leads to see if the trails can be followed any further back. It’s fascinating to think of the varied lives these objects have led, and what they have meant to their different owners and users along the way.

New discoveries from the Educational Resource Service

Two years ago I mentioned here that I had come across an old catalogue for the Educational Resource Service, which included some ancient Cypriot objects. Very excitingly, a few of these have now come to light at the University, having been long overlooked in storage. They include some Greek pieces, and three which are Cypriot – a stemmed bowl, an amphora, and this fantastic horse and rider.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

To me, this represents some of the best qualities of ancient Cypriot art. The modelling is very impressionistic, even crude, but it has an indefinable energy and vigour. I love the way the horse is leaning backwards, as though pulling up suddenly from a headlong charge.

Horse and rider figurine © University of Leeds

Horse and rider figurine
© University of Leeds

The rider’s pose, with right hand raised, is fairly unusual; it’s probably meant to represent some kind of martial gesture, and he may once have held a spear made of a different material. The horse’s harness and tack are elaborate, and include a fringed breastplate which may represent a ‘fly apron’, attested in images of horses in warfare from the Near East (Crouwel J. and Tatton-Brown V., ‘Ridden horses in Iron Age Cyprus’, RDAC 1988).

There are numerous examples of ancient Cypriot horse and rider figurines, some from tombs but many known to be from sanctuaries, where they would have been votive offerings. Unfortunately contextual information, including findspot, is largely lacking for these ERS objects at the moment, though I have hopes of uncovering a little more.

The objects’ recent history, as art objects for temporary loan to schools, is made evident by their presentation – mounted on plinths (sadly, probably glued down) and wired into Perspex boxes, contained within custom-fitted wooden cases labelled with ERS codes and descriptions.

Case for ERS objects

Case for ERS objects

The Cypriot objects formed part of a wider collection on Ancient Greece, also incorporating modern replicas and ‘backdrop’ photographs on boards – see the sample layout from the ERS catalogue below, with the horse and rider on the left. I wonder whether their distinctively Cypriot heritage was understood by the schools that borrowed them and the pupils that viewed them?

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

The Educational Resource Service began as the West Riding School Museum Service in the 1940s, which was led by Sir Alec Clegg, Director of Education, and reached its full potential steered by Eric Woodward as Senior Advisor between 1956 and 1985. You can read more about its history on Natalie Bradbury’s ‘Pictures for Schools’ blog here. It must have been a wonderful resource for local schools, a treasure trove of inspiring objects arriving regularly in their custom-made travelling cases. Eric Woodward was kind enough to discuss the Cypriot objects with me, and recalls that they may have been British Museum duplicates, or acquired at auction. It’s quite possible that pieces such as this could have been picked up at a relatively low price. The figurine and amphora have both been broken and repaired; this damage may have been part of their history in schools, or may have made them more affordable to buy for the collection.

Much of the information about their earlier history is probably lost now, but I have a few leads to follow up. Wakefield Museum have the original ERS accession register in their archives, which I shall consult. They also have a couple of further Cypriot pieces from the collection (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Bichrome krater or the jug to the rear of the illustration below).

Illustration from ERS catalogue

Illustration from ERS catalogue

What comes next for these ERS objects at Leeds is not yet clear. Perhaps a life outside the Perspex, and on display?

Through a glass (less) darkly

I made another visit to Emma at the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre to see how the glass from the University of Leeds collection is coming along. It’s certainly much easier to see the underlying condition and colours of the glass, now that the dirt of the last hundred years has been removed! In Emma’s view, the glass had been cleaned when first excavated, so any interesting content residues had probably been lost at that stage. What remained was black, sooty dirt – a reminder of the air quality in industrial cities such as Leeds at the turn of the 19th century, when this collection arrived in Yorkshire.

We can now see clearly the bluey-green glass of this unguent bottle, broken at the neck. One of the qualities of glass is that it’s near-impossible to tell whether breakages are ancient or modern, but it’s quite likely that the neck was broken in antiquity so the contents could be poured.

Unguent bottle after cleaning © University of Leeds

Unguent bottle after cleaning
© University of Leeds

It’s also possible to make out the air bubbles trapped in the base of this candlestick vase, an indication of its method of manufacture. This might be considered a flaw, but I prefer the view expressed by J.H. Middleton in The Engraved Gems of Classical Times:

‘A great deal of the superior beauty of ancient glass is due to the presence of these minute air-bubbles, each of which catches the light and radiates it out from the body of the glass, thus making it internally luminous, not merely transparent.’

Air bubbles in base of candlestick vase © University of Leeds

Air bubbles in base of candlestick vase
© University of Leeds

The objects also show the effects of their long burial in the earth. Surface layers are peeling away from the base of the second candlestick vase (delamination).

Base of candlestick vase showing delamination. © University of Leeds

Base of candlestick vase showing delamination.
© University of Leeds

This produces an iridescent effect, as can be seen in this tubular glass bottle.

Bottle with iridescent surface © University of Leeds

Bottle with iridescent surface
© University of Leeds

This is because alkali are leached from the glass, the rate depending on the warmth and acidity of the soil it is buried in. Silica is also lost, though in lesser quantities than alkali. This means that thin layers of silica are left behind, creating an opalescent appearance and increasing the opacity of the glass. (For a fuller explanation, see S.P. Koob, Conservation and Care of Glass Objects). These layers of weathering form part of the objects’ history, and help to tell the story of their journey from manufacture to use, burial, and eventual excavation.

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

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.