Interlopers?

Among the Leeds City Museum ancient Cypriot collection are two juglets which are unlike anything I’ve seen before.

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Two juglets with incised decoration © Leeds Museums and Galleries

They’re quite small, about 10cm high, and they both have a globular body and narrow cylindrical neck and foot, with a single handle. They’re made of buff clay with a pale pinkish-buff slip, and have incised and punctured decoration – three sets of concentric circles on one, and a symmetrical abstract pattern in a marked-off field on the other. There are traces of glossy black paint in alternate sections of the complex decorated panels, as well as around the rims and feet, so they must have looked quite striking before it wore away.

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Incised and punctured decoration with traces of black paint. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

The thing is, they don’t look like any ancient Cypriot ceramics I’ve come across, in shape or decoration. This may of course be due to my limited experience, but so far I haven’t found any comparators from a Cypriot context.

The juglets provide us with one clue – they are both marked ‘Hs’ on the base, which is the identifying mark of John Holmes‘ collection.

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John Holmes’ mark. © Leeds Museums and Galleries

John Holmes was certainly a notable collector of ancient Cypriot ceramics, many of which are now in the Leeds Museums collection. However, he was very interested in cross-cultural comparisons, and also had ceramics from Mexico and Peru as well as from the Classical world. A hand-written catalogue of his diverse and wide-ranging collection accompanied its sale to the Leeds City Council; it came to the Museum directly from the Council rather than via the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, as with the majority of today’s ancient Cypriot collection. Unfortunately the catalogue entries are very brief and imprecise (not to mention hard to decipher), and only rarely offer any opportunity to identify an individual object. These juglets could conceivably be the two ‘Painted Peruvian Vessels’ recorded there, but there’s no way of knowing if that description belongs to these objects.

I wonder whether we should be looking elsewhere for the origin of these juglets, and whether they belong in the Cypriot collection at all. Any progress on answering these questions will be reported here!

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Fantastic days on Cyprus

What better solution to the post-Christmas blues than a visit to Cyprus? I’ve been lucky enough to have a few days at the Lemba Archaeological Research Centre near Paphos, being trained in identifying and recording ancient Cypriot pottery by Dr Lisa Graham. I can thoroughly recommend sorting sherds in the January sunshine; it was so enjoyable to spend some time looking closely at pottery, as a change from thinking about theory. It’s really helped me to develop my approach to the cataloguing part of my PhD project, and ways to streamline the recording work.

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Pottery identification

I also enjoyed visiting the recreated roundhouses at the Lemba Experimental Village, a project run by Edinburgh University to understand more about prehistoric Chalcolithic buildings. These have been left to collapse under the pressure of environmental forces, to shed light on the formation of the neighbouring archaeological site. It was really interesting to see excavation sites in Kissonerga, currently covered over for the winter, and the pace of residential development in the area, often in close proximity to archaeological remains.

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The experimental roundhouses at Lemba

We visited the Museum of the Mycenaean Colonisation of Cyprus at Maa, at the end of the peninsula near Coral Bay, one of the westernmost points of Cyprus. Designed by the architect Andrea Bruno, it’s a unique building, largely underground, with a copper roof and huge pivoted copper door. Its low, rounded profile is designed to reflect and blend in with the coastal landscape. Some information is presented inside about the Mycenaean impact on ancient Cypriot culture, but it’s mainly a space for reflection, pointing like an arrow towards the Aegean where Mycenaean settlers came from.

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The Museum of the Mycenaean Colonisation of Cyprus

 

The museum at Kouklia was more conventional, although still very special, being housed in a 13th century Lusignan manor house. This included some wonderful artefacts from the surrounding area, including these fantastic zoomorphic rhyta, and a juglet which looked intriguingly similar to one from the Leeds collection. The site of Palaipaphos itself is also fascinating, with evidence of cult activity dating back to the Chalcolithic period.

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Zoomorphic rhyta in the Kouklia museum

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Juglet from the Kouklia museum…

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…and from the Leeds City Museum collection.

We also visited the Paphos Archaeological Park with its Hellenistic and Roman mosaics, famous from countless reproductions but even more impressive when seen in person. I particularly liked this pomegranate, reminding me of the bone pomegranate ornament which was once in the Leeds collection.

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Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Park

I loved my time on Cyprus, and would only have wanted it to be longer; thanks to Lisa, I learned a great deal and saw some amazing places. I’m already planning my next trip!

TAG Southampton 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about object biography as a way to explore and communicate the history of the ancient Cypriot objects in the Leeds collection. I’ve been inspired by academics who have developed the concept, including Dr Jody Joy, and the classic article by Prof Chris Gosden and Dr Yvonne Marshall, ‘The Cultural Biography of Objects’. Above all, I’ve found the work of Prof Rosemary Joyce hugely helpful in developing my thinking, especially the multi-authored volume Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Anthropological Practice. This argues for ‘object itinerary’ as a modification of the concept of object biography, removing the constraints of a linear model of ‘birth, life and death’, and placing emphasis on movement through time and space.

So, when I saw a session advertised at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference in Southampton on ‘Following Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Archaeological Practice’, organised by Prof Joyce and  Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino, I was very keen to present my own work and, more importantly, to hear about other approaches. The organisers kindly included my paper in the session, and I had a pre-Christmas jaunt to look forward to!

The vagaries of Eastern Airways delayed my journey, but I was still in time to hear some fascinating takes on the concept of object itinerary, and to give my paper. Several particularly struck me, including Dr Díaz-Guardamino’s paper ‘Stones in motion: following the itineraries of Bronze Age decorated stelae in Iberia’, which included, among much else, an interesting and useful critique of museum presentations of these stelae which group them by object type in a way which tends to elide their differences and their relations with other material culture of the same period. Prof Chris Gosden described kurgans – large burial mounds in Eurasia – as ‘like little folds in space-time’, vividly evoking how they bring together material distant in space and time. Finally, Prof Joyce brought together some themes from the session; in particular, thinking about dynamism and flows of material in and out of object forms; decentering the human perspective so that we recognise movement taking place over geological time or on the atomic level; and moving away from linear narratives in favour of complex, recursive, overlapping stories. I came away with a great deal to think about.

One aspect of object itinerary which I’ve found particularly fruitful is the concept of representations of objects forming part of their itineraries; so that while the object itself may come to rest, albeit temporarily, in a museum or store, its image continues to travel and to create new connections. This is an interesting way of thinking about Henry Crowther’s lantern slides, which by all accounts reached thousands through his lectures to school parties; it would be fascinating to know what impression his audiences formed of ancient Cyprus through the images presented for their consumption.

This is the first time I’ve been to TAG, and I must say I was impressed by the sheer breadth of the subjects under discussion, and by the quality of the conference pack! It was a friendly and welcoming conference, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the programme in future years.

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TAG bag

The Society of Antiquaries

Last month I attended the annual Postgraduate Open Day at the Society of Antiquaries of London – a great opportunity to admire the stunning architecture of Burlington House on Piccadilly, and to hear all about the Society’s history, collections and archives.

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The Society of Antiquaries of London

The Society played a brief but significant role in the history of Cypriot archaeology. As I’ve mentioned before, in 1871 Thomas Backhouse Sandwith, British Vice-Consul on Cyprus from 1865-1870, presented a paper on his research to the Society, titled ‘On the different styles of Pottery found in Ancient Tombs in the Island of Cyprus’. This was eventually published in the Society’s journal Archaeologia, along with lithographic plates illustrating the objects under discussion. Some of Sandwith’s collection came to Yorkshire, and was exhibited and sold, creating interest in ancient Cyprus which spread through the region. (In fact, I’ve just had a paper published on this!).

I was delighted to have the opportunity to do a quick bit of research in the Society’s library at lunchtime, with help from the expert librarians – quite apart from the research opportunities, it’s an amazing place to work!

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View of the library, Society of Antiquaries

I drew a blank in finding out any more about the lithographs that accompanied Thomas Sandwith’s Archaeologia paper – I think it’s destined to be one of those minor but niggling research questions that don’t find an answer. However, it was thrilling to see the record of the meeting at which he presented his paper.

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Minute book entry © Society of Antiquaries

I was able to find out a bit more about another collector of ancient Cypriot objects, Mr Benjamin Kent, whose collection is now in the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate. I knew that Benjamin Kent had been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and thanks to the Society’s admirable record-keeping, I was able to locate his nomination for Fellowship in 1939. This helpfully includes a list of those who nominated him, which is really interesting in helping to analyse the circles he moved in and the contacts he made.

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Certificate of Candidate for Election, Benjamin Kent © Society of Antiquaries

None of the names are immediately familiar to me, so there’s more work to be done in tracing them. Under ‘Qualification’, the form cites his ‘valuable excavation work among Barrows in the West Riding of Yorkshire and on Roman sites’. This very much fits with my perception of Benjamin Kent; he was more of a hands-on explorer than an armchair antiquarian and collector, and interested in ancient objects mainly for what they could tell him of the past.

Both Benjamin Kent and his father were also Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, so I’m hoping there may be similar records available there. In addition, some of Kent’s papers have recently been accessioned into Special Collections at the University of Leeds library, as part of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society collection. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the background to his ancient Cypriot collection, other research projects permitting!

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

I love visiting museums on holiday, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco this summer. The Museum has an excellent collection of ancient art, particularly from the Mediterranean area, including some fascinating objects from ancient Cyprus. Louise Chu, the Associate Curator of Ancient Art and Interpretation, very kindly showed me round the collection, including a visit to the Museum’s storeroom – it’s always a treat to see behind the scenes!

The California Palace of the Legion of Honor – to give its full title – opened in 1924, and was founded by the philanthropists Adolph and Alma Spreckels as a museum of fine arts and a memorial to the Californian soldiers fallen in the First World War. The building is modelled on the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, and is beautifully situated overlooking the Pacific Ocean, though rather foggy on the day of my visit.

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The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The ancient Cypriot objects on display are in the Ancient Art gallery, and include several pieces that were given to Alma Spreckels by the Queen of Greece in the 1920s, including this Late Cypriot bull askos.

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Bull askos © Legion of Honor

Also on display is a Cypro-Archaic Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration, the gift of Dr Morris Herzstein. This bears a close resemblance to the amphora from Thomas Hollings’ collection on display in the Leeds City Museum, said to be from Amathus. The two are not identical – the shapes are different, especially the foot, and the decorative schemes vary – but it’s tempting to trace some family resemblance.

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Bichrome amphora with lotus-flower decoration © Legion of Honor

 

Bichrome amphora from the collection of Thomas Hollings © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Down in the store, I very much enjoyed seeing more of the collection, including a delicate Black on Red juglet with an almost lustrous burnished surface – a technique which reduces the porosity of the clay, and therefore slows down evaporation of the juglet’s contents, possibly expensive perfumed oil.

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Black on Red juglet © Legion of Honor

The highlight was this Red Polished zoomorphic jug, with incised decoration picked out in white, with a long spout, raised loop handle and a perky little tail. It seems to me somewhere between a duck and a pig, with its short legs and full-bellied shape. Unlike some fantastical ancient Cypriot vessels, this would have been quite sturdy and practical for holding and pouring liquids, as it stands firmly on its four splayed legs.

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Red Polished askos © Legion of Honor

I had a wonderful time at the Legion of Honor, and am very grateful to Louise for arranging my visit. I hope to return some day!

 

‘Smelling the flowers just quietly’: a Mycenaean krater

I’m learning a lot while exploring the Leeds City Museum’s collection of artefacts donated in 1902 from the British Museum’s excavations at Enkomi and Klavdhia in Cyprus. My favourite at the moment is this Mycenaean krater, a large mixing bowl for wine, decorated on either side with a bull sniffing leaves, which dates to around 1275-1200 BC. It’s been in fragments for some time, but is now newly restored by the Museum’s conservator, Emma Bowron, allowing it to be fully appreciated.

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Krater from Klavdhia, Cyprus, in fragments… © Leeds City Museum

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…and restored. © Leeds City Museum

The krater comes from Klavdhia in south-east Cyprus, as noted on its side by the then curator of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society’s Museum, Henry Crowther. I’m not really a fan of writing the provenance of an object prominently on its surface, but there’s no denying that it helps with identification.

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Label on Klavdhia krater. © Leeds City Museum

This bears a close relationship to a similar krater from Klavdhia, retained by the British Museum. The authors of Mycenaean Pictorial Vase Painting, Emily Vermeule and Vassos Karageorghis, identify a group of five vases which closely resemble each other stylistically and argue that they are by the same painter; there can be little doubt that the Leeds krater represents a sixth.

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Krater from Klavdhia in the British Museum (1899,1229.129). © British Museum

The painting is in the ‘Pastoral’ style, which represents something of a deterioration from earlier Mycenaean pictorial painting; the bull is rather impressionistic, with little attempt to be accurate about the anatomical details. Opinion differs on the extent to which Mycenaean pottery was produced on Cyprus or imported, though it seems likely that ‘Pastoral ‘ style pottery such as this was a local production. It’s clear in any case that by the Late Bronze Age, Cypriots were eager consumers of Mycenaean wares, which have been found in high concentrations at coastal sites.

I am irresistibly reminded of Ferdinand, the eponymous bull in Munro Leaf’s story for children, illustrated by Robert Lawson.

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The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. © Grossett & Dunlap

Ferdinand refuses to take part in the bullfight, but instead ‘liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers’ – just as our bull is captured in a quiet moment. In common with much Mycenaean pictorial vase painting, the image on this krater doesn’t suggest narrative development or movement, but has a static, timeless quality which travels well over the intervening centuries, all the way from Bronze Age Cyprus to Leeds.

Latest discoveries

Last week I decided to do some more rummaging through the archives and collections at the Leeds Museums Discovery Centre, in the hope of finding out more about the ancient Cypriot acquisitions made by Henry Crowther, curator of the Museum from the 1890s until the 1920s. I’ve previously blogged about his glass lantern slides which include objects donated by the British Museum from their excavations at Enkomi and Klavdia, and had a feeling that there might be more to be discovered.

I had underestimated quite what an avid collector of lantern slides Henry Crowther was – there must be hundreds, if not thousands. However, I was lucky enough to come across a couple which shed some further light on the Enkomi donation.

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Lantern slide showing small objects from Enkomi (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

This slide is labelled ‘Crete’ in Crowther’s writing, which is an unusual slip, as the objects it shows are definitely from Cyprus (an identification helped by the fact that one of them has ‘Enkomi, Cyprus’ written across it). It shows seven objects, including the four spindle whorls from Enkomi still in the collection. But it’s the two objects in the centre and bottom left that interest me.

The list made by the British Museum detailing their donation includes hand-drawn sketches of the objects, as well as descriptions – a practice which is invaluable for helping identification and which I make use of myself, despite my negligible drawing skills. This list includes ‘2 stone beads’, one of which, the biconical example in the centre of the bottom row on the slide, still exists. It’s possible that the object at the bottom left is the other bead, although neither the photo nor the drawing are really clear enough to be sure.

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‘2 stone beads’, from the British Museum list

What is easier to identify is the object in the centre. The list mentions a ‘Bone ornament in the shape of pomegranate’ which doesn’t seem to have survived in the collection (at least, I haven’t found it yet…). But there can be little doubt that it’s the object shown on Henry Crowther’s lantern slide.

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Image of pomegranate-shaped ornament (c) Leeds Museums and Galleries

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‘Bone ornament in shape of pomegranate’, from the British Museum list

It’s good to know that it did come to Leeds, and to have an image of all the small stone and bone objects from the British Museum’s Enkomi donation together.

In an unrelated discovery, I also came across a manuscript letter from Henry Sandwith, brother of Thomas Sandwith, who managed sales from the latter’s ancient Cypriot collection, displayed at the 1875 Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, to help relieve famine in Cyprus. It relates to a purchase made by a Mr Robertson, and reads:

Todwick Rectory

Sheffield

Oct 12.

My dear Sir,

Mr Robertson, whose letter I enclose, has suggest a safer means of transport for his pottery. Will you therefore kindly see that the basket, packed as previously suggested, is delivered to the Guard of the Liverpool train for Lime Street Station on Friday next, the 14th, at the time mentioned by him, viz 11am. I have written to him (Mr R) to fix Friday instead of Monday, which will give you more time.

Faithfully yours,

Henry Sandwith

We already know from other correspondence that Mr G. Sinclair Robertson was minded to buy ‘the £5 vase’ from the Sandwith collection, and that he donated ‘a large early Greek pottery vase’ to the Liverpool Museum in 1876, though it’s not now identifiable in the Museum’s collection, and was possibly lost to WWII bombing damage. So this letter doesn’t really give any new information, but does paint a picture of the way in which sales from Sandwith’s collection were managed – a very different world, in which one could arrange for the delivery of baskets of ancient Cypriot pottery via a local train guard.

I have a strong suspicion that there’s more to be found in the archives, and am looking forward to finding out!