Bronze Age resources

While working on the Kent Collection catalogue, I noticed that various entries for bronze implements were accompanied by the cryptic phrase ‘Britt. Ass. Card Cat.’. Since I’m always looking for more information on the provenance of ancient Cypriot collections, I decided to try to track this reference down. This proved refreshingly straightforward, and led me down an interesting route with some familiar faces along the way.

Kent catalogue entry 171

Entry 171 from the Kent Collection catalogue ©Harrogate Museums and Arts, Harrogate Borough Council

The ‘Britt. Ass. Card Cat.’ turns out to be the British Association Bronze Implements Card Catalogue, a truly remarkable initiative begun in 1920 under the auspices of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The aim was to produce a card catalogue of “all the metal objects of the Bronze Age in the museums and collections in the British Isles”, in order to facilitate comparative research. One of the original movers in this enterprise was John Linton Myres, the ‘father of Cypriot archaeology’, excavator of Amathus in Cyprus and cataloguer of the Cesnola Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The work seems to have progressed on a voluntary basis, with museums, institutions, and private collectors providing basic information – and detailed drawings – of their Bronze Age implements, to be neatly recorded on index cards, filed, and made available for use.

Making information available is of course a different proposition these days, and I was hopeful that this Catalogue might have been digitised in a searchable format. It’s not quite there yet, but is well on the way to being so. In a fascinating project, part of the MicroPasts collaboration between the British Museum and UCL, the transcription of the cards is being crowd-sourced, with anyone with an interest invited to contribute to the task of translating the content of the cards into a digital format. As Neil Wilkin et al. point out in a very informative article on the project, this partnership with interested people from a variety of backgrounds fits well with the original compilation of the Catalogue, which relied on the contribution of time and knowledge from the owners of the objects, whoever they might be.

As far as I can tell, the fully functional, searchable database isn’t quite there yet, although the underpinning data is well on its way. However, vitally for my purposes, a key step of the project is to scan the original cards and make them available for transcription. This led me to Flickr and a wonderful treasure trove of original cards. These are arranged by the drawers in which the cards were stored; it didn’t take long to conclude that ‘Foreign Weapons’ might be a good place to look for a sword from Cyprus; and since the cards are ordered alphabetically by country, it was a mere matter of scrolling past Austria and China to arrive at Cyprus. It didn’t take long at all to find records relating to the Kent collection.

Kent 171 dagger

Index card for Kent Collection dagger

There are a number of helpful things about this record, beyond the satisfaction of having tracked it down. It’s not clear whether the object is still extant in the collection which survives today, but having a detailed technical drawing, as well as a written description, can only help to identify it. Most useful, from my perspective, is the information that it came from the collection of Cleanthes Pierides; as the entry above shows, this information is not recorded in the Kent catalogue, and so would have been irretrievably lost if not for this record. Cleanthes Pierides was a merchant and dealer in ancient Cypriot objects, and I’m trying to find out more about his activities and how objects made their way through his hands from ancient Cypriot tombs to collectors, including the Kents; this information provides a further piece of the jigsaw.

While looking through the other objects from Cyprus, I was pleased to come across a record relating to John Holmes, an influential collector and lecturer on Cypriot antiquity in Leeds from the 1860s onwards.

Holmes dagger cat no 235

Index card for Holmes Collection dagger

In this case, the card and the information we already have are mutually informative. Holmes complained bitterly that his collection was neglected after he sold it to Leeds City Council in 1882, so it’s interesting that someone at the Art Gallery was sufficiently concerned to log the bronze implements with the British Association. The catalogue number 235 allows us to link this spear to the following entry in Holmes’ catalogue:

Holmes cat 235

Holmes catalogue entry 235 © Leeds Museums and Galleries

This is not the most legible of entries, but the reference to ‘self’ makes it clear that Holmes himself obtained this spear on his visit to Cyprus in 1873, which potentially provides a lead about its area of origin.

Needless to say, I’m hugely impressed by the MicroPasts project and grateful for its contribution to my research. I’ll be watching with interest to see what forms the data takes in future; I will certainly be visiting again when it’s available in searchable format, to see whether I can track down more objects associated with the collections I’m exploring. However, there’s something about the original cards which has value over and above the data they contain; beyond the emotional charge of research artefacts from nearly a century ago, there’s also information such as the title of the Kent card pictured above. The original intention to describe the object as ‘Sword (short)’ has been changed to ‘Dagger’, and this reflects the hedging description in the Kent catalogue of ‘Short sword or dagger’. This tells us something about developing approaches to classifying Bronze Age objects, and I’m not sure how the cancelled information would be reflected in a transcribed card. In an ideal world, the images of the original cards would be available alongside the searchable transcribed information, and I hope this may be the case as the project progresses.

 

When is a whorl not a whorl?

I’ve written before about the spindle whorls in the Leeds City Museum collection, which come from the 1896 British Museum excavations at Enkomi. There are four disc-shaped whorls with a low conical profile, two made of stone and two of bone, as well as a further biconical stone whorl. The fact that they were included in tomb goods is intriguing; did they belong to someone buried there, or were they gifts for use in the afterlife? They would have been practical rather than prestigious objects.

Spindle whorls from Enkomi

Small objects from Enkomi shown on a lantern slide…

 

DSC01455 a s

…and the remaining objects today.

I’ve learned a lot from Lindy Crewe’s fascinating study of spindle whorls from prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus. She explains that it can be hard to distinguish between a spindle whorl and a bead, pendant or toggle, which might be very similar in appearance. On arrival in Leeds in 1902, the four low conical spindle whorls from Enkomi were recorded by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society as ‘disk-shaped ornaments’, suggesting some uncertainty about their function. I decided to revisit the whorls to see how the evidence stacked up.

Crewe sets out a number of criteria for determining whether an object is a spindle whorl. In order for a whorl to fit tightly onto a spindle, the hole through its centre must be straight in profile, or slightly conical. The hole  must also be central in the whorl, and its diameter should be no less than 4mm. The size and weight of the whorl are also factors; Crewe identifies a weight range of between 10g and 169g in the examined assemblage of Cypriot spindle whorls, and suggests that whorls would have a diameter of at least 20mm, most beads being smaller than this.

So how do the Leeds objects measure up to these criteria? All the holes are central, straight-sided or very slightly conical in profile, and between 5mm and 7mm in diameter – so far, so consistent with them being spindle whorls. The stone objects weigh between 12g and 16g, but the bone ones are around 9g, so a bit lighter than the suggested minimum; a whorl that was too light wouldn’t be able to act as a flywheel and help the spinning process. However, it’s possible that they may have lost density and weight as a result of the taphonomic processes they would have been subject to during their long burial in the tomb.

Identifiable usewear would have the potential to tell us something about the early history of these objects – were they used in ancient Cyprus for spinning, or were they destined to be funerary offerings from the point of manufacture? There are some small chips around the central hole and diameter of some of the whorls. These are hard to interpret – they could be the result of accidental damage at any point in the whorls’ history – but they seem consistent with the kind of usewear which would result from spinning.

Biconical 3 s

Possible usewear on the biconical spindle whorl…

Stone 2 s

…and on one of the stone spindle whorls.

On balance, it seems fairly safe to identify these as spindle whorls, although there is a question mark over the bone objects due to their lightness. We can only conjecture about the identity of the people they were buried with; due to the lack of records from their 19th century excavation, we don’t even know if they all came from the same tomb. It’s conceivable that they might have been closely associated with the person or people buried with them – rather like burying a relative with the glasses they always wore – but we don’t have the evidence to go beyond speculation. It’s relatively rare for small, non-precious objects like these to be preserved from early excavations, so we are more than usually lucky to have them.

 

‘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.

Klavdhia krater fragments s

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

Klavdhia krater restored s

…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.

Klavdhia krater label s

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.

BM Klavdhia krater

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.

Ferdinand

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.

Small Enkomi objects s

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.

2 stone beads

‘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.

Pomegranate

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

Pomegranate

‘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!

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.

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.

The University of Leeds ancient Cypriot collection

Recently I’ve secured some funding through the Cultural and Creative Industries Exchange at the University of Leeds, for a small project on the Department of Classics‘ collection of ancient Cypriot artefacts. This consists of 24 objects, not currently on display, including ceramics, glass and bronze. I’m delighted to be spending some time on this interesting and unpublished collection, and will be blogging about it over the next few months.

Bronze mirror © University of Leeds

Bronze mirror from Cyprus
© University of Leeds

I’ll be working with Leeds Museums and Galleries and the British Museum to explore the collection, starting by examining each object and trying to ‘place’ it in stylistic and chronological terms. The collection is in need of some conservation attention, so I’ll be trying to find a source of funding for that. I’ll also be looking into the more recent collection history; as ever, this is something I find fascinating. My work so far suggests that there are stories to be uncovered behind this group of objects and their route to Leeds, involving the shared history of University and Museum in the late 19th/early 20th century. More to follow!