This week, Leah Neiman, a graduate student in the Museum and Gallery studies program, discusses the female figurines in the Bridges Collection, and what they can tell us about the female experience in antiquity.
One of the first questions we must ask ourselves about any artifacts is “where did they come from?” i.e. what context were they found in. This is a tricky issue for many artifacts which were collected in the past, without any records, as is the case with the Bridges Collection. However, based on similar material both in Cyprus, and female figurines from other ancient Mediterranean cultures, it is fair to speculate that these ladies found their final resting place in antiquity in a tomb. This does not mean their only function was in funerary ritual, they were likely objects used in daily life, which then followed their owners into the grave. The Bridges Collection has many terracotta figurines of women in a range of positions, predominantly from the Archaic period. The arms of many of these ladies are folded into their chests, and they hold either a pomegranate or pinecone were their hands meet in the center. Both of these objects were symbols of fertility in the ancient world because they have many seeds. The importance of reproduction to process of death is an idea that recurs in many ancient Mediterranean societies. It suggests an understanding of death not as an end, but as the continuation of the cycle of birth and rebirth into an afterlife.
Eight of the female figurines in the Bridges Collection.
The flanges which extend out to the site of many of the figurines bodies indicates that they were not stand alone figures, but have been broken off of something larger. The curvature of their backs and the flanges also suggests that they faced inwards, likely around the rim of a vessel. There are complete vessels that preserve figures of around the top edge women, in a variety of poses, both inward and outward facing.
Female figurines engaged in activities on the necks of Hellenistic vessels. From Archaeological Museum in Nicosia.
Based on the size, style, and fabric of two of our ladies (HC1994.3(75) and HC1994.3(72)) they likely originate from around the rim of the same vessel. While the activities that the women are engaged in can vary from vessel to vessel, it always seems to be a consistent pose on the same object
HC1994.3(75) and HC1994.3(72), two figurines suspected to come from the rim of the same vessel.
There is also number of figurines of a women nursing a child, a type refered to as κουροτρόφος, which references their role as child-rearers. These fall into a different category than the figurines discussed above, as identified by Orphanides (2001), as they are more active portrayals of women in daily life. Women likely would have breast fed children until about the age of two, and likely had children in quick succession. As one of our figurines shows (HC1994.2(54), the mother is already pregnant with another child, as she nurses the one in her arms. The exact ways in which these figurines were involved in daily life remain somewhat enigmatic, however, it seems clear that they reflect the kinds of tasks a women could expect to find herself doing. Κουροτρόφοι are the dominant type of figurine beginning in the Bronze Age, and the other kinds of activities other female figurines display, e.g. cooking, are those which would be compatible with childcare (Orphanides 2001).
The prominence of reproductive imagery and symbolism in the archaeological record attest to the importance of fertility to ancient cultures. Similar figurines of women with symbols or fertility and carrying infants can been found cross culturally and throughout time. It is our job to try to tease out as much information as we can from these objects to understand how people lived, and died, many millennia ago.
Check out our sketchfab gallery, here, and see how many ladies you can spot!
Orphanides, Andreas. (2001). The Bronze Age Anthropomorphic Figurines from Cyprus: Women’s Child Caring Role. Archaeologia Cypria. IV. 83-94.
This week, Dr Eleri Cousins of the School of Classics enlighten us about the lamps of the Bridges Collection.
The days are almost at their shortest here in Scotland – the sun set at 3:34pm today! – so what better time of year to think about illumination in the ancient world? The Bridges Collection contains a small but fascinating series of lamps, ranging in date from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods, and this week we’ve had them out of their cases for James Bezjian to scan, as part of the Through a Glass Darkly project. As far as I’m concerned, oil lamps are some of the most compelling archaeological objects there are. They are part of something that is still so fundamental to day-to-day life, the lighting of our homes, but they also represent such a *different* lived experience to the one that we have today. How many of us have ever been in a room lit only by candle- or lamp-light? Rooms like that are DARK – it’s hard to see who is at the other end of them, it’s hard to do any task, like reading or embroidery, that requires good eyesight, and to light a room with oil at all well for any length of time would have been expensive. Looking at lamps makes us realize that for most of human history, lighting – and thus active life – after dark would have been a luxury.
But lamps allow us to think not just about the lighting, but about a whole range of issues to do with life in the ancient Mediterranean, from domestic life to long-distance trade, from craftspersonship to fuel sources. They allow you to hold so many things about the Greco-Roman world right there, in the palm of your hand.
To prove that I’m not just lamp-mad, but that they really are amazing objects, let me take you through some examples from our collection.
Check out this lamp, for example, which probably dates to the Hellenistic Period. What astounds me about this object is the deceptive complexity of its design.
At first glance this looks like actually a very simple object, compared to the elaborately decorated, closed lamps we get in other periods. But actually several different techniques went into making it, all of which required a lot of skill. You can tell from the shape of the rim and the walls, and from the horizontal lines visible on the walls both inside and outside that it was first thrown as a bowl-shape on a potters’ wheel. While the clay was still quite wet, the potter pinched one end of the bowl to create the distinctive narrow nozzle, where the wick would have stuck out when the lamp was lit. Getting that pinch right must have taken both skill and practice; modern potters who have worked with our collection to recreate some of our objects have found it really hard to figure out the exact knack needed to create this shape.
If you turn the 3-D model upside down, you can see that the potter finished off the lamp by repeatedly scraping the bottom of the bowl to create a flattish base. By the looks of the marks, this was probably done when the clay had dried out a bit to become ‘leather-hard’ before firing. You’ll often see similar marks on the walls of other pottery forms, where the point was to ‘burnish’ the clay to make the walls shine once the pot was fired.
Even though this lamp is hand-made, it was still made according to a particular pattern, a learned technique, the knowledge of which would have been passed between craftspeople – as we can see from the fact that the same shape and the same ‘pinch’ appears on other lamps from the eastern Mediterranean, including in fact a second one from the Bridges Collection:
‘Types’ like this are bread-and-butter for archaeologists, because they can help us to pinpoint when and where an object belongs. (Think about how the shape of a plastic Coca-Cola bottle in the US differs from one in Europe – or from a glass one from the 1920s.) But especially with handmade objects, types like this don’t just represent networks of trade, or of production: they also represent networks of knowledge, of training, and of skill. In this case, it was a knowledge which lasted for a long time: pinched-nozzle open-saucer lamps like this are known from the Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period – making them actually quite hard to date!!
Looking at this lamp, we can see not only the details of its production, but also of its use. These lamps would have been filled with oil, most likely olive oil, which would have served as a fuel source for the lit wick. If you look carefully around the pinched nozzle, you can see it has been both blackened and reddened from heat. That’s a really common pattern on lamps, and shows the effect that use would have had on the object. You can see the effect even more clearly on this third lamp, which dates to the Roman period:
This lamp was made with a mould rather than with a wheel – mould-made lamps are very common in the Roman period, and would have enabled (relative) mass-production of objects. Since they could be mass-produced, we see Roman lamps being traded and moving around in great numbers across the Roman world. This particular lamp is decorated with an eagle (very Roman!), while another Roman mould-made lamp in the collection has vegetal decoration in the form of a pomegranate branch:
At first glance, mould-made lamps seem less individualized and more generic than hand-shaped ones. But it’s important to remember that in the ancient world, even ‘mass-produced’ objects had a human touch. On the inside of mould-made lamps, you can sometimes see the marks of fingerprints: a reminder that it was a real person who pressed the clay into the mould, almost two millennia ago.
This week we are very excited to have Dr James Bezjian (Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship) visiting us from the Citadel Military College of South Carolina. He is working with us to 3D scan artefacts in the Bridges Archaeology Collection and is also training students and staff at the University to use the latest equipment. Alison stopped by to watch this amazing process in action and ask James a few questions…
Alison: First, can you tell us a bit about the equipment are you using?
James: We have industrial portable infra-red scanners, designed by Artec 3D studios. One scanner handles medium-sized objects, the other handles smaller objects like tools, pots, pans, and the third scanner can render full-scale rooms, industrial and mechanical items.
Alison: And what’s involved in scanning – how long does it take?
James: First, I take the scanner and align it with the turntable so the scanner can understand what the level plane is and distinguish it from the object. Once the object is recognised I begin scanning, rotating the turntable and using the scanner to get all angles. It generally takes 20 minutes including scanning and processing. It works almost by touch. You have to keep your eye on the screen and watch your scan appearing. I take multiple scans and then the software connects it all like a puzzle.
Alison: How are you using 3D scanning in your work at the Citadel?
James: We teach students how to solve complex problems using innovative methods. 3D scanning was a solution to a complex problem that many of our local arts colleagues, museums and businesses were facing with preservation or recreating techniques. Many of these institutions can’t afford scanners like ours – the equipment I have here costs around £50,000. The Citadel were granted a donation to start an innovation lab, on the premise that we would work with the community.
Alison: What is the most interesting object you’ve scanned?
James: The stone statuette of a seated lady in the Bridges Collection (HC2003.9) https://sketchfab.com/models/a569484986b943d0ac8f4a32d9085bae!
The detail was amazing. I had a real sense of awe about the object. I’d quite like a 3D print of it actually!
Alison: Which have been the most difficult objects to scan? Why?
James: Things that don’t have distinguishable edges, textures or patterns. So for my work in the States that might be shiny metal objects like nuts or bolts. Here in the Bridges Collection we’ve had problems with some of the bronze objects that have rust on them.
Alison: What are the most exciting uses of 3D scanning and where do you think it’s heading next?
James: A group of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) needed a wrench to fix something. They were told they wouldn’t get it for several months so NASA scanned the wrench and sent the file to space so it could be 3D printed and they were able to fix the problem.
They are also starting to 3D print homes in China which they can then 3D print in concrete. It’s very time effective and requires less labour. This could be a great solution for affordable homes…
Alison: Thanks so much James! I can see what a quick and efficient process this is and we’re delighted with the 3D models you’re producing of the Bridges Collection. We’re just sorry you’re only here for a week! Are you sure you want to get back to the States for Christmas??
To see some of James’ latest models check out our Facebook page or Sketchfab site:
This week, Museum and Galleries Student Azam Caesar
ruminates on his experience working at cultural and ethnographic museum and how 3D technologies could be implemented in such museums.
Before coming to St Andrews to study for the MLitt in Museum and Gallery Studies I had gained experience volunteering as a guide at the National Museum of Indonesia, which collects and displays the historical, cultural, and ethnographic artefacts of various ethnic groups. One of the first tasks I was given in my Museum and Gallery Studies course was to write an essay about the effects of the Digital Revolution in the museum field. Through writing the essay, I learnt about the variety of ways that digital media have been implemented in the museum space, including audio guides and interactive displays.
During my time at the National Museum of Indonesia, I noted the absence of such digital technology within its galleries. In a way, the National Museum still engages in the “classic” view of museums where the audience and the objects remain separate, visitors are there to simply see objects and read the accompanying text. While some objects such as Hindu-Buddhist statuaries are on open display, ‘do not touch’ signs maintain the demarcation between object and visitor. In contrast, many western museums are now trying to find ways to make the collections engaging for audiences by providing opportunities to interact with objects using touch tables, for example.
Since joining the Through a Glass Darkly project I have learned more on the implementation of digital technologies such as 3D printing and modelling in the museum field. I find it to be a useful tool to allow the audience to interact with the collection in a way that would be safe for the objects. I cannot help but think on how these technologies could be used in the National Museum. Of course, there are issues concerning the resources that are needed to implement the technology. However, since the collection includes plenty of ethnographic and cultural objects, there is an alternative approach that the National Museum and other ethnographic museums may adopt. Unlike the archaeological objects that we work with in the Through a Glass Darkly project, the collection in the National Museum of Indonesia comes from many cultures that still produce these same objects. This means the museum may purchase contemporary equivalents of objects in their collection for visitors to handle, whilst maintaining the antique specimens within the glass cases. I personally own a Javanese dancer’s mask; these same masks are displayed within the cases of the National Museum. While simply displaying the front of the mask is all well and good, it doesn’t help visitors to understand the construction method and the way it is worn. Unlike other masks, Javanese dance masks are worn by biting a leather strap that hold the mask in place.
Purchasing contemporary cultural objects is a good solution for artefacts such as tools, furniture, and art, but it becomes much more difficult concerning objects of a sacred nature. Consider the tau tau, wooden effigies of the departed that adorn Torajas tombs. Ever since the tourist boom to Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, several tau tau specimens have been stolen from the cliff tombs and made their way into collections of several museums. To counter this many Torajans have fenced or hidden the tau tau of their relatives. But those who have had tau tau stolen seem to have given up trying to reclaim them due to the chance of further theft and the financial cost to rededicate the tau tau. Perhaps 3D technology may be able to provide a solution to this problem. By creating 3D digital models and prints, museums may still be able to display religious objects without originals being removed from their sacred spaces. Alternatively a museum could commission a tau tau to be made by a Toraja carpenter, but would that ‘tau tau’ have the same authenticity as those that are displayed on the tombs? Would it be more appropriate for it to be called a “wooden human statue” rather than “tau tau”? These are some of the dilemmas museums face when using modern reproductions to facilitate object handling.
 Adams, Kathleen. (1993). “Theologians, Tourists and Thieves: The Torajan Effigy of the Dead in Modernizing Indonesia. The Kyoto Journal. 22. 38-45.
This week we focus on one of the most eye-catching and intriguing objects in the Bridges Collection, the ‘plank figurine’ or ‘bottle-opener’ as it has been affectionately nicknamed by staff and students. Who does it represent, why was it made, and how was it used? Alison Hadfield, Learning & Access Curator, has been following up some interesting theories…
What are plank figurines?
As the name would suggest, they are flat, rectangular-shaped representations of the human figure, usually handmade from clay with pinched features and incised or painted decorations. Some are free-standing, measuring approximately 10-25 centimetres, whilst others are attached to vessels
Where are they found?
They seem to be unique to Cyprus and mostly come from burial contexts though some are associated with domestic sites. In terms of collections they turn up all over the world. Hunting for plank figurines has become something of an obsession for the ‘Through A Glass Darkly’ team and we have discovered examples in the online collections of the British Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Louvre, Paris; the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens; the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia and The Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm. I also know of examples in museums, universities and private collections whose catalogues are not yet available online…. all the more reason to digitize!
How old are they? What are their origins?
They were made during the Early and Middle Bronze Age, ca. 2000-1600BC. Some scholars believe they were introduced to Cyprus by Anatolian migrants[i] but there is not a very strong resemblance to Anatolian – or indeed other contemporary figurines of the region in terms of material, form or decoration. It seems just as likely that plank figurines evolved on the island itself from earlier traditions such as the polished stone ‘cruciform’ figures made of a local stone, picrolite.
Who do they represent? Are they male or female?
Good question! Many of the plank figurines have no sexual characteristics at all. Both examples in the Bridges collection are quite androgenous, though the ‘bottle-opener’ does have pierced ears probably for the attachment of metal earrings. In his catalogue of the Cesnola Cypriot collection at the Met, Karagheorgis[i] stated that “Plank-shaped figurines are always female. Even when the breasts are not shown, it is certain that the figurines represent women because of their diadems, necklaces, earrings and other ornaments”. Although the incised decorations do resemble jewellery it seems presumptuous to determine the sex of the figurine on this basis, without clear evidence of male and female dress conventions in this period (e.g. from burials).
Sometimes a single figurine combines male and female physical attributes or is double-headed. Whilst some scholars have interpreted double-headed figures as a couple or a marriage symbol, there is no sexual differentiation between the pair to support this theory. Indeed Talalay and Cullen[i] suggest Cypriot plank figurines were designed with deliberate sexual ambiguity, allowing them to represent multiple identities.
How else can you explain the markings on the figurines?
Whether painted or incised, there are some remarkable consistencies among the geometric patterns on the faces and bodies of the figurines. Starting with the head, many examples have a series of vertical wavy or zigzag lines running down the back perhaps representing long hair. Small horizontal lines on the face may indicate tattoos, scarification or body paint – traditions well documented around the world by ethnographers but more difficult to find in the archaeological record. The diagonal lines running across the body might represent patterned clothing, binding or even swaddling.
What about the ‘hoop’ around the head of the Bridges figurine?
This is one of the most curious features of our plank figurine. To modern European eyes the circular shape is reminiscent of a halo, but there are two further explanations which are really interesting. The first is that the figurine may represent a shrouded body in a coffin, the linear patterns corresponding to folds or bindings. The high numbers of plank figurines found in burial contexts possibly support this theory. The second suggestion is that the shape represents the headboard of a cradle.
When visiting the Museum of Tyrolean Folk Art in Innsbruck last summer I spotted a cradle that had this very type of construction, even the interlaced straps intended, presumably, to stop the baby falling (or climbing) out! There are further cradle-like figurines in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, including this remarkable depiction of two babies – probably twins – in a cradle. This artefact was excavated from the tombs at Lapithos, by the Swedish Cyprus Expedition (1927-1931).
More food for thought comes from a series of figurines depicting an adult holding a cradle either on his/her knee or at the shoulder. Taken literally, neither position would be terribly comfortable! I had assumed this was probably more of a symbolic depiction until I saw this Mapuche cradleboard during our recent visit to the Community Museum in Malalhue, Chile as part of the University’s EU-LAC project. This is a portable form of cradle, combining the functions of the modern-day backpack, baby seat and bed. Our guide Isabel Riveros Quilacan explained that Mapuche babies were often secured to their cradleboard and positioned upright against a wall so that they could observe and be part of activities from a very early age.
The cradleboard appears mainly to have been used by indigenous tribes of North America, Patagonia and the Sami. Although these cultures are far removed in space and time from Bronze Age Cyprus, the design of these cradleboards would explain both the rectangular shape of the plank figurines, the hoop-shaped headboard, the criss-cross decorations and even the necklace-like patterns, since stringed ornaments were often attached to the shoulder points of Native American cradleboards. Comprehensive arguments for this interpretation have been put forward by Bergoffen[i]
How might the figurines have been used?
Depending on the readings of the iconography and the find locations, plank figurines may be associated with fertility or with funerary cults and ancestor worship. However, Steel[i] points out that many excavations in Cyprus took place on mortuary sites, creating a bias in the archaeological record. Furthermore, several figurines from Lapithos, a site in northern Cyprus, are chipped and worn, implying that they were used and handled regularly. She argues that the figurines were brought out for events marking the key stages of life and that they became so closely associated with the owner they were ultimately buried together. In a funerary context, if the figurines do represent infants on cradleboards they could also be seen more generally as symbols of rebirth, or indeed of ‘eternal sleep’. Bergoffen notes that native American babies were typically placed on cradleboards between the ages of 5 months to a year, the most vulnerable stage of development, and “if the child died during its ‘cradle days’, the cradle was discarded or destroyed, or buried with the child, or placed on its grave.” I can’t help thinking here of the Victorian practice of photographing offspring who died young, thereby commemorating and preserving their image. Looking at these photographs it is hard to tell if the infants are dead or merely sleeping.
[i] Steel, L. (2013) Materiality and Consumption in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, New York, Routledge,
[i] Bergoffen, C.J. (2009), ‘Plank Figures as Cradleboards’, Medelhavsmuseet: Focus on the Mediterranean, Vol 5, 63-75 http://www.academia.edu/16375929/_Plank_Figures_as_Cradleboards_Medelhavsmuseet_Focus_on_the_Mediterranean_vol._5_2009_63-75
[i] Talalay, L.A. and Cullen, T., ‘Sexual Ambiguity in Plank Figures from Bronze Age Cyprus’. In Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus (p. 181-196). Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5615/j.ctt2jc9sc.18
[i] Karagheorgis, V., Mertens, J.R. and Rose, M.E. (Eds.) (2000) Ancient Art of Cyprus – The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Ancient_Art_from_Cyprus_The_Cesnola_Collection_in_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art
[i] Tatton-Brown, V. Ancient Cyprus, (1987), p.34, London, British Museum Publications
Identifying Objects without context, by Rebecca Sweetman (Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology, School of Classics)
This week, Prof. Rebecca Sweetman talks about the problems of identifying some of the objects in the Bridges Collection.
I have been in Nicosia on the Leventis Visiting exchange fellowship with the University of Cyprus and this has been a fantastic opportunity to see material in museums as well as chat with colleagues about the Bridges collection.
As a private collection of material, it is not always easy to identify context, date and even in some cases, what the object is. Up to this point, to provide details about the material, we have relied on a great deal of research on other published collections (of particular note is that of the British Museum) to find comparative data for the Bridges collection. Some pieces are more obvious and easier to identify than others; for example the Bichrome ware plate, with its intricate decoration on the base and dating to the Geometric period is a common feature in most Cypriot collections. Additionally, we have had welcome input from followers of our websites and blog on some identifications and corrections of our mis-identifications!
On this trip I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to present our digitisation project and the initial results of our experiments at the Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Cyprus. During this presentation, I asked the audience if they could contribute to the identification of some of our tricky pieces and we had an enthusiastic response.
I would particularly like to thank the Director of the Research Unit, Lena Kassianidou who spotted that a seal stone in the Bridges collection https://skfb.ly/6v8Ux is of a type quite well known on the island and is considered to be an amulet (as well as seal), similar to, if not actually, one worn by the well-known figures of ‘Temple boys’.
The Bridges collection amulet is probably made of a dark lapis lazuli and is pyramidal in shape (2.8cm long) with a perforation at the top for wearing. It has scratch marks on one of the long sides. The incised motif at the base depicts a figure with their arms in the air, possibly holding something in their right hand, with horns above and a tree (?)to the right of the figure (Fig. 1). In terms of the iconography, Reyes’ 2001, Cat 173, a Bronze Age example, is comparable in the organization of the scene and only 11 pyramidal forms are included in his catalogue (cat 89-100). The stones used in pyramidal forms vary considerably. I believe that the Bridges collection amulet is made from dark lapis lazuli but the fact that all six of Reyes’ lapis seals are scarabs creates some uncertainty about the identification of the stone.
The perforation makes the seal stone perfect for wearing, but whether it was directly associated with Temple Boys, and an amulet as such, it is not so certain. Temple boys is the name given to a statues group (usually limestone) which depict young boys (but sometimes girls) (Fig. 2).
They are commonly found in sanctuaries and some believe that they protected the god, others believe they are offerings from families, particularly in the context of coming of age rituals (see discussion by Papantinou 2012, 148-52). The Bridges collection does not have any examples of Temple Boys (that we have been able to identify) but the collection at Liverpool has many!
One of the largest collection of these amulets has been found on the island of Yeronisos, on the west coast of Cyprus. There they found a collection of 15 limestone amulets (Connelly, J. B and D. Plantzos 2006) and the various states of production lead the excavators to believe that they were produced on the island itself. This collection of amulets has been closely dated to the Hellenistic period.
For the Bridges collection amulet, without any evidence of its original archaeological context, its precise date is difficult to pin down (and we are open to suggestions!), but finding lots of good parallels has been very satisfying.
From this visit we have been able to solve some puzzles but some mysteries still endure. For example, we are still stumped on this lady (Fig. 3): https://skfb.ly/6v8VD.
If she were a male figure we could happily describe her as Zeus Ammon. We have looked for parallels and have come up with an example from the Archaeological museum at Nicosia. These seated figures with rams date between the Archaic and Roman period.
This one is dated to around the 5th century and the seated figured is flanked by rams. The bearded figure is holding a cornucopia whereas the Bridges collection seated female is holding a large dish, perhaps in offering. We would love to know if anyone has spotted any similar female characters, and if so do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
Connelly, J. B and D. Plantzos, 2006. “Stamp-seals from Geronisos and their Contexts,” Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, 263-293. PDF
Papantinou, G. 2012. Religion and Social Transformations in Cyprus. From the Cypriot Basileis to the Hellenistic Strategos.
Reyes, A. T. 1991. ‘Stamp-Seals in the Pierides Collection, Larnaca’, RDAC 117-28.
Reyes, A. T. 2001. The Stamp-Seals of Ancient Cyprus Oxford University School of Archaeology Monograph 52.
Eilidh Lawrence, a learning and access trainee at the Museum of the University of St Andrews, shares her experience at DigiDoc 2018, a conference hosted by Historic Environments Scotland on digital innovation in cultural heritage management.
I was lucky enough to attend DigiDoc: Digital Innovation in Heritage Conference organised by the team at Historic Environment Scotland, at the Engine Shed in Stirling last week. The conference was a two day affair, preceded by a Research and Innovation Day, and followed by DigiFest: a programme of events, workshops and talks by experts themed around various digital innovations, including games and animation, for all ages. Presentations at the conference were delivered by digital innovators from across the globe: from the US, to Europe, to China.
What we hoped to take away from the conference were clear ideas of ways in which we can further engage audiences with the Bridges Collection, our collection of Cypriot archaeology that was donated to the University of St Andrews in 1994, and is in the process of being digitised into 3D models, available on Sketchfab.
Presentations that particularly gave us food for thought included those by Claire Spencer Cook from Nexus Studios, Jenni Mackay from Dundee City Council, and Maxime Durand from Ubisoft.
Claire Spencer Cook (@nexusstories) delivered her presentation on DigiDoc Day 1, which was entitled ‘History in Your Hand: How We Made BBC Civilisations AR (Augmented Reality)’. The audience-centred approach taken by Nexus Studios to create their apps is surely key to their success. Spencer Cook spoke of the different ‘personas’ the team bear in mind when designing their apps, and the focus put on considering how the experience would make the audience in question feel – with particular emphasis on the potential for exploratory experiences to stimulate the senses. Other important reflections provoked by Spencer Cook’s talk included the fact that often, it is best to supplement the physical with the digital, rather than to focus on the digital experience in isolation. The use of a simple user interface was also acknowledged as best practice, in order that apps be as widely accessible as possible. Clearly, the potential of augmented reality to democratise collections to anyone who possesses a smartphone is great, and could be exponentially wide-reaching.
Jenni Mackay (@lookwhatjendid) from Dundee City Council delivered a presentation on Day 2 entitled ‘Digital Technologies in Scottish Education: Creating Digitally Adaptive Learners’. The emphasis on the digital within classrooms in Scotland is heartening: the focus being on preparing the country’s young people for the workforce that they will enter upon leaving the school system. Mackay explained the Scottish Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy to delegates: emphasising the importance of digital technologies being recognised as being central to a learner’s education in Scotland, rather than as an add-on resource. The now-wide use of game-based learning, through games such as Minecraft, and software like Unity and GameMaker, was particularly exciting to reflect upon, as was the fantastic Forth Bridges Project (https://www.theforthbridges.org/news/go-forth-learn-and-be-inspired/). The project features different branches (‘Go Forth And… Discover/Design/Create/Explore’) and amongst its resources includes a series of mini-games, interactives and 3D modelling to illustrate complex engineering. The project perfectly demonstrates the potential of 3D digitisation to promote learning in a myriad of ways.
Lastly, Maxime Durand (@TriFreako) from Ubisoft spoke about the expansion pack for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, called the ‘Discovery Tour’, in a presentation entitled ‘Beyond Gaming: How Assassin’s Creed Expanded for Learning’. The Assassin’s Creed video game series has long captured the imagination of those fascinated by the sights and sounds of history: with previous games set in Renaissance Italy, France at the time of the Revolution, and their latest offering (released this month) based in Ancient Greece. The Origins incarnation of the game was set in Ancient Egypt: the Discovery Tour offers players the chance to explore Ancient Egypt without being restricted in any way by gameplay elements. Players can explore as various characters from history: climbing the pyramids, swimming in the Nile and visiting the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Although artistic license is sometimes used to aid gameplay, thorough consultation is done at all stages to ensure that the stories told are representative of those they belong to. The result is a visually and sonically stunning journey into the past: the access to which is unrivaled.
Durand encouraged delegates to ‘Make History Everyone’s Playground’. That truly is what we hope to go forward and do.
Dr Lenia Kouneni sheds light on the history of the university’s collection and the sponsor behind the excavation.
The last few weeks my research has led me to some intriguing detective work in order to shed some light into an important archaeological collection owned by the University of St Andrews in the 1950s and its current whereabouts. There is always a story behind every excavation project, from its first conception to the publication of its results and display of findings. These stories are important; they help us understand the scholars’ motivations and incentives, the means by which archaeologists accessed the monuments, and the networks they established. When it comes to archaeological research and excavations, the main protagonists are usually the archaeologists who uncover the material and the objects or buildings unearthed. There is, though, always an elaborate network of connections and organisations that support them and facilitate their work. Sponsorship played- and still does- a crucial role in the evolution of archaeological research. By the mid-twentieth century, institutions, such as the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, became major funding bodies for archaeological projects, but archaeologists still had to cultivate relationships with wealthy patrons and rely on private networks in order to finance their ideas and projects.
I am currently working on one such Scottish sponsor of archaeological excavations with strong links to the University of St Andrews. Sir David Russell (1872 – 1956) was a wealthy papermaker and philanthropist from Fife, Scotland (fig. 1). He was the driving force behind the expansion and evolution of Tullis Russell and Company Ltd, papermakers based in Markinch, but he had a wide range of interests, such as sport cars, golf, photography and spiritualism. His wealth not only allowed him to pursue his interests, but also led to many generous benefactions and patronage of numerous institutions, schemes and individuals.His active involvement in archaeology started in the early 1930s when Sir David Russell provided the financial means and administrative support to an archaeological expedition to uncover the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors in Istanbul, led by James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), a Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of St Andrews. Russell utilised the Walker Trust of the University of St Andrews, which had been established by one of his ancestors, as a conduit for passing personal funds to the project. During my research on Russell’s sponsorship of the Great Palace expedition, I came across various other contributions that he made to archaeological projects in Anatolia, mainly of Byzantine but also of prehistoric interest. One of them was to Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in Jericho in the 1950s. When Kenyon, a British archaeologist associated with the University of London Institute of Archaeology, was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1951, she initiated an excavation project at Jericho in 1952. She initially anticipated that the project will run for two seasons, but due to the findings she prolonged her work there for a total of seven seasons, until 1958.
The principal sponsor for Kenyon’s excavations was the British Academy, but support also came through other institutions and individuals. One of the major contributors was the Russell Trust, established by Sir David Russell in memory of his son, Pat, killed in the war. The Russell papers in the archive of the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews contain significant correspondence between Russell and Kenyon that documents Russell’s contribution to the scheme and provides a valuable insight into the donor-receiver relationship between archaeologists and their funders. Kathleen Kenyon knew David Russell since the early 1940s, when she was working as an honorary archaeological adviser to the British Council. In 1942 she had been asked to act as the intermediary between David Russell and Michael Grant, the representative of the British Council in Turkey, who was looking after the interests of the Great Palace site in Istanbul during the time of the war, when the Walker Trust excavation had come to a halt. It was due to the personal relationship developed between the two of them that Kenyon asked David Russell for financial help at the end of the first season.
David Russell committed himself to sponsor the Jericho excavations; he gave a substantial contribution to the work of the second season and agreed to sponsor the excavations for any further seasons. Even after Sir David’s death in 1956, his son, Major David Russell continued his father’s legacy and provided support to Kenyon’s projects. Kenyon wrote frequently, especially at the end of each season, providing Russell with information on the results of work and most importantly, sending him a share of the findings. According to the Antiquities Ordinance of 1920 and 1929, archaeologists who excavated in Jordan could claim a percentage of their findings for their own institutions back home. A large amount of archaeological material from the site of Jericho was dispersed all over the world as a result of the international nature of the team led by Kenyon. The major portion was deposited in the Castle Museum in Amman and the Palestine Archaeological Museum (nowadays the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum), while others went to the British Museum in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and elsewhere.
As a major contributor, the Russell Trust received a fair share of the findings at the end of each season, which ended up in a storeroom at the Bute building awaiting cataloguing and the hope of the establishment of a Museum of Archaeology. As I was going through the correspondence between Kenyon and Russell, I came across detailed lists of items from Jericho ranging from pottery to wooden objects and scarabs, dating mainly from the middle Bronze age (fig. 2). I almost screamed with excitement! Could we possibly have this material here in St Andrews? Thus, a quest for the whereabouts of the Jericho objects started and with the help of Alison Hadfield and Rebecca Sweetman, we were able to establish that foreign archaeological material from the university collections was transferred in 1988 to the National Museum of Scotland. A search through the online database of the museum revealed a number of items from Kenyon’s excavations, matching the lists in the archives of St Andrews. Correspondence with the curator in the museum also verified the transfer.Kenyon was very accurate in recording at the end of the Excavations at Jericho Volume IV (pp 638-42) the location of all materials in museums and institutions, where they were shipped. However, since then many of these objects have been transferred, deposited or gifted to other institutions. In this process a significant part of their early reception history is lost and forgotten. Studies on the relationship between archaeologists and their funders help us contextualise and assess the political, social and economic framework within which archaeology developed. Sir David Russell’s name, the involvement of the University of St Andrews to the Jericho expedition and the history of the findings now deposited in the NMS would be forgotten if not for archival research. Such research helps to identify, contextualise and interpret artefacts in museums, providing information on their provenance and history of acquisition and informing their documentation, but also offers a way of reconnecting the public to artefacts in their local collections and museums.
The Bridges collection comprises some 200 objects from Cyprus given to the University of St Andrews on permanent loan by the Bridges family.
The collection is housed in the School of Classics, University of St Andrews and is under the care of the Museum and Collections unit.
The material was collected in Cyprus when the Bridges family worked there and the Collection pre dates the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970.
Since 2016, a collaborative project between the School of Classics and Museum and Galleries has sought to make the collection freely accessible, provide more context as well as undertake a series of experiements concerning perceptions of material culture.
Fundamental to this has been the recording of the collection to make 3D images. Even with limited resources we have been able to scan 70% of the images and they are now available for free download on Sketchfab. We have been using the 3D images most recently as part of a project in collaboration with colleagues in neuroscience to test memory retention of archaeological material when experienced in different ways: 3D, sensory box, behind glass case and touching the object. The inital results have been surprising!
If you would like a copy of our quick guide to 3D scanning and sketchfab, please feel free to download it here: Creating 3D Models Quick Guide.
A half-day workshop at MUSA with JL Williams
The recent StAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews provided a wonderful excuse to get the Bridges collection out and inspire some creative writing. We were lucky to have the opportunity to work with the poet JL Williams, who has a particular interest in the crossover between poetry and other art forms such as music, visual art, dance, opera and theatre. Her workshop at MUSA explored ‘masks of the imagination’ and included artefacts used in rituals to transport people from one world to another. Here she shares her thoughts about the day and her own poem, ‘Big Mother Silence’.
Writing is transformation. It is a way of bringing what is inside out, and of sharing the essence of what we are with others, through potentially vast tracts of time and space.
‘I’ll go slowly here: if metaphor is not idle comparison, but an exchange of energy, an event, then it unites the world by its very premise — that things connect and exchange energy.’ – Mary Ruefle
I was thrilled when Annie Rutherford, StAnza Poetry Festival’s Programme Co-ordinator, got in touch to ask if I would run a workshop at the 2018 StAnza Festival in collaboration with MUSA. The workshop would revolve around writing in response to objects in the collection. The objects would include portraits, self-portraits and a collection of masks and figurines from MUSA’s archaeology and ethnography collection, as selected by curators Alison Hadfield and Lisa Scrimgeour.
Before the workshop Alison sent me through the list of objects and links to virtual and in some cases 3D representations, and it gave me the idea that it would be interesting to share these with the participants before the workshop so they could encounter them virtually and then see how that compared to meeting them in real life.
We had a full house on the day, with many writers from different backgrounds and countries in the room. First we did some free writing and introductions to warm up and talked about the self in writing. It was fascinating to hear how the notion of the self, and what was safe or acceptable to share and reveal, varied from person to person and culture to culture. A woman from Belgium said that there it was accepted that people had many selves and that one should be honest and open about each. A Scottish man said he had been born with an original self but felt he had formed multiple selves over time to fit into different social situations, and that it would not be normal to share a multiplicity of these at once.
We discussed the spectrum of exposing the self through our writing, and how some confessional writers bore all whereas some – especially moving into realms of non-fiction and academic writing, showed very little of the self though arguably the self is always visible in some way in a text, even if through that which we do not say.
We then had a guided tour of the objects by the curators. It was remarkable to be able to see these objects up close, hear in detail about each of their histories and even be able to hold and touch them, some many thousands of years old.
I was particularly struck by a small figurine, made in Cyprus during the Archaic period (745-475 BC). A male figure in terracotta clay, whose red and black painted decoration was still visible, and even the fingerprint marks of the person who formed him. Two holes in the front of the figurine, as well as the beautiful way it fits even now into the palm of a closed hand, has led experts to surmise that it might have been a bell, and used as part of burial ritual to signal the transition from one stage of existence to another. 3D model of bell figurine
After exploring all the objects and portraits, we returned to our notepads and I asked the poets to write a poem which engaged both with their self or personal experience and with the object in some way – ideally representing some sort of transition or transformation. We had a little time at the end to share these baby poems and I was delighted by the range and depth of what was produced in such a short period of time. Some people focused on a more ekphrastic style of writing* in which they described their chosen object in close detail – revealing their self in what they noticed – and some found ways through the objects to talk about powerful moments of change in their own lives.
I wanted the entire experience of the workshop to feel like a ritual in which we opened ourselves up to the creativity of others… their objects produced across vast distances in time and space, and found within ourselves ways to communicate with this creative energy and make it come alive again in our own work. I hope the writers at the workshop, and you, might take the idea of ritual and responding to art in the world around you to heart and make your own experiments with writing between worlds.
My workshop poem inspired by Big Mother, Pat Douthwaite, 1994, Lithograph:
Big Mother Silence
lying in this silent house
your blanketed arms rise
to buffet my ringing ears with silence
the silence my empty rooms
ring with this year
and will ring with each year
the silence of this room
the silence of this open mouth
a generative quality
you impregnate this silence with
your massive embodiment
of a silent mask beneath which
I discover the productivity
a dynamic and two-fold realisation
though not a mother I am
the mother of silence
JL Williams (StAnza – MUSA – 2018)
*The term ‘ekphrastic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘ekphrasis’, meaning ‘description’. A really good explanation and example can be found here: Poetry Foundation