Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The little things amongst the large

I might be a little obsessed with the current rotating exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum.  I've gone twice in the last week.  I may well stop by again on Friday.  (In fairness, we've been in the museum for other things; it's just nice to stop in for a visit!)  The exhibit is about the Antikythera Shipwreck, which crashed off the shores of Greece around 60 BCE, probably on its way to Italy.  I love this exhibit because of a) the cool technology and modern exhibition strategies used in the show,
This is just a video, but there are holograms used to recreate the functionality of the Antikythera Mechanism!
 b) awesome late Hellenistic pottery and miscellaneous objects from daily life aboard the ship,
So many lagynoi! Aren't they great!?!
and c) pretty, pretty glass vessels!

But, my very favorite object in the entire exhibit is this little guy, who can't be more than a centimeter and a half tall, and most people probably never notice:

If you'll allow me to geek out for a few minutes:  he's a glass pendent of a type found all over the eastern Mediterranean in the second and first centuries BCE, including Cyprus, Egypt, Delos, Dura-Europas (Syria), southern Russia and...Tel Anafa!  See, there's one like him in the collection of glass beads and pendents which I studied way back in my Masters' degree days (one day, that publication will come out ::knocks on so much wood::).  This one was previously unpublished, but it fits beautifully into the series of known objects - of which there are a ton.  But why he's exciting is because, just like all the others, he is a unique snowflake.  Lots of people have suggested that pendants like this were made at one central workshop and then distributed through trade.  But I have a theory, based largely on the variation in the way they're made, that they are actually made all over the place, in small workshops catering to local consumers.  It's also interesting to think that this piece was almost certainly being worn when the ship crashed - by a sailor, by a passenger... who knows?  I need to look into this a bit, but I think that statistically, therefore, it is much more likely that a man was the wearer than a woman; considering this has been often considered a apotropaic/fertility symbol, and that jewelry and pendents are almost universally - and completely erroneously - associated with females in the archaeological record, the presence of this little guy on a ship, as opposed to a settlement or domestic context, might have some strong implications. 

On my second visit, I caved and bought the 46 euro exhibition catalog.  It has already given me immense joy, paging through the beautifully illustrated assemblage of objects narrowly dated to exactly the period in which I'm most interested.  I have a feeling this is a book to which I will return again and again.  Nothing makes academics happier than buying books, and I am a happy, happy academic right now.
Here he is!

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