Archaeology News: 2022.10.05

Biblical Archaeological Society News

  • Posted on Thursday September 29, 2022

    AnneMarie Luijendijk has studied a previously unknown Late Antique text called The Gospel of the Lots of Mary. Photo: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs. Beatrice Kelekian in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian, 1984.669. Princeton University professor of religion AnneMarie Luijendijk has identified a previously unknown text called The Gospel of the Lots of Mary in a fifth–sixth-century C.E. Coptic miniature codex. Luijendijk’s research is presented in her recently published book Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). The miniature codex, LiveScience reports, is composed of pages just 3 inches in height and contains 37 oracles that would have been used for divination. The opening lines of the codex read, in Coptic (a script adapted from Greek and used by Egyptian Christians): “The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds.” FREE ebook: The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition. Download now. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. In this context, “lots” refer to objects drawn at random to make a decision. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary is not a gospel (from evangelion—“good news”) in the traditional sense that it describes the life and death of Jesus or is canonized as part of the New Testament. This gospel combines divinatory phrases and Biblical allusions. “The fact that this book is called that way is very significant,” Luijendijk told LiveScience. “To me, it also really indicated that it had something to do [with] how people would consult it and also about being [seen] as good news. Nobody who wants to know the future wants to hear bad news in a sense.” According to Luijendijk, the gospel would have been used like this: A person who needed guidance or an answer to a question would go through the book and randomly pick out an oracle for the solution—leaving the selection all up to chance. The small size of the codex meant it could be carried around easily. The Gospel of the Lots of Mary, then, is sort of like an ancient Magic 8 Ball. And like the Magic 8 Ball, the oracles are vague enough that one could draw personalized interpretations from them. For instance, oracle 34 reads: “Go forward immediately. This is a thing from God. You know that, behold, for many days you are suffering greatly. But it is of no concern to you, because you have come to the haven of victory.” Read ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Sunday September 25, 2022

    Do the blue tzitzit strings of this traditional Jewish prayer shawl reflect the shade of blue in the Bible, called tekhelet in Hebrew? Evidence suggests the tekhelet that colored ancient blue tzitzit was sky-blue and derived from murex dye. In the Bible, a shade of blue called tekhelet was God’s chosen color for the ancient Israelites. Tekhelet drapes adorned Solomon’s Temple, and tekhelet robes were worn by Israel’s high priests. According to Baruch and Judy Taubes Sterman in “The Great Tekhelet Debate—Blue or Purple?” in the September/October 2013 issue of BAR, even ordinary Israelites “were commanded to tie one string of tekhelet to the corner fringes (Hebrew, tzitzit) of their garments as a constant reminder of their special relationship with God” (Numbers 15:38–39). The tradition of blue tzitzit still exists today. But what was the actual color of ancient tekhelet and blue tzitzit? Was it a shade of blue or was it closer to purple? Blue tzitzit and tekhelet-colored fabrics were widely worn and traded throughout the ancient Mediterranean, but by the Roman period, only the emperor could wear tekhelet. By the seventh century C.E., with the Islamic conquest of the Levant, the tekhelet’s source and method of manufacture were lost. The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world. A century ago, Isaac Herzog, who would later become Israel’s first chief rabbi, researched tekhelet for his dissertation. He concluded that blue in the Bible was a bright sky-blue derived from the secretions of a sea snail, Murex trunculus.* This species was known to produce a murex dye the color of dark purple. Decades after Herzog’s death, chemist Otto Elsner proved that murex dye could in fact produce a sky-blue color by exposing the snail secretions to ultraviolet rays during the dyeing process. Sky-blue tzitzit, then, could be made with murex dye. Despite Elsner’s discovery, the debate around the color of tekhelet continued. Dissenters argued that the ancient dyers, who created dyes in covered vats, likely didn’t know how to adjust the dye colors using the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Eleventh-century Biblical exegete Rashi described tekhelet as a deep blue or dark violet. A violet swatch of wool discovered during excavations at the first-century Herodian fortress of Masada was proven to have been colored by murex dye. In a letter to BAR, Professor Zvi C. Koren, director of the Edelstein Center for the Analysis of Ancient Artifacts at the Shenker College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, Israel, criticizes the Stermans’ analysis, to which the Stermans have replied. Visit the BAS Scholar’s Study: The Great Tekhelet Debate page today. However, important evidence persuasively suggest that Biblical tekhelet was in fact sky-blue. Assyriologist Wayne Horowitz explains that the Sumerian word uqnu, the word for the gem lapis lazuli, was used for the color blue and its shades. The term was applied to the sky and to blue wool (uqnatu). When the foreign word takiltu, Hebrew tekhelet, was adopted ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Thursday September 22, 2022

    Aerial view of Khirbet_a-Ra‘iPhoto by Emil Ajem, Israel Antiquities Authority Researchers announced their belief that they may have uncovered the biblical town of Ziklag. Located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish in southern Israel, Khirbet a-Ra‘i has been the site of excavations since 2015. Many of the artifacts discovered show signs of being from the Philistine culture. The biblical town of Ziklag is noted in the Books of Joshua and Samuel as a Philistine town near the city of Gath (for which Kiryat Gat is named). Radiocarbon dating from the hilltop site indicates the settlement was from the early 10th century B.C.E., the time period associated with King David. Photo by Kristina Donnally,BAS Dig Scholarship recipient 2019 The connection to Ziklag was announced by the team of researchers, led by the Israel Antiquities Authority, as well as Macquarie University of Sydney Australia, and Hebrew University. The lead archaeologists Yoseph Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, Kyle Keimer, and Gil Davis believe Khirbet a-Ra‘i is the biblical town of Ziklag. Not all archaeologists are convinced, however; the indicators could be more coincidental than proof. Also, this site may not be far enough south to align with every biblical reference. In the biblical telling, David fled from King Saul’s threat on his life and asked King Achish of Gath for asylum. Achish granted Ziklag to the future King David. David built his resources and even raided neighboring peoples from Ziklag. While he was away with his forces, Ziklag was raided and burned by the Amalekites, who took captive all that stayed behind. David’s army chased them down, and rescued all the captives and treasure from the Amalekites. In the Book of Samuel this was referred to as “David’s Spoil”. Photo by Kristina Donnally, BAS Dig Scholarship recipient 2019 Ziklag remained a part of King David’s realm when he became King of Judah and resided in Hebron. Ziklag was later granted to the Simeonites, then remained a part of Judah under the Divided Monarchy. It was even a location where some Hebrews may have returned after the Babylonian exile. Yet, it has been lost to history for thousands of years. David sent some of his spoil to nearby Judean elders, in the southern mountains and the Negev, Photo by Kristina Donnally,BAS Dig Scholarship recipient 2019 providing some clues as to its location. Despite that, and the reference to biblical Gath, narrowing down an exact location has eluded archaeologists, and has long been a source of dispute. At least a dozen different locations have been proposed as ancient Ziklag. It remains to be seen if this latest discovery, at Khirbet a-Ra‘i , will finally put the debate to rest.     A version of this post originally appeared in Bible History Daily in July 2019 Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.   Read about Gath, Lachish, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Ashkelon in the BAS Library: Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown? An Ending and a Beginning Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time Strata: Exhibit Watch: Ashkelon Through the Ages Get more biblical Archaeology: Become a Member The world of the Bible ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Tuesday August 30, 2022

    Where do the “Stone Age” and the time of Jesus meet without the aid of a space-time wormhole? At the Galilean site of ‘Einot Amitai near Nazareth in northern Israel, where archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old quarry and workshop that produced stone vessels. An excavation at a cave in Galilee has uncovered what may be a 2,000-year-old stone vessel production center. In the first century C.E., Jews commonly used stone vessels in observance of Jewish purity laws. Photo: Courtesy Yonatan Adler. “Stone vessels played an integral role in the daily religious lives of Jews during [the first century C.E.],” explained archaeologist Yonatan Adler, Senior Lecturer at Ariel University, in a press release. “It was a Jewish ‘Stone Age’ of sorts.” Adler and Dennis Mizzi, Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta, are codirectors of the excavation at ‘Einot Amitai, a project funded by the Israel Science Foundation, Ariel University and the Biblical Archaeology Society. (Read more about the project in Hershel Shanks’s First Person column in the September/October 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.) A chalkstone fragment discovered at ‘Einot Amitai. Photo: Courtesy Yonatan Adler. Located on the western slopes of Har Yonah near Nazareth, ‘Einot Amitai features a massive cave hewn into a chalkstone hill. The archaeologists discovered in their inaugural excavation season this summer chalkstone vessels at different stages of production, suggesting that the cave functioned as a workshop. While vessels—from tableware to cooking pots to storage jars—were usually made of clay in antiquity, Jews throughout Judea and Galilee in the first century C.E. used vessels made of stone. Archaeologist Yitzhak Magen explains why in “Ancient Israel’s Stone Age” in BAR: What was it that connected these stone vessels to Jewish purity laws? Simply this: Stone vessels, unlike ceramic and glass vessels, were not subject to impurity. Laws of ritual purity and impurity are of Biblical origin (Leviticus 11:33 ff.). During the Second Temple period, however, the rules were greatly expanded. Most of the purity laws relate to rites in the Temple. But the territory of the Temple was at least metaphorically expanded beyond the Temple confines, and ritual cleanliness was not limited to the bounds of the Temple but spread through the Jewish community. The laws affected ordinary people. It made sense to purchase a vessel that could not become unclean, for once a vessel became ritually unclean, it had to be taken out of use. An impure pottery vessel, for example, had to be broken.   FREE ebook: Island Jewels: Understanding Ancient Cyprus and Crete. Read the fascinating history of these mythical Mediterranean islands. First Name:* Last Name:* Email Address: * * Indicates a required field. SUBMIT If you don’t want to receive the Bible History Daily newsletter, uncheck this box. Yonatan Adler draws a connection between the ritual use of stone vessels and the story of the ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Tuesday August 23, 2022

    Discovering the Çatalhöyük Mural In the early 1960s, archaeologist James Mellaart uncovered a mural at Çatalhöyük, the world’s largest and best-preserved Neolithic site, which he interpreted to represent a volcanic eruption. Fifty years later, scientific tests done on pumice at the nearby volcano Hasan Dağ confirm that there was, in fact, an eruption between 9,500 and 8,400 years ago—a timespan including the era that the mural was likely painted. This Çatalhöyük mural is thought to represent a nearby volcanic eruption. New scientific evidence confirms a contemporaneous eruption at nearby Hasan Dağ. After James Mellaart discovered the Çatalhöyük mound in central Turkey in 1958, his excavations revealed an extensive Neolithic village featuring dozens of wall paintings and statuettes showing hunting scenes, giant bulls, leopards, vultures, female breasts and so-called “goddesses.” In an Archaeology Odyssey article, Michael Balter, author of The Goddess and the Bull, wrote: “One painting, he [Mellart] thought, seemed to represent a town plan of the Neolithic village, with an erupting volcano looming overhead.” Interested in 21st-century archaeological technology? Researchers at UCSD’s Calit2 laboratory have published the FREE BAS eBook “Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past,” featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.   New Volcanic Data Sets the Çatalhöyük Mural in Context Over the past two decades, prominent excavations at Çatalhöyük, under the direction of Stanford archaeologist Ian Hodder, have greatly expanded our image of the Neolithic proto-city. A study conducted by volcanologist Axel Schmitt of the University of California in Los Angeles returned attention to Mellaart’s volcanic mural. The ochre-painted mural has been given a range of classifications over the years; those that see the peaks of Hasan Dağ looming over a Neolithic village have described it as the world’s oldest extant landscape scene or map, whereas skeptics have dismissed the theory, suggesting that the abstract shapes could instead represent a range of subjects, including a leopard’s skin. The eruption of the volcanic peak at Hasan Dağ may be represented on a Neolithic mural at Çatalhöyük. At a Geological Society of America conference held on October 30, 2013, Schmitt presented new evidence of a small scale eruption at Hasan Dağ. Using uranium-thorium-helium dating in zircon crystals, Schmitt revealed that the volcanic deposits match the mural’s chronology and depiction of a minor volcanic flare, resembling what is known as a Strombolian-type eruption.1 Watch Video: 3-D Digging at Çatalhöyük for free in Bible History Daily.   Volcanic Obsidian at Çatalhöyük Neolithic inhabitants at Çatalhöyük used volcanic obsidian to make tools and mirrors (shown here). New data connecting Hasan Dağ to the Çatalhöyük mural contextualizes the important lithic industry. Photo: Catalhoyuk Research Project Obsidian, a sharp volcanic glass, formed a dominant part of the lithic industry at Çatalhöyük, and the proximity of volcanic sources for the valuable Neolithic commodity shaped the site’s material culture. Çatalhöyük residents made tools of obsidian by flaking the black volcanic glass into razor-sharp knives and blades, and used the material to form an even more surprising ... Continue Reading...

News from the American Journal of Archaeology

Roman Archaeology Blog

  • Posted on Wednesday May 11, 2022

    The Ancient Roman equivalent of a roadside service station has been unearthed in Hertfordshire, along with a hoard of artefacts showing it was once a thriving commercial centre.The 'once in a lifetime discovery' was made on the site of a planned football pitch at Grange Paddocks leisure centre in Bishop's Stortford.Like a modern motorway service station, the site comprised several units and would have had everything the weary ancient traveller needed.This may have included an inn providing refreshments, a blacksmith, and a temple to cater for travellers' religious needs, according to archaeologists.'It's quite like a services,' said project manager Andrew Greef, from Oxford Archaeology, which has been excavating the site.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 11, 2022

    Inventores custodes (or ‘finders keepers’ if you were not the Roman who lost their brothel tokens a few centuries ago). Human bones, animal teeth, credit at ancient knocking shops... these are just some of the items that have been recovered from London’s 30-million-year-old river, If you are keen to discover more about what lurks beneath the surface of the Thames then the team at Barratt London have just released a study into what marine life resides in the river, which is England's longest, as well as the strangest items that have been recovered over the years, plus our littering habits and it makes for an eyebrow-raising read.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    The discoveries initially caused "dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way" Andreas SOLARO AFP/FileRaunchy scenes may redden faces at a new exhibition in Pompeii on art and sexuality in the ancient Roman city, where sculptures and paintings of breasts and buttocks abound.Archaeologists excavating the city, which was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79 AD, were initially startled to discover erotic images everywhere, from garden statues to ceiling frescos.Since those first digs in the 18th-century site, racy images have been found in taverns, thermal baths and private homes, from huge erect penises to a statue with both male and female physical attributes.It became clear that "this is a city where sensuality, eroticism, are ever-present," Pompeii's site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP as he stood in front of statues of bare-chested Centaurs.The discoveries initially caused "dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way".The Neapolitan King Charles VII, who financed the excavations, shut some of the more bawdy finds away in a secret cabinet in Naples, only showing them to those of proven moral standing, Zuchtriegel said.That secret cabinet still exists today in the archaeological museum in the southern Italian city.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    Excavations taking place on Via Luigi Tosti in Rome.(photo credit: FABIO CARICCHIA/ITALIAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE)A 2nd-century funerary altar marking the remains of a 13-year-old girl was discovered in Rome on Tuesday.Rome is home to countless archeological sites, some of which are now tourist attractions such as the Colosseum or San Clemente. Others, like this columbarium, are still being excavated. Archeologists found the altar approximately two meters below the current street level on Via Luigi Tosti in south-central Rome. The discovery is part of a wider excavation of the necropolis of Via Latina, a nearby street. The white marble altar is very well-preserved, and its inscription is clearly legible. It reads: Valeria Laeta, daughter of P[ublio] lived 13 years and 7 months.  Some fragments of a white marble sarcophagus were also found with a bas-relief decoration depicting a lioness and a hunter on horseback. Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 04, 2022

    A trio of metal detectorists who discovered more than 150 Roman coins after mistaking them for tent pegs could be set to make some £40,000 from the haul.The band of friends were camping near the ancient village of Pewsey in Wiltshire when they dug up the buried treasure just 6ft from where they pitched their tent.  Robert Abbot, 53, thought he had found a handful of old metal pegs which had activated his metal detector, but hidden just below was a valuable silver Roman Siliqua coin. His detector went into a frenzy and with the help of friends, Dave Allen, 59, a carpenter and Mick Rae, 63, a dairy herd manager, they frantically dug up dozens of the ancient Roman coins.By the end of their weekend camping trip they had uncovered 161 silver coins, all around 1,600 years old, which they carried home in their washing up bowl.Read the rest of this article... Continue Reading...

Archaeology and Egyptology in the 21st century

  • Posted on Wednesday September 28, 2022

    Location of Hatnub and the study area in the desert east of Amarna. ((Underlying Landsat 8 data from the United States Geological Survey) When this post goes out it will have been five years since I last worked in Egypt and almost one year since I published the results of that last season at Hatnub in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. In the course of writing that paper, I had the opportunity to review the results of the work. The accepted version of the paper can be found here for those who would like to read the full version. In 2016 I remotely surveyed 1 km2 of the industrial landscape along the ancient quarry road between the Hatnub quarries and the low desert. I used high (0.4 m) resolution Worldview-3 satellite imagery projected in a geographic information system to record all the archaeological features within the study area. The results of this remote survey and comparisons with the archaeological survey undertaken by Shaw in the late 1980s were subsequently published in a peer-reviewed conference proceedings (available here). In September 2017 I returned to the site as part of the  Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the University of Liverpool Hatnub Project, to undertake ground-check of the remote survey and determine its accuracy and suitability for future research projects. Undertaking mobile-GIS survey at Hatnub in 2017. (Author photograph) Mobile-GIS Mobile GIS applications allow you to take your GIS project, or selected components thereof, out into the field on a tablet or similar handheld device. A mobile-GIS survey was perfect for my 2017 ground check. I uploaded the Worldview-3 satellite imagery and the remote survey data onto ArcGIS Collector (now deprecated) on my tablet. Using the tablet’s GPS software I was able to locate myself within the satellite imagery, identify survey squares, correct remote-survey data, and add additional features missed during the remote survey. I subsequently determined the percentages of false positives (i.e. features identified during the remote-survey as archaeological but found to be otherwise during the mobile-GIS survey) and false negatives (i.e. real archaeological features that were missed during the remote-survey) by comparing the original remote survey data to the mobile-GIS survey data. Careful examination of the data also revealed some likely causes for the false positives and negatives and suggested possible reasons why the results differed from the survey undertaken by Shaw in the late 1980s. Results Over 7 days I covered 81 grid squares, or 810,000 m2, 49 of which had been previously remotely surveyed. I recorded 573 features, including 62 linears (roads, trails, paths etc.). Habitations (huts, shelters and windbreaks), remain the largest group of features, but there are also ‘blank areas’, cairns, roads, tracks and paths, work areas, shrines, and quarries. During the course of the mobile-GIS survey, the ‘blank areas’ were reinterpreted as small quarry pits, which had filled up with wind-blown sand after the stone was removed. The mobile-GIS survey also revealed several additional types of features, which had not been recorded on the remote survey often because they were too small to ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday August 24, 2022

    The recent Wunderkammer exhibition at Southend Central museum looked at the origin of the museum in the Cabinets of Curiosities (‘Wunderkammer’ in German) of the early modern period and shows how these private collections evolved into the modern museum. In previous posts, I reviewed the exhibition, discussed the Egyptian artefacts, and considered the Alan Sorrell paintings of Nubia. Here I reflect on what lessons I have taken from this excellent exhibition. In addition to the intersections between collecting, colonialism, and orientalism, the exhibition also reflected upon curatorial imperatives. These ‘broke down the Wunderkammer’ into new categories and developed a coherent narrative for visitors with fewer objects, dedicated display and information boards, museum trails and digital and interactive components. The exhibition notes that some museums maintained the eclectic approach to object display, first exemplified in the earliest Wunderkammer, such as the Pitt Rivers Museum which continued the ‘eccentric ordering and dense displays of its founder’. This ‘Wunderkammer style’ as I term it, persisted because ‘the appeal of miscellaneaous collections of artefacts remained’. The Wunderkammer exhibition does not interrogate this further, due to time and space constraints, but it certainly merits consideration not least because the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology also retains the Wunderkammer style of limited information boards and large numbers of objects on display. Photo of the interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, showing the Wunderkammer-like display. Taken in 2015 by Geni (Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43537596) The Petrie Museum – a Wunderkammer of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has spent time in the Petrie Museum, that ‘the appeal of miscellaneous collections of artefacts remains’ as one of the information boards puts it. Like the Pitt Rivers, the Petrie Museum makes use of full cabinets and object-heavy spaces although there is an archaeological logic to their ordering. Unlike the Pitt Rivers, this is not from any ideological stance, but rather a lack of space in the present museum premises. Nevertheless, a lot of visitors seem to enjoy the museum’s style and the large number of objects that are on display. For some, this may be a nostalgic memory of childhood museum visits before many museums had shifted to sparser object displays. For others, it ensures that there will always be something on display that appeals to their specialism, no matter how niche. Object-intensive displays and more limited signage also allow visitors to enjoy the collection from their own perspective, seek out objects that interest them, and create their own narrative. Although moving the Petrie Museum to a more appropriate and larger space is a significant aim of its current management, there are those who would mourn the busy, object-intensive layout of the current premises. Inside the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology (Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69515822) Colonial hangover The Wunderkammer exhibition clarifies the relationship between collecting, the Wunderkammer, Museum, colonial power, and the racist objectification of other cultures. The eclectic and arbitrary display of Native, Indigenous ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday July 27, 2022

    The ongoing Wunderkammer exhibition at Southend Central Museum also includes some fascinating pictures of the UNESCO Campaign to save the Monuments of Nubia by local painter Alan Sorrell. I mentioned these briefly in my review of the exhibition, but they are sufficiently interesting to merit another post. Looking upriver across the frontage of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel, as painted by Alan Sorrell in 1962 (Author photograph from the Wunderkammer exhibition). Alan Sorrell (1907-1974) I had briefly heard of Alan Sorrell thanks to my work in British Archaeology. Sorrell was a prolific artist specialising in archaeological illustration. If you’ve seen a reconstruction of an archaeological site, medieval abbey, or castle in an older book or exhibition in the UK it was probably done by Alan Sorrell. Sorrell was born in 1904 in South London and brought up in Westcliff in Southend. Several volumes have been written about the life and work of Alan Sorrell. Here I have used information from Llewellyn and Sorrell (eds.) 2013, and Sorrell and Sorrell (2018). From the age of 10, Sorrell attended Chalkwell Hall School, just a short distance from where I am writing this post. His artistic skill developed from a relatively early age, attending Southend Municipal Art School from age 14 and subsequently working for a commercial art studio. Following a scholarship in 1925, he put himself through the Royal College of Art by undertaking commercial commissions on the side. After a stint at the British School at Rome and various professional commissions and accolades, Sorrell created his first set of historical reconstructions for a set of panels in Southend library 1933-38. Having encountered archaeology and archaeologists in Rome, Sorrell’s first archaeological commission was an image of the excavations at Leicester published in The Illustrated London News in 1937. After World War II his career in archaeological reconstruction and illustration expanded with the corresponding increase in archaeological excavations and Sorrell published many history books as an artist and coauthor, providing reconstruction drawings in collaboration with archaeologists and historians including Anthony Birley, Aileen Fox, and Margaret Drower. Sara Perry and Matthew Johnson deconstructed Sorrell’s collaborative process for generating reconstruction drawings in their contribution, Alan Sorrell as Reconstruction Artist: ‘Making dry bones live’ to Llewellyn and Sorrell’s (2013) edited volume. Perry and Johnson (2013, 145-9) reveal that Sorrell undertook considerable research for his reconstructions, before sending drafts to the relevant archaeological collaborator for further comments, questions, and ammendations. The information flowed both ways. In the process of creating his reconstructions, Sorrell would identify problems or questions archaeologists had not considered and sometimes provided useful insights and suggestions from his experience (Sorrell and Sorrell 2018). Later in his career, Sorrell published a variety of books of his reconstructions of British Castles, Roman London, Roman Towns in Britain, Early Wales, and Living History. Drawings of Nubia and the UNESCO campaign Until the Wunderkammer exhibition, I didn’t know that Alan Sorrell painted the Nubian monuments and the archaeologists recording and moving them. According to Sorrell and Sorrell (2018, 177) ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday June 29, 2022

    In my previous post, I reviewed the Wunderkammer exhibition at Southend Museum. This exhibition includes a number of interesting Egyptian artefacts in the Southend Museum collection, which I felt merited their own post. For those visiting the exhibition, the Egyptian artefacts are displayed on glass shelves in a case in the rear right corner of the exhibition room. Overview of some of the Egyptian artefacts in the Wunderkammer exhibition. (Author photograph) Charles Nicholson I c. 1850, who probably collected the Egyptian artefacts in the Southend Museum. (Painter unknown, photographer Toby Hudson via Wikimedia Commons.) Provenance According to the information in the exhibition and a post on the Southend Museum blog, the Egyptian artefacts were acquired by the Museum in the early 20th-century from Porter’s Civic House, a 15th-century manor house and official mayoral residence of the City of Southend. They probably originated in the collection of Sir Charles Nicholson, who undertook a Grand Tour of Italy, Greece, and Egypt in 1857-8. Nicholson donated over 1000 objects to the University of Sydney, where they were curated in the Nicholson Museum before being transferred to the Chau Chak Wing Museum in 2020. In 1862 Nicholson left Australia, marrying Sarah Elizabeth Keightley in 1865. His eldest son was born in 1867 in Hadleigh, just west of Southend, and was also christened Charles. Charles Nicholson II became a celebrated architect and in 1916 he purchased Porter’s Manor House in Southend, to save it from demolition, later selling it to the town. The Egyptian artefacts came to the Museum from Porter’s Manor following the sale. It is most likely that the Egyptian artefacts are remnants of the collection of Charles Nicholson I, although it is also possible that they were collected by Charles Nicholson II, who travelled widely at a time when Egypt had become a popular tourist destination for people of his class. Either way, these objects were collected during the 19th or early 20th century. Two shabtis from the Southend Museum collection. (Author photograph from the Wunderkammer Exhibition) Eclectic objects The Egyptian artefacts on display in the Wunderkammer exhibition are an eclectic group. Some of them are typical of the small antiquities that were widely collected; an alabaster cosmetic jar, small items of jewellery, a human-headed Canopic jar stopper and blue-faience shabtis. A faience semi-circle with a hieroglyphic inscription may be half the lid of a faience jar or a faience plaque. The signage is largely accurate, although I was sorry there were no museum numbers. The shabtis are correctly identified in the signage, but they are incorrectly described as surrogate bodies for the soul to use if the mummy was destroyed. Although shabtis might have functioned as such, this would have been a secondary purpose. The most important role of the shabti was as a ‘servant’ for the tomb owner, who would undertake any unpleasant duties required of him in the afterlife. Half jar lid or faience plaque in the Southend Collection (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition) Signage  The overarching theme of the signage and artefact descriptions is the impact ... Continue Reading...


  • Posted on Wednesday May 25, 2022

    On 2 October 2021, the ‘Wunderkammer‘ exhibition opened at Southend Museum. It examines early modern Cabinets of Curiosities (‘Wunderkammer’ in German) and shows how these private collections evolved into the modern museum. In addition to the thought-provoking and sometimes uncomfortable history of collecting, museums and museology, it offers an opportunity to see rarely seen Egyptian artefacts in the Southend collection, paintings of Nubia, and several fascinating objects such as a Neo-Assyrian chariot and an Ophicleide. Neo-Assyrian stone toy chariot in the Southend Museum collection. The charioteer is in the British Museum according to Southend Museum’s documentation. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition) The Wunderkammer exhibition is housed in a large room at the rear of the Central Museum, on Victoria Avenue. It is conveniently located right next to Southend Victoria Railway Station, and about a 10-minute walk up Southend High Street from Southend Central Railway Station. The museum is open 11-5 Wednesday to Sunday and the exhibition runs until 3 October 2022. Both are free to enter. After entering the Museum lobby and following the signs to the exhibition, you follow a clockwise path around the exhibition room on a broadly chronological journey. Recordings by relevant individuals or actors portraying them are cleverly located beneath parasols so as to only be audible from a specific point in the exhibition, marked by a pair of white footprints on the floor. An audiovisual display allows you to sit and review the objects projected on a blank wall and there are also activities for children, including a ‘create your own Wunderkammer’ task to tell your own story about the exhibition. Ophicleide, a predecessor of the tuba, once owned by Sam Hughes, one of the greatest players of the instrument. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer Exhibition) Origins of the museum The first part of the exhibition covers Wunderkammer, their Medieval origins, early-modern development and renaissance in the Victorian era. We are led from the treasuries of Medieval castles to the studios of 15-16th century Italy and the Wunderkammer of Germany, meeting significant early collectors like Isabelle D’Este. From the first museum catalogue of Ole Worm in mid-15th century Denmark to the beginnings of object classification and early treatises on museology, the early modern Cabinets of Curiosities were foundational to the development of museums. The Museum of Ole Worm, from the frontispiece of the Musei Wormianum catalogue made by G. Wigendorp 1655. (Author photograph at the Wunderkammer exhibition). ‘One of Everything’ Haida Argillite flute carving, by unknown Haida maker, Haid Gwaii, 19th century Canada. The signage indicates that objects like this were often made to please colonisers’ tastes in styles and types otherwise unused by the Indigenous makers (Author photograph from the Wunderkammer Exhibition) In one episode of “Dinopaws” (one of my daughter’s favourite shows) talkative young dinosaur Gwen develops a passion for collecting, before discovering that some things don’t want to be collected. The same desire to ‘collect one of everything’ as Gwen puts it, lay behind the earliest ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ or ‘Rooms of Wonder’ that give the ... Continue Reading...