The oldest ‘art’ I have ever posted on this blog.

Found on the floor of a cave in Gibraltar which was occupied by Neanderthals, this etching was made 39,000 years ago, or "perhaps many millennia before" (Tom Higham, University of Oxford).

The nature of this ‘art’ remains a matter of debate. Some have suggested that it is some form of abstract symbol, reinforcing the notion that Neanderthals were capable of subtle symbolic thought. Regardless, it seems apparent that the etching was made purposefully, as the work by Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux has made clear: "This was not doodling […] It required a lot of effort."Likewise, they do not seem to have been the by-product of butchering: “The pattern was clearly purposefully made, and not a utilitarian activity. There was a will to produce an abstract pattern.” Higham and Paul Pettitt of Durham University, while agreeing that the pattern is intentional, are more reluctant to suggest that the abstract nature of the etching says something about Neanderthal thinking. 

Either way, when considering recent discoveries suggesting that Neanderthals wore jewellery of feathers and painted shells, the discovery does not seem so surprisingAs April Nowell of the University of Victoria in Canada states: “If the date and the species attribution stand […the results] fit well with what we know about Late Neanderthal culture”.

Recommended reading: ‘A rock engraving made by Neanderthals in Gibraltar.' Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1411529111. The New Scientist article on the matter was also used when writing this post up, who also uploaded the shown video of the etching to Youtube.

An Egyptian snake coffin.
Made of bronze, dates to 664-30 B.C.E..

Egyptian religion frequently adopted a mulitplicity of approaches to explain or represent different aspects of a single divine concept. The sun god, for instance, had a morning aspect called Khepri, commonly depicted as a scarab beetle pushing the sun disk across the heavens much as a beetle rolls a ball of dung across the desert floor. The noontime sun was Re or Re-Horakhty, often shown as a falcon or falcon-headed man with a sun disk on his head. Atum, who personified the sun that set over the western horizon to travel through the underworld, could be represented in many guises, including those of a human-headed cobra, a ram-headed man, or a weary old man.

Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, via their online collections: 36.624.

An Egyptian snake coffin.

Made of bronze, dates to 664-30 B.C.E..

Egyptian religion frequently adopted a mulitplicity of approaches to explain or represent different aspects of a single divine concept. The sun god, for instance, had a morning aspect called Khepri, commonly depicted as a scarab beetle pushing the sun disk across the heavens much as a beetle rolls a ball of dung across the desert floor. The noontime sun was Re or Re-Horakhty, often shown as a falcon or falcon-headed man with a sun disk on his head. Atum, who personified the sun that set over the western horizon to travel through the underworld, could be represented in many guises, including those of a human-headed cobra, a ram-headed man, or a weary old man.

Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, via their online collections36.624.

Etruscan urns, 3rd/ 2nd centuries BCE.

A distinctive burial form developed by the Etruscans was the practice of placing a reclining effigy/effigies of the deceased on the lid of the urn, which contained their ashes. Often such urns would reflect the Etruscan love of banqueting, which they liked to envision themselves doing in their afterlife.

I am uncertain of the original location of the 1st urn, however, the 2nd was found at the Hypogeum of the women of the Velimna family, and the third, the Hypogeum of the Rafi family.

Aertefacts courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum of Perugia. Photos by Dan Diffendale: 1, 2 & 3

A few examples of Roman glass at the MET.

The garland bowl shown in the first image is, in my opinion, one of the finest example of Roman glass preserved for us today. Dating to the reign of Augustus in the first century, it has by some miracle remained essentially intact, except for a small chip to the rim and some weathering on the exterior. It is made up of four separate slices of translucent glass: blue, yellow, purple, and colourless. As you can see, each segment was then decorated with a small strip of millefiori glass which depict a garland hanging from an opaque white cord. It is extremely rare indeed that large sections of glass from antiquity were made up of different coloured glass. As the MET notes: it is also the only example that combines the technique with millefiori decoration. As such it represents the peak of the glass worker’s skill at producing cast vessels.

The two-handled bottle second shown is early Imperial, dating to the 1st century AD. The jug in the shape of a bunch of grapes is late Imperial, dating to about the 3rd century AD.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections91.1.140217.194.157 & 17.194.253.

The Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath, India.

The Archaeological Survey of India, and many alike, claim this to be the location where Buddha first encountered the five Parivajrakas and delivered the First Sermon.

Built in approximately 500 CE, the Dhamek Stupa is a huge cylindrically shaped stupa (Buddhist commemorative monuments which traditionally usually house sacred relics associated with Buddha), and is about 44m tall, with a diameter of 29m. Around it are 8 niches which are thought to have once contained images. Below these niches is a section of beautifully carved ornamentation, which remains partly preserved today, and highlights the high skill level of stone artisans of the Gupta period.  

A Chinese traveler who visited Sarnath in 638 CE by the name of Hiuen-Tsang records seeing the Dhamek Stupa, and observing over 1,500 priest there.

The first photo is by Dennis Jarvis, and remaining two, Ramón.

The Egyptian Book of the Faiyum, 1st century BC-2nd century AD.

The Book of the Faiyum is the modern name of a text that describes the Faiyum oasis as the mythical center of prosperity and ritual. The text was compiled during the Greco-Roman period, perhaps in the temple of the crocodile god Sobek in Shedet, but it may be based on precedents from earlier periods. The most famous copy of this text, known as the Boulaq/Hood/Amherst papyrus, consists of two papyrus scrolls with hieroglyphic text and illustrations. Portions of this papyrus are now in the Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), the Morgan Library & Museum (New York), and the Egyptian Museum (Cairo). Besides this and other hieroglyphic versions, there are also hieratic and Demotic copies on papyrus and an unillustrated hieroglyphic version inscribed on the walls of the Sobek temple in Kom Ombo (Upper Egypt).

The focal point of the Walters Art Museum’s section of the book of the Faiyum is a long oval representing the Faiyum lake itself. Inside the lake, images of mythological figures including the crocodile god Sobek-Re, Osiris, and the solar child allude to stories of the creation of the world as well as the nightly regeneration of the sun god. Around the lake, forty-two deities are depicted, each representing an important cult site in Egypt. In this way, the book functions as a map of a ceremonial landscape centered in the Faiyum. (Walters)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Balitmore, USA. Via their online collectionsW.738.

Knowing my research interests, and that I run this blog, I often have family and friends finding and passing on to me photos of ancient architecture and art. Here is a set of photos from my grandparents (taken in the early 80s judging from the fashion) of examples of classical architecture.

The first image is of the Parthenon in Athens, dedicated to the goddess Athena. Arguably the most significant building remaining from Classical Greece, the Parthenon, the zenith of the Doric order, was constructed from 447 BCE.

The remaining four photos are taken at Ephesus in Turkey, which was a highly important Roman province of Asia Minor. A magnificent road, lined with columns, ran through the city to the harbour -its remains are visible in the second and fourth photos. The harbour of Ephesus severed as a natural landing-point from Rome, and also as a great export centre. Due to the silting process which has been at work for centuries, the sea is now 10 km away from the site.

Etruscan strainers at the MET.

All the shown examples date to the 6th-5th centuries BCE and are made of bronze. Strainers were were used at symposiums (drinking parties) to strain the wine or additives mixed into it.

The strainer shown in the first image is one of the most elaborate, and best-preserved, Etruscan strainer handles found to date. The MET provides the following description of this artefact:

The artist has skillfully presented a complex subject on a very small scale in the openwork square just below the handle’s attachment point. Two nude boxers appear to have just finished a bout in which one man has been knocked to his knees. Their trainer or referee holds his arms up to indicate the end of the round. On the underside of the attachment point is a delicately modeled doe lying on a wave-crest border. The handle’s base depicts a bearded male figure with fish-like legs that terminate in bearded snake heads. The strange legs form a perfect circular opening that allowed the patera to be hung when not in use. The sea monster, almost like a merman, may have been intended to ward off evil.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections12.160.834.11.814.105.365.11.122.139.1711.212.2.

A quick look at: Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of death and lord of the underworld.

Mictlantecuhtli was believed to live in Mictlan, the cold, damp and gloomy underworld of the Aztecs, or lower part of the cosmos, where the remains of humans were kept.

This Templo Mayor Museum figure of Mictlantecuhtli, which is perhaps one of the most famous representations of the god, was found in the House of Eagles. Here he wears a loincloth, and stands grinning. Some have suggested that this grin of Mictlantecuhtli, who once harassed Quetzalcoatl on his journey to the underworld, may suggest his desire to torment. His claw-like hands are posed, as though ready to attack someone.

The holes on his scalp would have once been filled with black, wavy hair -which the Aztecs associated with chaos. Parts of his flesh has been teared off, and his liver falls from his chest cavity. This organ was connected to Mictlan, and housed the Ihiyotl soul (see Aguilar-Moreno 2007, chapter 7). Recent residue analysis has found traces of human blood on the statue. 

Artefact courtesy of the Museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City. Photos taken by Travis: oosik.

Recommended reading: Handbook to Life in the Aztec World (Oxford University Press, 2007) by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno. This is a very good overview and introduction to the Aztec culture, and expands on many of the points I briefly mentioned here.