Jugs that rattle and roll

Continuing my condition survey of artifacts from Lapithos, Cyprus, I came across what seemed like a dull-looking Iron Age jug recently. But when I picked it up my ears perked—there were small objects rattling around inside.

Jug 32-27-984, which has unknown contents inside. Photographed by Stephanie Carrato.

Ceramic jug 32-27-984, front and side, with unknown contents inside. Photographed by Stephanie Carrato.

It may not be as pretty, but I realized that this jug is similar in shape and size to the rattling flask from Kourion written about here. In the fall conservator Tessa de Alarcon X-rayed the flask at the GE Inspection Technologies Customer Solutions Center in Lewistown, PA to see what was inside, and identified a group of small metallic (probably lead) spheres. Like that vessel, this one has a very narrow opening which keeps the contents inside, but does not allow us a good view of what exactly they are. Next fall, with the opening of the renovated conservation lab — which will have its own X-ray unit — this jug can be X-rayed too t0 see if we indeed have another rattle on our hands.

Jugs appear often in the collection and soon after seeing this one, I examined dozens. One of the most unique ones has a typical barrel form when viewed from the front, but turn it to the side to see it has three necks and sets of handles. When it was discovered, the archaeologists—Bert Hodge Hill and Dorothy H. Cox—were also impressed. In the field notebook for the tomb in which it was found (Tomb 68), it is described as a “delightful” miniature triple barrel jug.

White painted triple jug, photographed by Stephanie Carrato.

White painted triple jug 32-27-779 (ceramic) front and side, photographed by Stephanie Carrato.

Although the handwriting is sometimes difficult to decipher, the field notes from Lapithos are detailed. They record the orientation of important objects with drawings and photographs of the tombs. All the records, reports and photographs from Lapithos are available for research in the Museum Archives, so I went to look and see if the field notes could tell me more about any of these objects. Even though I didn’t find anything unusual written about the rattling 32-27-984, I did find a great sketch of a skeleton and surrounding vessels from the tomb in which it was was found (Tomb 80). The tomb is also diagrammed on another page, and there is an area on the lower right corner described as having “a mass of pots all fairly whole.” From these notes, we can begin to re-imagine the objects not as separate pieces as they appear in storage, but small parts of a large puzzle uncovered by archaeologists in 1931.

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Skeleton and vessels from Tomb 80, sketched in pencil. Because the sketch is drawn in very light pencil and difficult to see, the image contrast has been enhanced.

Tomb 480 sketched in pencil. The area with the "mass of pots" is in the lower right corner.

Tomb 80 (also labeled 480) sketched in pencil. The area with the “mass of pots” is in the lower right corner.

In Tomb 79 another unique vessel was found. This one, 32-27-817, is called a ring vase. It is described in the field notebook as having been found under a plate, near the back of the cave.

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Ring vase 32-27-817.

ring vase

32-27-817 described in the field notebook

Although stored in different locations, the objects and field notes go hand-in-hand when investigating the history and condition of a collection. Like the X-radiographs that can aid in determining things about an object we cannot see with the naked eye, the notebooks can help us understand what objects looked like when they were removed from the ground, how their condition has changed over time, and how they relate to the bigger picture of an excavation.

My work on the Lapithos collection is the focus of a Kress Fellowship. This Fellowship is supported by a grant from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation

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