Intimate Moments in the Archives

January 30, 2009

Agnes K. Lake washing the marble head of a Roman statue of a woman found in the theater. University of Pennsylvania Image #144003
Agnes K. Lake washing the marble head of a Roman statue of a woman found in the theater at Minturnae. University of Pennsylvania Image #144003

This week’s FFIOW is an image by Jotham Johnson, a classical archaeologist and later the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, and was taken at the site of Minturnae, in Italy. The woman in this photograph is Agnes K. Lake, a scholar of Roman religion, and member of the faculty at Bryn Mawr College.

The site of Minturnae is located about 50 miles from Naples toward Rome, and in Roman times was transected by the Appian Way. Excavations by the Penn Museum (1931-33) revealed an immense Roman colony, founded in 295 B.C. and laid out according to the Hippodamean grid plan. A smaller pre-Roman town (4th century B.C.) was discovered to have preceded the Roman city. In the Roman period, several temples, a large forum, a theatre, a fountain and other structures were surrounded by a city wall, while a large aqueduct supplied the city’s water. A great quantity of fine Roman sculpture was excavated, along with pottery, coins, inscriptions, and other artifacts from all periods of habitation. Several examples of the sculpture excavated are displayed in the museum’s Roman gallery, along with material in the Mediterranean study collection.

I really like this image, because it reminds me of the life-cycle of the object from creation to “museumification.” We treat objects in museum with care for very good reasons — we shouldn’t be sloppy or destructive, of course. At the same time, it’s good to remember that artists and archaeologists probably treat objects in the field differently than we do in museums — they get dirty, they get washed, they get knocked around sometimes. And when you think about it, that’s pretty cool. It’s a good way to help us both remember the sited context of the objects originally, and their de-contextualization when taken from the field.

The University Museum published two volumes of Excavations at Munturnae: Volume I, 1935, Monuments of the Republican Forum and Volume II, 1933, Inscriptions, Republican Magistri, as well as numerous articles in the Bulletin, all by Jotham Johnson. The pottery deposit was published in the 1934-35 Bolletino Dell’Associazione Internationale Studi Mediterranei (Rome).