Cypriot ‘Milk Bowl’

Image courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum

This type of bowl is commonly found across the Eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze Age (this particular example belongs to the collection of the Fitzwillian Museum and is dated to 1450-1200 BCE). They are decorated with a white slip and black painted geometric decoration.

The use of these bowls has often been the subject of speculations. At one point, it was widely believed that they were made to process yogurt but there is no actual evidence that this was the case. The name ‘milk bowl’ is progressively being dropped because it is misleading as the use of these bowls is still unknown. They were exported in quite large quantities, but we do not even know if it was for their contents or as the bowls themselves.

I think it is interesting that we have so little information about a type of object that can be found in many different archaeological museums all over the world and is generally this widespread. Also, it isn’t like there are no studies about these bowls; there is just no consensus that has been reached yet.

Unicorn stamp seal

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This steatite seal from the Indus Valley dates back to between 2600 and 1900 BCE. I got acquainted with this type of seals last year while doing my MA because I had to work on a portfolio that included a similar seal. But before I share some fun facts about them with you, let me remind you that seals had an important administrative function in antiquity. They were used to mark and to close off things (you would press them in hot wax or clay and it would imprint the design on it).

So this seal has a representation of a unicorn. At Mohenjodaro, a major Indus Valley site, 75% of the excavated seals represented animals, and the vast majority of those were unicorns. Some scholars believe that the animals represent different social statuses. That little motif next to the unicorn is very common as well, and is considered to be an offering table. Almost all the Indus Valley seals also have writing on them, but unfortunately the language is still undecipherable.

I’d like to come back to the unicorn motif for a bit. It’s the only mythical creature represented on seals from this civilization; but mythical animals are not uncommon in any sort of iconography from the majority of cultures around the world. I find them interesting because they’re usually combinations of actual animals and it always made me wonder what makes people select specific features from specific animals to create hybrids out of them. Research interests anyone?

Anyway you can see this seal at the Met in New York (stay tuned for the review). I am trying my best to also promote smaller museums; but I also give a lot of importance to the aesthetics of this blog, and this is why you often see objects from major museums. The smaller ones don’t always have an accessible online catalog with HD pictures, and a lot of research goes into every post on this blog so I’m not taking the easy solution here. For example, I know that there is an important collection of Indus Valley seals at the New Delhi National Museum so go check it out if you happen to be around there.

The Standard of Ur

Image courtesy of the British Museum

I figured for my first post I would pick an object that’s special to me since it’s one of the first wow factor objects I’ve been introduced to in an archaeology class. It also helped that I’ve seen it for real at the British Museum where it’s exhibited and it’s actually smaller than I thought it would be (approximately the size of a shoe box if you want to get an idea).

It’s made of lapis lazuli with shell, which makes it pretty fancy but like many other archaeological objects, it doesn’t have a clear function. The two main sides of it have representations of processions, one in time of peace (the one shown in the picture) and the other in war time (which you can check out here).

It’s about 4500 years old (third millenium BC) and comes from the Royal tombs of Ur, a site that has yielded pretty awesome finds which will be featured in future posts, so stay tuned.