Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lost and Found Treasure at the Met

Friday, February 13, 2009 Lost and found treasure at the Met 3,300-year-old artifacts on display at renowned museum. By: Steve Humeniuk Issue date: 2/9/09 Section: Features (Image: From the Met Exhibit - Nude female figure Uluburun shipwreck Late Bronze Age, ca. 1300 B.C.Bronze, gold; H. 6 1/2 in. (16.4 cm); Max. W. 2 3/8 in. (6.1 cm) Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Turkey, 52.7.95 (KW 3680) One of the most valuable objects on board the Uluburun ship, this youthful female figure was cast in bronze using the lost-wax method and embellished with gold overlay. A tenon at the feet would have affixed it to a base (now lost). The gold collar highlights her elite status, while her nudity and gestures suggest her divinity—her clenched fist is ready to hold a scepter and the left palm is open in an act of blessing. Perhaps she represents the Canaanite goddess Asherah, a protectress of sailors, kept on board to guard against the very fate that befell the ship, its crew, passengers, and rich cargo.) Texas A&M University's Institute of Nautical Archaeology was awarded the distinction of having artifacts on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. According to Associate Professor of Anthropology Cemal Pulak, the artifacts are dated circa 1300 B.C. and are some of the oldest known artifacts discovered from a seafaring vessel. Pulak and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Nautical Archaeology George Bass began recovering the artifacts from a sunken sea vessel off the coast of Turkey in 1983. After more than a year of excavating, Pulak took over the project and recorded every fragment of archaeological evidence until the excavation was completed in 1994. "I started the excavation and started the first few phases and then turned it over to Cemal," Bass said. The artifacts are included in an exhibit "Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The artifacts came from a wreck, the Uluburun promitory, where 20 tons of raw materials and artifacts were found. "The Uluburun shipwreck is part of the Late Bronze Age," Pulak said. "It is one of the wealthiest [shipwrecks] ever found." Ten tons of copper ingots and one ton of tin ingots were recovered. These metals had a special significance to the Bronze Age. "An ingot is a way of pouring metal to be shipped," Bass said. "They had the perfect ratio for forming bronze." The potential of the metals found on the ship to be melted into bronze is what makes the Uluburun shipwreck important to the study of the Bronze Age. Bass said they had enough raw metals on the ship to conceivably fuel an army. Other valuable discoveries included the oldest book ever discovered, the only gold scarab ever recovered in honor of Egypt's famous Queen Nefertiti, the largest collection of Canaanite jewelry and the earliest dated collection of glass ingots. "What made it unique is that they had items from all over the world at the time," said Keith Randall, associate director of communications and marketing. Evidence of this is not only found in the wide array of raw materials that were recovered, Bass said. Also in the hippopotamus teeth, ostrich egg shells and elephant tusk that were excavated from the site - reinforcing the belief that items from the wreck originated in places like Africa, Syria, Cyprus, Greece and northern Europe. "The ship originated from somewhere in the East Mediterranean," Pulak said. "It shows the nature of the trade at the time." With more than 100 items on display, the artifacts of the Uluburun wreck are the most prominent items in the exhibit. Pulak said archeological pieces from different sites are also on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to portray parts of the middle and late phases of the Bronze Age. "To be able to have objects of your research displayed at the Metropolitan Museum is a great thing because it is one of the most prominent museums in the world," Pulak said. Bass said A&M graduate students conducted the majority of the excavation. "I think that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's greatest museums, and to have our artifacts on display is a tremendous achievement for both A&M and the Institute for Nautical Archaeology," Bass said. Bass founded the Institute for Nautical Archaeology in 1973 before becoming affiliated with A&M in 1976. "He's kind-of a legend at A&M," Randall said. "And he's kind-of a legend in the underwater excavation world." Pulak credits Bass as the "Father of Underwater Archaeology." "In 1960, Bass was the first person to excavate a shipwreck as per underwater excavation standards," he said. The Institute for Nautical Archaeology is a nonprofit organization that focuses on research and excavation. Pulak said the organization donates recovered artifacts to the countries where the pieces are found. The artifacts are on display with permission from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Bodrum, Turkey. "Our philosophy is to acquire information," Pulak said. "All artifacts belong to the world. In a way, it is a gift to mankind and humankind in general, and the information is then published and available to the world."

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