Cuneiform Experts from Jerusalem visit Abbey Museum

Cuneiform Expert Visits Abbey Museum

A standing room only audience accepted the invitation to hear Professor Wayne Horowitz speak on the lost Jewish communities in ancient Babylonia on Tuesday 19 September . Professor Horowitz is a Professor of Assyriology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was here working on the Cuneiform Project Australia and New Zealand. This project aims to identify and publish all the cuneiform artefacts in Australian and New Zealand collections. Dr Horowitz has been examining 10 such objects in the Abbey Museum’s Middle East collection.

In his presentation Professor Horowitz spoke of the commencement of the Jewish Diaspora when the population was transported to Babylonia following the sacking of Jerusalem. The Jewish people spent 2500 years in exile in Babylonia. His colleague and research assistant, Peter Zilberg, completed the evening with his talk titled “Ezekiel and the Grand Canal of Babylon”. Mr Zilberg explained how information gleaned from cuneiform tablets have added to our knowledge of the Jewish nation in captivity. In an enthusiastic and energetic presentation he showed how seemingly mundane items recorded on cuneiform tablets tied in to biblical …

Read More
Cuneiform text

From Clay Tablets to Digital Tablets

The Reed Stylus and Clay Tablet

From clay tablets to digital tablets.  Today texting, typing, writing, memes, … there are so  many ways in which we communicate with others;  technology has opened a veritable Pandora’s box of possibilities. Communications have become shorter and more frequent, full of the expectation of an immediate response.  The result is our modern world seems to travel at break-neck speed.  It is hard to imagine what it was like at the beginning of recorded time when humankind first put pen to paper… well, actually not paper — or pen for that matter — but a reed stylus to clay tablet.

Clay Tablet with Cuneiform

As you may be aware, one of the earliest forms of writing is called Cuneiform. Cuneiform is thought to have been first developed by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia c 3500 – 3000 BC. Mesopotamian scribes recorded everything from daily events such as trade records and sales dockets to astronomical happenings and political events. I was surprised to learn that some tablets inscribed with cuneiform were written in several different languages …

Read More
zoomorphic poteery vase in the Abbey Museum collection

The Coati Cutie: Moche zoomorphic pottery

Moche Culture of the northern Peruvian coastline flourished between 100 and 800 AD. With no record of a written language, it is known that they expressed their domestic life, religion and history through their five phases of pottery. The Abbey Museum is very fortunate to have acquired a few pieces of Peruvian zoomorphic pottery. One  piece that is a favourite among collection management team members is the Coati cutie [fig.1].

While volunteering on the collection team I was asked to research these effigy vases of Peru, they consisted of a small number of Moche pottery. South America and Meso-American cultures have been an interest of mine since learning about Aztec sacrifices in primary school and so I was very enthusiastic to start.

It was originally suggested that this strange little creature was actually a coyote. However after only after a few hours of research it became evident that it was instead a South American coati (Nasua nasua) [fig.3] identified from an almost identical piece found in an online auction. This conclusion was also supported from coati normal behaviour, as they …

Read More

Cuneiform – Mysteries of Ancient Script

Abbey Museum’s Cuneiform Collection

One of the earliest known systems of writing in the world is cuneiform which developed in Sumer in the Middle East from about 4000 BC and then spread north to Syria.  Rulers maintained vast libraries of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform that listed everything from taxes to marriage proposals, declarations of war and tributes to the temples. However, cuneiform is difficult to read, hundreds of tablets have never been published, and there are very few people that are able to read this text.

You can see some fine examples of Cuneiform tablets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York…..or you could simply visit the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology, north of Brisbane,  to see their small but very significant collection of artefacts with cuneiform inscriptions. When you visit, you can see them in Museum Case 21.

In July, 2015  we were approached by Dr Luis Siddall from Macquarie University, who can read cuneiform. He was working on a cross-university project to read and publish all the artefacts with cuneiform script in Australia and …

Read More

Teotihuacan Figurines – Memories of Ancient Mexico

One of the young members of the Collection Management Team, Rebecca Lush has researched part of our collection of clay Teotihuacan figurines.

The Teotihuacan civilization was in the central highlands of what is now Mexico. Teotihuacan was a large urban settlement of around 20 square kilometres with a population of 180,000 inhabitants. It was built around several large temples which are a popular destination for modern day visitors to Mexico.

No records of life in Teotihuacan remain so the figurines give us the greatest amount of information we have about the life of the people there. Looking at our figurines in Museum Case 28, it’s intriguing to imagine how they were made, who made them and what they were used for.

The figurines were excavated by a Swedish archaeologist, Sigvald Linné between 1932 and 1935. He went on to become a well known museum director in Stockholm.

Recently a book was written about these terracotta figurines. The book contained a catalogue which allowed Rebecca to identify each of our figurines and …

Read More
Post card of Conway castle in the Abbey Museum Collection

Why Postcards?

Throughout his entire life the Reverend JSM Ward, founder of the collection at the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology, was driven by a desire to understand the evolution of humankind. He amassed some 90,000 objects which provide brief glimpses into the lives of cultures and civilizations long past. While most of his collection were objects used by people, Ward also brought together a contemporary collection of postcards. Luckily for us postcards are easily transportable, deftly stored and mostly have little value and therefore are unlikely to be on top of an asset list. Postcards often remain with collectors longer than more valuable objects might in times of financial hardship.

Ward’s postcard collection includes images of archaeological and historical sites, tourist attractions, spiritually meaningful places and culturally distinctive snapshots of people, events and lifestyles from about the late 1800s until his death in 1949. While they are positioned mostly outside the usual collection policy of the Museum, we have included these as part of the Ward memorabilia section. For many months now, I have been assiduously sorting them and slowly …

Read More

Behind the Scenes at the Abbey Museum

Saturdays can be quite busy days at the Abbey Museum, especially behind the scenes. It is the day when our volunteer collections management team come in to research, register and catalogue the collections.

This year has also seen a concentrated effort by our senior curator, Michael Strong, to photograph each artefact in the collection to provide a comprehensive digital record for research and study purposes. This, of course, is a massive task and will take more than a year or two. A total of over 24,000 images have now been taken.

As part of this project we have been gradually removing from the display cabinets artefacts that have been on public view for over 25 years. It was decided that this provided an excellent opportunity to replace and upgrade all the artefact description labels on the basis of new archaeological discoveries.

On Saturday, 4 October, the artefacts in the Chinese display case were removed, weighed and measured while new labels were being installed. It was a particularly busy Saturday as the Etruscan collection had also returned from being photographed and …

Read More