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 needed to be reinstalled along with their new labels. As each case is being upgraded there has been an opportunity to install never before seen objects from the Museum’s reserve collection. In the last month we have seen the installation of a fabulous Chinese Tang horse and rider and also a fantastic decorative horse bit from the mountains of Luristan. Now visitors to the Museum have the opportunity to see three new artefacts in the Etruscan display. They are a wonderful antefix (a decorated roof tile) of a woman’s head – perhaps one of the celebrated maenads, a black-figure saucer lamp and a magnificent two handled drinking cup known as a kylix.
As with the people of ancient Luristan, knowledge of the Etruscans has faded from common awareness. Who were they?
The Etruscans are a comparatively mysterious civilisation that occupied central and northern Italy during the 8th to 4th centuries BC when they were forcibly assimilated into the growing Roman republic. To the south were Latin city-states and beyond them, powerful Greek colonies in Magna Graecia. The Etruscans were politically aligned in three confederations, with their major cities being Caere, Clusium, Veii and Volterra. Trade flowed north from Magna Graecia over a bridge at Roma across the Tiber and the Etruscans grew wealthy on huge iron deposits which they mined. They made fabulous bronzes and their gold work remained almost unequalled in the ancient world. Their society placed great importance on women, and the delightful funerary sarcophagi feature loving couples.
In Roman legend the Etruscans ruled Rome briefly under Tarquin, but he was driven out as a despot. Lars Porsena, immortalised by Thomas Babington Macaulay’s famous Lays of Ancient Rome, tried to retake the city but the bridge was held by Horatio; Rome survived and the rest is history.