Intact 1st - 3rd century Roman Glass Flask found in Turkey

Abbey Roman Flask – still in one piece after 2,000 years.

Among the Abbey Museum’s more recent acquisitions is a collection of forty-four objects from Turkey, Tunisia and Papua New Guinea including an amazing intact Roman glass flask. It is incredible to have such a fragile object in our collection, considering it was used by someone when togas were all the fashion and attending chariot races or watching gladiatorial battles were on the top of the entertainment list.

Our very fine large bulbous flask in green-yellow glass originated in the Roman Imperial Period and dates somewhere between the 1st and 3rd Century AD. Now to get a little technical – the flask has a slightly retracted base and long thin cylindrical neck ending in a solid rim with a rounded lip and flaring mouth. It was blown to a very fine standard and has this beautiful iridescent weathering and lime encrustation.

Intact 1st to 3rd century Roman Flask

The glass in our flask has iridescence where it has oxidised. This is a good sign as it indicates that this flask had been underground for much of the time …

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A world icon at the Abbey

From the collection of the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology,‘Ehon Azuma-asobi’ (Picture book of the pleasure spots of the Eastern Capital)

Here at the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology we are the fortunate custodians of a series of woodblock printed illustrations from an icon of the art world.  Can you guess the artist?

Born in 1760 in Edo (Tokyo) Japan, he would go on to inspire an entire 19th century cultural craze in the decorative arts to collect ‘all things’ Japanese (‘Japoinism’).  This artist inspired Art Nouveau, Impression, and was highly collected by none other than Degas, Gaugin, Klimt, Van Gogh and Manet.  Later in his life, at the age of 70 years, he created one of the most famous images of Art History, titled: ‘Under the wave off Kanagawa’ (Kanagawa oki nami ura) or ‘The Great Wave’ from the series of ‘Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji’ (Fujaka sanjurokkei).

I am of course referring to icon of world art, Katsushika Hokusai. 

The Hokusai prints held at the Abbey are …

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Deatil from Sale of Land document from the Abbey Museum Collection

BUY AN OXGANG OF LAND

Imagine walking into a real estate agent’s office and asking to buy an oxgang of land.  You would most likely receive some very strange looks and be sent packing. Or you might just be lucky enough to talk to a real estate agent who knew something about historical land measurements. They would then realise that you were using a unit of measurement that has been in vogue in England and Scotland since the early 16th century and under another name, a bovate, right back to the Vikings.

Medieval Measures

The Domesday Book refers to a bovata, which represents the amount of land which could be ploughed using one ox in a single annual season.  The Latin word for ox is Bos (from which we also get our descriptive word, bovine, meaning slightly slow and stupid).  Thus depending on the abilities of a ploughman, an oxgang could range between  15 and 20 acres.  A furlong (meaning furrow length) was the distance an ox- team could plough without resting. Pulling a plough through the heavy northern soils of the British Isles …

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Abbey Museum's stained glass window St Hilda

Symbols in Art – Clues and Problems

When we explore medieval religious art you could be astonished by the number of objects being held by the figures depicted either in paint or in stained glass windows. Looking at some of the stained glass windows in the Abbey Church there are a number of saints that follow this medieval tradition. They range from serpents to puppy dogs, from skulls to monstrances. Why are they there? What do they mean?

The use of symbols in figurative art began at a time when very few people could read or write, but also when the Church had a huge influence on the population. The introductions of symbols provided an easy form of identification for the onlooker. By incorporating symbols which were well known and associated with saintly men and women, the Church could use the works of art as teaching metaphors for a more spiritual life. These symbols often related to some aspect of the life of the individual depicted which they would have heard many times in sermons from the local bishop or priest. A palm frond told us that …

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Union Jack flag

The Origin of the Union Jack Flag

The origin of the Union Jack flag

Whilst researching the March saints for a Tabula story, I was diverted into a story about the flag known as the Union Jack. The Union Jack consists of the flag devices of three of the four patron saints of the countries which comprise Great Britain. The feast days of two of these patron saints occur during the month of March and there is another in April. Not only is the Union Jack the official flag of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it also appears included on 31 other flags around the world, including Australia, New Zealand and six flags of the Australian States.

The central feature of the flag is the cross of St George, patron saint of England; behind it is the cross of St Andrew representing Scotland and the cross of St Patrick representing Northern Ireland.  Unluckily for the Welsh, the fourth patron saint, St David of Wales, is not depicted on the Union Jack at all!

St David’s feast day is celebrated on 1st March.  This is considered to be …

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Cuneiform Tablet

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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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