This week, Prof. Rebecca Sweetman talks about the problems of identifying some of the objects in the Bridges Collection.

I have been in Nicosia on the Leventis Visiting exchange fellowship with the University of Cyprus and this has been a fantastic opportunity to see material in museums as well as chat with colleagues about the Bridges collection.

As a private collection of material, it is not always easy to identify context, date and even in some cases, what the object is. Up to this point, to provide details about the material, we have relied on a great deal of research on other published collections (of particular note is that of the British Museum) to find comparative data for the Bridges collection. Some pieces are more obvious and easier to identify than others; for example the Bichrome ware plate, with its intricate decoration on the base and dating to the Geometric period is a common feature in most Cypriot collections. Additionally, we have had welcome input from followers of our websites and blog on some identifications and corrections of our mis-identifications!

On this trip I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to present our digitisation project and the initial results of our experiments at the Archaeology Research Unit of the University of Cyprus. (To see the full presentation, click here.) During this presentation, I asked the audience if they could contribute to the identification of some of our tricky pieces and we had an enthusiastic response.

I would particularly like to thank the Director of the Research Unit, Lena Kassianidou who spotted that a seal stone in the Bridges collection https://skfb.ly/6v8Ux is of a type quite well known on the island and is considered to be an amulet (as well as seal), similar to, if not actually, one worn by the well-known figures of ‘Temple boys’.

Figure 1. Amulet: still from Sketch fab and detail of seal. HC1994.3(144)

The Bridges collection amulet is probably made of a dark lapis lazuli and is pyramidal in shape (2.8cm long) with a perforation at the top for wearing. It has scratch marks on one of the long sides. The incised motif at the base depicts a figure with their arms in the air, possibly holding something in their right hand, with horns above and a tree (?)to the right of the figure (Fig. 1). In terms of the iconography, Reyes’ 2001, Cat 173, a Bronze Age example, is comparable in the organization of the scene and only 11 pyramidal forms are included in his catalogue (cat 89-100). The stones used in pyramidal forms vary considerably. I believe that the Bridges collection amulet is made from dark lapis lazuli but the fact that all six of Reyes’ lapis seals are scarabs creates some uncertainty about the identification of the stone.

The perforation makes the seal stone perfect for wearing, but whether it was directly associated with Temple Boys, and an amulet as such, it is not so certain. Temple boys is the name given to a statues group (usually limestone) which depict young boys (but sometimes girls) (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Temple Boy: from Bank of Cyprus Collection, Nicosia

They are commonly found in sanctuaries and some believe that they protected the god, others believe they are offerings from families, particularly in the context of coming of age rituals (see discussion by Papantinou 2012, 148-52). The Bridges collection does not have any examples of Temple Boys (that we have been able to identify) but the collection at Liverpool has many!

One of the largest collection of these amulets has been found on the island of Yeronisos, on the west coast of Cyprus. There they found a collection of 15 limestone amulets (Connelly, J. B and D. Plantzos 2006) and the various states of production lead the excavators to believe that they were produced on the island itself. This collection of amulets has been closely dated to the Hellenistic period.

For the Bridges collection amulet, without any evidence of its original archaeological context, its precise date is difficult to pin down (and we are open to suggestions!), but finding lots of good parallels has been very satisfying.

Fig. 3 Seated female figure with offering bowl (HC2003.1)

From this visit we have been able to solve some puzzles but some mysteries still endure. For example, we are still stumped on this lady (Fig. 3): https://skfb.ly/6v8VD.

If she were a male figure we could happily describe her as Zeus Ammon. We have looked for parallels and have come up with an example from the Archaeological museum at Nicosia. These seated figures with rams date between the Archaic and Roman period.

Fig. 4 Zeus Ammon in the Museum of Cyprus, Nicosia (from Agios Georgios)

This one is dated to around the 5th century and the seated figured is flanked by rams. The bearded figure is holding a cornucopia whereas the Bridges collection seated female is holding a large dish, perhaps in offering. We would love to know if anyone has spotted any similar female characters, and if so do get in touch (rs43@st-andrews.ac.uk)!

Further reading;

Connelly, J. B and D. Plantzos, 2006. “Stamp-seals from Geronisos and their Contexts,” Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, 263-293. PDF

Papantinou, G. 2012. Religion and Social Transformations in Cyprus. From the Cypriot Basileis to the Hellenistic Strategos.

Reyes, A. T. 1991. ‘Stamp-Seals in the Pierides Collection, Larnaca’, RDAC 117-28.

Reyes, A. T. 2001. The Stamp-Seals of Ancient Cyprus Oxford University School of Archaeology Monograph 52.

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