BY: JOCELYN KENT
|The mouseion ("house of the muses") from Disney's Hercules. Source.|
This week, Throwback Thursday takes us farther back than ever before, to examine three early expressions of the museological impulse. Time to put the Muses back into the museum…
THE MUSEUM OF PRINCESS ENNIGALDI c. 540BC
|The ziggurat at Ur, c. 1930 and now. Source and source.|
While excavating the city of Ur in the 1920s, archaeologist Leonard Woolley’s work reached theretofore unimagined levels of meta when he uncovered an ancient museum within the women’s school complex run by the Princess Ennigaldi.
Ennigaldi’s father, King Nabonidus, one of the first archaeologists in history, spent his reign surveying the ancient monuments of Ur (already 4000 years old even then). Yet, Woolley was still surprised to discover a diverse selection of items - the arm of a statue, a ceremonial boundary stone, clay tablets, a stone mace head, etc. - resting in a line on an elevated platform.
“What were we to think? Here were half a dozen diverse objects found lying on an unbroken brick pavement of the sixth century B.C., yet the newest of them was seven hundred years older than the pavement and the earliest perhaps sixteen hundred..."(Excavations At Ur, p. 237)
|Probably the oldest museum label in the world. Woolley noted it was filled with so many factual errors and "so full of blunders as to be almost unintelligble." Plus ça change... Source.|
The discovery of a cylindrical clay “exhibit label” amongst these items proved to be “the key” to recognizing the museological purpose of the room.
THE TREASURIES OF DELPHI c. 500BC
|The restored Athenian treasury at Athens, one of the only standing structures remaining at Delphi, lacking the ornaments and objects which decorated it historically. Source.|
If the Olympics were the main competition amongst the Greeks, Delphi was their trophy case. Delphi was a cultural focus for the Greek world; its hillsides were littered with monuments and treasure houses commemorating founding myths, successful campaigns, and personal victories. This allowed smaller cities to tell their stories and for superpowers like Athens to flaunt their wealth, keeping the Greek world intelligible.
|A watercolour reconstruction of Delphi by Albert Tournaire, based on contemporary excavations. Source.|
Little of this remains today. Looters eventually picked Delphi clean, with ample help from the Roman emperors; Nero alone allegedly took 500 bronze statues from Delphi to decorate his villa.
THE TISBURY HOARD c. 700BC
|A selection of bronze implements from the Tisbury Hoard. Source.|
Discovered in 2011, the Tisbury Hoard superficially resembles other treasure hoards previously discovered in Britain. What sets apart its 114 bronze weapons, tools, and ornaments is their age difference; although buried together c. 700BC, they cover a span of 1000 years. Archaeologists now believe that the Tisbury Hoard, and similar recently discovered hoards, represent “community museums” used by Iron Age Britons to offer “respect to distant ancestors”.
The three collections examined here differed widely in purpose: education, celebration, or communal memory. But behind each of them was a desire, familiar to us, to commemorate the past through its material remnants.
Do you have a favourite proto-museum? The Great Library of Alexandria? The Imperial Treasury in Vienna? Give a holler below.