Lab 2 - Ancient Artifacts
Artifact 1: Winged Protective Deity 883-859 BC
Northern Iraq (from the Northwest Palace at Calakh), Assyrian, reign of Assurnasirpal II,883-859 BC, Alabaster.
This artifact is an relief on alabaster that was found in the palace of King Assurnasirpal at Calakh. According to the artifact’s plate, it represents a minor winged deity pollinating a tree. The role of this deity is to protect the king from harm. It is one of the many reliefs covering the entire palace. Each of those reliefs would’ve also been painted, although the paint has faded with time. Supposedly, a relief of the king himself would’ve been found close by. In the museum, it is exposed next to another carving of a deity. which has the exact same engraving. The plate mentions that, “across the middle of each is the so-called standard inscription of Addurnasirpal II, which records the king’s conquest and achievements.”
Clearly, since this was a relief made to protect a king in his palace, it had importance and would need to reflect the king’s riches and power and withstand the passage of time. This is exemplified by the materials and methods used to create the piece. Such a big piece of stone would have been an incredibly sturdy and long lasting material, but also heavy and tough material to carve. It would have taken skills and time to make anything out of it. Carving it and painting it would have probably taken a master. It is not something that would have been found in any home, only the home of someone important that wanted others to know that too.
The text reflects those intentions clearly, not just in content but in placement. Although not the first thing one would notice when looking at the piece, it is still at the forefront of the piece and its placement in the middle of the relief with big clear letters suggests it is made to be noticed by people. However, it seems to me that the forefront of the text does not mean it needs to be read for the relief to be enjoyed and admired by the reader. It is noticeable, but still discreet enough that someone would not necessarily be tempted to read all of it. In fact, the term “standard inscription” suggests to me that this is a text that would have been engraved in many other places, and that people would have recognized it as soon as they would have seen it on this piece. Hence, the image would have been more of the novelty, and it would have been enjoyed by people regardless of them reading the text.
Moreover, it is unclear to me that everyone passing this inscription would have been able to read it. Since this was found among many other similar carvings in the palace, it could have been in a well traveled area in which higher social strata people would have been able to read it, but surely a lot of the common people and servants traveling the palace would not. The king would have wanted to impose his power on all of those people, not just those who could read. So it makes sense that the text, while clearly visible, is not the entire focus of this piece.
Artifact 2: Foot Panel from Governor Djehutynikht’s outer coffin 2010-1961 BC,
Egypt (Deir el-Bersha, tomb 10A) Middle Kingdom, late Dynasty 11-early Dynasty 12, 2010-1961 BC, Cedar
This piece of cedar wood covered in writing is a foot panel from a Egyptian governor’s coffin. It is engraved with hieroglyphs which were subsequently painted in black. According to the museum plate, “The inscriptions that literally cover this panel are funerary spells to provide the deceased with information about the afterlife and sustain him or her there.”
Similarly to the previous artefact, this panel was made for an important person and it shows. The purpose of this panel’s text being to help this important person in the afterlife, it needed to be long lasting while reflecting the governor’s importance. Again, the materials and methods used to create this piece exemplify this. Engravings are made to last, and wood is a sturdy material, (although probably not quite as long-lasting as stone) Moreover, as mentioned earlier, they take time and money.
This time however, it is clear that this artifact wasn’t made to impress anyone. Those religious inscriptions were only meant for the eyes of the deceased and the gods. This is clear in the lack of ornamentation of this fully textual panel. Also, there does not seem to be that clear of a regard for how visible the text is compared to the text of the last artifact. This time, the text is written in fairly small symbols which cover every inch of the wood. My guess is that this is because as much information as possible needs to be presented to guide the deceased in the after life, while there isn’t quite the same need to boast.
Overall, those two artifacts, while serving different purposes at first glance, have significant similarities: they were both made for important people and they were both made to last. This isn’t entirely surprising since they were both made in times were only the rich and powerful had access to reading and writing, as well as expensive long lasting materials and methods of craftsmanship. I don’t know if they served all of their purposes but one thing is for sure, they lasted.