Thursday, 28 March 2013


One of the loveliest objects we have on display in our Ancient Worlds Gallery, is a beautiful cast of a female head ...

Leeds City Museum, LEEDM.D.2007.0022

The original is held at the British Museum and is believed to be a first or second century bronze head from Satala in northern Turkey. It would have been part of a life-size bronze statue, with inlaid eyes. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty and fertility. She was born of sea-foam and was believed to be a protector of sailors. She is identified as Aphrodite through comparison to other statues, notably casts of the Aphrodite of Knidos (the original does not survive, but the most faithful copy is seen as the Colonna Venus in Vatican Museums).

Colonna Venus

However, there are other interpretation, it is suggested that she is a statue of the Iranian goddess Anahita, whose personality later became conflated with Aphrodite and Athena.

Anahita vessel, AD 300-500, Cleveland Museum of Art
The statue may date to the reign of Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia in 97-56 BC, so it has also been suggested that the head could also represent an Armenian goddess.

There are two aspects of this post I find fascinating: one is the reliance on casts of statues that have now disappeared for dating and stylistic analysis; the other is that even when we feel we firmly know an identity of an object, there are often many more layers to understanding it than first appear.

Have you visited Aphrodite? Who do you think she is? She may well be all three! It is important to remember that Turkey, 2000 years ago, was an economic and cultural crossroads, where ideas on everything, including religion, were exchanged and mutated into different forms. Just as today, culture was not a static force, but was constantly in motion.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A Roman Paw Print

Even if you are more of a cat lover, I think you might struggle not to find this object from Leeds City Museum’s collections rather endearing.

This is a fragment of clay roof tile, dating from the Romano-British period (AD 43 – 410). You can see the bright orange fabric of the fired clay used to make the tile and the uneven, pitted surface which is wear caused by hundreds of years of deposition in the ground.

Romano-British Tile LEEDM.D.1966.0196

The Romans were the first people in Britain to make and use fired clay tiles, and indeed the tradition largely died out with the end of Roman occupation in the early fifth century AD, only to re-emerge in the medieval period, around the twelfth century AD. Roman roof tiles were manufactured in bulk by hand. Wet clay would be squeezed into rectangular-shaped moulds, which created their distinctive rectangular shape, and any rough edges smoothed off using a length of wire. The clay was then left to air dry outside before firing, usually in a large open space such as a public court yard.

Clearly people weren’t too careful about avoiding these drying tiles as we get numerous examples of tiles with paw prints, foot prints and scratched graffiti on their surfaces. Sometimes the indentations of plants can even be seen on the underside of tiles.

Indeed our tile appears to have been paid a visit before it dried completely. Look closely at the indentations on its surface – what can you see? These marks could be interpreted as finger or thumb prints, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Roman pooch!

Close-up of indentations

We know very little about this object – is it unprovenanced and some might argue of little archaeological interest today. However I think it is special and valuable as it provides a real snapshot into everyday life in a Roman town.

Lucy Creighton
Archaeology Intern