Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catch of the Day

Bronze statuary was as ubiquitous in the Classical world as Starbucks are today. Ever since people began to mix copper and tin to create bronze, people shaped that bronze into useful tools or decorative ornaments. Think of bronze as the ancient equivalent to plastic if you will. Weapons, armor, statues, lamps, plumbing and everything in between was fashioned out of bronze in the Greek and Roman world. From an archaeological standpoint, bronze can be a big deal. Bronze coins and fibulae are extremely common finds and can serve as time markers, but bronze statuary is very rare and when one is found it can yield much information. In late antiquity and the middles ages, bronze (in particular bronze statuary) was melted down and turned into something considered more useful at the time. As a result, ancient bronze statues are extremely rare today and any find can greatly increase our knowledge about ancient art.

Just a few days ago in Greece, a fisherman pulled a 2,200 year old bronze horseman out of the water. He did the right thing and contacted authorities immediately. Study of the statue is obviously just beginning, so we'll have to wait quite a while before any detailed information about it's significance is published. Any bronze statue found today is bound to divulge some information that either confirms or reshapes our current hypotheses in regards to art and archaeology. I hope that this statue is not an isolated find and leads to the discovery of a shipwreck. Many such statues that have been pulled from the sea have led to the discovery of new shipwreck sites. Some very famous statues, though, such as the "Victorious Youth" were isolated finds and no subsequent shipwrecks have been found. It is hypothesized that isolated statues such as this were perhaps thrown overboard in a storm. Whether the bronze horseman is an isolated find or not, I'm looking forward to the stories it has to tell about the ancient world.


Robin Cantin said...

The ancient world's plastic... very clever.
I like your blog, but the way. Keep up the good work.