Classics and Archaeology Virtual Museum

The Middle Eastern Collection

The Middle Eastern Collection includes manuscripts, pottery, bronzes, coins, and a number of plaster casts.

The 1971 Catalogue listed the objects in quite summary terms. Two Account Books listing 170 mainly ceramic objects represent an attempt made in or after 1975 to record and classify the objects chronologically, and 177 objects were found to have been inscribed with the corresponding "UM" number. Some of the objects were exhibited in 1983 by Colin Hope and Jenny Zimmer. Andrew Jamieson's 1988 Honours Thesis is a catalogue of 171 vases of Middle Eastern provenance. At the end of 1989 Annette Welkamp supplied Dr Bunnens with printouts from the Museum of Art's catalogue, noting that the entries were "as they are listed in the thesis which was prepared by Andrew Jamieson in October 1988". Dr Bunnens created his own database, adding a further 17 objects and supplementing the bibliography from the 1989 publication of Bab edh-Dhra' and also McClellan's descriptions in the 1983 exhibition catalogue. Early in 1995, with help from Christine Elias, he drew up a list of casts and then constructed a database of 84 records. Cataloguing by the Museum of Art continued, and at the start of the Virtual Museum Project the Gallery database included 291 objects assigned to this Collection.

Database entries were constructed from all these and other sources, such as shipping lists, and the entries checked against the shelves. Many unregistered objects were discovered, and many duplicate entries eliminated. With recent acquisitions and re-assignment of some objects, the database currently includes 802 items (excluding manuscripts) in the Middle Eastern Collections.

Details of 113 manuscripts and early books, in various languages but mostly Arabic and Persian, were included in the 1971 Catalogue. A document drawn up by the Baillieu Library in November 1977 listed 168 works and indicated that the descriptions were based on the 1971 Catalogue or "from the sale catalogue entries found in the items or from other identification as possible". From the Ian Potter Art Conservation Centre a conservation report dated 2.11.93 was obtained. A cross-reference index has been constructed of the 1971 Catalogue, the Baillieu 1977 list and the Conservation report. Because of the large number of pages involved, it was originally planned to photograph only 6-800 title pages and other pages of interest; but further funding constraints have led to exclusion of this from the present stage of the Virtual Museum project.

Coins: 137 coins have now been assigned to the Middle Eastern Collection (there were 69 in the 1971 Catalogue). 58 were classified as Greek and exhibited by Peter Connor; 6 have now been classified as Roman, 37 have have been tentatively identified and there is no information about the rest. Little is known of their provenance; some mentioned in the 1971 Catalogue have not been found.

Casts: 92 casts, some quite large, most with inscriptions, are included in the Collection. Many of the originals are in known museums (British, French National). It is not known when or how they were acquired.

Luristan bronzes: The collection was known to include a set of bronzes from Luristan. Fourteen such bronzes were mentioned in a conservation report by Willem Snoek in 1993 and have now been identified. Conservation is urgent.

The main sets of pottery and artefacts are as follows:

1957: Professor John Bowman purchased four large stone objects - 2 Egyptian stelai, a frieze and an altar - from the Metropolitan Museum of New York. One stela was sent to Canberra in 1990 for conservation and is still there. The frieze and altar are in good condition.

1960: Seventeen ceramic objects from Jericho Tombs A 94, A 136, D 12, M 4 (=A94?). The excavations of 1952-54 were published by Kenyon in 1960 and this year of accession had been assigned to those that had been entered into the Gallery database. Verification of this date awaits further inquiry. All but one of the objects were assigned UM numbers in the Account Books. A possible lead is that this, and one other, appear to have an Institute of Archaeology number recorded on them, and this number is consistent with the IA classification system. Three unattached notes found in the storeroom read "Jericho Chalcolithic", "Jericho Early Bronze" and, more intriguingly, "From Jericho Excavations Feb 1968". Objects from A94 were exhibited, as can be seen from display cards in the files - possibly in 1983.

1960: Tel Michal: A typed list of 26 sherds in chronological sequence, with references to Amiran 1963, and another list of 8 (plus two from Tel Arad) without references, correspond to 33 objects found in storage (no. 7 on the first list was not identified). Half of the objects that had been entered in the Gallery database had been given 1960 accession numbers, a date which it has not been possible to confirm; nevertheless, the rest have now be accessioned with 1960 accession numbers.

1968: Professor Bowman purchased 20 mainly Egyptian objects from the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, including ceramics, and bronze arrow heads.

1970: Jerusalem: In 1969 and 1970 Dr Thompson received two shipments of 113 ceramic objects believed to be from Kathleen Kenyon's 1967 excavations: figurines, loom weights and many vases. Some were used in university examinations in 1969! Hundreds of fragments were re-assembled for photography.

1975: Tell Arad: Dr Thompson purchased 75 mainly ceramic items from Arad from the Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University. For nearly all of the objects, locus and stratum information is available. The information in the database has been copied from what appear to be original dispatch lists and also the Account Books. Three ceramics from Tell Sheba were included in the dispatch.

1975: Amman Airport. The Virtual Museum project 'discovered' a set of 24 small bronze, gold, ivory, stone and other objects from a Fire Temple excavated at Amman Airport, Jordan, by Professor Basil Hennessy in 1966. The University of Melbourne contributed to the excavations. The objects have never been exhibited, though quite a few appear to have been published.

1978: Bab edh-Dhra: Dr A D Hallam secured a tomb group of 45 ceramic objects from an early Bronze Age cemetery excavated in 1965-7. From display cards it is clear that objects from the tomb were exhibited, possibly in 1983. The pottery was published in 1989, and Dr Bunnen's database held references to the relevant publications.

Aphek: In storage were found sherds with "Aphek" marked on them in Hebrew, corresponding to a typed list of fifteen sherds with references for most of them to Ruth Amiran's Ancient Pottery of the Hold Land (Jerusalem, 1969). No other documentation has turned up. The two entered into the Gallery database in 1993 were given 0000 accession numbers, and the rest have been accessioned similarly. A couple of unattached notes found in the storeroom mention "Tell Aphek MB A" and "Aphek EB II".

Lachish: The Account Books listed seven sherds from Lachish. Three were catalogued in 1993 with 0000 accession numbers, as have the rest. Their provenance is unknown. An eighth object with similar tertiary inscription may also be from the same site.

Nimrud: Three small ivory plaques with relief sculptures from Fort Shalmanasser, declared to be at the University of Melbourne by G Herrmann in 1986. The account of them provided to Professor Sear by Andrew Jamieson has not been reconciled with Herrmann's.

Madrash: Twenty-five generally whole vases were found in a set with 'Madrash' pencilled on some of them. Jamieson 1988 included all but one, and nine were accessioned in 1993. Their provenance is unknown, but it is believed that Bill Culican might have had something to do with this collection.

1995: Mr Joseph Huber donated a set of 18 objects said to be from a Phoenician shipwreck off the coast of Malta. Included are some large storage vessels, animal bones, and a lead anchor and ingot. Claudia Sagona's brief descriptions are included in the Virtual Museum database. Conservation is a pressing issue for these heavily-salinated objects.

1995: The gift of Peter Chaldjian, from the estate of his father, includes 16 Egyptian objects (alabaster, ushabti) assigned to the Middle Eastern Collections. The brief descriptions are by Elizabeth Pemberton.

1996: The Vizard Foundation Collection of Antiquities, on loan to the University, includes 15 objects of Middle Eastern provenance, mostly figurines. The objects were purchased at Christie's on 27 April 1994 and catalogued by Alisa Bunbury.

1997: The Neil Taylor collection, on long-term loan to the University, comprises 15 objects mostly from Iran: small bronzes, ceramics, figurines, pieces of obsidian and sherds. Antonio Sagona has provided brief descriptions.

1997: Four of the objects in the Adams Collection - 2 limestone, 1 terracotta and 1 bronze - have been notionally assigned to the Middle Eastern Collection. The late Professor Marion Adams was Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and the collection has been loaned by her family.

A further 420 objects in the Middle Eastern Collection are not known to be associated with any particular site. Some unattached notes relating to various items in the Middle Eastern Collection were found in cupboards and drawers. A list has been drawn up of the undeciphered tertiary inscriptions on otherwise unidentified objects in the hope that a viewer might recognize the marks.

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