Author Archive: Robert Mason

Monthly Archive: December Robe

My Favourite Object: A "Tell Minis" Style Lustre-Ware Bowl

Posted: March 28, 2015 - 13:12 , by Robert Mason
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This beautiful bowl, ROM Accession number 960.219.2, was made in Syria between about AD 1075-1125, and if you read this story, you will find out why I would really like to meet the person that made it.

Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?

Posted: February 18, 2015 - 12:11 , by Robert Mason
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A flock of ceramic sheep

Beginning on February 19th 2015 and ending on February 7th 2016 is the Year of the Sheep, or Goat, or Ram in the Chinese calendar. No other year of the Chinese lunar calendar seems to create quite so much confusion as the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram. The confusion probably stems from the Chinese term for all of these characters: "Yang". Hence in Chinese, Year of the Yang works perfectly, there is no confusion, and you can use any member of the caprinae subfamily (which includes sheep and goats) to figurally represent the year. However, in English we are left with this confusion.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: The Prehistoric Remains

Posted: December 1, 2014 - 08:52 , by Robert Mason
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The largest corbelled structure, in fact a complex of three (Feature 56 - 58), with the Qalamoun mountains in the background.

Since 2004 I had walked the Qalamoun mountains around the monastery of Deir Mar Musa looking for archaeological features to record. In all that time I found one lithic, a stone tool from humanity’s prehistoric past. My colleagues back home that specialised in these objects would say that I just didn’t know what I was looking for. In the last days of the 2009 season, what turned out to be my last season at the monastery, I thought I would reconnoitre the southern part of the field area.

Walking a half-Marathon as the Herculaneum soldier

Posted: October 16, 2014 - 14:44 , by Robert Mason
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The Last Day of Pompeii is a large canvas painting by Russian artist Karl Briullov in 1830-33 (Hermitage Museum, public domain image)

Probably on October 24th in 79 AD a large group of people congregated on the beach at the seaside town of Herculaneum, in Italy. They were presumably trying to take ship to gain distance from Mount Vesuvius, which had been raining ash and rocks on the city, and the neighbouring town of Pompeii, all day. But suddenly, a massive cloud of red-hot ash swept down from the volcano directly towards Herculaneum. Studies of the skeletons on the beach show that they were mostly males, with women and children huddling in boathouses by the shore. One man in particular was a soldier.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: The Buildings

Posted: September 15, 2014 - 12:04 , by Robert Mason
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The main monastery buildings at Deir Mar Musa, Syria, from the South., the same view as the reconstructions in the blog.

The monastery of Deir Mar Musa in its heyday included hermitages spread around the landscape, but as today, the focus of the complex would have been the buildings, especially the chapel, home to the important frescos. The archaeology of standing buildings requires looking at walls to see how they are made, and how they relate to each other. One structure may clearly be seen as one that came first, with later structures abutting on to it. Different phases may be made of different materials, or the same material worked in a different way.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: The Cave Survey

Posted: July 11, 2014 - 12:20 , by Robert Mason
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This cave would have been a home for one of the monks of the Deir Mar Musa community, the wall at the front of the photograph shows that they had a small terrace outside the cave, either for a living area or for growing food.

The monastery at Deir Mar Musa would not have just comprised the main buildings, the monks would actually have been dispersed in hermitages across the landscape.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: The Frescoes

Posted: July 4, 2014 - 12:26 , by Robert Mason
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The fresco of the Last Judgement on the West wall of the chapel at Deir Mar Musa.

The third in a series on the monastery of St Moses in Syria comprises a detailed examination of the important cycle of 11th-12th century frescoes found in the chapel.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: The Pottery

Posted: June 29, 2014 - 09:38 , by Robert Mason
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Pottery with an earthenware fired-clay body, overall white slip, incision through the slip with a broad tool, overall lead glaze, splashed with copper-green, probably mid-14th century.

Despite there being almost 1,400 years of occupation at Deir Mar Musa, strangely the overwhelming majority of the pottery found at the site can be assigned to the "Mamluk" period. The period of Mamluk rule in Greater Syria (1260-1516) generally reflects an archaeological horizon that post-dates the destruction of the great ceramic production centre at al-Raqqa,  and Eastern Syria became a wasteland on the border with the Mongol Ilkhanate dynasty of Iran, leaving Damascus as the sole producer of elite quality under-glaze painted stone-paste bodied ceramics.

The Monastery of St Moses, Syria: Introduction

Posted: June 17, 2014 - 15:32 , by Robert Mason
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View of the old monastery buildings from the South in 2004, with then Brother Jihad, a member of the monastery.

Robert Mason reports on his years of archaeological fieldwork at the Monastery of St Moses, Syria, in this blog series. 



Weapon Wednesday: Swords from the Philippines

Posted: May 28, 2014 - 14:30 , by Robert Mason
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17-18th century Filipino sword #927.59.47 (photo W.C. Pratt)

The ROM's collecton of swords from the Phillipines is outlined in the context of the history and geography of the archipelago.