Monthly Archive: December Robe
Glass is probably the most fluid of solids. Looking at blown glass, such as that in the ROM's Chihuly exhibition, is like watching movement made still. If you look carefully at the handles of the perfectly preserved handles of this Roman glass vase from Syria (above), it looks as though it is still a fluid, still dynamically moving along its flow. In a way, that is because it is. Glass essentially has the atomic structure of a fluid, but it has been so rapidly cooled that it is essentially stuck in that condition.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
Robert Mason reports on his years of archaeological fieldwork at the Monastery of St Moses, Syria, in this blog series.