Victoria Clayton, Writer
How Would Archaeologists Interpret Your Figurines?
A Cabinet of Ancient Figurines in the Ashmolean Museum
This is a montage of displays of ancient figurines found in various museums around the world.
Some of them I recognise as old friends, material for my PhD. Others are equally familiar, and familiarly displayed often with an emphasis on their shape and appearance. It suggests a similarity of meaning or usage which I don't think we can be absolutely sure of, do you?
Fertility goddesses, the great goddess, the earth mother goddess... In Near Eastern archaeology scholars maintain a pervasive connection between human figurines and religious beliefs or magical ritual. I wonder if this justified?
Some ancient figurines were certainly used for magical or religious purposes. This is known from texts. But how are figurines found without the benefit of texts to be interpreted?
- What questions (other than relating to ritual) can archaeologists ask about human figurines?
- What ideas can be used to interpret human figurines?
- Are there richer, more fascinating stories to be discovered about the makers of figurines?
Figurines are fascinating.
Ancient figurines grab our attention like no other type of archaeological artefact.
Because they offer an insight into the thought-processes which led to the creation of that figurine. If archaeologists ask the figurine the right questions, we might be able to learn something of the world-view of the person who made it.
That’s what’s so exciting about studying figurines.
I'm interested in:
- The shape and style of the figurines and how archaeologists can use form to interpret figurines;
- The archaeological context of the figurines; their find spots within the excavation and associated objects;
- The historical, social and cultural context in which the figurines were made and used;
- The controversial fertility cult in figurine studies
- How archaeologists may better understand figurines by focussing on who made them and why
- How figurines are displayed in museums. How are decisions made to share information about figurines with the museum-going public? Who decides what we are told about the meaning of figurines and how do they make these decisions?
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