Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Phd Thesis: The Cultic Life of Trees

My PhD thesis, which I finished in February this year, is just getting a last polish and then it will be submitted for examination - finally! So, what's with the gap since Feb you may ask? Well, I had to do a lot of things in between then and now such as writing a journal article, a conference paper, a book chapter, exhibition curation, tutoring... You can see the kinds of things that keep me busy on my Academia page. The title of my thesis is The Cultic Life of Trees: What Trees Say About People in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus, and here's the abstract: 
This thesis examines 43 images of Minoan tree cult as depicted in sphragistic jewellery, portable objects and wall paintings from Late Bronze Age Crete, mainland Greece and the Cyclades. The study also compares the Aegean images with evidence for sacred trees in the Middle and Late Bronze Age Levant, Egypt and Cyprus. The purpose of this research is the production of new interpretations of Minoan images of tree cult. Each of the chapters of the thesis looks at both archaeological and iconographic evidence for tree cult. The Aegean material is, in addition, examined more deeply through the lenses of modified Lacanian psychoanalytic modelling, “new” animism, ethnographic analogy, and a Neo-Marxist hermeneutics of suspicion. It is determined that Minoan images of tree cult depict elite figures performing their intimate association with the numinous landscape through the communicative method of envisioned and enacted epiphanic ritual. The tree in such images is a physiomorphic representation of a goddess type known in the wider eastern Mediterranean associated with effective rulership and with the additional qualities of fertility, nurturance, protection, regeneration, order and stability. The representation of this deity by elite human females in ritual performance functioned to enhance their self-representation as divinities and thus legitimise and concretise the position of elites within the hegemonic structure of Neopalatial Crete. These ideological visual messages were circulated to a wider audience through the reproduction and dispersal characteristic of the sphragistic process, resulting in Minoan elites literally stamping their authority on to the Cretan landscape and hence society.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Curating a New Exhibition at Hamilton Art Gallery

I am fortunate to be curating an exhibition of Mediterranean antiquities at Hamilton Art Gallery, in Victoria's Western District. The exhibition runs from 1st July to 9th of October 2016 and features ancient Egyptian stone vessels and figurines ranging in date from 2400 BCE to ca. 600 BCE, Cypriot pottery from the Middle Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period (1900 to 300s BCE), Corinthian pottery from the 7th century BCE, ancient Greek Red Figure pottery of the 6th and 5th centuries, terracotta oil lamps ranging in date from 800 BCE to the 1st century CE, Hellenistic and Roman period ceramic unguentaria, and a range of Roman-period glass from Syria. Featured here is the one Tanagra figurine in the show. The objects are part of the Herbert and May Shaw Bequest that was bequeathed to the City of Hamilton sixty years ago, and which was responsible for the establishment of the gallery - they have never been on display before. I'm doing a floor talk on the exhibition on Friday 1st July at 10.30am.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

How the Mummymania Exhibition Came About

One of the many exciting things I did this year (and some of last year) was work as a researcher and assistant curator with Dr Andrew Jamieson on the Mummymania exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art which runs from September 29 2015 to April 17 2016.
My involvement was officially under the auspices of the University's Cultural Collections Projects Program, although I already knew Andrew who was my Honours supervisor during 2008 and 2009. Andrew and I started talking about the exhibition in late 2014. Initially we were going to do an exhibition on Egyptomania, which is the topic that I had done my Honours thesis on. I spent several months researching museum collections in Australia and contacting private collectors, including radio broadcaster Phillip Adams and ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating, to try and source objects. In the end, it turned out that there was simply not enough material available in Australia to go with the Egyptomania theme, and it was not possible to borrow from overseas institutions due to budget and time constraints. 
So, we re-thought the theme and decided on Mummymania as we knew that through the Potter's existing collection and Andrew's contacts that we would be able to get enough mummy-themed material to fill out an exhibition. I also sourced a mummified head and hand and accompanying CT scans from the Harry Brooks Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the University of Melbourne. 
I researched both Egyptian mummies and the reception of the mummy in history and came up with four general themes: the mummy in regard to afterlife beliefs in ancient Egypt; the history of mummy unwrapping in the West which also links to the medical use of, and investigation into, mummies; and the reception of the mummy in popular culture. I then researched individual topics and wrote up text panels on Ancient Egypt, Afterlife Beliefs, Mummification, Mummy Unwrapping, Biomedical Research, the Ethics of Displaying Human Remains, and the Mummy as Hollywood Horror character. These information panels are displayed on the walls of the exhibition gallery. I also wrote the extended labels in the display cases, and the Introduction to the exhibition.
This was a lot of work, so why did I take time out of my already overdue PhD thesis on Tree Worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean to do this and what did I get out of it? Well, years ago when Andrew had supervised my Honours thesis on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their use and misuse of ancient Egyptian religion, we had vaguely discussed doing an Egyptian-themed exhibition. (Andrew's last Egyptian-themed exhibition was ten years ago). I have had an interest in the display of Egyptian antiquities in museums since my Honours thesis and I just decided (in 2014) to apply to do a project with Andrew through the Cultural Collections Projects Program. At that time Andrew did not have any specific project listed, but he contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in guest curating a show at The Potter, which of course I was. 
The outcomes for me so far include a stack of research material for future use, some popular articles, and radio interviews. I maintain an interest in ancient Egypt and the reception of Egyptian religion and visual style from the Roman period to today. I have a contract for a book chapter on this topic scheduled for publication in 2017, and a journal article in the works. Researching Egyptian mummies therefore functioned as background for these writing projects. I also wrote an article on the exhibition for The Conversation and this was re-printed in the University of Melbourne newspaper, Pursuit. The same day the Conversation article came out I was contacted by ABC radio and did a live interview for ABC Radio's RN Afternoons program, and ABC Radio Hobart's Drive program.
There are certainly more things I could do in regards to this exhibition but right now I simply MUST finish and submit my PhD thesis!!! 
Meanwhile, Mummymania is on until April 17th 2016, so go and see it!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mummymania in the Media

In conjunction with the opening of the Mummymania exhibition I published an article on the reception of the ancient Egyptian mummy in the West in the online newspaper, The Conversation, which was reprinted in the University of Melbourne's online newspaper, Pursuit. I also did two radio interviews, one with Michael Mackenzie of Radio National's RN Afternoons and the other with Louise Saunders from ABC Hobart's Drive program. So that was fun for me! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mummymania Exhibition Open!

Hooray! After months of preparation, the Mummymania exhibition that I worked on as a researcher and curatorial assistant - under curator Dr Andrew Jamieson – is ready to view in the Classics and Archaeology Gallery at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Parkville.

Mummymania focuses on the role of the ancient Egyptian mummy within the themes of life, death, resurrection and immortality as well as the changing perception of the mummy over time. The mummy has a long history in both ancient and popular culture, from its original role in ancient Egyptian funerary practices to its importance in early scientific investigations into ancient disease and medicine, and its popular reception as a malevolent Hollywood monster-figure. 

The word ‘mummy’ derives from the Persian word mummia meaning bitumen, long considered a medicine in the Near East. Bitumen resembles the dark resinous coating on Egyptian mummies which, along with mummified flesh itself, was prized for medicinal purposes and by the sixteenth century was a highly sought after drug in Western Europe. With the beginning of the serious collection of antiquities in the sixteenth century, whole and partial mummies were included in cabinets of curiosities. Adventurers and diplomats brought back entire mummies along with amulets, scarabs and papyri. After the French and British military campaigns in Egypt (1798–1801) enthusiasm for all things Egyptian became widespread, particularly in the nineteenth century taste, although the mummy is still in demand today by practitioners of magic and the occult.

Public mummy-unrolling spectacles were popular from the sixteenth up to the early twentieth centuries. Egyptologist, Margaret Murray, perhaps better known for her popular books on Witchcraft, even unrolled a mummy in front of a crowd of five hundred people at the University of Manchester in 1908. Beginning in the mid-1970s, non-invasive methods of investigation began to be used in the examination of mummies in order to study ancient disease. Alongside the increased understanding of mummies through scientific methods of investigation, the mummy in popular culture remains a figure of menace as is evident in mummy horror films. 

On trend: Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the Manchester Museum

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bronze Age Fairies from Minoan Crete?

I've got an interview in the current issue of the Fairy Investigation Society Newsletter 2, New Series, July 2015, pages 11‒19, on the question of whether hovering human figures in the glyptic art of Late Bronze Age Crete could be considered fairies. Initially to access the interview you had to be a member of the Fairy Investigation Society but now I've uploaded it on here.