Archive for August, 2012

Expert in ancient Greek pottery joins Ancient Studies

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Samantha Masters, who has recently been permanently appointed in the Department of Ancient Studies, is one of only two South African experts in the field of ancient Greek pottery.

She grew up in the warm climes of Durban where she completed her undergraduate degree and then her MA in Classics at what was, at the time, the University of Natal, Durban (now UKZN). She completed her PhD dissertation, entitled Iconography and emotional vocabulary: the abduction and recovery of Helen in Attic pottery c. 550-350 BCE, earlier this year at the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom. Her appointment at Stellenbosch University followed soon afterwards in March. “Stellenbosch is a picturesque and lively town,” Masters says, “and since I had already taught here part-time and experienced the stimulating and supportive environment of my department, I knew that this was the place I wanted to be permanently.”

What sparked her interest in ancient pottery, one might ask. “Well, I have always had a keen interest in art and material culture,” she says, “but it was during my honours year that I developed a real passion for pottery in particular. In the Classics Department at UND we had a small museum of antiquities. “I became the assistant curator and I learnt about the cultural value of material objects from the past, about how to care for such artefacts and also about potential avenues of research. This was probably the beginning for me, and over the years, I have never been disappointed. It is a really fascinating and productive field and I have also had many thrilling research opportunities over the years.”

By this she means the opportunity to do her PhD at Exeter, and also to conduct research at two prestigious institutes: The Getty Research Institute, at the Getty Villa, in Malibu, California and the Institut für Klassische Archäologie, at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg. Masters is currently working on converting her PhD into a book, but other projects are also quickly taking shape.

She is planning a study related to the collections of classical antiquities in South African museums as well as two collaborative projects with Iziko Museums of Cape Town, which has a substantial collection of ancient artefacts. “The Ancient Studies Department has a really good working relationship with Iziko; over the years we have collaborated on several exhibitions and research projects,” says Masters. “Working with Iziko allows us to connect more broadly with issues around heritage. Pottery is universal, and there are, I believe, dialogues to be had with living and local traditions.”

In addition to research, Masters teaches courses in ancient culture, supervises post-graduate students, and gives public lectures on various subjects relating to the classical world.

Dr Samantha Masters in the gardens of the Getty Villa in Malibu, California where she did research at the Getty Research Institute

Looking inside Ancient Egyptian Animal Mummies/’n Kykie binne Antieke Egiptiese Dieremummies

Thursday, August 16th, 2012


Interfacing Ancient Studies and modern technology

Prof. Sakkie Cornelius, Dr. Anton du Plessis, Dr. Ruhan Slabbert

The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and mummified their dead to preserve the body for “eternity”. However, they also mummified animals. As a matter of fact, they mummified many more animals than humans. Mummified animals included pets such as cats and dogs which accompanied their owners into the afterlife. Sacred animals such as the Apis bull were mummified after they died and even the flesh of animals (cuts of beef and whole ducks) were wrapped and placed as food offerings in tombs.

The largest number of mummified animals, of which there are millions, can be classified as votive offerings to certain deities: the cat (Felis spp.) to Bastet, the ibis (family Threskiornithidae) to Thoth and the falcon (family Falconidae) to Horus. Votive mummies of animals were especially popular in the Graeco-Roman period (after 300 BC and ending with the advent of Christianity during the 4th century AD). These mummies served as a “prayer” to a certain deity, donated by pilgrims and ritually buried in special containers in catacombs.

The animals could be deliberately killed by breaking the neck or crushing the skull and then eviscerated and covered in natron for drying and finally bandaged. Certain animals were possibly bred on a commercial scale (as in the case of the ibis, but probably not the falcon). Some animal mummies are mere fakes (as a result of the “commercialisation” of mummification), consisting only of bundles of plant material and filled with mud or bandages, or some bone fragments.

Iziko Museums in Cape Town house a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, among these are animal mummies. On 28 June and 11 October 2012 four bird mummies and what is presumed to be a cat mummy were scanned at the Computed Tomography (CT) scanner at CAF (Central Analytical Facilities) of the University of Stellenbosch using a state of the art industrial x-ray CT scanner. This new facility (see is open to academic and commercial users and allows one to investigate objects non-destructively in full 3D, therefore allowing high definition viewing of the inside of the mummies without physically opening them.

The aim of the scan was to determine whether the mummies are mere fakes and if they contain bone fragments or whole skeletons. Normal x-ray images (also possible with this instrument) are useful for this purpose but the additional information gained by the CT scan helps to accurately and easily measure bone fragment dimensions and thereby allows the identification of the species of animal.

It was established that the one bird is a fake presumably containing only some plant material and mud, the second only contains a claw, and the third and fourth both contain a complete bird skeleton. The “cat” has only a partial front and full hind body and limbs preserved. The next step will be to determine the date (radiocarbon dating) of the objects, how the animals were killed, the substances used in the process of mummification, whether the “cat” is indeed a cat and what species of bird is involved.

This project was undertaken by the Department of Ancient Studies (Prof. Sakkie Cornelius and Ms. Liani Swanepoel), CAF (Drs. Anton du Plessis and Ruhan Slabbert) and Iziko Museums (with thanks to Ms. Lalou Meltzer, Director: Social History Collections and Ms. Esther Esmyol and her team).



Antieke Studie en moderne tegnologie

Prof. Sakkie Cornelius, Dr. Anton du Plessis, Dr. Ruhan Slabbert

Die antieke Egiptenare het in ’n lewe na die dood geglo en hulle dooies gemummifiseer om die liggaam vir die “ewigheid” te bewaar. Hulle het egter ook diere gemummifiseer. Trouens, hulle het veel meer diere as mense gemummifiseer. Gemummifiseerde diere het troeteldiere soos katte en honde ingesluit wat hulle eienaars in die lewe na die dood vergesel het. Heilige diere soos die Apisbul is na hulle dood gemummifiseer en selfs die vleis van diere (beessnitte en heel eende) is toegedraai en as voedseloffers in grafte geplaas.

Die grootste aantal gemummifiseerde diere, waarvan daar miljoene is, kan as wydingsoffers aan sekere godhede beskou word: die kat (Felis spp.) aan Bastet, die ibis (familie Threskiornithidae) aan Thoth en die valk (familie Falconidae) aan Horus. Sulke dieremummies was veral in die Grieks-Romeinse periode (na 300 v.C. en eindig met die koms van die Christendom gedurende die 4de eeu n.C.) gewild. Hierdie mummies het as ’n “gebed” aan ’n sekere godheid gedien. Hulle is deur pelgrims geskenk en in spesiale houers in katakombes begrawe.

Die diere kon opsetlik gedood word deur die nek te breek of die skedel te verbrysel. Daarna word hulle ingewande eers uitgehaal en dan word die karkas met natron uitgedroog en toegedraai. Sekere diere is moontlik selfs op kommersiële skaal geteel (soos in die geval van die ibis, maar waarskynlik nie die valk nie). Sommige dieremummies is suiwer namaaksels (as gevolg van die “kommersialisering” van mummifikasie) wat slegs uit bondels plantmateriaal gevul met modder of verbande of enkele beenfragmente bestaan.

Iziko Museums in Kaapstad huisves ’n versameling antieke Egiptiese artefakte, hieronder tel ook dieremummies. Op 28 Junie en 11 Oktober 2012 is vier voëlmummies en wat as ’n katmummie beskou word by die Rekenaartomografie-skandeerder (CT-skandeerder) [Computed Tomography (CT)] by SAF (Sentrale Analitiese Fasiliteite) van die Universiteit van Stellenbosch met ’n allernuutste industriële x-straal CT-skandeerder geskandeer. Dié nuwe fasiliteit (sien is oop vir akademiese en kommersiële gebruikers en bied nie-destruktiewe ondersoeking van voorwerpe in volle 3D. Sodoende is hoë definisie besigtiging van die binnekant van die mummies sonder om hulle fisies oop te maak, bewerkstellig.

Die doel van die skandering was om te bepaal of die mummies suiwer namaaksels is en of hulle beenfragmente of volledige geraamtes bevat. Normale x-straalbeelde (ook moontlik met hierdie instrument) is nuttig vir hierdie doel, maar die bykomende inligting wat deur die CT-skandering verkry is, help om die afmetings van beenfragmente noukeurig en maklik te bepaal en maak hierdeur die identifikasie van die dierspesie moontlik.

Daar is vasgestel dat die een voël ’n namaaksel is wat vermoedelik ’n hoeveelheid plantmateriaal en modder bevat, die tweede bevat slegs ’n klou, en die derde en vierde bevat beide ’n volledige voëlskelet. Die “kat” het slegs ’n gedeeltelike voorlyf en volle agterlyf en ledemate wat bewaar is. Die volgende stap is om die voorwerpe te dateer (radiokoolstof) en te bepaal hoe die diere gedood is, watter stowwe in die mummifikasieproses gebruik is, of die “kat” inderdaad ’n kat is en watter voëlspesie betrokke is.

Hierdie projek is deur die Departement Antieke Studie (prof. Sakkie Cornelius en me. Liani Swanepoel), SAF (drs. Anton du Plessis en Ruhan Slabbert) en Iziko Museums (met dank aan me. Lalou Meltzer, Direkteur: Sosiaal-Historiese Versamelings en me. Esther Esmyol en haar span) onderneem.

Click here for a three dimensional video of the one bird mummy with complete skeleton.
Kliek hier vir ‘n driedimensionele video van die een voëlmummie met volledige skelet.
Click here for a three dimensional video of the other bird mummy with complete skeleton.
Kliek hier vir ‘n driedimensionele video van die ander voëlmummie met volledige skelet.
Click here for a three dimensional video of the “cat” mummy.
Kliek hier vir ‘n driedimensionele video van die “kat”mummie.
2012 © Ancient Studies & CAF, University of Stellenbosch

Dr. Anton du Plessis, Prof. Sakkie Cornelius and Dr. Ruhan Slabbert.
Dr. Anton du Plessis, prof. Sakkie Cornelius en dr. Ruhan Slabbert.
(© Ancient Studies)


One of the bird mummies inside the CT scanner.
Een van die voëlmummies binne die CT-skandeerder.
(© Ancient Studies)


The one mummified bird in the form of a Horusfalcon showing its wrappings.
Die een gemummifiseerde voël in die vorm van ’n Horusvalk.
(© Iziko Museums + Photograph Carina Beyer)


Three dimensional rendering from CT scan data showing a bird claw without the rest of the body (the rest of the material including bandages, mud and plant material surrounding the claw was removed by thresholding in this image).
Driedimensionele beeld van CT-skanderingsdata wat ’n voëlklou toon sonder die res van die lyf (die res van die materiaal insluitende verbande, modder en plantmateriaal wat die klou omring, is deur beeldsegmentasie [thresholding] in hierdie beeld verwyder).
(© CAF)


The other mummified bird in a bitumen wrapping.
Die ander gemummifiseerde voël in ’n bitumenhuls.
(© Iziko Museums + Photograph Carina Beyer)


Three dimensional rendering from CT scan data showing a full bird skeleton.
Driedimensionele beeld van CT-skanderingsdata wat ’n volledige voëlskelet toon.
(© CAF)


The other bird mummy in linen wrappings.
Die ander voëlmummie in linne toegedraai.
(© Iziko Museums + Photograph Carina Beyer)


Three dimensional rendering from CT scan data showing a full bird skeleton.
Driedimensionele beeld van CT-skanderingsdata wat ’n volledige voëlskelet toon.
(© CAF)


The “cat” mummy.
Die “kat”mummie.
(© Iziko Museums + Photograph Carina Beyer)


Three dimensional rendering from CT scan data showing persumably a cat with a partial front and full hind body and limbs.
Driedimensionele beeld van CT-skanderingsdata wat vermoedelik ’n kat toon met ’n gedeeltelike voorlyf en volledige agterlyf en ledemate.
(© CAF)


The other “bird” mummy.
Die ander “voël”mummie.
(Iziko Museums + Photograph Carina Beyer)


Three dimensional cross-section from CT scan data showing that the “bird” mummy is a fake stuffed with plant material and mud.
Driedimensionele deursnee van CT-skanderingsdata wat toon dat die “voël”mummie ’n namaaksel is wat met plantmateriaal en modder gevul is.
(© CAF)