Artifact Spotlight: Pendant Cross

Pendant Cross

This original bronze pendant dates back to the 9th-11th century AD.  It is from the Byzantine Empire and inscriptions are written in ancient Greek.


The inscription on the front of the pendant is a portrait of a man wearing elaborate robes whose arms are outstretched in prayer.  On either side of the man are two triangular motifs that may be depicting palm branches.  Above the man, an inscription identifies this man as St. John the Theologian.  St. John is also known as John the Beloved, John the Divine, John the Evangelist, or John the Revelator.  He was the son of Zebedee and Christ’s beloved apostle.  He wrote the Gospel of John, the first Epistle of John, and Revelation.  The inscription reads ὁ θεολὸγοϛ (The Theologian, John).

On the back of the pendant, a similar figure is inscripted, with a Panaghia inscription above it.  Panaghia, or All-Holy, is a title for Mary, the mother of Jesus used in Orthodox Christianity.  Its inscription reads Παναγήα (All Holy, Virgin Mary) (Byzantine).


The cross has been a major part of Christianity ever since Jesus was crucified by the Romans.  However, only after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity was it used as a symbol of the faith.  It was originally worn by cardinals and others with high position in the Church, though now it is much more commonly worn.  This pendant probably belonged to a clergyman as part of his religious attire (Symmons-Roberts).


“Byzantine Solid Bronze Pendant Cross: St. John and Panaghia.” Fragments of Time.

Symmons-Roberts, M. The Cross.  Retrieved from


Artifact Spotlight–Aramaic Incantation Bowl

Aramaic Incantation Bowl

This original 4th-5th century incantation bowl is made out of terracotta and has been a part of Special Collections since 2011.  The writing on the inside of the bowl is in Aramaic and is written in a circular pattern.



Incantation bowls were mainly used in the Middle East during the Persian rule from the 4th to 8th centuries AD.  The bowls were intended to purify one’s home and would often be interred in the ground near the threshold of the house.

During culturally tense times, magical cleansing was often used This period of history was a difficult time, with religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Mandism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam opposing each other and magic.  It is generally believed that the incantation bowls were used in a cultural sphere rather than religious one.  Although religion generally opposed magic, many religious people utilized incantation bowls inscribed with prayers rather than spells.

Most incantation bowls are defined as,

The Aramaic incantation bowl texts are overwhelmingly apatropaic, and claim to protect their owners from a variety of misfortunes that include difficulty in child birth and rearing, illness, poverty as well as afflictions caused by supernatural and human foes. Aramaic incantation bowl texts contain adjurations of supernatural entities to curb other such entities that were considered in late antiquity to be the causes of adversity. (“Jewish Aramaic”)

Special Collection’s Aramaic Incantation Bowl has not been translated. What follows is an example from Shaked’s compilation of Aramaic Bowl Spells and is listed as MS 1927/8:

By your name, I act, great holy one. May there be healing from heaven from Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh. And may she be healed and protected from all spirits, from all blast demons and tormentors that exist in the world… (Shaked)

While this example applies to an individual, many similar incantation bowls ask for a blessing on a whole family or home.


“Jewish Aramaic Incantation Bowls.” Jewish/ Non-Jewish Relations. N.p., 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.

Shaked, Shaul, Bhayro, Siam, and Ford, James Nathan. Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity : Aramaic Bowl Spells : Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls Volume One (1). Leiden, NL: Brill, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 28 October 2016.


Artifact Spotlight–Funerary Cone

Funerary Cone

This original Egyptian Funerary Cone is from Ancient Egypt and once belonged to the Sheik Adb el-Qurna.  It dates back to the 18th Dynasty during the reign of Thutmose III, about 1543-1292 BC.  Inscriptions on the clay cone are written in the Ancient Egyptian language.


Wedges of fired clay were inserted into a layer of soft plaster above doors of Egyptian tombs.  The end of the cones that faced out of the plaster were stamped with inscriptions and painted bright colors.  The flat, circular ends of the wedges created a frieze above the door.  It is theorized that these cones may have had religious significance (Dibley)

This funerary cone was made for a man named Amenemipet. It could have belonged to one of two people with this name.

  1. The first, also known as Pairy, was Vizier and Governor of the town under Amenhotep II of the 18th Dynasty, c. 1425 BC.
  2. The second was an overseer of the city during the late 21st or early 22nd dynasty, c. 950-900 BC.

The cone is registered as No. 297 in Macadam’s Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones, Oxford 1957. Because several identical copies of each cone exist, the drawing in the book shows details not clearly visible in our example.

A translation done by Julie Masquelier-Looris reads, “First god’s servant of Amun in (the temple named) Henket-Ankh, Ahmose” (Dibley).


Dibley, Gary, Bron Lipkin, and Julie Masquelier-Loorius. A Compendium of Egyptian Funerary Cones. London: Lipkin, 2009. Print.

Artifact Spotlight–Chinese Printing

Chinese Printing Block

This original Chinese Printing Block dates back to the 19th century and, interestingly enough, is from Korea.  Made out of wood, the printing reads a mourning essay and prose honoring a deceased friend.


Block Printing:

Block printing, before the advent of moveable type, gave society the ability to produce and circulate mass propaganda; however, because of the tireless work of carving, wood blocks were only extensively used for printing concise material as in the case of this printing block—a mourning essay and prose in honor of a deceased friend.

“One of the most important event for the world that took place during the Tang (618-906) dynasty was the invention of printing, sometime between the 4th and 7th century A.D. It began as blocks cut from wood used to print textiles and then used to reproduce short Buddhist religious texts that were carried as charms by believers. Later long scrolls and books were produced, first by wood-block printing and then, beginning in the 11th century, by using movable type. Inexpensive printed books became widely available in China during the Song (960-1279) dynasty” (Lee).

It is widely held that the inspiration for such printing came from the earlier use of clay, bronze, or stone seals (The Invention). Although Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing movable type in 1439, it was utilized much earlier, not by the Europeans, but by the Chinese during the Ch’ing-li period (1041-1048). However, even with this invention, the use of movable type was difficult because of Chinese’s complicated alphabet system. In order to use this system of printing, thousands of individual blocks would have been needed. Four hundred years later, Gutenberg’s rendition using German (a relatively simple Romantic language), took off.


“The Invention of Woodblock Printing in the Tang (618–906) and Song (960–1279) Dynasties.” Asian Art Museum. Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Lee. “Printing.” Silkroad Foundation, 2000. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Aciihmnh. “The Art of Chinese Traditional Woodblock Printing.” Heritage Museum. 1995. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Artifact Spotlight: Sampler

Cross Stitch Sampler

This original cotton sampler is from the year 1778 and was created by Elizabeth Herbert, a 12-year-old girl.


The first known American sampler is from the year 1645 and was made in the Plymouth Colony by Loara Standish.  In the 1700s, samplers were the standard for young women to learn basic needlework skills.  The late 1700s and early 1800s produced more elaborate samplers with decorative motifs because young women were often attending schools or academies.  These decorative samplers would often be displayed as showpieces or art.

Samplers have recently become important as they are examples of early American female education.   Many are signed by the creator and inscribed with the location, names of their teachers, and the date.  These samplers have inspired a lot of research hoping to understand the lives of women in early America.

Early samplers often depicted the early Latin alphabet.  This alphabet differs from today’s because it did not include the letters ‘J’ and ‘U.’  Instead, the letters ‘I’ and ‘V’ were used.  The letter ‘S’ is also different on many samplers: it is replaced with the Printer’s ‘S,’ which looks a lot like the modern-day ‘f’ (American).

Our Sampler:

Special Collections’ Sampler reads, “Commit not sin but fear the living Lord. Elizabeth Herbert doter of Robert and Elizabeth Herbert. Her sampler markest in the year of our Lord 1778, aged 12 years.”

Additional Information:

A previous blog post was written about this artifact and can be found here.  This post includes more specific information about our particular sampler.


“American Samplers.” National Museum of American History. Smithsonian, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Artifact Spotlight–Whale Bone

Whale Bone Scrimshaw

This original artifact is a unique example of writing on a whale bone.  It was created in 1881 and depicts a sperm whale.



Scrimshaw is a word from the Dutch-English nautical slang that means ‘to waste time.’   The word was first used around 1825 and was generally used for years after that.  It was often used in relation to sailors on whaling trips.  These trips would last for years, and sometimes months would pass in between whale sightings.  After finishing up their duties, sailors would often pass their time scrimshonting, wasting time, or creating scrimshaws.

At the time, raw whale bones and teeth were not considered valuable, so pieces would often be given free to sailors.  Some sailors would carve pictures into the bone, and others would create hairpins, jewelry, or corset clasps.

Scrimshaw has been described as America’s only original art, but recent archeological digs have found similar items from over 6,000 years ago which may have come from the Inuit and other indigenous people (Hopper).  However, the art was most popular among American sailors in the 19th century.

Our Scrimshaw:

Special Collection’s scrimshaw likely came from a sperm whale as the etching illustrates one. The etching demonstrates how to break down a whale. The inscription tells us this scrimshaw was created onboard the Brig Steel Warrior from Newport, RI, 1881.


Hopper, Roger. “The History of Scrimshaw.” Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

“scrimshaw, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 11 November 2016.

“The American Neptune: A Quarterly Journal of Maritime History and Arts.” Peabody Essex Museum. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Artifact Spotlight–Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus Panel

This original panel from an Egyptian Sarcophagus is from about 1070-714 B.C..  It is made from wood, plaster, and paint.  This artifact is one of Special Collections’ most fragile pieces: although we frequently bring it out for classes, it usually remains in the box and is not allowed to be touched.


The inscriptions on sarcophagi were believed to help the deceased as they journeyed through the afterlife.  They were painted on a thin layer of plaster which covered the cedar skeleton of the coffin.  Because Egypt is a desert, it is believed that the cedar used in this sarcophagus came from Lebanon.

The colors of this panel have faded with time.  The panel was once bright yellow and red.  The crudeness of the illustrations suggest that they were painted by an amateur or an apprentice.

Our Panel:

This particular panel has a common scene from Egyptian religious rites.  Two mummified males are depicted with the traditional red hair ribbons and false beards.  They face the left of the panel, and a woman is depicted kneeling before them.  She is very faded, but we can still see a raised arm, the outline of a face, and dark hair.  The first male figure extends a staff with the ankh (sign of life) on top of it.

In between the two males is the hide of a spotted cow tied to a pole.  This pole, known as the “Anubis Pole,” is signifying the god of embalming.  The far right of the panel depicts the djed pillar, associated with the god of the dead.  A striped cloth banner hangs from the pillar.  This was considered necessary to help human flesh become the spiritual form required in eternity.

Above the heads of the three figures are hieroglyphs.  These are a portion of the standard texts promising a happy afterlife.  The very top has a row of cobra heads and maat feathers, which symbolize the sun’s path through the sky (Goodstein).


Goodstein, Mark. “Collecting Antiques, Fine Art & Decorative Art: Trocadero Online Mall.” N.p., 2016. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.