Preserving Ancient Statues from ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan
Senior Objects Conservator, Conservation Analytical Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution
President-Elect Tom Lattieri, called the 2064th meeting to order at 8:19 p.m. on November 1, 1996. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2063rd meeting and they were approved.
The Recording Secretary announced the birth of a daughter to the Treasurer, Alan Russell, and his wife. Mr. Lattieri introduced Ms. Carol Grissom of the Smithsonian Institution to discuss “Preserving Ancient Statues from ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan.”
The subject of this talk are the objects on exhibit until April 6, 1997 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. In 1974 bulldozing operations for a new road uncovered archeological artifacts at ‘Ain Ghazal (“the spring of the gazelles”) near Amman east of the Jordon river. In 1983 a cache of twenty-five statues was recovered and shipped to the Institute of Archeology in London for restoration and preservation. In 1985 a second cache including seven statues was discovered. These were removed with surrounding material in a block to the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution in Suitland, MD.
Two of the seven statues being studied by the Smithsonian consist of a head, a torso and legs. Three of the statues consist of single torsos with two heads. The statues are made from lime plaster molded over bundles of reeds. Only the impression of the reeds in the plaster remains, but that is sufficient to identify by microscopic analysis the species of reed that still grows locally. The plaster seems to have been made by mixing one part lime and 9 parts local marl. The lime was made by heating local limestone, identified through fossilized green algae, to temperatures above 600°C. Because lime plaster was used, the statues were relatively water resistant; the same plaster had been used in the walls of the houses. The faces of the statues have eyes painted with black bitumen pitch, and there are also traces of red iron oxide pigment. The torsos are plain but an impression around the crown of the heads indicate that they may have been dressed.
From carbon dating the ‘Ain Ghazal site was occupied between 7200 and 5000 BCE. The statues were probably made about 7000 BCE. One of the statues had already been extensively damaged when it was buried, suggesting that they were already relatively old and not manufactured to be buried. The statues appear to have been carefully buried in pits dug under the floors of houses. Fragments only of statues of a similar type and age have been found at Jericho and at one cave site at Nahal Hemar in Israel.
Most of the neolithic culture sites around ‘Ain Ghazal had been abandoned by 6000 BCE. It is not certain whether this decline was due to environmental changes, ecological degradation or other factors. The production of the lime from limestone required relatively hot fires and by 5500 BCE this culture had begun producing pottery fired in kilns. However, this technological advance did not prevent ‘Ain Ghazal from being abandoned 500 years later.
Ms. Grissom kindly answered questions from the audience. Mr. Lattieri thanked the speaker on behalf of the Society, stated the parking policy, and invited non-members to sign the guest book and take applications for membership. Mr. Lattieri announced the speaker for the next meeting and adjourned the 2064th meeting at 9:19 p.m.
John S. Garavelli