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Ceramics from Crete

Three Bronze Age jars contained valuable and useful substances from antic Greek cultures

Freiburg, Apr 20, 2018

Ceramics from Crete

Photo: Patrick Seeger

Objects from a bygone era continue to find their way in the form of gifts to the archaeological collection at the University of Freiburg.  They are often very valuable pieces. A series introduces the most beautiful and unusual new items. Today: three jars from the Bronze Age.

Valuable and everyday: The marble jar (center) could have been used for manufacturing precious substances such as perfume – the other two vessels are considered everyday ceramics. Photo: Patrick Seeger

All three of them are from the Bronze Age, but it is hard to tell how old the jars really are. Dr. Jens-Arne Dickmann, curator of the archaeological collection, dates them back to the 2nd millennium BC, but each in periods far apart from one another. Found on Crete, the three pieces stem from the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. After vacation on a Greek island, Gisela Fuchs-Poppen brought the pieces back to Freiburg with her in 1966 – she had purchased them in the city of Heraklion at an art dealership. In 2000 Fuchs-Poppen gave the three jars to the archaeological collection on loan. In 2016, after his mother’s death, Dietrich Fuchs ultimately handed over the findings to the collection permanently.

Most likely the oldest of the three pieces, Dickmann determined the marble jar with its unusual, square-like form to have come from around 2000 B.C. It is probably not an oil lamp because the opening and the spout are too small for a wick. Besides the marble would have been damaged if it were, explains the curator.

By contrast, the edge curled up on the sides should facilitate handling and make it easier to swivel and pour out the contents. Someone at the time made the jar most suitable for handling liquids. Its small volume reflects that it may have contained precious belongings: perhaps it served as a mortar for the grinding of fragrances such as petals and seeds and their offset with oil - that is, for the production of perfume.

Down-to-earth artisanship

The other two objects are made of clay. “Both were left decorated and were not made on a pottery wheel. Instead, they were formed by hand, which you can tell by looking at the obvious irregularities. It is a pretty down-to-earth production,” says Dickmann. “They can be classified as Bronze Age utility ceramics without a high artistic value. Perhaps the jars were burial objects. The fact that they are so intact, for example, would underscore it.”

What function do the objects in the collection fulfill? “All three are suitable for being exhibited - if only because the collection has a small number of Bronze Age cultural objects. They close a gap, so to speak,” explains the curator. “The marble vessel is worthy in an of itself to be exhibited - the two clay jars have value because they can help to represent the whole spectrum of ceramics.” By showcasing them, archeologists have the chance to illustrate that they deal with more than just high-level and beautifully painted ceramics.

Hans-Dieter Fronz

Archaeological collection at the University of Freiburg