5 thoughts on “Radiocarbon Dayton

  1. I went to the exhibit last night with my folks. It was full of really good stuff — but first, I shall nitpick.

    Bring your magnifying glass if you want to see details of the coins or the signet rings. The museum did post enlarged photos of most small items; but they weren’t all that big, and the exhibit was kept a bit dark for the artifacts’ sake. Also, no mirrors to see the back of stuff, which was a pain. Also, no exhibit catalog to look at for later.

    The oddest thing was how the exhibit didn’t seem very accurate in some areas of Roman religions. The explanatory stuff perpetuated the idea that Roman gods were mostly Greek gods renamed — right at the moment that you were looking at specifically Roman things. Some info was wrong: Athena as goddess of “defensive war”? And the Christian info was woefully lacking — shells were identified with “purification”, not baptism. A figure of a person holding a wheel was identified as probably a Stylite saint (oh, yeah, those lines must be a pillar and not a sword), with St. Catherine of Alexandria unmentioned. Latin inscriptions were translated but not separated out, or separated out but not translated.

    Still, there was cool stuff! Satyr mugs! Iron gladiator rings! Coptic textiles with amazing woven designs! Wonderful mosaics! Comparisons to make with Celtic and other early medieval art! It was well worth the money and time, and shows you stuff you won’t easily see elsewhere. (Roman keys! A Gnostic ring!) There’s also a really nice Mithras carving that shows pretty much every element of the Mithras story in one, with explanatory text that’s quite good. The Roman glass was, as always, amazing. There was also a really nice Byzantine wedding ring, with Christ standing between Mary and St. Michael. (Maybe the happy couple’s patron saints?)

    If you’ve never been to DAI, I definitely want to direct your attention to the children’s art section under the main stairs. (Even if you’re an adult who has no kids.) First off, it has a lot of explanatory stuff there that isn’t in the main exhibit. The workings of Roman oil lamps are explained in admirable detail, for example. (I didn’t realize salt was mixed in the olive oil. Gives new meaning to “salt and light”.) Second, the artifacts in there, while less valuable, are in strong light and are easy to get a really good look at — even though you have to bend down to a kid’s level. Third, if you do have kids, the learning activities are really interesting and there are even free worksheets to take home. (Also, in the main museum areas, there are periodically little activities for kids. For example, there is a crayon tracing area near the pre-Columbian art which gives the kids pre-Columbian animal designs to take home. The Japanese art area connects what they see to what they’ve seen in popular anime cartoons. Etc.)

    The exhibit runs through the beginning of January.

  2. Forgot to say that you can download an audio commentary on The Roman World exhibit, from the DAI website. The idea is that you’re supposed to download it ahead of time and use it on your own mp3 player (saving the museum from having to pass out headphones).

  3. I forgot to mention my major nitpick.

    The synagogue mosaic includes a basket of bread and a basket of fruit (representing offerings, etc.). The caption said that a basket of bread was a motif “exclusively” found in Jewish art.

    So I guess they’ve never seen the cover of your book.

    *roll eyes* Good stuff, bad captions.

  4. Goodenough pointed out that many such symbols (dolphin, fish, banquet, bread) were common to Christians, Jews, AND PAGANS. That’s why it’s tough to tell when they’re symbolic and when they’re merely decorative. Context helps, of course. But, yes: Good stuff, bad captions.

  5. Sorry you did not like the captions! The exhibit was mean to be absorbed chronologically, thus Polytheism, then Judaism, then Christianity. The captions in the Hammam Lif Synagogue room were referencing Greco-Roman religion. The basket of bread was not a traditional Greco-Roman symbol (as the duck, shell, peacock, bull, etc. were). As you move into the NEXT rooms, then, the basket of bread, the grape vines, etc. were descrbed as Christian symbols, but with roots in Judaism or Polytheism. I really enjoyed reading this blog and am glad that you enjoyed the objects in THE ROMAN WORLD! Sally Struthers, Curator.

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