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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Ancient Historical Artifacts

TUT

Ancient Historical Artifact

Artifacts are objects shape by humans that are of archaeological, historical, or cultural interest. Examples include tools, pottery, metal objects, weapons, and items of personal adornments, such as jewelry or death masks.  Ancient historical artifacts help shed light on the lives of our ancestors and our heritage.

This list of Ancient Historical Artifacts is based on museum exhibits featured on “Joy of Museums” that are:

  • over 2,000 years old
  • displayed in museums
  • most searched for or viewed on this website.

Ancient Historical Artifacts have come to us from many different archaeological contexts and sources, including

  • Burial sites
  • Middens or old dump for human occupational waste
  • Votive offerings
  • Hoards lost in time
  • Wells or caves
  • Sites that have been abandoned or buried due to a natural disaster or war
  • Excavations of Historical sites

Ancient artifacts from the past have served to shed light on the lives of our ancestors. The objects in this list stand out for their uniqueness, their intrigue, their beauty, and their ability to expand our understanding of our history.

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A Tour of Ancient Historical Artifact

  • The Stargazer (Statuette of a Woman)
    • This 5,000-year-old marble sculpture of a female figure is called the “Stargazer” because her eyes are looking up to the stars above. Created in translucent marble, this is an unusual sculpture because her head is sculptured entirely in the round. Her body is reduced to a simple yet elegant profile. The nose is depicted as a slight ridge on a straight-line edge.  The head tilted backwards; the eyes are tiny dots raised in relief.The Stargazer - Statuette of a WomanThe Stargazer is similar and related to the  Cycladic Art which flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea. However, this ancient masterpiece was found in Western Anatolia. Western Anatolia was one of the significant crossroads of ancient civilisations. Created in the Early Bronze Age, the purpose of this masterpiece is not known. All we can do is speculate on the creative and spiritual forces that shaped this beautiful and mystical figure that symbolises our search for the divine.
  • Law Code of Hammurabi
    • The “Law Code of Hammurabi” is a Stele that was erected by the King of Babylon in the 18th century BC. It is a work of art, it is history, and it is literature. It is a complete law code from Antiquity that pre-dates Biblical laws. A stele is a vertical stone monument or marker inscribed with text or with relief carving. This particular example, which is nearly 4,000 years old, looks like the shape of a huge index finger with a nail and imperfect symmetry.
    • The Law Code of Hammurabi stele is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length to be discovered. The Law Code of Hammurabi refers to a set of 282 rules or laws enacted by the Babylonian King Hammurabi, who reigned 1792-1750 B.C.
  • Mask of Agamemnon
    • The “Mask of Agamemnon” is one of the most famous gold artifacts from the ancient Greek Bronze Age. The Mask was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann during excavations at Mycenae in Greece. This remarkable historical object is a gold leaf funeral mask that was found over the face of a body in a burial shaft in the Mycenaean Citadel. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann after he discovered the mask, exclaimed: ” I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.”  
    • The mask was one of five masks found, and due to its nobility and level of preservation, Schliemann claimed it to be that of the famous ancient king. Modern archaeological research suggests that the mask is from 1550–1500 BCE, which is earlier than tradition regards Agamemnon to have lived. Thus scholars no longer consider it as the real mask of Agamemnon but of a former King of Mycenae. However, the name “Mask of Agamemnon” stuck because of its early publicity and notoriety.
  • The Sphinx of Hatshepsut
    • Hatshepsut means “Foremost of Noble Ladies.” She was one of only two female pharaohs in Ancient Egyptian history, who ruled as full Pharaoh not just as a regent for a younger male relative. She is the first significant female ruler in documented history. Born in 1507 BC, Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne the previous year as a child of about two years old. Hatshepsut declared herself king sometime between the ages 2 and 7 of the reign of her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III.
    • This seven-ton granite Sphinx of Hatshepsut has the body of a lion and a human head wearing a head-cloth and royal beard. The statue has the usual symbolic, powerful muscles of the lion and the idealized face used for pharaohs. This sphinx is one of several granite sphinxes that once stood in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.
  • Tutankhamun’s Mask
    • Tutankhamun’s mask is the funerary mask of Tutankhamun, the 18th-dynasty Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh who reigned 1332–1323 BC. It was discovered by Howard Carter in 1925 and is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This mask is one of the most well-known works of art in the world.
    • Tutankhamun’s burial chamber was found in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 and opened three years later. It would be another two years before the excavation team, led by the English archaeologist Howard Carter, was able to open the massive sarcophagus containing Tutankhamun’s mummy. On 28 October 1925, they opened the innermost of three coffins to reveal the gold mask, seen by people for the first time in about 3,250 years. Carter wrote in his diary: “The penultimate scene was disclosed – a very neatly wrapped mummy of the young king, with a golden mask of sad but tranquil expression, symbolizing Osiris … the mask bears that God’s attributes, but the likeness is that of Tut.Ankh.Am”
  • Relief of a Winged Genie
    • This Relief of a Winged Genie on gypsum depicts a recurring motif in the iconography of Assyrian sculpture. Winged genies are usually bearded male figures with birds’ wings. The genie wears the horned crown of a deity and the elegant jewelry and fringed cloak of an Assyrian royal. This well-preserved example comes from the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. Nimrud was an ancient Assyrian city located 30 kilometers (20 mi) south of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
  • Siloam Inscription
    • The “Siloam Inscription” or “Shiloah Inscription” (כתובת השילוח) is a passage of inscribed text found in the Siloam tunnel, in the City of David in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shiloah. The ancient tunnel was constructed to bring water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.
    • The ancient city of Jerusalem was located on a mountain, which made it defensible from almost all sides. Unfortunately, its primary source of fresh water was on the outside of the cliff wall. The Bible records that King Hezekiah, concerned that the Assyrians would lay siege to the city, blocked and hid the spring’s water outside the city. He also diverted it through a channel into the Pool of Siloam.
  • The Lion Hunt
    • “The Lion Hunt” is a low relief sculpture showing the Royal Lion Hunt of King Ashurbanipal with his royal entourage, together with horses, dogs on leashes, and chariots. The sculpture shows captured lions and lionesses being released from cages to do battle with the King. The Lion Hunt is one of the most captivating works of art from antiquity.
    • The suffering lions are depicted as brave and defiant, but they are eventually defeated with arrows, spears, and swords and are shown in detailed suffering and dying in agony. The ancient artist expertly captured the lions in motion depicting each animal as a unique individual. This intricate artistry was created over 2,500 years ago with primitive tools, and it is a masterpiece of Assyrian art.
  • Ishtar Gate
    • The Ishtar Gate was a passageway to the inner city of Babylon, constructed by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575 BCE. The gate was integral to the ancient Walls of Babylon and was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. When a Greek poet of the 2nd Century BC compiled the seven wonders of the ancient world, only one city could claim two world wonders, and that was Babylon.
    • Babylon was the home of the Hanging Gardens and Babylon’s city wall with Ishtar Gate. Dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the gate was constructed using glazed brick with alternating rows of bas-reliefs of dragons and bulls, symbolizing the gods Marduk and Adad. Ishtar was a goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. Adad was a weather god, and Marduk was the chief or national god of Babylon.
  • Tabnit Sarcophagus
    • The “Tabnit Sarcophagus” was created for King Tabnit of Sidon, a Phoenician ruler. Carved in the early 5th century BC, has two separate inscriptions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and one in the Phoenician script. Discovered in 1887 at a Necropolis near Sidon together with the Alexander Sarcophagus and other related sarcophagi. Tabnit’s body was found floating perfectly preserved in the original embalming fluid.
    • The tombs were discovered in 1887, and the curator of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum arranged for full excavation and the transfer of the sarcophagi to Istanbul. During the excavation, the workmen opened the Tabnit sarcophagus and found: “a human body floating in perfect preservation in a peculiar fluid.” While the curator was at lunch, the workmen overturned the sarcophagus and poured the fluid out so that the secret of this mysterious liquid was lost forever.
  • Kleroterion
    • This Kleroterion was a device used by the ancient Athenians during their period of democracy, over 2,500 years ago, to randomly select citizens for state councils, offices, and court juries. Athenian democracy developed in the 6th century BC and the process of Sortition was their principal way of achieving fairness and equity. Sortition is the process for the selection of a few state officials, on a random basis, from a larger pool of candidates.
    • The fundamental principle behind the sortition process originates from the firm belief that “power corrupts.” For that reason, when the time came to choose people to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to picking randomly by a lot. The state positions were highly accountable and only for a limited period, to minimize abuse and corruption.
    • Sortition was used to pick most of the magistrates for their governing committees, and their juries. Thucydides has Pericles make this point in his Funeral Oration:  “It is administration by the many instead of the few; that is why it is called a democracy.”
  • The Parthenon Marbles
    • The Parthenon was built on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece, between 447 and 432 B.C. It was created as a testament to the glory and pride of the Athenian state. The Parthenon stands on the Acropolis of Athens, which in ancient times, as it does today, dominates the city of Athens. The Acropolis is an extremely rocky outcrop above the city of Athens. The word acropolis comes from the Greek, Akron, meaning “highest point” and polis meaning “city.” The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock that rises high over Athens, with a large flat area that has been used as a fortress and a religious center from time immemorial.
    • In ancient times, the Acropolis was used as a fortress and a religious center dedicated to the cult of the city’s patron goddess, Athena. During the 5th century B.C., peace had been made with Persia, and Athens had reached a high point in her wealth and power. Athens was the leader of the majority of the Greek city-states, who paid tribute to Athens for protection from Persia. Under the democratically elected leadership of Pericles, Athens decided to use its wealth to build a vast new temple to Athena.
  • The Alexander Sarcophagus 
    • The “Alexander Sarcophagus” is a Hellenistic stone sarcophagus adorned with bas-relief carvings of Alexander the Great. Classical Greek sculptors created the marvelous Hellenistic sculptures in the Athenian idiom during the late 4th century BC.
    • The most significant sculptured scene is of Alexander the Great attempting to battle the Persian king, Darius III, as Darius flees the battle of Issus in 333 BC.
    • The Alexander Sarcophagus is one of four massive carved sarcophagi discovered during the excavations at the necropolis near Sidon, Lebanon, in 1887. The Sarcophagus was probably created for a wealthy and powerful noble or governor of the region.
  • The Winged Victory of Samothrace
    • This colossal monument is a statue of the winged figure of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory. This sculpture is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of antiquity, and replicas of this winged figure were famous in the ancient world. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also known as the Nike of Samothrace, was created at about 190 BC and discovered 1863 in Samothrace, a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea. The sculpture stood on the prow of a ship. It was erected to commemorate a naval victory by a Macedonian general.
  • The Rosetta Stone
    • The stone is valuable because it is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC by King Ptolemy V. The top text is in Ancient Egyptian using the hieroglyphic script. The middle passage is Ancient Egyptian Demotic script, and the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree is the same in all three versions, the Rosetta Stone provided the key to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.
    • The reason for the  Ancient Greek writing is that the Rosetta Stone was carved during the Ptolemaic dynasty.  Ptolemy was a Macedonian Greek who was one of Alexander the Great’s generals and was appointed the leader of Egypt after Alexander’s death in 323 BC. He established a royal family, which ruled the Kingdom of Egypt during its Hellenistic period, which lasted nearly 300 years. The Ptolemaic rulers introduced Greek to the Egyptian government bureaucracy. The last of the Ptolemaic dynasty was Queen Cleopatra.
  • The Pergamon Altar
    • The Pergamon Altar was built about 150 BC on the Acropolis or the high point of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor. This colossal Altar of Zeus at Pergamon, near modern-day Izmir, Turkey, is a monumental work of Greek Hellenistic art. Built during the reign of Greek King Eumenes II, the structure is over 35 meters wide and 33 meters deep. The front stairway is almost 20 meters wide.
    • Like the Parthenon in Athens, this Zeus Altar constructed on a terrace of the Acropolis overlooking the ancient city of Pergamon. Unlike the Parthenon, it was not a temple but merely an altar, and designed according to the Ionic order of Greek Architecture.
  • Antikythera Mechanism
    • The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient Greek analog computer and mechanical model of the solar system used to predict planetary positions and eclipses. Discovered in 1902 in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, which is located between Crete and Peloponnese. The mechanism was designed and constructed by Greek scientists at about 100 BC to 200 BC. It has been suggested that the Antikythera Mechanism was lost in the shipwreck while being taken to Rome. It was part of looted Greek treasures, to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar.
    • The device consisted of an elaborate clockwork mechanism with 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac. It could predict eclipses and to model the irregular orbit of the moon. The knowledge of this technology was lost in antiquity. Technology of this complexity and artistry did not appear again until the development of astronomical mechanical clocks in Europe in the fourteenth century.
  • The Temple of Dendur
    • The Temple of Dendur is an Ancient Egyptian temple, built in 10 BC by the Roman governor of Egypt. The Temple is dedicated to Isis and Osiris, as well as two deified sons of a local Nubian chieftain. The Temple was gifted to the United States by Egypt in 1965. It was then awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 and installed into the museum in 1978. The gift was in recognition of the United States government’s help in saving many Nubian monuments from being submerged in the flooding of Lake Nasser through the Aswan Dam project. Many monuments that were preserved were dismantled and moved to higher ground. The Temple of Dendur was disassembled and transported in over 660 crates to the U.S.
    • Several US museums bid for the temple in competition and the temple was awarded to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A new museum wing was specially built to house the Temple, and the reflecting pool in front of the temple represents the Nile River, and the sloping wall behind it reflects the cliffs of the original location.

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“The best prophet of the future is the past.”  
– Lord Byron

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Photo Credit: By Carsten Frenzl from Obernburg, Derutschland (TUT-Ausstellung_FFM_2012_47) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Source Reference for the list of Objects: Wikipedia, Google. most visited pages on “Joy of Museums”

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