Category Archives: Virtual Vault

Object highlights from archaeological collections at Brown University.

Old JIAAW Mailbox

Though not an official part of the Joukowsky Institute’s collection, this antique mailbox front represents a fascinating part of the history of Brown Mail Services. The object, identified as a Corbin Model 87-A Post Office Mailbox Door, is a special find in and of itself. Once contextualized within its place in the lives of Brown students and staff, the mailbox front reveals how Brown’s ever changing campus facilities drastically alter the college experience of Brown students over time.

A door to the Kasper Multipurpose Room in Faunce House still marked as the Mail Room.

Our story begins in the basement of Faunce House in 2008, when the building was on the cusp of a major renovation. While Brown students today know Faunce as the home of popular social spaces such as the Blue Room, Leung Gallery, and the Underground, an often overlooked door to what is now known as the Kasper Multipurpose Room still bears the markings of what this space once was: the Mail Room. Rows and rows of mailboxes similar to the one belonging to the Joukowsky Institute were uninstalled and put into storage in 2008, where they would remain until 2013 when the Brown Bookstore commissioned custom wooden banks for the mailbox fronts to be sold to alumni.

This clipping from a 2013 issue of the Brown Alumni Magazine depicts the Brown Bookstore’s advertisement of the piggy banks made with the antique mailbox fronts. Alumni could request their old mailbox number to be made into a commemorative bank.

Meanwhile, the renovation of Faunce between 2009 and 2010 saw the relocation of Mail Services to its current home just across the street in Page-Robinson Hall. There, each student received access to their own metal mailbox, whose minimalist design was in stark contrast from the intricate details of the previous mailbox doors that were manufactured by the Corbin Cabinet Lock Company in the early 1900s. The company’s Post Office Equipments Catalogue from 1900 describes the technology behind the brass door, boasting that the “Double dial keyless [locks] are secure, cannot be picked, and an unlimited number of combinations are possible.” Double windows for departmental mailboxes and single windows for students allowed for one to gain a sneak peek of the mailbox’s contents before turning the iconic double dial keyless locks to retrieve mail.

It turns out that the motion of peeping into mailbox windows and entering a combination on the dials has sparked visceral memories of college days at Brown for several alumni. In a Brown Alumni Magazine (BAM) article published in 2013, Brian Lies ‘85 reflected on the daily routine of visiting his antique mailbox in Faunce House,

“Through the tiny window in your box’s ornate door you might see only flimsy campus announcement slips, but occasionally you’d spy something substantial, spinning the twin dials to find—yes!—a handwritten letter or a colored card indicating a package waiting to be picked up. You’d get that dopamine blast that keeps gamblers gambling—the power of infrequent reward.”

Almost 20 years prior in the February 1994 issue of BAM, Maggie Rosen ‘85 wrote about a recurring nighttime dream she had about being a student at Brown again. Between scrambling to figure out her class schedule and buying textbooks, Rosen always dreamt of returning to Faunce House to find her mailbox overflowing with letters, postcards, and flyers advertising campus activities and events. Lies and Rosen show us that the antique Corbin mailbox fronts were an undeniable part of the Brown experience for all students enrolled before the 2009 renovation. Within those four brass walls lay lifelines to home, mass communication from peers, and tickets to opportunities beyond College Hill. Essentially, they were perfect representations of what it is to be a Brown student, simultaneously stretched between the familiarity of one’s roots and the promises of a new life of infinite possibilities all while temporarily being situated right here on the Main Green. 

Yet, the thrill of an unexpected letter or surprise package described by Brown alumni is not as often felt today. Mailroom habits have changed in tandem with new methods of communication. As handwritten letters and care packages began to be replaced by FaceTime calls and Amazon orders in the 2010s, Brown Mail Services was faced with the unprecedented challenge of processing more packages than letters. Soon, the physical student mailbox became obsolete and in the fall of 2015, Brown University students returning to campus were greeted with a newly renovated mailroom. This second renovation saw the digitization of the regular ritual of retrieving one’s mail, with locker combinations being traded in for the swift swipe of a Brown ID. Today, stopping by Mail Services in Page-Robinson Hall is not necessarily a daily task for Brown students. Instead, they receive campus announcements, messages from extracurriculars, and even notifications that tell them when their letters and packages arrive in their email inbox. 

Brown University Mail Services in 2015.

This mailbox front is a symbol of a reality that every Brown alum faces– that our campus is constantly evolving and continues to do so even after we step through the Van Wickle Gates, sometimes to a point beyond recognition. The common experiences of one generation of Brown students can be entirely different from the next depending on the state of Brown’s facilities at the time. The drastic changes of Brown Mail Services throughout the past decade is simply one example of that. 

Though this object represents a particular moment of such drastic change, it also maintains a meaningful connection to the Joukowsky Institute today. Notice the mailbox number printed between the two windows. This is the original Box 1837 that was assigned to the JIAAW upon its inception in 2004. While a physical Box 1837 no longer exists, one can still address a letter there and it will surely find its way to Rhode Island Hall.

Special thanks to: Beth Gentry, Assistant Vice President of Business and Financial Services at Brown, who graciously provided much of the information that this post is based on.

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21


“Corbin Post Office Equipments : Lock Boxes, Both Key and Automatic Keyless Style, Furniture of Any Description for All Classes of Post Offices. : Corbin Cabinet Lock Company” Internet Archive, New Britain, Conn. : The Co., 1 Jan. 1970,

Green, Anica. “Mail Services Streamlines Operations, Revamps Look.” Brown Daily Herald, 14 Sept. 2015,

Lies, Brian. “Mailbox Dreams.” Brown Alumni Magazine, 2013.

“Philip Corbin: Manufacturing A Legacy for New Britain: Connecticut History: a CTHumanities Project.” Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project, 24 Aug. 2013,

Rosen, Maggie. “Mailbox of My Dreams.” Brown Alumni Magazine, 1994.

Cylinder Seal

Object: 448
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

Cylinder seals are small cylindrical objects carved with images and text and meant to be rolled in soft clay to leave an impression of the design. Like this cylinder seal , many were made of stone, but they could also be made from ivory, bone, shell, metal, glass, or ceramic. Many had a hole through the center so they could be worn as a necklace or on a pin – perhaps to keep them close at hand or as a decorative or protective amulet.

The first cylinder seals were probably used about 5,000 years ago in the Near East, around the time writing was invented. They were often used like a signature – rolled onto a clay tablet that already had writing on it (they’ve been found on documents ranging from letters, to receipts, to treaties) – or as a seal on a door or storage jar to announce ownership and ensure there was no unauthorized access to the space or container.
Because these seals were usually made from sturdy material, many of them have remained completely intact even though their use and production dropped off rapidly once papyrus and parchment started to replace clay as the preferred writing material.

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Learn more about cylinder seals and see other examples:

Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Cylinder seals are engraved, cylindrically shaped objects – usually made of stone – designed to be rolled into clay to leave impressions. The engraved images, and usually text, are carved in reverse, so that when rolled out onto clay they face the correct direction.

cylinder seal | British Museum

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Strainer Askos

Object LC017
JIAAW, Lewis Collection

Askoi are vessels for pouring small amounts of liquid – probably most commonly oil for refilling oil lamps. They can have one or two spouts and a handle (which often arches over the entire top of the vessel) and come in a variety of shapes. Some askoi are squat, like ours, while others are globular with a shape originally inspired by containers made from animal skins or organs. Many askoi include a strainer and some have a lid (our askos may have originally had a lid covering the strainer holes at the center).

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Explore the variety in askos shapes:

askos | British Museum

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From the Harvard Art Museums’ collections Askos

Identification and Creation Object Number 2007.104.7 Title Askos Classification Vessels Work Type vessel Date 300 BCE-100 BCE Places Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Gnathia (Apulia) Period Hellenistic period Culture Greek Persistent Link Physical Descriptions Provenance Part of original McDaniel gift of 1943.

Apulian Red-Figure Askos (Getty Museum)

Apulian Red-Figure Askos; Unknown; Apulia, South Italy; 360-350 B.C.; Terracotta; 17 × 16 cm (6 11/16 × 6 5/16 in.); 96.AE.114; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California, Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman; Rights Statement: No Copyright – United States

Terracotta askos (flask with a spout and handle over the top) in the form of a duck | Greek, Attic | Late Classical | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Canessa, Ercole and Arthur Sambon. 1904. Vases Antiques de Terre Cuite: Collection Canessa, Bibliothèque du Musée. no. 155, p. 46, pl. XII, Paris. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1917. Handbook of the Classical Collection. p. 171, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Beazley, John D. 1947. Etruscan Vase Painting. p.


Penn Museum Object L-64-226 – Askos

Terracotta Vogelkopflampe

Object: 2
JIAAW, Old Department Collection

This Roman lamp is a terracotta Vogelkopflampe type lamp (or Dressel type 4) made between 90 and 140 CE. The lamp has a typically shallow, rounded body with a triangular spout which allowed for lamps to be efficiently packed into boxes for transportation. The decoration we see on this lamp is also typical – an incised ‘v’ around the center hole and five notches at the base of the nozzle. These five notches are a simplified version of a bird motif that was found on earlier forms of this type of lamp and is where the name Vogelkopflampe, or “bird head lamp”, comes from. On the bottom of the lamp, we find the maker’s mark “C. ATILI. VEST”.

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

See other examples of Vogelkopflampe:

Ancient World Gallery

Roman ‘Vogelkopf’-style lamp 1st Century B.C.E. – 2nd Century A.D. Clay Maximum length: 7.5 cm Maximum height: 2 cm Maximum width: 5 cm Description: This Roman lamp belongs to a type commonly known as a Vogelkopflampe. Made of a buff-colored clay, it has a paraboloid shape with a flat base, a slightly curved nozzle and a transverse, pierced handle.

Ancient Lamps – Lamp Details for RIW1

Reference: RIW1 / Cat. No. Period: Roman Origin: Central Italy, probably Rome area 90 – 140 AD Date: Description: ‘Bird head’ lamp ( Vogelkopflampe). Transverse handle. Base marked BASSA Bassus, a recorded maker in central Italy. Manufacture: Mould made. Condition: Hole in base, mould join cracked at nozzle. Cf.


Object 27
JIAAW, Bishop Collection

Object 27 is a kothon (also called an exaleiptron or plemochoe ) from the late 5th or early 4th century BCE. This type of vessel was used to hold cosmetics, oils, or perfumes, either for personal use or in rituals, and was typically made of clay, though a few examples carved out of marble have been found. While the shallow, lidless shape would normally make it hard not to spill the contents of the vessel when moving it, the kothon is designed with an inward curving rim which prevents the liquids inside from sloshing out. 

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

See other examples of Kothona:

kothon | British Museum

Description Pottery kothon (also known as an exaleiptron). Painted with black bands and hatches. Curator’s comments pp. 17-22, Pl. V,2 Picard, C., Gardner, E.A., Pryce, F. N., Cooksey, W., Woodward, A. M., Casson, S., Welch, F.B., Tod, M.N. (1918/1919). ‘Macedonia’.

Terracotta kothon (perfume vase) | Greek, Corinthian | Late Corinthian | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.


© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (image, internal record shot)

Faience Necklace

Object 40
JIAAW, Bishop Collection

Faience first appeared about 6000 years ago in the Near East and its production techniques were refined and widely used in Egypt. While beads were some of the earliest faience objects produced in Egypt, the material was also used extensively on amulets, figurines, and scarabs and inlayed into furniture and walls.

Faience is made of quartz or sand (silica) mixed with alkaline salts, lime, and metallic colorants. While faience comes in many colors, blue/green is the most common and is made using copper. This bright blue color may have been used as a substitute for turquoise or lapis lazuli and, in Egypt, the color was associated with fertility, life, and the sun.

Faience objects were generally made using one of three methods. In the efflorescence method, the faience ingredients were mixed into a paste and then shaped or pressed into a mold to make small objects. Beads were often made using this method, pressing the paste into tubes which were then cut into pieces before firing. In the direct application method, a faience core was glazed with a slurry of ingredients, either by brushing, dipping, or pouring it over the core. The cementation method also used a faience core, which was buried in a glazing powder that melted and reacted with the core to form a glaze during firing. Regardless of the method of shaping and glazing used, these pieces were fired in a kiln to produce the brilliant finish.

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Read more about faience and see other examples:

Egyptian Faience: Technology and Production | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

In ancient Egypt, objects created with faience were considered magical, filled with the undying shimmer of the sun, and imbued with the powers of rebirth. For Egyptians, the sculptures, vessels, jewelry, and ritual objects made of faience glimmered with the brilliance of eternity.

Ancient Technology: Faience Beads in the Garstang Museum

A fairly common object to see in any museum collection or to find during a dig are beads, sometimes in vast quantities. The John Lipscombe Collection, formerly belonging to John Garstang’s daughter, Meroe, and recently donated to the Garstang Museum, is no exception, containing large amounts of faience beads from various Egyptian sites (e.g.

Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Jennifer Torres Jennifer Torres is the Collections Technician of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Her primary duties include the rehousing and photography of the museum’s collection. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, where she received her B.A. in Anthropology and Classical Studies in 2013.

Early Islamic spindle whorls

Object M269
JIAAW, Minassian Collection

Spindle whorls are one of the most common finds in any excavation site or any historical site.  They are associated with spinning yarn, a process that took place after collecting the material and before setting up the loom. Spinning needs a lot of skill and a lot of time, therefore, in many traditional societies, we see photos of little girls spinning and women spinning while doing other jobs at the same time. Spinning and weaving are mostly considered a women’s job, but this is not true for all ancient or traditional societies.

There are many different spinning techniques around the world, but most of them use a spindle. The spindle is used for controlling the twist of the yarn and consists of the spindle shaft, which could be made by a piece of wood or bone, and the spindle whorl. The spindle whorl is important because it sustains the axis of the shaft while spinning. Spindle whorls can tell us a lot about the spinning technique and the type of material that was used.

The JIAAW collection hosts these small objects that attest to spinning in the Early Islamic period (c. 640-900 AD). Probably coming from Iran, these spindle whorls are made of bone and bear incised and painted decoration with motifs that are quite common in early Islam symbolic language.

But, where they were used? These specimens were probably used for the spinning of cotton, which was one of the fibers which people used for the production of textiles during Early Islam. Their use was widespread, following the spread of Islam and the trading networks, from Iran to Spain, and as far south as the Arabian Peninsula and Sudan in Africa. Even though there were commonalities, Early Islamic textiles are very different, as they were produced in different places with distinct pre-existing textile traditions.

The most famous Early Islamic textiles are the tiraz. Tiraz were inscribed textiles; they bore names that were embroidered onto them. They were considered the most elaborate textiles and were given as robes to ambassadors as a symbol of their loyalty to the caliphate, or served as a signifier of wealth and status.

We cannot know whether these specimens were used for the production of simple cotton cloth or an elaborate tiraz. Whatever the case they were part of a labor-intensive and skillful process.

-Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

See other examples of spindle whorls and lean more about tiraz textiles:

Tiraz: Inscribed Textiles from the Early Islamic Period | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Inscribed textiles were highly valued in the early Islamic period and were produced until the fourteenth century in both caliphal and state-run public factories. They were given as robes of honor to courtiers and ambassadors in the khil’a ceremony, where they served as a symbol of individuals’ loyalty to the caliphate.

Spindle Whorl | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Spindle whorls aided in the making of thread by maintaining the momentum of the spindle. This semi-spherical spindle whorl made from pink-tinted bone was excavated at Nishapur. It is incised with two bands of dot-in-circles. Hundreds of spindle whorls were excavated at Nishapur, providing further evidence that the city possessed a thriving textile industry.

spindle-whorl | British Museum

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Early Islamic Period Artifacts from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Center for National Treasures

Spindle Whorl

The information about this object, including provenance information, is based on historic information and may not be currently accurate or complete. Research on objects is an ongoing process, but the information about this object may not reflect the most current information available to CMA.

Spindle whorl

Description Spindle whorl with scalloped edge. Two black lines on one side. Clay: Pale buff, medium hard, polished. Unglazed. Provenance From Tall-i-Bakun, near Persepolis. 1937: excavated by the University of Chicago-Museum of Fine Arts Persepolis Expedition. Assigned to the MFA in the division of finds. (Accession Date: December 13, 1945)

A Neolithic beehive?

Objects 809, 810, 813
JIAAW, Couch Collection

Beekeeping is attested by traces of beeswax on ceramic pots, as early as the Middle Neolithic (ca. 5800-4500BC) period in Greece. Whether this was the product of wild or domesticated bees remains uncertain. Also uncertain is the shape of the beehives, as no complete specimen has been found.

Archaeologists argue that pots bearing scoring on the inside belong to beehives of the horizontal ceramic type. Horizontal beehives are laid against a steady element, such as a wall or a tree, and can be stacked. Pictorial evidence from Ancient Egypt shows this way of positioning the beehives. The bees start working from the top of the interior and create combs that hang down within the hive. Little wooden bars can be used to help the bees form vertical combs and facilitate harvesting. Are these little wooden bars responsible for the incisions in the clay? Even though this seems plausible, some researchers doubt that these interior incisions are used exclusively for beehives, as they can also see their usefulness in dairy or other food processing. 

The three sherds from the JIAAW collection are a characteristic specimen of what an archaeologist would think is part of a beehive. Their exact context is not known, but they bear a lot of similarities with examples from the Neolithic Peloponnese, Greece (ca. 6500-3200 BC). 

-Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

Learn more about ancient beekeeping:

Prehistoric farmers were first beekeepers

By Helen Briggs BBC News Humans have been exploiting honeybees for almost 9,000 years, according to archaeological evidence. Traces of beeswax found on ancient pottery from Europe, the Near East and North Africa suggest the first farmers kept bees. The research, published in Nature, shows our links with the honeybee date back to the dawn of agriculture.

The Sacred Bee: Ancient Egypt
November 6, 2017
by Planet Bee Foundation

Ancient Beehives Yield 3,000-Year-Old Bees

Honeybee remains found in a 3,000-year-old apiary have given archaeologists a one-of-a-kind window into the beekeeping practices of the ancient world. “Beekeeping is known only from a few Egyptian sources, from a few tombs and paintings. No actual hives have been found,” said Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Amihai Mazar.

Prehistoric Beekeeping in Central Europe – a Themed Guided Tour at Zeiteninsel, Germany

Summary: Over the past few years, beekeeping has been a media focal point. Nevertheless There is a paucity of knowledge surrounding the prehistory of beekeeping outside of the information from the east and south Mediterranean regions… The content is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 License.

Sherd from a Mycenaean Kylix

Object 872
JIAAW, Couch Collection

The kylix is a drinking vessel, favored by the Mycenaeans. Its main typological characteristics are its round base and the tall cylindrical stem ending to a bowled cup with two handles. It was not only favored by Mycenaeans but also from archaeologists, as its typological evolution helps define the chronological subperiods of Late Helladic III (ca. 1420/ 10-1075/50 BC). Even more conveniently, kylixes are to be found in all types of contexts; domestic, ritual, and funerary.  Usually, kylikes bear painted decoration of parallel bands, from the base up to the stem, until the beginning of the bowled cup or the handles. Normally, the bowled cup carries a decoration zone with a variety of motifs, such as running spiral, Argonauts, scale pattern, whorl-shell, flower, or octopus. Nevertheless, unpainted, plain kylikes also occur. Lastly, the kylix is extremely haptic; the tall stem, the wide bowled cup, and the two handles suggest many different ways of holding the vessel.  

The sherd of the JIAAW collection is a typical base, decorated with reddish concentric circles. The base is rather flat with curved edges, thus placing the sherd in Late Helladic IIIA2 or IIIB1 (ca. 1390/70 –1200/1190 BC).

Current research has associated the kylix with feasting. Feasting is being researched not as a biological act, as the mere consumption of food and drink, but as a constructed and contextual social act, which constructs social identities, shared experiences of consumption, and shared memory. Feasts are differentiated from household consumption as they have to be associated with a specific location, a specific use of foods and drinks, and associated paraphernalia. Meat from animal bones, conical cups, and kylikes, probably for serving and drinking wine, consists of a usual assemblage of Mycenaean feasting. Evidence like this has been excavated in many sites, such as Asine, Phylakopi, Tiryns, and Iklaina. In Pylos, miniature kylikes have been found alongside other related artifacts. Moreover, feasting and its logistics are probably attested in Linear B tablets from Thebes, Pylos, and Knossos.

Who is holding the feast? If feasts are organized by the central administration, this should involve complicated logistics, as it would be necessary to gather resources and mobilize labor, thus having an impact on the organization of society. However, feasts could be community celebrations and organized by the community. And even though logistics would be the same, the social impact would be rather different.   

Whatever the context, feasting is a social act with a powerful agency, in which material culture, such as the kylix, had a very important role to play.

-Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

Terracotta kylix (drinking cup) | Mycenaean | Late Helladic III | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Timed tickets are required for About Time: Fashion and Duration and Making The Met, 1870-2020 . Tickets are limited.

Mycenaean Civilization | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Mycenaean is the term applied to the art and culture of Greece from ca. 1600 to 1100 B.C. The name derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnesos, where once stood a great Mycenaean fortified palace. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Stemmed Drinking Cup (Kylix) | RISD Museum

The images on this website can enable discovery and collaboration and support new scholarship, and we encourage their use. This object is in the public domain (CC0 1.0). This object is Stemmed Drinking Cup (Kylix) with the accession number of 31.001. To request a higher resolution file, please submit an online request.

Kylix | Museum of Cycladic Art

The Museum of Cycladic Art is dedicated to the study and promotion of ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on Cycladic Art of the 3rd millennium BC

Mycenaean Psi Type Figurine

Object: 14
JIAAW Collection

Figurines are one of the most celebrated artifacts in museums and digital collections. The human eye is attracted to figurines, whether because we think we are viewing a small version of ourselves or because we are drawn to the tactility of a small object.  

Mycenaean figurines are also common in museum displays and collections, representing the Mycenaean civilization. They were produced in a specific timeline, ca. 1420-1100BC (Late Helladic III). They are categorized into three main types, based on the gestures of their arms and were named by their resemblance to the letters of the Greek alphabet: tau (T), phi (Φ), and psi (Ψ). The tau figurines fold their arms into their chest, the phi figurines clasp their hands in their stomach, and the psi figurines raise their hands. There are many variations within these types, as well as some examples that cannot be included in these categories, such as the so-called kourotrophos, depicting a female holding a child in her arms, and group figurines, such as enthroned females, chariot groups, or horse and rider. Researchers agree that the figurines represent female bodies.

Object 14 is a Mycenaean psi figurine, probably dated in ca. 1330/15-1200/1190 BC (Late Helladic IIIB). It is freestanding and made of clay. The base is missing, but the lower body is tubular, ending on a high-waist, where the flat upper body begins. There is an indication of breasts. The face is pinched and dresses with an elaborate headdress (polos in Greek). The features and the dress are drawn with red paint.  

But, who was she? There have been many suggestions on the use of Mycenaean figurines, mainly affected by their associated archaeological context. One of the most long-lasting approaches considers them as a part of the religious sphere. Are they representations of goddesses? Some researchers believed that they represent the goddesses of the popular cult, and they function as votives or offerings. Another approach suggested their use as children’s toys, as many of them have been found in children’s tombs. However, figurines are also found in domestic spaces and palatial contexts, therefore, implying that their use was not restricted to certain social groups. Whatever the interpretation, researchers have noticed the association of the figurines with beads and a drinking vessel, the kylix. Recent studies try to move beyond function and focus on production, context, and the use-life of each artifact. They acknowledge that throughout the life of a figurine, its use could have multiple meanings, according to the context within which it was used. Therefore, figurines had a complicated life; this is even more obvious from their disposal. They were broken and discarded, like any other object that had fulfilled its purpose.

Nevertheless, figurines are our window to human representation. Even though we acknowledge that these are symbolic representations and products of miniaturization, they remain a depiction of female personhood and identity. Their posture, gesture, and dress accentuate the female performativity which had a specific meaning to the Mycenaean viewer. Her arms are raised upright; is she surrendering, praying, or dancing?

Can her clothes inform us of what she is doing? The red paint describes her clothing and at the same time accentuates her body movement. The body, the dress, and her gesture are parts of a cohesive whole. Her flat-topped headdress is decorated with a double festoon. At the back of her neck, three knobs represent a single plait of hair. The rippling, given by the wavy lines, gives the impression of a loose-fitting blouse, which permits her to move easily. A kind of belt fits the blouse and a long skirt into her body. She does not wear any jewelry, but her elaborate headdress suggests that she is dressed up for an occasion.  

Gerasimoula Ioanna Nikolovieni, Graduate Student, JIAAW

Read more about the Mycenaean civilization and see other examples of Mycenaean figurines:

Mycenaean Civilization | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Mycenaean is the term applied to the art and culture of Greece from ca. 1600 to 1100 B.C. The name derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnesos, where once stood a great Mycenaean fortified palace. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

3 Terracotta female figures | Helladic, Mycenaean | Late Helladic IIIA | The Met

Alexander, Christine. 1939. Early Greek Art: A Picture Book. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alexander, Christine. 1945. “Early Statuettes from Greece.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 3(10): p. 241. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1953. Handbook of the Greek Collection. p. 15, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Mycenaean Triad | Louvre Museum | Paris

These figurines, called “phi figurines” for their resemblance to the Greek letter, belong to a series frequently encountered in the Mycenaean art of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC. This group is however distinctive in its rare association of two female figures with a smaller one above.