Category Archives: Virtual Vault

Weekly object highlights from archaeological collections at Brown University.

Terracotta Dancers

Object: 256
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

To someone like me who studies the Greco-Roman world, at first glance this is a very familiar scene and artefact. The two terracotta dancing figures display a quite common Hellenistic (4th/3rd century BC) image, and we find many examples of this kind in Greece (Athens and Tanagra) or Southern Italy (Sicily or Taranto). It’s a great period for sculpture, in which we suddenly see a lot more dynamics, movement, and emotion allowed in statues, together with the depiction of more “common” people (as opposed to the earlier period that predominantly consisted of religious and mythological scenes).

As happy as confirming the above identification would make me, a closer look shows certain particularities that cannot be ignored. The clothing, hairstyles, faces, and postures are different, for instance. The execution of this object is much cruder, with far fewer details than the three-dimensional Hellenistic figurines would normally display. The Hellenistic figures were all about details, in the female dress (himation), for instance, so that it could show movement very well. And is that not what you would want in a dancing couple? This figurine therefore could be either an exceptionally carelessly executed example or a Roman or maybe even way later copy (or fake?) of these kinds of statuettes. It reminds me of Italian dancing I participated in at village parties I attended a lot during my fieldwork!

-Eva Mol, Greco-Roman Archaeologist (JIAAW Postdoctoral Fellow 2017-2019)

Learn more about Hellenistic sculptures and see similar objects:

How the Natural Beauty of Hellenistic Sculpture Has Captivated the World for Centuries

Hellenistic sculpture is one of art history’s most prized practices. Celebrated for its unprecedented naturalism, this movement introduced a skillful sculptural approach that artists would emulate for years to come. Today, Hellenistic antiquities can be found in top collections across the globe, with world-famous works like the Winged Victory of Samothrace leading the way.

Terracotta statuette of a dancing woman | Greek, South Italian, Tarentine | Hellenistic | The Met

McClees, Helen and Christine Alexander. 1933. The Daily Life of the Greeks and Romans: As Illustrated in the Classical Collections, 5th ed. p. 79, fig. 98, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. McClees, Helen and Christine Alexander. 1941. The Daily Life of the Greeks and Romans: As Illustrated in the Classical Collections, 6th ed.

Terracotta statuette of a dancing woman | Greek, South Italian, Tarentine | Hellenistic | The Met

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1913. “Classical Department: The Accessions of 1912. Sculptures, Terracottas, and Miscellaneous Objects.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8(8): p. 177. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1927. Handbook of the Classical Collection. pp. 202-3, fig. 140, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Richter, Gisela M.

Basalt Millstone

Object: Petra33
JIAAW, Loan from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

This rotary mill is made from basalt, a volcanic stone found at Petra. Each mill was made of one stationary stone and one funnel-shaped stone that fit over it. The funnel-shaped stone was turned by animals or people using wooden levers that fit into the slots on the ‘ears’ of the stone.

Mills like this were used to crush grains and remind us of the importance of the agricultural lands outside of Petra’s city center. While many representations of Petra highlight its desert location, water systems designed by the Nabataens directed water around Petra for agricultural uses in the hinterlands and for aesthetic purposes within the city.

This is one of the many artifacts from Brown’s excavations from 1993 to 2008, directed by Martha Sharp Joukowsky, of a series of structures known as the “Great Temple Complex” of Petra. The Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology began its work at Petra with the excavation of the Great Temple, however its involvement has continued with further research on the hinterlands of Petra. The Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP) was an archaeological survey of the Petra hinterlands conducted from 2009 to 2013. The Brown University Petra Terraces Archaeological Project (BUPTAP) is currently underway, and is carrying out further research on the terraces examined in BUPAP’s initial research. 

-Jess Porter, JIAAW Operations and Events Coordinator

Learn more about ancient mills:

Basalt Grinding Mill

The basalt grinding millNote the basalt stone of the mill Look at the texture and color of this piece of stone and notice how it differs from the other objects on this tour. The mill is made from basalt, another stone found at Petra that comes from a previous volcanic eruption near the site.

Pompeii Art and Architecture Gallery

The frescoes, mosaics and buildings, by Dr Joanne Berry

Roman Mills

The Romans constructed mills for use in agriculture, mining and construction. Around the 3rd century BCE, the first mills were used to grind grain. Later developments and breakthroughs in milling technology expanded their use to crushing ores in mining and such construction activities as cutting wood and marble.

Red-figure Lekythos

Object: JI1723
JIAAW Collection

This vessel features a squat, cylindrical body with a closed neck and mouth, suggesting it was used to contain and pour a valuable liquid, such as olive oil or perfume. Its distinctive black and red color and style of decoration likely indicate it is Greek, though where it comes from is a mystery. This form is called “lekythos”, a small pouring form commonly used in Greek ritual practice and funerary rituals. These types of vessels often had scenes of daily life on them, and this one features the figure of a nude male.

As a Mediterranean archaeologist, my particular interest is in exploring games in human societies. This Greek vase is really interesting to me because it seems to depict a Greek boxer. I base this interpretation on two observations: First, he is nude, and most Greek athletes performed in games naked. Secondly, in one hand he holds what appears to be leather straps, which were used by Greek boxers during competitions as a kind of boxing glove. He seems to have just finished a match or is about to start one. Boxing was one of the important events held at Greek athletic events held in the Panhellenic Games, which included the major festivals of the Pythian Games, the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games, and of course, the Olympic Games! Even as a modern viewer, this image brings out memories of the cheers, tension, exultation, and the spectacle of the Olympics games I attended in London 2012!

-Carl Walsh, Mediterranean Archaeologist (JIAAW Postdoctoral Fellow 2017-2019)

Learn more about athletics in ancient Greece and see other depictions of boxing:

Athletics in Ancient Greece | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

According to tradition, the most important athletic competitions were inaugurated in 776 B.C. at Olympia in the Peloponnesos. By the sixth century B.C., other Panhellenic ( pan=all, hellenikos=Greek) games involving Greek-speaking city-states were being held at Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmia. Many local games, such as the Panathenaic games at Athens, were modeled on these four periodoi, or circuit games.

White ground oil flask (lekythos) depicting a grave monument for an athlete

White ground oil flask (lekythos) depicting a grave monument for an athlete Place of Manufacture: Greece, Attica, Athens Medium/Technique Ceramic, White Ground, polychrome Dimensions Height: 31.5 cm (12 3/8 in.) Diameter: 10 cm (3 15/16 in.) Credit Line Henry Lillie Pierce Fund Description The grave monument resting on a two-stepped base represented is an unusual type.

Attributed to the Antimenes Painter | Terracotta neck-amphora (jar) of Panathenaic shape | Greek, Attic | Archaic | The Met

Alexander, Christine. 1933[1925]. Greek Athletics. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1953. Handbook of the Greek Collection. pp. 62, 203, pl. 23g, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Beazley, John D. 1956. Attic Black-figure Vase-painters. pp. 274, 691, no. 124, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Beazley, John D.


Object: 203
JIAAW Collection

With oinos meaning “wine” and cheo “I pour” in ancient Greek, the oinochoe was at least nominally intended to do exactly that – but the vessel could obviously be used for pouring other kinds of liquids as well. The single handle and the trefoil or beaked spout was used to pour wine and/or other drinks during meals or other activities. It usually comes in a variety of shapes and colors.

-Elaina Kim ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant 2017/18

See other examples of oinochoe here:

Terracotta oinochoe (jug) | Greek, Attic | Classical | The Met

Hafner, G. 1908. “Lanessa.” Rivista di Archeologia, IV: p. 23. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1926. “The Classical Collection: Rearrangement and Important Accessions.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 21(4), part 2: p. 10, fig. 4. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1927. Handbook of the Classical Collection. p. 160, fig.


Add to My Finds Oinochoe of fine grey bucchero ware. Disc foot with flat base. Globular body. Flaring neck. Rounded trefoil rim. Round handle. Wheelmarks visible on body and interior of neck. Burnished. See a problem? Let us know

Tanagra Figurine

Object: 248
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

Although not ancient, Object 248 features certain qualities that reflect methods of manufacturing Tanagra figurines used in ancient times. Crafted by artisans known as coroplasts, Tanagra types, including this particular one, involved fashioning terracotta into two-part molds, one for the front and one for the back of the statuette’s body. Vent holes, like the one present on the back of Object 248, helped to not only release gases during the firing process, but also are believed to have facilitated the process of connecting the front and back sections from the inside. More delicate pieces, such as arms, heads, wreaths, fans, and hats, could be formed by the coroplast by hand and attached to mold-made pieces before firing. Also present in Object 248 is a rectangular base, often used to stabilize Tanagra figurines.

The methods of Tanagra production as reflected in Object 248 are a testament to the variability and customizability of such figurines. Coroplasts could use the same body mold types to create a myriad of unique statuettes by simply altering the design, direction, and position of various add-ons. Thus, Tanagra figurines were able to represent a wide array of scenes of everyday life in ancient times, in turn capturing the attention of late nineteenth century Western audiences by reflecting their fantasies and imaginations about the Classical past. 

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Learn more about the production of Tangara figurines and see other examples:

Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Accession Number: HT 257 (formerly HT 28 a, b) Measurements: Length: 16cm, Width: 8.4cm, Height: 13.5cm Material: Terracotta Date/Culture: 19th century Europe Provenance: Helen Tanzer Collection Condition: Restored This small terracotta group depicts a reclining female figure with two putti. The figures are shown on a bed adorned with an elaborate headboard.

Tanagra Figurines | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

By the last quarter of the fourth century B.C., a new repertoire of terracotta figurines entered the market. Appreciated for their naturalistic features, preserved pigments, variety, and charm, these figurines are known as Tanagras, from the site in Boeotia where great numbers of them were found.

Roman Republic Coin with Banker’s Mark

Object: C034.08.06
JIAAW, Harkness Collection

RRC 448/3, ROME, 48 BCE,  3.99g
On the front, or obverse, of the coin you will notice a small “T” which has been pressed into the face of the woman. This symbol was not a part of the design, but an ancient mark made by a banker to demonstrate that the coin had been tested for purity (or silver content). These “banker’s marks” served simultaneously to test the coin for silver purity and to identify the banker who had tested the silver, providing future users of the coin with some measure of confidence in its value.

– Jacob Weber ‘15, student in ARCH 1575 Lost and Found: Coinage and Culture in the Roman Empire

Learn more about coin C034.08.06 and see other examples of coins with banker’s marks:

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

On one side of the coin, an unkempt female head is shown in profile, with a Gallic wind instrument known as a carnyx in the background. The carnyx and unkempt hair of the woman would have made clear to the Roman audience that she was not only meant to represent a foreigner, but also a Gallic prisoner of war.

Coin – Denarius, Mark Anthony, Legion VI, Ancient Roman Republic, 32 BC

Denarius, issued by Mark Anthony, 32 BCImperatorial PeriodMinted by Moving with Mark Anthony, perhaps at Antony’s winter headquarters in Patrae (Greece) A ship being rowed to the right; above (off flan) [ANT AVG] (abbreviating: Antonius augurus); below, III VIR R P C (abbreviating: Triumvir rei publicae constituendae; translation: One of Three Men for the Restoration of the Republic) A Roman military eagle (aquila) between two standards; below, LEG VI Plain This coin was part of a very large issue by Mark Anthony before his final confrontation with Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 32 BC.

coin | British Museum

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Object: LC042
JIAAW, Lewis Collection

The handle-less unguentarium is a form of pottery that was commonly found in burial sites. Typically, it is a very thin, cylindrical container with either a bulge in the middle or at the bottom. Used as packaging of market products and in funerals, the unguentarium usually held oils, powders, and other substances and were either made out of glass or clay. Those used in commerce sometimes had a type of brand with information about who produced it or the product it contained. In the past, the pottery shape was also call “lacrimarium” (lacrimae = tears) because scholars used to believe that the container was used to hold the tears of mourners during the funeral.

-Elaina Kim ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant 2017/18

Fusiform unguentarium.

To safeguard against the spread of COVID-19, the Yale University Art Gallery will remain closed until further notice. Learn More


Unguentarium (perfume bottle) of thick green glass, piriform body with long cylindrical neck: Ancient Roman, found in Egypt, 1st to 3rd century AD A.1936.517 World Culture Unguentarium Roman Empire 1st – 3rd century Roman Glass, green, thick ANCIENT EGYPT

Iridescent Glass Jug

Object: JI1733
JIAAW, Cornelia St. J. Lewis Collection

Object JI1733 features a striking iridescent quality that is often found in ancient glassware. Unlike the process of achieving iridescence in modern pieces, the iridescence of this object and others like it was not an intentional design choice made by artisans in ancient times. Rather, iridescent qualities in ancient glassware are caused by weathering on the surface. This weathering process depends on several factors, including the levels of heat and humidity within the burial site, as well as the type of soil that the glass was buried in. Also at play is the chemical composition of the glass itself. All of these conditions determine to what extent alkalis, or soluble salts, in the glass are absorbed by slightly acidic water in the soil, thus, eroding the glass material. 

Once weathered to thin layers, some of which delaminate or even flake off, ancient glassware begins to refract light in ways that resemble a prism. If held at different angles and observed in different lighting, object JI1733 produces a rainbow-like effect, emblematic of the interplay of luminous colors created by its weathered surface.

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Corning Museum of Glass

Glass is found at archaeological excavations in a variety of conditions. The glass condition can range from pristine, where no deterioration is visible, to so heavily degraded that practically all the glass has been transformed into corrosion products. The deterioration of the glass surface is generally known as and the deteriorated area as a weathering crust.

Glass flask | Roman | Mid or Late Imperial | The Met

Cesnola, Luigi Palma di. 1903. A Descriptive Atlas of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriote Antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Vol. 3. pl. XCVIII, 6, Boston: James R. Osgood and Company. Myres, John L. 1914. Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus. no. 5356, p.


What is iridescence on ancient glass? The iridescence on ancient glass was unintentional unlike what is found on modern Tiffany, Loetz, and Steuben glass. Caused by weathering on the surface, the iridescence, and the interplay of lustrous, changing colors, is due to the refraction of light by thin layers of weathered glass.

Glass perfume bottle | Roman | Early Imperial | The Met

Myres, John L. 1914. Handbook of the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities from Cyprus. no. 5176, p. 509, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lightfoot, Christopher S. 2017. The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot Art : Ancient Glass. no. 305, p. 219, Online Publication, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Mystery of Iridescence in Glass

By Anna Pokorska, on 20 May 2019 If you’ve ever wandered through a museum displaying ancient artefacts, chances are you were amazed at the quality and artistry displayed in glass objects of that time. The has some incredible pieces shining with iridescent colours: However, despite the undeniable talents of ancient glassmakers, this particular effect was not intentional or even achieved during production.


Gustavus A. Eisen, Glass: Its Origin, History, Chronology, Technic and Classification to the Sixteenth Century, 2 vols. (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1927), vol. 1, p. 369, pl. 94. Susan B. Matheson, Ancient Glass in the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1980), 74-5, no.

Figure of Nefertum

Object 171
JIAAW, Old Department Collection

Object 171 is a faience figurine of the god Nefertum. Based on comparanda, this is likely a piece from the Late – Ptolemaic Periods (ca. 664-30 BCE). He is shown striding with his left leg forward, though his feet are broken off, and with his arms hanging by his sides. He has a beard and wears a kilt and a headdress of a lotus blossom, his main symbol. The plumes emerging from the lotus have also broken off, but the base remains visible. Hanging from both sides of his head are menats, protective symbols often associated with powerful goddesses. 

Nefertum rarely appeared in earlier periods of Egyptian history. In Coffin Texts from the Middle Kingdom, he was referred to as the son of Sekhmet. He thus became part of the divine triad, assuming the child’s role, with Ptah and Sekhmet as parents. Nefertum grew in prominence during the New Kingdom and subsequent periods. He was thought to be the personification of the primordial water lily that opened during sunrise, thus giving him a significant role in one of the ancient Egyptian creation stories. Because of the lotus’ pleasant aroma, he was also known as the god of perfumes and ointments. Additionally, his connection with Sekhmet lent him violent attributes that made him suitable as one of the guardians of Egypt, and He Who Protects the Two Lands was one of his most common epithets. This protective attribute possibly explains the high numbers of discovered Nefertum amulets and statuettes, such as this one. 

-Luiza Silva, B.A. in Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology, Brown University ‘18
Candy Rui, B.A. in Egyptology, Brown University ‘18

See other examples of Nefertum figurines:

Brooklyn Museum

MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply.

Nefertum | Late Period-Ptolemaic Period | The Met

The god Nefertum was born out of a lotus flower on the mound of creation; thus he was closely connected with the sun, creation, and with the lotus, but also, more broadly, sweet-smelling, pleasant things. Nefertum was the son of Ptah and of the lion-goddess Sakhmet, and is sometimes envisioned as the son of Bastet or certain other great female lion goddesses.

Fragment of an Amulet of Nefertum – Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Back to results Date first half of Ist millennium B.C. Object type sculpture Medium, technique Egyptian faience Dimensions height: 9.2 cm Inventory number 69.17-E Collection Egyptian Art On view This artwork can be displayed at the permanent exhibition Further artworks from this collection Recommended exhibitions

Tanagra Figurine

Object: 247
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

Object 247 is an example of a Tanagra type figurine, named after the cemeteries in the Tanagra region of Greece in which figures like these were discovered in the 19th century. Figures such as this are representations of a long history of statuette production in and around Tanagra, which underwent several stages of cultural significance and symbolism. Dating back to the Hellenistic period, these figurines are believed to have been largely made and used as votive offerings, though by the end of the 4th century BCE had ceased to be objects of reverence and were manufactured simply as representations of women and girls in everyday life.  

While object 247 is probably not ancient, it reflects the form and fashion of Tanagra figurines found in ancient sites in Greece. This object is a standing woman draped in intricately folded garments, supported by a rectangular base. It is an example of the fine details that are emblematic of Tanagra figurines, particularly the representation of intricate folding, draping, and stretching of garments. As was typical, this figurine was constructed out of terracotta, a dark red clay and coated in a white slip.

-Jinette Jimenez ‘21, JIAAW Records and Collections Assistant

Learn more about Tangara figurines and see other examples:


The name ‘Tanagra’ has come to be synonymous with one of the commonest types of Greek terracotta, the elegant draped, female figures produced in vast quantities throughout the ancient Greek world between about 300 and 50 BC. But Tanagra is also the name of the ancient city where many of them were made and found.

Tanagra figurine | 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

Terracotta draped woman | Greek, Boeotian | Hellenistic | The Met

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1908. “Greek and Roman Terracottas in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The International Studio, 36: pp. 69-70, fig. 9. Uhlenbrock, Jaimee. 1990. The Coroplast’s Art: Greek Terracottas of the Hellenistic World p. 50, fig. 37, New Rochelle, N.Y.: College Art Gallery, State University College New Paltz.