Classical Cult Figurines or Early Modern Cutlery Handles?

i-27bb6d01f994be93b317688b16773cbe-West Swedish figurines.jpg

My dynamic colleague Bengt Nordqvist, for whose project I volunteered a few days in the summer of 2009, believes that contacts of his have found two Classical figurines of Venus (above) in the Gothenburg area. It looks like a fun possible case of misidentification. I don't know Classical Mediterranean sculpture, and I don't know neo-Classical 17th century sculpture either, so I can't really comment except to say that the bearded praying guy below definitely looks post-Reformation to me. But here's what my correspondent John Kvanli tells me (and I translate).

Us in Rygene Detektorklubb have also found similar 5-6 cm tall figurines. And many others have found them in Denmark. I actually found references to these as 17th century cutlery handles at the National Museum of Copenhagen the last time I went there.

Sure, it may be Venus who's being depicted here. But isn't it likely that these hollow handles belong to knives and forks of the 16th or 17th century? As [Nordqvist] writes in his blog entry: both of the figurines have been broken off at the ankles. So why then? Well, that's where the brass was fastened to the iron, and where the cutlery's weakest point was...

i-10138d5080822251aee21564e18eb4d1-bestikk 1600talls.jpg

I append a picture of a male figurine of the same kind that us in the club have found in Norway. 5-6 cm tall too... Same general style... Hollow... Indeed, the same-colour verdigris...

i-b575f67adb29c61a1c8f64a074608401-Bronzefigur.jpgHere's another detectorist that I got in touch with a few years ago. I suggested that he contact the National Museum to check his brass figurine, and they concluded that it's a cutlery handle.


More like this

Very interesting. All I can say is ... I want that cutlery!

More than 300 years of corrosion, and just about everything looks like "Venus from Willendorf".
Are there any specific ratios of metals in the alloys that are time-specific? Maybe they preferred a slightly different hue during different centuries.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 18 Apr 2011 #permalink

*If* the bronzes of the different periods were made from different metal deposits then trace element contaminants may well be distinguishing, even if the ratios of the main metals are too similar to call. Of course, if the same mineral resources were in use in both periods, it won't work.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 18 Apr 2011 #permalink

Yes, alloys are time specific to a certain extent. Also they are dependent on ore sources. But it's a tricky field due to re-cast scrap metal and other confounding factors.

Very interesting development on these items, which I also saw recently on the Finnestorp blog. Cutlery handle seems like a very probable origin, not the least due to the similar examples shown here and elsewhere, but I guess we need to find an intact example with the same figurine, to be absolutely sure. Nice work, John!

To me, the fact that they have all been broken off the same way suggests that they are of the same date and the same function. And as I said, the praying bearded guys are post-Reformation, probably 16th century.

To find an intact example though, we can't look at metal detector finds, because the iron bits will have rusted and broken off long ago in the plough soil.

Well, I guess the Solomonic solution would be to just label them: "2 brass statuettes depicting the Goddess Venus, of unknown origin, ca. 400 BCE - 1800 CE" (That's not that long a span of time - in geological terms)."These statuettes were intended as sincere devotionals from followers of the Goddess - or, alternatively, served as slightly pornographic cutlery handles in the 17th Century" (I'm pretty sure the cutlery's hypothetical 17th Century owner used a different set of cutlery when he had his pastor or the parents-in-law visit).

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 18 Apr 2011 #permalink

Interesting! Although i kind of like the idea of a prehistoric Venus-cult around Gothenburg, i am with you on the cutlery so far. The slightly pornographic nature of the handles is probably a modern perception. This may be "noble nudity", the well-known early modern concept, and identification: the rather modest position of the arms and hands may suggest Eve rather than Venus...

You know, a google search for "mindphoque" is very telling.

By wackyvorlon (not verified) on 21 Apr 2011 #permalink

Damn. I found an article about using cave bear DNA for dating some associated breathtaking cave art, but I cannot find it again. Anyway, a clever way for confirming dating arrived at by other means.
--- --- ---
Wackyvorion: "You know, a google search for "mindphoque" is very telling"
The name "chriss angel/mindphoque" turns up a lot...Yup, that is French Canadian Dennis Markuze AKA David Mabus. Now, if he stays on facebook the rest of us can have peace and quiet.
BTW, Happy Easter, everyone!

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 21 Apr 2011 #permalink

Aha, so they know a little about what the cave bear genome looked like during various millennia?

They know roughly when cave bears died out, and the DNA in bear remains left by people in the painted caves show the populations were already small and inbred. This puts the cave painters at the same period +_ a few thousand years of what the previous dating of the paintings say.
I would know more if I manage to re-locate the â¬Z@$¤! link!

Martin, maybe you can get an opportunity to ask Svante Pääbo and his team if paleogenetics can contribute even more to archaeology, and what methods archaeologists should do to avoid DNA contamination during their digs? Uncontaminated Cro-Magnon remains should be worth their weight in gold, even if it is just coprolites.
--- --- ---
Question to the Americans: Is there any more progress with the skeleton that was first interpreted as showing caucasian features, and then re-interpreted as showing Ainu features?
The White Supremacy nutters are already incorporating the skeleton in their mythology as "whites were first" (see the thread about the appalling novel "White Apocalypse" on Scienceblogs).
Good luck with nailing down the timing of the fork handles -at least there are no politics involved :)

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 22 Apr 2011 #permalink

Here's some more.

"One 16th Century brass knife and two 17th Century knives all with figurative handles."

This lot have still got their kit on, (even, is it) Eve?. Or Atalanta??, on the left.
Or are they just generic renaissance figures, maybe cod-mythological? Can't work out what's happened to the guy in the middle's right arm, either.

By dustbubble (not verified) on 23 Apr 2011 #permalink