Daggers of Luristan
In museum circles the region of Luristan in the Zagros Mountains of Iran has a long association with the antiquities looted from tombs there in the 1920’s and 30’s. These objects seem to be primarily from the Early Iron Age (circa 1000 BC - 750 BC), and comprise an array of distinctive objects that include horse bridles and other equipment; fittings possibly associated with chariots; and an array of weapons, primarily of bronze. These “Luristan bronzes" flooded the market for a while, and some archaeologists also excavated in the region to give the finds some context. However, most of the material associated with Luristan is based on the attribution of dealers. This includes two interesting weapons in the ROM collection.
The first of these is a bronze short sword or dagger (ROM #938.35) which bears a cuneiform inscription in Akkadian saying that it belongs to Marduk-shapik-zeri, “King of the World.” Marduk-shapik-zeri (which means “Marduk the outpourer of seed”, Marduk being the great god of Babylon). Marduk-shapik-zeri was king of Babylon from about 1082 to 1069 BC, so the weapon will have the same date. The association with Luristan is therefore entirely due to the dealer’s attribution, it being acquired from the noted dealer Dikran G. Kelekian in 1938. Conceivably the weapon was taken to Luristan as a diplomatic gift or as booty in subsequent centuries.
The second object seems more reliably associated with Iran, although it is actually made of iron, not bronze. The iron dagger (ROM# 931.19.10) was purchased from Sotheby’s in 1931, and apparently ninety of this style are known, although none are from a specific site. The ROM’s object provides a major contribution to our knowledge of these daggers, however, as it has been radio-carbon dated using accelerator mass-spectrometry to 1044 plus or minus 60 years BC (since the date is of the carbon in the object derived from the wood used to smelt the object, the date of the object would probably be 15 years later). Like most iron in this period, it is generally low carbon, but it is very heterogenous with higher carbon areas, essentially being “steel”, the alloy of iron and carbon.
So here we have two objects made in the same general area, at about the same time, for what seems to be the same purpose. So why is one made of iron or steel and the other is bronze? It is a common misconception that iron or steel is functionally superior to bronze. The quality of the iron or steel is an important consideration and these early irons are not of the quality of later steel anyway, but even so tests of bronze against iron weapons have shown that the iron is not actually superior to a well-made bronze weapon. The advantage of iron over bronze is the economy of the material itself. Bronze is made of copper and tin, two relatively rare materials - especially tin, which may even have been imported from Britain in this period. Iron is a relatively common material, and once the process of smelting it had been developed, it was possible to supply much more metal for use in weapons and tools. Hence bronze weapons would have continued to be produced as long as people could afford them!
A further interesting aspect of these weapons is how they were used. Daggers are held in a number of specific ways which dictate to a certain degree how you fight with them. The dagger of Marduk-shapik-zeri has a distinct grip that looks odd at first, but when you hold it your hand naturally takes on the “fencer’s” grip, with the forefinger and thumb settled into the embayments in the grip. The iron dagger is quiet unwieldy in this grip, as has been mentioned by other authors, but in fact it works very well in the “ice-pick” grip, which I would associate with fighting against heavily armoured opponents.
- ROM #938.35, the dagger of Marduk-shapik-zeri, 43.6 cm long (ROM Photography)
- Detail of inscription on ROM #938.35, the dagger of Marduk-shapik-zeri (ROM Photography)
- Iron dagger ROM# 931.19.10, 40.3 cm long (ROM Photography)
- Detail of iron dagger ROM# 931.19.10 (ROM Photography), showing bearded heads which were made separately and then forged onto the main piece. These daggers are thought to be high-status items, the pinnacle of the metal workers craft at the time.
- Robert Mason is a ROM archaeologist. See his previous posts HERE. Follow him on twitter HERE.
- Original post found HERE.
- All images by ROM Photography.
Post by Robert Mason. Last updated: April 7th, 2014
#REgenerationtour: The Tropical Spice Garden
By Emile Watanabe, 10 years old
During my stay in Penang, Malaysia I met a nice boy named Ian Minton. He is traveling the world with his family just like me. We met him through a Facebook group that my mom is connected to called Families on the move. He is from Texas, USA . We went to The Tropical Spice Gardens with him and his mom.
Malaysia is very well know for its spices because the British and Dutch explorers and traders brought many incredible spices to the country. Here are some things about spices, plants and herbs that we learned at The Gardens.
- Tumeric (a type of orange coloured ginger) is used as dye for the orange robes of the monks in India.
- The Pandan Leaf is used in Asia to make a sweet dessert with cream. I had one in Thailand and it was really good!
- Stevia, a local plant, is used as a natural sweetener for tea, coffee and other drinks. You can also make delicious desserts with it. Our guide let us taste it and it was really tasty!
- Citronnella is a lemony smelling plant that is used for bug repellant all over Malaysia. Unlike lemongrass, cirtonnella is a herb and is not edible.
- Lemongrass is a lemony plant just like citronnella but is used for cooking soups and stir frys. It is believed to fight cancer cells and it’s used to lose weight when put in a tea. We learned that locals smash the leaves to make a dish more flavourful.
- Bamboo, the pandan leaf, wheat and rice are all part of the grass family.
- There are at least 1000 types of bamboo. We saw green, golden, black and fishing pole bamboo.
- The Palmae is one of the largest growing palm trees in the world.
- Torch ginger is the only ginger the Malays use although there are approximately ten types of ginger.
- Follow the rest of the #REgenerationtour HERE!
- Anthony’s (Dad) blog on the environmental mission: www.the-regeneration.com
- Rose’s (Mom) blog shares the family experience on the road:www.yolomomonthego.wordpress.com
- You can also follow Emile on Instagram @emiwata15!
- Check out the rest of our #ROMKidsGoesWhere series HERE!
Palaeo in the Wild: The Electric Fence
Though funding, weather and luck tend to be the biggest issues palaeontologists face out in the field, in various parts of Canada, they also need to prepare for close encounters with bears and other wildlife!
This electrified fence needs to be lugged all the way out into the wilderness. Speaking with palaeontology technician Pete Fenton, he told me that staff who had previously cursed the idea of carrying the fences out, change their tune instantly, praising its helpfulness as soon as the first bear shows up.
Here palaeontologist, David Rudkin, shows off a photo he took behind a similar fence in the field.
— Dave Rudkin (@RudkinDave)February 27, 2014
This fence will be used this summer by our invertebrate palaeontology team as they search for new fossils describing the diversity of the world’s earliest life in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: March 23rd, 2014.
Hidden beneath our mastodon skeleton is a rarely viewed case containing one of our most overlooked specimens- a clump of mammoth hair.
Unlike non-avian dinosaurs that went extinct 65 million years ago, Ice Age mammals like mammoth only died out around 10 thousand years ago, creating much more favourable conditions to last into the present. The best preserved mammoths (and even wooly rhinoceros) are often frozen in ice, allowing organic material to remain, like skin and the hair above. The hair gives scientists an amazing opportunity to literally peer into the past and see what these red haired ice elephants looked and even felt like.
- National Geographic: Can Purported Mammoth Blood Revive Extinct Species?
- National Geographic: Of Mammoths and Men
- Nature World News: Yuka - the World’s Best Preserved woolly Mammoth on Public Display in Japan
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: March 13rd, 2014.
~12,000 year old muskox skull from Toronto
Muskox are now only natively found in northern Canada and Greenland. During the last Ice Age however, muskox could be found as far south as Toronto, Canada, far from their range today. Recently, populations have also been introduced in parts of Europe like Norway and Russia.
- Large Herbivore Network: Reintroduction Of Musk Ox In The Northern Russia
- Dolly Jørgensen: Where the muskox roam
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: March 23rd, 2014.
Liz Butler Draws The ROM: Turtles!
This week I went back to the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity to look at turtles!
All of this week’s drawings were made from specimens in one display highlighting the species of the Great Lakes waterways. There’s so much diversity in our own backyards! It’s even more impressive when you consider all the diversity found in one order, Chelonia, the turtles.
Snapping turtles are the largest freshwater turtles in Canada, and their impressive size is only dwarfed by their impressive appearance. Snapping turtles have large scales and nodules all over their skin, and formidable looking claws on their front and back limbs. But don’t worry, these turtles aren’t interested in hurting people; their diets consist mainly of carrion, plant matter, and small animals.
Painted turtles, like their name suggests, have colourful markings on their skin and shells, making them appear decorated, as if by an artist’s brush. You may recognize these turtles from local ponds or conservation areas as their habits make them easier to see; painted turtles are diurnal (awake during the day) and they like to bask in the sun, on top of rocks and fallen wood.
Spiny softshells are some unique looking turtles! Instead of the bony, hard shell we often think of when imagining turtles, these turtles have a soft, flexible shell. Softshells also have long snouts, which they can use like mini snorkels, staying submerged in the water while taking a breath.
Next time you are visiting the museum, see if you can locate these and other species that call the Great Lakes home. Maybe some of the species are those that you have seen for yourself in the wild!
- Liz Butler is an artist and teacher who loves natural history and museums. She loves drawing, painting, and making crafts of all kinds. She is happiest when she can find ways to combine art projects with science content.
- Liz’s Website – Liz Butler Draws
- Liz’s Blog – Saw Whet Studio
- More guest posts from Liz HERE!
- Do you like to sketch? Love museums? Are you a full time student in Canada? The ROM is yours to explore, FREE, every Tuesday! MORE!
Guest Post By Liz Butler. Last Updated: March 28th, 2014.
The Queen’s Quay Killer Whale
Certainly one of the most historically surprising pieces on display, this ~500 year old killer whale vertebrae found in downtown Toronto has cemented itself in our history as a city urban legend.
In 1987, while building the light rail transit line at what is now Queens Quay Station, TTC construction workers unearthed this startling bone, posing the question, how did a killer whale end up in Lake Ontario? Killer whales, as ocean faring mammals, are found all over the world, except in fresh water. After much study, mystery and worldwide acclaim, this vertebrae found it’s way to the city, not naturally, but by human hand. ROM led research by Kevin Seymour, indicates that the bone is authentic, though not native, and seems to have been brought to the city and dumped in Lake Ontario by a traveller 200 years ago.
Sometimes something seemingly significant is actually just the misplaced belonging of a long ago person.
- Torontoist: Queen’s Quay Whale Relic’s Origin Remains Murky
- Documentary: Whale Of A Tale
- Image 2, Killer whale in the southern Ross Sea. By Robert L. Pitman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Written by @kironcmukherjee. Last update: March 17th, 2014.