Monday, 26 May 2014

Mediterranean in Stockholm

In order to feel myself useful on a family-less weekend in Stockholm, I decided to visit the newly fully opened Medelhavsmuseet, i.e., the Mediterranean Museum. I had visited it years ago – and when I entered the exhibition, it showed me exactly how much in the prehistory that visit was. Not a single major display was where it was then – perhaps with the exception of the teaching displays and the gold collection that must have been even then in a safe room.

The main attraction this time was the fully renewed Egyptian collection that I must say is pretty comprehensive for a relatively small country such as Sweden. However, there used to be an Egyptological museum in Sweden – now incorporated in the Mediterranean Museum – and Egyptology is well and alive at the University of Uppsala. The Stockholm exhibition is of perhaps of a similar size and scope as the one at Cambridge, although the Swedish exhibition lacks any major sculpture. The pieces are relatively small, but it is the breath of the collection that is very good. The displays run from the Stone Age and predynastic times all the way to the 19th-century Cairo. Especially the small items such as wooden sculpture, games and foodstuffs are beautifully laid out.

Brick making and laying - I know who likes this image

The much trumpeted 3D scan of a mummy was a slight disappointment. Not because of the results but because it did take some time before different displays downloaded and the interface was not as smooth as I had expected. I should have remembered a presentation I heard in the CAA-UK about 18 months ago and realised that the touch-and-rotate technology on horizontal display tables is not always as smooth as one imagines on the basis of Startrek Enterprise.

Which side is the real one?

The Greek collection is a standard display and the Roman collection is not much – except when one checks the teaching collection displays upstairs. There are some further, rather beautiful small sculpture and other pieces there. The second major item in Museum’s collection is the Cypriot collection. The tale of the Swedish excavations on Cyprus was celebrated in an art exhibition at the year’s turn in the Moderna Museet and discussed in a research seminar at the University. The Swedes studied mainly the northern coast of Cyprus in the 1920s and 1930s under the British colonial rule. The most significant find is the huge collection of clay idols, models and statues from a ritual display from . Half of this collection is still on Cyprus, but with the clever use of mirrors the visitor is given the illusion of the whole set up. Animals, soldiers, men and women arranged in a triangular format radially away from a white stone on an altar. Amazing find – even if the ‘curse of Gjerstad’ had stricken there as well. Instead of an extraordinary evolutionary pottery typology elsewhere, here he had apparently dreamt up a non-existent series of reoccurring floods.

Researchers inspect with pith helmets on

The most interesting section was not an object display at all. The honour from my part goes to a photographic series that presented the Swedish excavations in Egypt. The astonishing part was not that the Swedes had run or participated in them. Instead they were the photos themselves that stood as testimonies of changing times. I must say the scholars probably could not guess in the early 20th century how hopelessly colonial the pith (safari) helmets will look like in the 21st century. As was customary, the villagers did the digging and sieving and the directors the inspecting, finds processing and mapping. At least one archaeologist was wise enough to sport a beret instead of the pure ‘colonial look’. The contrast could not have been bigger to the 1960s Abu Simbel jigsaw puzzle and the bearded archaeologists and building workers at site. Huge vehicles and cranes moved sawn stone and a beautiful lake-side temple moved onto an empty spot in a moon-like landscape. Priceless!

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