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Horn Museum Opens Biblical-Era Exhibit


Curator of the Siegfried Horn Archaeological Museum at Andrews University, Constance Gane, talks us through the museum’s just-opened exhibit of Jordanian artifacts, featured in the New York Times.

Question: You are curator of the Siegfried Horn Archaeological Museum at Andrews University, which has just opened an exhibit of 8th to 6th century Jordanian artifacts that was featured in the New York Times. What can you tell us about these fragments?

Answer: Between 1992 and 2012, students, volunteers and staff have found a total of 55 ceramic figurine fragments during our Andrews University-sponsored archaeological excavations at Tall Jalul in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As a result of a rare agreement, 48 of these are currently on study loan at the Siegfried Horn Archaeological Museum at Andrews. Most of the figurines are of male or female busts or torsos. A particularly endearing motif is that of a mother breastfeeding her baby. There are also a number of partial “horse and rider” figurines. Amazingly, remnants of paint can still be seen on some of the figurines. 

The ceramic figurines are part of a Late Iron Age II/Persian Period (8th – 6th century BC) material assemblage. Although the specific functions and meanings of the figurines are still under study, it appears that at least some of these artifacts were used in cultic contexts. 

Question: The New York Times mentioned this exhibition because it is a rarity; it is unusual for countries in the Middle East to loan biblical-era finds to museums in the west. Things have changed since the Earl of Elgin took the statues of Greece’s Parthenon back to London! So how did this exhibition come about? How were you able to secure a year’s loan of these treasures?

Answer: The loan of objects is a “study loan” for the purpose of further analysis in preparation for the forthcoming publication of our report on excavations at Tall Jalul, Jordan. The objects are on loan for one year, with a possible opportunity to renew for an additional year. We also have permission to put the objects on a study display for the public. The exhibit opened this week and has generated local and international attention because of the unique nature of the loan agreement.

Over a period of several years, I have broached the topic of having excavated objects from past excavation seasons on loan for study and exhibition purposes at our Horn Archaeological Museum at Andrews University, but was not able to secure permission. The request process is a lengthy one, and in the past I have not been able to complete the negotiations while in the country of Jordan. This time the process was expedited, due to the organization and efficiency of the current Antiquities Authority in Jordan under the new leadership of Dr. Monther Jamhawi.

This loan of objects is under the auspices of the Madaba Plains Project, which has a long history of successful excavations in the country of Jordan. The three archaeological sites that comprise this Seventh-day Adventist project include Tall Hisban (directed by Øystein LaBianca, Andrews University), Tall al-‘Umayri (directed by Douglas Clark, La Sierra University), and Tall Jalul (directed by Randall Younker, Andrews University).

The loan is possible due to the long-term level of trust that has been developed between the leadership of the Tall Jalul excavations (especially director Randall Younker) and the Jordanian Antiquities Authority. The Jordanians understand that by allowing us to have the figurine collection assembled in one location, with time and facilities necessary to photograph the objects and analyze them in detail, we are given the opportunity to learn more of their significance. 

Question: Do you expect the exhibition to generate some interest and bring in more visitors to the museum?

Answer: Yes, as a result of the publicity generated by this exceptional study loan now on display, we do expect to have an increase in interested visitors. The finest examples of the figurines are available for public viewing from January 19 to April 30 in the “Figurines of Tall Jalul” exhibit. 

The Horn Museum.

Question: Are you also curating the exhibition? What kind of work does mounting the exhibition involve for the Horn Museum?

Answer: The “Figurines of Tall Jalul” exhibit is located in the Madaba Plains Project Exhibit Hall in the Horn Archaeological Museum. Ph.D. archaeology student L. Scottie Baker, Jr, is the Exhibits Manager who set up the small but highly significant exhibit by placing the figurines on stands with identifying labels. More in-depth explanatory notes have been made and posted by Jacob Moody, Assistant to the Curator (Ph.D. archaeology student). Behind the scenes, the majority of the work on the figurines focuses on comparative stylistic analysis and dating as well as photography and renderings. It is thrilling to have an assemblage of Jordanian artifacts that we excavated ourselves on exhibit here in the Museum where our work in Jordan is showcased. 

Question: Andrews University students participate in several digs every summer. Can you tell us about those?

Answer: Currently Andrews University sponsors three archaeological excavations that provide valuable experience for both seasoned archaeology students and novices. Tall Hisban, with senior director, Øystein LaBianca, is in its second phase of excavations, focusing on Hisban’s Medieval and Early Modern history. Under the direction of Dr. LaBianca, the Hisban Cultural Association, a local NGO, is developing the site for tourism, with plans for a future Visitor Center. Dates for this summer’s excavation are May 6-June 2.

Tall Jalul, with senior director Randall Younker, has moved into the second phase, which is currently focusing on the Iron Age water reservoir that was built around the 10th century BC and continued in use until the Late Iron Age II period (7th/6th centuries BC). This reservoir is the largest of its kind in the country of Jordan. Most of the Andrews University students involved in this project are M.A. and Ph.D. archaeology students. The 2015 dates for the Jalul excavation are May 7-June 8.

A new Andrews University project, directed by Randall Younker, has been developed in Sicily, Italy, where an early Christian site known as San Miceli is under excavation by graduate students. The dates for this summer’s excavation are tentatively May 21-July 15.

Question: What are the most interesting finds? How do the students respond to the digs?

Answer: Some of the most exciting finds have been made by students, such as the discovery at Tall Jalul of an ostracon (a piece of broken pottery with writing on it) in the sift by Ph.D. student Amanda McGuire Moushon. Inscriptions are a rare and precious discovery and very difficult to spot. Other significant finds by students include seals, vessels, and ceramic figurines, to name a few. One of the most memorable finds was made in 2009 by Jasmine Saunders when she uncovered the now famed ceramic figurine known as the “Lady of Jalul” in the Late Iron Age II/Persian Period ruins of Field D, directed by Jennifer Groves. A lot of dirt and rocks are moved before a discovery is made, making the moment of discovery even sweeter and all the more exciting for the students.

Photo: Jasmine Saunders. Photo credit: Constance Gane.

Students also have the opportunity to study, research, and publish discoveries. A couple of examples of student involvement:  Sean Porras wrote his MA thesis on the “Anthropomorphic and Zoomorphic Figurines of Tall Jalul From 1992 to 2007,” and Christie Goulart Chadwick with Dr. Roy Gane published several small inscribed objects from the same site in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

Many students and non-students repeatedly return to excavate in the heat of the Jordanian summer. There is an addictive drive to understand the past and experience its material culture within the context of the present that keeps them returning to the dirt.

Question: Obviously, you cannot just bring back your archaeological finds to the museum. What can you do, and how do the digs impact the museum’s collections and exhibitions?

Answer: After every excavation season, the Jordanian Antiquities Authority allows us to bring the newly excavated artifacts from that summer’s excavations back to the U.S. for one year of study. During this time we may have them on exhibit, but the primary purpose of this one-year loan is to allow us to photograph, study, and create professional drawings of the finds. What is unique about the current “Figurines of Tall Jalul” objects on loan is that these treasures are not from last summer’s excavations, but are from previous excavations from between 1992-2012.

Question: What are the most important treasures the Horn Museum holds?

Answer: Many would be surprised to discover that the 7th largest cuneiform tablet collection in the U.S. is housed at the Horn Museum! We have over 3000 tablets. Most of our tablets are included in the online CDLI (Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative) catalogue

Assyriologists from various countries may be found working on our collection. The most recent was a visiting scholar, Klaus Wagensonner, from the University of Oxford in England, who was studying the tablets in our collection from the ancient site of Kish in Iraq.

Question: How long have you served as curator to the museum? What do you most like about the job, and what do you find the most challenging?

Answer: When I first became the curator in 2006, the Museum had been moved to its present location from across campus and most of the exhibit area was still in boxes. My greatest joy has been enabling and mentoring archaeology students as they have worked with me to create and produce exhibits. The student-generated vision has been remarkable. Our greatest challenge is inadequate funding for personnel and development. Our financial resources have been small, but that has not inhibited creativity. 

Question: As technology advances, and so much is possible in the virtual world, are museums like the Horn Museum still relevant? How is the Horn Museum adapting and evolving in a changing world? What are your goals for the museum?

Answer: Surprisingly, we have had a number of museum connoisseurs tell us that the more famous museums are wonderful to visit, but our little Horn Museum is their favorite because it provides an ambiance and relevance that is missing in the others. People appreciate the biblical connections, the reports on our current research projects, and the warmth of our staff. 

Head of a horse figurine from the exhibit.

We are gradually making strides in becoming part of the virtual world. In time we plan to host a virtual museum. However, the virtual world cannot replace the physical and human elements of experience. Jacob Moody, Assistant to the Curator, has taken the lead in making biblical history come alive to school children in our area. Regional elementary and secondary schools often call on us to come to their schools for presentations and/or bring their students to the museum. It is a credit to Jacob’s community involvement that Berrien County students are increasingly familiar with the ancient Near East as it relates to the Bible and current events in the Middle East. 

Currently under discussion is a plan to move the Horn Museum closer to the center of campus and house it in a state-of-the-art building that would be worthy of its rare and precious treasures, enabling us to safeguard them and share their benefits more effectively. Such a collection is important because archaeology provides the only new source of information about the Bible. Through continuing discoveries, our understanding of biblical literary contexts is more strongly anchored in historical evidence. In this sense, archaeology has come to be known as a kind of fourth biblical language, after Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Archaeology also provides a bridge between Jews, Christians, and Muslims by illuminating their shared heritage.

Top photo: Constance Gane in Cyprus, 2013. Photo by Randall Younker.

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