Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Assessment of a Chimú chiral bird funerary vessel, G.56

Assessment of a Chimú chiral bird funerary vessel, G.56,
UCL Ethnographic Collections

This ceramic funerary water vessel is a charming example of Chimú blackware, circa 1000 to 1470 AD. The bottle chamber is formed into two chiral (or mirror image) birds sitting side by side. Its body was mass produced from a mold form and then the heads, strap handle and spout were attached. The object was roughly burnished in a manner that resembles feathers and then reduction fired, resulting in the typical blackware for which the Chimú were so well known. This bottle is fairly small, at only 12 cm tall and weighs only 289.28 g. The fabric of the ceramic consists of small rounded particles, uniformly distributed throughout.  



The massive amounts of bottles produced by the Chimú have affected the significance of individual bottles, however chiral representations of either animals or people do not seem to be extremely common. These funerary items were not desired by the elite as status markers. Specific documents relating to the discovery and exhumation of this bottle are apparently non existent, which greatly impacts its scientific value. It is, however unique within UCL’s ethnography collection and a favorite of many students, so its value as a teaching tool is still fairly high, despite the lack of sufficient provenance.




The bottle has a rounded bottom and cannot sit flat on a table. This poses a risk of fall damage and requires supporting material and a mount. Additional concerns involve the extreme fluctuations of relative humidity within the MCR. A proper housing case will decrease the risks of salt efflorescence and damage from incorporated hygroscopic materials. Additionally, a string attached around the bottle’s strap handle may be causing abrasive wear and should be re-positioned or removed to prevent further losses. In all other respects, the bottle is in a stable state with no signs of friable surfaces or lamination issues. Its charm and stability make it a fantastic candidate for either loan or display.




This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2016-17), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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