July 10, 2012

Schliemann's Mycenaean Mummy

Did you know that Heinrich Schliemann found a mummy at Mycenae in Shaft Grave V?  Neither did I.  But I saw a link to an article by Sinclair Hood over on the Facebook group Skeletons in the Closet today.  Hood writes about Schliemann's albums, which are currently held at the National Library of Scotland, who acquired them from the Knossos Trust.

Mummy from Shaft Grave V
Plate 203 from Schliemann's Album III
Painting held by the National Library of Scotland
Figure 6 in the article is an oil painting of a so-called mummy from Shaft Grave V.  Hood writes that (pp. 74-76):
Schliemann gives a long and highly dramatized account of the uncovering of this burial. ‘The round face, with all its flesh, had been wonderfully preserved under its ponderous golden mask; there was no vestige of hair, but both eyes were perfectly visible, also the mouth, which, owing to the enormous weight that had pressed upon it, was wide open, and showed thirty-two beautiful teeth. From these, all the physicians who came to see the body were led to believe that the man must have died at the early age of thirty-five. The nose was entirely gone’ (Schliemann 1878, 296). In his initial enthusiasm Schliemann even claimed that ‘the corpse very much resembles the image which my imagination formed long ago of wide-ruling Agamemnon’. 
‘The news that the tolerably well preserved body of a man of the mythic heroic age had been found, covered with golden ornaments, spread like wildfire through the Argolid, and people came by thousands from Argos, Nauplia, and the villages to see the wonder. But, nobody being able to give advice how to preserve the body,’ Schliemann telegraphed to Nauplion for an artist ‘to get at least an oil-painting made, for I was afraid that the body would crumble to pieces. Thus I am able to give a faithful likeness of the body, as it looked after all the golden ornaments had been removed’ (Schliemann 1878, 297). 
Schliemann does not give the name of the artist; but he describes how ‘to my great joy’ the body ‘held out for two days, when a druggist from Argos, Spiridon Nicolaou by name, rendered it hard and solid by pouring on it alcohol, in which he had dissolved gumsandarac’ (Schliemann 1878, 298). It was then lifted with some difficulty and transported to Athens, where I can remember seeing it on the bottom shelf of a glass case in the Mycenaean room of the National Museum on my first visit to Greece shortly before the Second World War. Schliemann duly acknowledges that ‘all the trouble and expense of drugging the body so as to render it hard and solid, and raising it from the sepulchre’ (Schliemann 1878, 298) and transporting it, were incurred by the Archaeological Society at Athens.
So it seems like this burial was one of the five discovered in Shaft Grave V with a gold mask, but it wasn't - in spite of the Schliemann quote above - the body associated with the so-called Mask of Agamemnon.

This article fascinated me for three reasons: first, because it shows that Schliemann was interested in the physical, skeletal remains he found at Mycenae.  Many of his contemporaries wouldn't have bothered to make a painting of the mummy. Second, it illustrates the incredibly long and incredibly frustrating lag time in publication of classical archaeology. Hood's reproduction of the mummy painting - which he presented at a conference in 1990, wasn't published until 2012... and then the conference proceedings were quickly withdrawn. Just strange.  And finally, it speaks to the way classical archaeology was taught in the late 20th century, at least in my experience: I'd never heard of a mummy being found at Mycenae, and I've been studying the skeletal remains and burials of the classical world for the better part of 20 years.  Granted, I've moved on from my early grad school fascination with Mycenae, but it can be incredibly difficult to find specific information on burials from famous classical sites.  The skeletons just aren't a part of the classical canon in the way that the Mask of Agamemnon is.  

References:

Hood, S.  2012 [1990].  Schliemann's Mycenae albums.  In: Archaeology and Heinrich Schliemann Conference Proceedings.  Aegeus - Society for Aegean Prehistory.

Schliemann, H. 1878.  Mycenae.  London.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

?!!!

Chris Nuttall said...

I found your article a good read and highlighted a train of thought I had earlier this year when researching Schliemann’s excavation reports. I agree with your comment that skeletal remains are often an unimportant sideshow of the Classical/Prehistoric excavations, particularly in comparison with Pottery and personal items.

I find it fascinating just how much skeletal analysis has informed our perceptions of the Mycenaean period as a whole in recent years. It also seems that all is not yet lost with the Skeletons from Grave Circle A at Mycenae. Papazoglou-Manioudaki et al, 2009 (Mycenae Revisited Part 1. The Human Remains from Grave Circle A) is the first in a series of three articles which reanalyse the skeletal remains recovered from Schliemann's excavations. The conclusions of course can only be fragmentary due to the poor recovery techniques; though it is a valiant attempt nonetheless. A fine example of how to excavate and record skeletons can be seen in the excavations of Grave Circle B at Mycenae, under Mylonas. The latter has spawned multiple articles in recent years, one of my favourite an attempt to reconstruct the faces of those buried in the Grave Circle!

References

Musgrave, J, Neave, R, Prag, A, Musgrave, R, & Thimme, D 1995, 'Seven Faces from Grave Circle B at Mycenae', The Annual Of The British School At Athens, 90, pp. 107-136

Mylonas, G, E.,1966. Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age, Princeton

Papazoglou-Manioudaki, L, Nafplioti, A, Musgrave, J, Neave, R, Smith, D, & Prag, A 2009, 'Mycenae Revisited Part 1. The Human Remains from Grave Circle A: Stamatakis, Schliemann and Two New Faces from Shaft Grave VI', Annual- British School At Athens, 104, pp. 233-278

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