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Posing With Artefacts #270

When we think of medicine, we often think about big surgeries and treating disease. However, part of medicine is also a daily hygiene regimen. We take care of ourselves in order to not be sick later. We brush our teeth so as to not develop gum disease and lose our teeth.

Ancient people practiced daily hygiene as well, despite what movies and popular culture may tell you. They had great pride, and wanted to present themselves well. The way they appeared, the way they smelled, the way they glimmered, were of utmost importance. In the hot deserts of Egypt, people would put scented wax under a headpiece. As the day progressed and the heat bore down, the wax would melt, letting the scent escape and envelope the person. In Rome, too, as elsewhere, perfumes were expensive and popular. People wanted to smell nicely.

Today's PWA artifact is tied to this sense of hygiene, but not with smell. I am holding a small spoon. But this spoon is not for eating, not for cooking. It is far too small for that. It could be used to mix perfumes and work with makeup, but it was also common for ancient people to use these in their ears. It goes in the ear, where dirt and wax and other materials could be stuck, and helps with the cleaning process. This is, in fact, an ear spoon. Keeping ears clean is an important ritual.

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Posing With Artefacts #269

When we look at the state of medicine, we need to remind ourselves that much of what we know would not have come to light without the work of people long before us. Whether it was through their diligent work, or, in some cases, their grave mistakes, were we able to learn about the human body and conditions afflicting our health.

As demonstrated in our previous exhibition, we ought to always be learning. Getting it right the first time teaches us some, but not everything. We may learn what works, but not so much what does not or would not work. Mistakes should be welcomed, provided we continue to always learn from them. Unfortunately, many people lose their lives as a result of poor information, superstition, or downright ignorance. Even when people have the best intentions, the results can be devastating.

For today's PWA, I present an object that may very well have saved many lives, or just made life a bit more comfortable, but I am surely glad it is not something that has ever been used on me. What is it? I can't quite tell. It may be a prodding type of instrument. Perhaps this was used to lance boils. Or to help with extraction of...well, almost anything. It's shape and design would not have been made in error. It's design is purposeful. Like a corkscrew, or pig's tail. It's curvature meant to assist the user in getting at an angle they otherwise normally could not get to. It's corkscrew design made to pierce through and twist into whichever crevice it was inserted into. Whatever it was made for, the medic at the time would have known exactly how to use it.

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Posing With Artefacts #268

The field of medicine is a very interesting one. It can be amazing what doctors and scientists know about the human body due to years and years of study. Technology aids as well. CT scans allow us to see things which normally would be unseen.

Now imagine being a medic from long ago, before non-intrusive technology existed. What you had to go by was trial-and-error, or some books written by other medics and scholars. The human body is rather messy, so dissecting is difficult, especially when the culture barred people from doing so in the first place.

However, medics and healers did have implements that assisted in treating the sick and wounded. I have shown a few of those, now on display in our current exhibition, "The Art and Science of Healing." In this exhibition, curator Dr. Pablo Alvarez demonstrates how the studies of medicine changed and also remained the same over thousands of years. Lessons learned from ancient Greek and Roman times are still in play today. After all, how much has the human body changed since then?

Today's PWA item is a tool kit, if you will. I carry around a multi-tool with me, as I never know when I will need a knife, or corkscrew, or scissors. The concept is not a new one, though that particular design is (relatively speaking). In ancient Rome, someone carried this multi-tool, a keychain of various implements used to treat someone. What do you see here? I think there are tweezers, some kinds of poking or prodding instruments, lancets, etc. But someone knew they would use these often, these highly specialized tools, and needed quick access to them.

They may not be the prettiest things, and I am sure I would not want to be treated with such things, but if I am in ancient Rome and hurt myself, at least I know there are people who know what to do and have some tools to treat me.

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Posing With Artefacts #267

The exhibition, The Art & Science of Healing, is still available for viewing at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. With this exhibition, we are showing that medicine is not merely a 20th Century invention, but a practice long established in antiquity. Though levels of medicine were quite different 3000 years ago from now, we can still learn much from our predecessors. While we think that all ancient medicine relied on the supernatural, there were surgeons and medics who tended to the sick and wounded through science and knowledge. Some even shunned all religion in favor of evidence based medicine.

What is most interesting about this exhibition is a study on how knowledge is shared. Greeks and Romans had a great deal of knowledge on medicine, and those were shared with people near them. This includes people in areas that would come under Muslim influence years later. The Muslims carried forward Greek and Roman medicine, and brought it back to Europe years later. Europe had gone into a state of darkness, if one will, where new learning was being shunned for other studies.

One section of the exhibition deals with medicine and how it affected soldiers. You want your soldiers healthy, so that you always have greater numbers than the enemy. Here a quote from the gallery:

"In his treatise on the Roman army, Epitoma rei militaris, Vegetius emphasizes the importance of keeping the health of the soldiers:

It is the duty of the officers of the legion, of the tribunes, and even of the commander-in- chief himself, to take care that the sick soldiers are supplied with proper diet and diligently attended by the physicians.

Aulus Cornelius Celsus [audio] (fl. 25 AD) and Paul of Aegina (ca. 625-ca. 690 AD) give us detailed descriptions of how surgeons should extract arrows and missiles from wounded soldiers [audio]"

If you were to visit the Kelsey Museum, you can listen to audio pertaining to these texts. Or you can visit the exhibition Web site:

http://exhibitions.kelsey.lsa.umich.edu/art-science-healing/

Today we show some items associated with the military. Here I am holding a slingshot, the eyepatch looking item in one hand, and lead bullets in the other. The bullet itself is quite heavy, so flung out of a slingshot like this one at a high velocity with proper aim would cause a great deal of damage. As an army medic, this is the kind of thing you would need to deal with, learn how to treat.

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3/14/17
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Posing With Artefacts #266

Most of us do not spend a lot of time looking at our every day items, the ones we take for granted, and think about its history. Who else had something similar? I would not be surprised if my neighbors had one just like it, but people across the world? 50 years ago? 1000 years ago?

As we continue hosting the exhibition "The Art and Science of Healing," we look at ways people cared for their own well-being over time. We know they prayed to their gods for help and guidance, but they took an active role in their health as well. It was not just about the gods and the supernatural, but also about their bodies and what healers could do. In this exhibition, we show some of these items, such as today's object. I am holding what appears to be a pair of tweezers. If you thought that is what I have, then you'd be right. These are tweezers, as a Roman citizen would have owned.

Would you find something like this in every household? Perhaps, but the archaeological record does not show these in every home. Also, can you determine the material? This is bronze, and in the ancient world, some materials were more expensive than others. Back then, glass was a premium, but so were many kinds of metals. Ceramics and wood were easy to come by (certain kinds of wood, mostly), but metals, even bronze, were expensive. Not everyone would have had items made of any metal. Certainly not gold or silver, and bronze, if you could afford the one thing, may not be an every day item.

And what use did they have for tweezers? Likely the same exact reasons you may have tweezers in your own home. Maybe hygiene and beauty. Maybe pulling out slivers and needles. These are small enough to get the smallest of items.

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Posing With Artefacts #265

We have seen this week several gods that were called upon on matters of healing and medicine. Those gods were associated with various aspects of health. Childbirth, childhood, women, and protection with Anubis yesterday. But the objects shown thus far were all figurines of those gods, meant to be worshipped and placed in a shrine, altar, temple, or even just home. Some would have been worn, carried around, made portable.

But it wasn't just the living who needed help. The dead, too, sought help from the gods in their journey. Remember, for many, death was just the beginning of the next life, not a complete end. Today's PWA artifact is a panel that would have been on a mummy coffin. We see two dogs flanking a door. Remember what was discussed yesterday, that the use of animals repeated. There was not only one dog/jackal god. There were at least four, that we know of. Here we see Anubis and Wepwawet, two gods who would have aided the dead in the afterlife. There were plenty of evil spirits in the world of the dead, and we all needed protection at all times.

Besides Anubis and Wepwawet, there was also Duamutef. His visual would have been mostly associated with canopic jars, the vessels used to store 4 important organs during the mummification process.

What other gods do you know who would have protected or healed people? I showed mostly Egyptian gods here this week, but some were taken about the Mediterranean, like Isis. But the Greeks and Romans and other cultures had their own gods to worship. Some were borrowed, others are more original to their particular culture. Even in Egypt, gods are mixed together or created for specific purposes. Who else do you know?

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Posing With Artefacts #264

Here I am holding a small bronze. Look closely and you will see it is that of a dog. Why would I be holding this, and what does it have to do with this week's theme, healing by gods as depicted in the current Kelsey exhibition The Art & Science of Healing?

When medicine was in its infancy, and causes for ailments were not clearly known, people would need to ask for favors from the gods. If my illness is caused by spirits, can a physical remedy work? Or would I need equal protection from another spirit? The spiritual realm to combat the spiritual realm. Various gods were associated with body parts, or organs, or people, or families. This was fluid, and these changed over time. And across cultures. And sometimes they mixed.

In places like Egypt, gods were also associated with animals. In Rome and Greece, though Zeus/Jupiter could transform into a swan, or a bull, or a bolt of lightning, he was almost always depicted as a human form. In Egypt, on the other hand, gods crossed over into a different category. Not quite animal, not quite human. They occupied a different space, one we cannot identify or know how to handle (a fascinating topic in anthropology, the liminal phase, though most often used when discussing rituals). Half-human, half-animal. Sometimes all animal with human qualities. A falcon-headed Horus, for example, or cat-headed Bastet.

What about the dog? Who is it associated with, if anyone? There are actually several dog or jackal (hard to distinguish between the two, if the Egyptians even did bother distinguishing) gods, though the most popular and famous is Anubis. Dogs, because they were seen as scavengers eating the flesh off dead animals, were associated with death. Often viewed as guides to the underworld, they could also be protectors against death, or towards death. And so Anubis is also associated with death. What better god to ask for aid when battling life and death issues?

Dogs, along with other animals in ancient Egypt, were viewed as dangerous creatures. Asps and hippos and dogs could kill people. Venture too far outside of a village and society, and nature could strike at any moment. One had to fear for your life.

But what if that same animal could be turned to be a protector? Now you don't have to fear it, and it will turn its aggression onto the spirits looking to harm you. Animals often played dual roles, that of protector or danger. It was all about how its power was harnessed.

Look closely and you will see a ring at the top of the amulet. Was this for a string? Did someone wear this about their neck, keep Anubis' powers close to heart? Hard to say, but it may seem likely. Amulets were a common artifact from the ancient world.

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Posing With Artefacts #263

Day 3 of The Art & Science of Healing here at PWA. The exhibition looks at the practice of medicine over time, from Egyptian and Roman and Greek days up through the Renaissance. It is interesting to see how the actual science of healing changed over time, while remaining the same as well.

Much of what we consider as ancient medicine revolved around spirits and gods, but that is only part of the truth. There were scholars who looked at the physical causes of ailments, dismissing the spiritual aspect. And some combined the two to treat whatever they could one way, the rest the other. In some practices, people would go to the temple to seek help. The gods would provide an answer, and then welcome the patient to sleep in the temple. During that time, the staff would do whatever they could physically to treat the illness. It may involve surgery, or other remedy.

As mentioned this week, the gods played a heavy role in the treatment of sickness. When viruses and single-celled organisms were unknown, the causes for these ailments were thought to be spirits, evil omens, gods. What would protect you against such maladies? More gods and spirits. Tokens, magical amulets, even the gods themselves could serve to protect the individual or family. Families, households, would have figurines, for example, as an embodiment of the god they hoped to serve them.

Today's Posing With Artefacts is yet another Bes. We saw one just two days ago, but here I bring out another one. Why? Because this goes to show that it was not a complete uniform practice. Our Bes Monday was blue, this one terracotta. That one was less ornate than this one. This one today has a headdress and a shield. He is much more warrior-like. This is typical of Bes. Not all gods are always the same in appearance or actions. Bes, for example, was around from at least Old Kingdom times in Egypt through Ptolemaic-Roman times, perhaps beyond. In those 1000s of years, his appearance and role would have certainly changed. He may appear one way for one reason, another elsewhere for another reason. The warrior look made him a much more formidable enemy of those evil spirits who came to harm women and children during childbirth. A much more aggressive Bes.

We know this is Bes because he is still a misshapen dwarf god, often bearded and ugly. Due to various depictions elsewhere, we also know he sometimes would have been shown with this feathered headdress. Small amulets show him often with the headdress, so even when details are not discernible, we can see the overall shape and know who we are looking at.

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Posing With Artefacts #262

Continuing with the theme of Art & Science of Healing, the latest exhibition at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Back a long time ago, the best means to deal with illness was to invoke the gods to come to your assistance. But don't be fooled, there was a physical treatment on top of the spiritual one. The gods would come up with ideas that were done to you while you slept in the temple.

Various gods were available for different body parts and treatments. Today we present Isis, here holding the child Horus/Harpocrates. Isis was associated with women and healing. An important god for women to consider.

This bronze sees her holding her child. This is a very familiar pose, often used in other art, particularly in later Renaissance art.

The ancient world was also interesting in that due to contact with other cultures, gods came and went and often mixed into new ones. Isis was taken to Rome and worshipped throughout the Roman world. She was also sometimes called by her other name, Aphrodite (often named Isis-Aphrodite). On this day, Valentine's Day, Isis serves a double function. She will heal your womenly ills, but also assist with your love desires.

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Posing With Artefacts #261

The Kelsey Museum recently opened a new exhibition. This one looks at the field of medicine through the ages. It is titled "The Art & Science of Healing." With this exhibition, we look at the different means for curing ailments from ancient Roman and Greek times until the Renaissance. We see how people learned, how practices carried on, how we got to the "rational" means of healing.

For this week, we will look at some of the oldest methods for healing: praying to the gods. Because some illnesses and their causes could not be seen, people would invoke the gods to deal with the evil spirits or curses that befell them. Different cultures had different gods, and some had many gods to appeal to. It was not just random choice, as some gods were associated with different aspects of life, or a certain god was your household or family god.

Some this week will look familiar to some people. Today's, for example, has been shown often. This is Bes, the ancient Egyptian god dating from as far back as Old Kingdom, but really took off during Ptolemaic and Roman era Egypt. Bes, the misshapen dwarf god, was actually associated with childbirth and childhood. One of the most sensitive times for any person was labor, when a child was born. Both mother and child were susceptible to a number of ill omens. Spirits could enter and harm her, or the child. The families would thus need to put up many protections. Bes would sit in the corner and make as much noise as possible while dancing and hopping and banging on things. This would distract those spirits entering hoping to do harm.

When all went well, the Bes would be given to the child to be looked over for the first few years of their life (children were still prone to harm for the first few years of life). It was not until that child moved on from child to woman or man that the Bes would be passed on to another person.

A Bes like this is large, and often people had smaller charms they could wear to protect them every day. But this Bes was larger, likely not meant to be carried about. He's made out of a material known as faience, a composite material that could mimic lapiz lazuli or even metals. It ranged in color from a bright blue like my gloves, or deeper, to a very light green. It depends wholly on the mix of materials used, the recipe.

Be sure to stop by the Kelsey to view Bes and other artifacts like him.

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