Tuesday 11 February 2014

Apollo of Gaza: Made in China?

Vernon Silver has a followup article on the Gaza Apollo ('New Details Emerge in Mystery of Bronze Apollo Held by Hamas', Businessweek, February 10, 2014).  There is also a rather sparse article in the Guardian ('Priceless' bronze statue of Greek god Apollo found in Gaza Strip, the Guardian Monday 10 February 2014) with one of the 'smurf' pictures.

It is that I want to briefly discuss. This one caught my attention as it shows the face and corrosion close up. It's rather odd (to say the least). The photo shows a rather brutish oval face, apparently asymmetric. The lips have no form or expression, the eyes piggy and small and too high up for classical proportions. There is what looks like an inlay in one of them, and rough cast metal in the other. Is this a solid cast?  The hair however is the oddest thing. It's made by brazing (soldering?) twisted wire coils onto the scalp, and some of them have pulled off and are bent, not broken. From the photo, the corrosion products within the spirals differ from those on the adjacent areas of the face. [UPDATE Rogue Classicist has some photos of heads with twisted applied 'dreadlocks' looking a bit like this, but these are channelled strips rather than wire as here]

Those corrosion products are themselves odd. They seem to be layered, there are dark-coloured (reddish-brown) corrosion products ("cuprite layer") overlain by a thickish crusty layer varying in colour between bright blue in patched, through light blue-green to medium blue-green with greeny-grey powdery corrosion. The underlayer has a smooth surface by the lips (to our right), while it is decidedly uneven around the eyes and granular around the spiral locks. The crusty layer is not particularly firmly attached to the underlayer in several places (around the eye for example). It s also rather difficult to make out at this resolution, but worth noting that there is little incorporated in that crusty corrosion layer which looks like soil material, sand, small grits or anything like that, let alone root marks or organic traces. I earlier characterised the colour as due to 'bronze disease', but looking at an enlargement of the photo, I do not think it is, there is no trace that the light coloured powdery material is in any kind of pits in the surface of the underlying area (which is what 'bronze disease' does). It is almost as if this crusty layer is not part of the same process as the dark, has been applied on top and is now flaking off. It has gone from the hair for example, where one would expect the green to have developed deep among the spirrals, but it has not, there's a lot of "cuprite" there instead. Why? Note also on the chin there is a hint that the reddish brown layer lies over the crusty green, which would be a reverse of the normal natural corrosion mechanisms in burial conditions. 

What this actually looks like in the enlarged photos is an odd corrosion you often see on Chinese spade, knife and cash coins, and it is produced chemically, because the coins are fantasies or fakes. I admit I do not know how it is (actually) done, I am still trying to work that out. In some of the Chinese ones I've had under a microscope, the cuprite layer is actually formed by quite severe erosive corrosion of the underlying metal, and the crusty gunk on top frequently shares the same tendency to separate. The enlarged photo of the head that has been published so far does not give me much confidence that the multicoloured patina we see if the result of lying in the ground.

It may not be that the object is an archaeological fake, intended to fool the market. Could it be in fact part of the abandoned or lost equipment from some pre-War Mediterranean cruise ship, a 'classy' art-deco decoration from the coctail bar dumped in the sea decades ago? 

Obviously it is unsafe to draw conclusions from some random poor resolution amateur photos of an object which has no firm details of its context of deposition and discovery 'grounding' it. On looking at the photos, I am currently unconvinced that this statue is a genuine find. I think we desperately need more and better photos. 

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