Saturday 10 April 2021

Late Chalcolithic Kilia-Type Figure on the Market


I recall drafting a post on this object when it first was in the news, but see it never got posted up, and I can't find that draft. This is a attempt to recreate it. The "Guennol Stargazer" is a nice thing, 20 cm long and sold for a lot of money, despite there being no clear record of where it was found and how it got on the market. Since in order to appreciate the object's history, because of what some dealers did to it, we don't have the documents, we can only examine the form and nature of the object itself. And in this case, since it's in private hands and I've not seen it (and don't have access to the non-destructive scientific analyses I'd do if it were mine to do such things with), we can only go on the auctioneer's description (such as it is) and the many photos.

I recall that I had some severe doubts about the form and position of the concretions on the surface of the object and how 'conveniently' they were distributed today. I cannot find online the photos that prompted those doubts, so this is a topic best left for another time. 

The question is whether any artefact that just "surfaces" (from "underground") on the antiquities market is kosher. This one has no grounding paperwork, so what we know about the "ancient art market" (sic) should incline any buyer to be cautious. Readers of my blog might have noticed that apart from patina, one of the areas I focus on in looking at antiquities with an enquiring and sceptical archaeologist's eye is manufacturing technique and in particular toolmarks. It just so happens that some of the main features of the "stargazer" are massive toolmarks, deep and shallow grooves. 

"Guennol stargazer", 20 cm high.

If I wanted to fake something like this, I'd take a rectangular piece of marble from the right area of Anatolia (map of the geology of Turkey here, a commercial refererence to Turkish marble here - the island of Marmara is in the Sea of Marmara, and extension of the Hellespont not far from the original Kilia findspot, and look, you can source the stone raw material). Basically, if I were doing this, I'd take  two carborundum cutting discs on a grinder, a thick one for the rough shaping and a thinner one for the grooves on the arms  and abdomen. I'd use a carborundum grinding wheel to shape the face neck and head and round off the body shape. Marble has a Moh's hardness of 3-4, and carborundum 9, so it'd not take a lot of sweating to get this. I'd then dunk the roughout in an acidic solution (possibly after pre-treatment to prevent it soaking into microcracks etc and only affect the surface) and check periodically to stop it when it has removed most of the features of the toolmarks that would betray their modern origin. I'd then finish the piece using tools that would replicate the sort of traces ancient tools would have left, polish it. Then patinate it (this stargazer has some concretions on it) and then distress it (here, break the feet off) and then make it look as if it has been cleaned up in the past (but not too much) to sell and give it the air of something that has already passed through a few hands. And bingo. Just need to find a buyer who'd not be looking for precisely the telltale traces that even so would be left. Fortunately, the people buying 'high end' art pieces are not likely to be individuals that have spent a lot of time getting their hands dirty and fooling around with stonecutting tools and chemicals and so don't really know what they're looking at and for.

How would an artisan between 4500-3500 BC have had to do it? In fact, it seems that there is not a lot of literature about this. They'd have started off with the same block of marble. Initial reduction may well have involved percussive flaking rather than laborious grinding, though (given the thin neck that was intended), this may have been risky to take too far. 

Since most of the shaping toolmarks will have been removed in the polishing, here the most informative are going to be the cuts (between the legs and under both arms) and grooves (on the front they are on the arms and a pubic triangle. The deep broad cuts under the arms go in about 4cm each, between the legs about 2cm (and continued by a groove another 3.7 cm - measurements taken from a photo). The broad shallow grooving delineating the forearms are about 4.4 and 5cm long and both are curving. Similar lines delineate the nose. The pubic triangle is composed of three thin lines, 3, 4.5 and 5cm long - the latter is curved down at one end. 

How would such lines be produced in antiquity in the absence of iron tools? It seems that there would be four methods, all of which can be attested ethnographically and by experimental replication:

1) incision of shallow thin lines with a graver (for example a flint or other hard stone burin). A single firm line would be difficult to obtain on a curved marble surface such as the pubic triangle here.

2) Filing with the edge of a thin slab of stone. Some metamorphic rocks (which make up large areas of W Anatolia) can be split into plates and the edges of these can be used to file lines. This would work fine on a convex surface, very difficult on sunken areas. 

3) Cutting with a rotary disc of soft material carrying a fine abrasive [probably handled in a paste form]. The disc could be copper or some stiff organic material - such as horn plate. The whole thing would be set up in a jig and the spindle rotated with a bow (like a bow drill), possibly by a second worker. How the disc is attached to the spindle is a technical problem. An alternative is a hard stone disc. Less likely is one made of knapped flint, as it would be very difficult to align the flake negatives and ridges on the disc edge with sufficient precision to get a smooth cut. 

4) Sawing with a flexible strap or thong (for example leather, less likely here perhaps copper wire) in a bow or jig and again loaded with abrasive [paste]. 

It would be very instructive to get the deep cuts under a binocular microscope to see what toolmarks are left on the interior and examine the appearance of the base of the cut. What does seem clear is that each of them is wedge-shaped, wider at the opening than at the end. This means that the cut was not made by an abrasive thong wearing away just at the end of the cut, but by a tool that was still grinding the edges of the cut at the same time as it was being deepened - so some kind of rotating disc, or oscillating plate. 

So, how were the toolmarks visible on this piece made?

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