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Fatimid rock crystal carving techniques (10th -12th century AD)

Lecture held by Elise Morero, Oxford

The Fatimid caliphs of the 10th- to 12th-century C.E. are well known for their patronage of luxury arts, especially carved rock crystal vessels, although the manufacturing techniques employed in their production remain largely unknown. The processes of Fatimid rock crystal carving were investigated using a multidisciplinary method based largely on: the observation at various scales of the manufacturing traces on the surface of the objects; tribological analysis; the analysis of archaeological and ethnographic data; and also experimental reconstructions of ancient techniques.
These complementary methods enabled us to identify the techniques and tool-kit used by Fatimid craftsmen. The hardness of rock crystal (Mohs scale 7.0), together with its homogenous crystalline structure, makes the use of percussive tools inefficient. Instead, the crystal must be ground away using an abrasive powder and a lubricant. The mixture was carried to the surface of the crystal using different tools put in motion by a horizontal bow-lathe. It was determined that a particularly famous group of seven ewers was produced by a few specialised workshops, probably located at Fustat (Old Cairo), in about the year 1000 C.E. 11

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Foto: Fatimid rock crystal ewer (Francis Mills ewer – Keir Collection, Dallas Museum of Art)

An early medieval garnet workshop in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden

Lecture held by John Ljungkvist, Uppsala

 

The project “Gamla Uppsala – the emergence of a mythical centre”, has since 2009 conducted systematic studies in Gamla Uppsala to increase the knowledge of the long term structural history of the site. In the period c. 550-700, the place is transforming remarkably into a monumental site. This transformation of an already densely settled site involves the famous mounds, houses on artificial plateaus and recently discovered post row monuments. Three areas were in 2011 investigated in the centre of the Early Medieval manor area. Beyond a major reinterpretations of the great 7th c. hall/-sal, the excavation also contributed in shedding new light on settlement continuity, crafts, large scale household economy and regulations of the site between c. 400-1600 AD. Of particular interest for this presentation is the Northern Plateau, placed in a 90 degree angle in relation the great hall. This partially artificial plateau, house, in between earlier and later phases, two 6th c., two large burnt down houses from the 7th to 8th c. The older building, of which only small remains have been examined, proved to be a multi-functional crafts building where the garnet production is the most prominent activity. The building most likely houses tens of thousands of garnet fragments from the jewellery production, which makes it the so far largest production site found so far in Scandinavia.

 

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Further reading on the web:

Blog by John Ljungkvist

Garnet jewellery in early medieval sweden (presentation)

Resources according to the archaeological research at Gamla Uppsala in Swedish:

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Arkeologerna blog posts

Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis

Upplandsmuseet Uppsala

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