Last week I had the privilege of meeting Prof Andrew Moore and his wife who visited Manchester Museum to deposit objects from Abu Hureyra in Syria. The objects, mostly lithic small finds, were excavated during the early 1970s. The excavation was funded, as so often was the case in the past, by different institutions which subscribed to the costs of the project, and in return they received a share of the finds.
This is why Manchester Museum has such a brilliant Egyptology collection: Manchester textile magnate, Jesse Haworth, subscribed to William Flinders Petrie’s projects in Egypt and gave the material he received to the Museum. Manchester Museum received most of its share of the Abu Hureyra material many years ago but Professor Moore and his wife were dropping off the last of the objects, now that final publication work had been completed.
The 45 objects include flint arrowheads, a delicate piece of obsidian, various palettes, grinders and other objects.The Abu Hureyra material dates from some time around 9000 BC when hunter gatherers were experimenting with farming.
It was sobering to reflect that the excavation work would no longer be possible today. Abu Hureyra was flooded as part of a dam building project, and the recent fighting has put the discoveries that remained in the care of the Syrian Antiquities in great danger. Manchester Museum received all the objects from a particular context which makes the recent acquisitions very important.
It shows the wisdom of distributing the discoveries amongst a number of institutions and not putting all the fragile archaeological ‘eggs’ in one basket. Heaven only knows when the terrible fighting will end and the region return to something like peaceful conditions so that the condition of the archaeological sites and the antiquities in museum collections can be assessed. Perhaps not for a generation. At least some of the discoveries from this now inaccessible site can be seen in Manchester Museum. Below is a fragment of a gypsum plaster vessel that was created by smearing the plaster over some woven basketry and allowing it to dry before peeling it off.