Objects do speak

20 Aug

While we’re preparing for some extra photography and digitisation of objects from the Regolini-Galassi tomb in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, we studied the objects from new photography we kindly received from this museum.  And indeed, the objects do tell us an important story, that can be crucial in the visualisation decisions we need to make for the virtual reconstruction of the Regolini-Galassi tomb in the 7th century BC.

Let’s focus here on two objects that are on display in the museum (see image below). The first object is the bronze holmos, a symbolic replica of a ceramic holmos, that was used in Etruscan times as a stand to warm food and that was put in the tomb for the deceased to be able to continue to feast in the afterlife.  We see that this object is deformed globally and has specific corrosion and deformation marks.  The second object is a bronze lebes, a cauldron that was probably used to serve wine, mixed with honey and spices.  With the lebes on top of the holmos, the rim sits at 1,24 m above ground level, which is quite OK for taking wine from the cauldron.

bronze holmos with lebete

Corrosion and deformation marks on a bronze holmos and lebes from the RG tomb before recent restoration (photo: Vatican Museums)

Corrosion and deformation marks on a bronze holmos and lebes from the RG tomb after recent restoration (photo: Vatican Museums)

Most of the perimeter of the conical foot of the holmos is corroded.  This can be understood easily as the holmos was standing on the damp floor of the tomb. The contact with the soil and the changing humidity in such a tomb trigger chemical processes that oxidise the bronze and corrode it locally.


The foot of the holmos is corroded due to contact with the damp floor (photo: Vatican Museums)

As shown in the image below, the bell shaped top part has a distinct deformation.  We think that this goes together with the corrosion of the foot, that made the holmos fall down and hit something, causing not only this local deformation, but also an overall deformation of the object, as can be observed from the top image.  Such a collapse only can happen if a heavy object such as the lebes was on top of the holmos  and would have reinforced the global and local deformation of the holmos.  From the excavation drawings, we know that the holmos was standing on the slightly sloping dromos, the access to the antechamber.

top detail of holmos

Top part of the holmos with distinct corroded (left) and deformed (right) zones (photo: Vatican Museums)

The top part has also a distinct corrosion pattern that only can be explained if the holmos was lying on the ground, and most of the top part was touching the damp floor of the tomb.  The lebes, that was potentially on top of the holmos, has the same kind of corrosion and deformation patterns (see image below). The object also has hit something significantly and has a large zone that is corroded away, probably through contant with the tomb floor.  As this zone is not the bottom part but a side part of the object, the corrosion is probably not due to the fact that the object was simply placed on the ground when being put in the tomb.  So it is quite possible that the lebes was on top of the holmos, and that both fell down due to the corrosion of the foot part of the holmos.  Both objects can have hit other objects or the wall of the tomb, the lebes can have rolled down the slope of the dromos (which had a steepness of about 5 degrees) to end up on an atypical place somewhere in the antechamber (so that the excavators didn’t see the relationship between the holmos and the lebes).

6-headed lebete

Deformation and corrosion patterns on the 6-headed lebes (photo: Vatican Museums)

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the holmos – although in a restored state – is capable of carrying the smaller six-headed lebes, despite the remarks of Pareti (in the catalogue of the RG tomb objects in 1947) that the holmos is made of a thin sheet of bronze that cannot support the lebetes. This could be true for the larger and much more heavier 5-headed lebetes, but it works for the 6-headed lebes which is much lighter.


Visualisation of the holmos and the 6-headed lebes through 3D dummy objects, separate and on top of each other (Visual Dimension)

We can conclude that both the 6-headed lebes and the bronze holmos contain specific corrosion and deformation patterns that make the hypothesis very plausible that they were together and on top of each other.  Further study will show if these observations are maybe the solution to the first and second Lebetes Mystery?  So, stay tuned and feel free to give your input and observations by posting a reply.

This blog is part of the Etruscanning project, that is been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


3 Responses to “Objects do speak”


  1. Update on the 3D reconstruction of the RG tomb « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - September 2, 2011

    […] This aspect has not been implemented in this reconstruction yet for simplicity.  As explained in a earlier post, we choose to put the 6-headed lebes on top of the bronze holmos. View on the dromos (3D […]

  2. First version of the interactive application « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - October 10, 2011

    […] that was made by the photographic department of the Vatican Museums.  Some objects (such as the cauldron with griffin heads above) were modelled by automatic photogrammetry from images.  Other objects could rely on […]

  3. The holmos and lebes digitally restored « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - November 28, 2012

    […] The bronze holmos of the Regolini-Galassi tomb is a very elaborated and beautiful object that has suffered significant damage and corrosion. […]

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