Globalising Luxuries

The Globalising Luxuries project is a collaboration between Bristol University and the British Museum to explore the production and distribution of luxury objects around the wider ancient Mediterranean world. It seeks to integrate the skilled craftsmen and traders into the social narrative of luxury object manufacture and dissemination.

Decorated ostrich eggs were luxury items in antiquity. They were used as jugs and cups, and they were engraved, painted, and sometimes embellished with ivory, preciously metals and faience fittings. They have been found primarily in elite funerary contexts from Mesopotamia and the Levant to the wider Mediterranean throughout the region’s Bronze and Iron Ages (3rd-2nd millennium BCE and c.1st millennium BCE respectively). These represent different cultures that were often in conflict with one another.

Most research on these objects has focused on their iconography to determine who decorated them. But this equates decorative style with cultural identity, which is particularly problematic when we know that artisans were known to migrate, or be moved, and often in the employ of royal or elite patrons.

To address this, we are using a combination of isotopic indicators, high resolution microscopy and digital and scanning electron microscopy. With these techniques together, we are determining where an egg was laid, whether it laid by a wild or captive bird, and distinguishing working techniques, including pigments.

Through these methods, we are understanding better the mechanisms and routes of luxury production and trade in the ancient world. In turn, this will help us understand the full extent of the role luxuries play in today’s globalised world. This includes highlighting the roles played by the procurers of raw materials, the fashioning craftsmen, and the traders and merchants who distribute them.

Trade, labour and capital were factors of tremendous importance in the ancient world, just as they are today. The long-term trajectory of our knowledge of the past allows us to model outcomes from circumstances across the globe in today’s globalised world.

Read Tamar’s blog on globalising luxuries


For further details please see the Globalising Luxuries website

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Bodies, things, capital