Some pretty rarefied books come across my desk. One that recently caught my eye is Volume 5 (B) of The Coroplastic Art of Ancient Cyprus.1 It is a beautifully produced folio volume that is essentially a catalogue of small molded female Cypriot figurines from a period of a little more than 250 years, beginning in about 750 B.C.
The plates picture nearly a thousand of these figurines carefully classified—by site (some without provenance), by various characteristics (figures with a triangular pubis, a large collar or little eyes) or by larger rubrics (figures with arms at the side, hands cupping the breasts or hands carrying an offering, or figures playing a tambourine or a lyre, or holding a child).
What struck me is the number of these little figurines. About a thousand, just in one period (750–475 B.C.), in one basic type (made from a mold) and one sex (female), and from one small island (Cyprus). Imagine how many other figurines there are—from other periods, handmade and wheel-made, male and animals, and from the entire ancient Near East. We are talking about thousands and thousands. And that’s just one kind of object: little figurines.
Has anyone considered how these figurines—and, by extension, other ancient artifacts—are distributed around the world?