A 2,400-year-old Heart-shaped Box

The Ma’agan Mikhael, a 5th-century BCE Cypriot merchantman, was found off the coast of Israel in 1985. The wreck was an important find in learning more about ancient shipbuilding techniques and trade practices. After excavation and preservation the reconstructed hull was placed in the Hecht Museum in Haifa.

Three wooden boxes were found in the wreck: one in a heart shape with a pivoting lid and two violin-shaped boxes. There is plenty of evidence in the archeological records that these boxes were of a type used for cosmetic pastes and creams.

In 2004 Yigal Sitry published, “Unique Wooden Artifacts: A Study of Typology and Technology” part of a series of research articles in “The Ma’agan Mikhael Ship – The Recovery of a 2,400 Year Old Merchantman” by Yaacov Kahanov and Elisha Linder.

In his article Sitry provides a full description of the heart-shaped box and outlines, with illustrations, “the order of operations” in the making of the box (and easy for a modern woodworker to follow).

The box, before conservation that caused uneven shrinkage, measured 110 mm x 109 mm x 34.5 mm (about 4.3″ x 4.3″ x 1.4″) and was made of oak. One note: the heart-shaped box has been renamed the ivy leaf box as that shape was more consistent with shapes found in contemporary pottery and art.

The link to Yigal Sitry’s article is here.

For the “recently spurned:” Put Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box” on a loop, make the box, burn it, repeat.

— Suzanne Ellison

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18 Responses to A 2,400-year-old Heart-shaped Box

  1. Hey!
    Wait!
    I’ve got a new project.
    Forever in debt to your priceless research.

  2. Rachael Boyd says:

    this is on my list now. you know I love to do reproductions of history.I have done a few.

  3. “Recently spurned”??? I’m not sure if that says more about the writer or the readership. Hahaha 😂

    >

  4. Suzanne…I simply love your posts!!

  5. Just curious, are you saying that the conservation treatment caused uneven shrinkage? What happened there?

    • saucyindexer says:

      Conservation of wood found in marine environments is a three-step process: desalination, followed by impregnation with PEG to replace the water, then temperature acclimation to the museum environment. The process took 7 years. During conservation (of the box) the author wrote, “the anatomical structure of the wood partially collapsed and the objects shrank unevenly.” On a side note, during conservation of the ship’s hull (this is from an abstract by Ya’acov Kahanov one of the lead researchers) shrinkage was monitored and when the hull was reconstructed the dimensions were within one centimeter of the measurements taken on the original wreck.

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