Conservation Project: Auloi of Meroë, October 2019

Conservation and Collections Management

One set of Amanishakheto’s pipes are now on view in the special exhibition Ancient Nubia Now. This is the first time that any of the auloi from Meroë have been presented to the public. The pipes are displayed alongside an exact replica handcrafted by Peter Holmes of Middlesex University London, in a reconstruction project led by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Pair of pipes displayed with their replica in the gallery
Replica of the aulos on view in Ancient Nubia Now was made possible through the efforts of Peter Holmes and Martin Sims, Designers in Residence, and Neil Melton, Senior Technical Tutor, Faculty of Science and Technology, Middlesex University London.

The original aulos shown in the exhibition, part of the “wooden pipes” set, consists of simple bronze tubing, which were originally fitted with interior wooden resonators made from European olive trees. Both the bronze tubing and wood were likely shaped by lathe turning, which allowed the precise and airtight fitting of the sections, quite similar to connections found on today’s wind instruments. The bell-shaped ends required very delicate metalwork, with the bronze first thinned out and then worked over the sharp edges of the core. Much of the ancient wood has disintegrated beyond recognition. The corroded bronze shell of the pipes was largely reassembled from smaller fragments, with only a few tube sections remaining intact.

The pair consists of a higher and a lower pitched pipe. The finger holes of the latter are spaced so far apart that one particular note can only be achieved by means of a short side tube of cast bronze, adorned with subtle decoration. Since this particular pair does not include any mechanism for opening and closing the finger holes (observed on some of the other pipes from Meroë), its shining bronze encasing must be considered purely decorative.

Ancient Nubia Now is open through January 20, 2020 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery (Gallery LG31).