MV Blog


An eye for an eye

by Kate C
Publish date
29 February 2012
Comments (5)

Whether you know it best from the Bible, the Torah or Nick Cave's song The Mercy Seat, you might not know that the common phrase 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' has Mesopotamian origins.

prosthetic eye and teeth Left: Acrylic eye prosthesis made by Loyer Artificial Eyes, Burwood,Victoria, circa 1999. (HT 23234) | Right: Porcelain artificial teeth made by DeTrey's Diatorics, circa 1925. (HT 11829)
Source: Museum Victoria

It describes principle of retaliation – a harsh system of justice that permits someone suffering an injury at the hands of another to return like for like. The concept was first documented in the Code of Hammurabi, an upright stone pillar inscribed with 282 Babylonian laws by King Hammurabi (1792–1750 BC). It was uncovered in modern-day Iran in 1901 and is exhibited in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. 

Code of Hammurabi Code of Hammurabi on display in in the Musée du Louvre.
Image: Nick Olejniczak
Source: Used under CC BY-NC 2.0 from nicholasjon

Detail of the cuneiform on the Code of Hammurabi Detail of the cuneiform script on the Code of Hammurabi.
Image: Boris Doesburg
Source: Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 from batigolix

Museum Victoria is borrowing a cast of the code from the Australian Institue of Archaeology to display during The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition. The cast, purchased by the AIA in 1968, is an exact replica made in very limited edition by the Musée du Louvre.

Much of the code addresses contracts, payments, terms of transactions and marriage laws, but a handful of laws are paraphrased in the well-worn 'eye for an eye'. In the 1915 translation of the Code of Hammurabi by LW King, the contributing laws are stated explicitly:

196. If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.

200. If a man knock out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth.

But it's not as simple as that. In Babylonian society, there were three distinct social classes: the freemen, the second-class citizens, and at the bottom of the heap, the slaves. If a slave suffered the injury, retribution was less about flesh and more about cash:

199. If one destroy the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price.

The Code's rules, penalties and payments are a fascinating (and often contradictory) glimpse into the lives and values of the Babylonians. For example, if you leased a field and your crops were lost to the storm god Adad, it was your own problem. Yet if you hired an ox to work your fields and it was eaten by a lion, the loss was borne by the ox's owner. If the ox's death was caused by a god, an oath to that effect absolved the hirer of any responsibility. (It sounds like ox-hiring was a tough gig in Babylon.)

King Hammurabi's legacy persists and many of the philosophies of his code still ring true today. It established concepts such as medical malpractice, penalties for negligence and the role of government in resolving family matters like inheritance and divorce. Another important idea enacted in the Code of Hammurabi was assumed innocence, whereby both parties in a legal dispute were required to provide evidence of their claims – even if the evidence was no more than an oath that a god killed your ox.


The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition at Melbourne Museum

1915 translation of the Code of Hammurabi by LW King (PDF, 128 KB)

Code of Hammurabi in the Musée du Louvre

Geology of the Flatrocks site

by Lisa
Publish date
28 February 2012
Comments (5)

Lisa works in the Public Programs Department at Melbourne Museum but also volunteers in the Palaeontology Department and has been on several fossil digs.

By the tenth day of the annual Dinosaur Dreaming dig we had already catalogued more than 140 fossils. To know where to dig in the first place we need to understand the geology of the area because the types of rock and how they have been laid down can give us much information about the palaeoenvironment. Dr Alan Tait, Adjunct Research Fellow in the Department of Geosciences at Monash University is currently researching the sedimentology of the Flatrocks site and kindly explained its geology to me.

Today the site known as Flatrocks is a rocky beach dominated by light grey sandstone but 120 million years ago during the Cretaceous, the environment was very different. Australia was once part of a supercontinent called Gondwana which also comprised Antarctica, South America, Africa, New Zealand and India.

Much of Gondwana had broken up by the Cretaceous and a rift had started to form between Australia and Antarctic. The types of rocks and fossils we find along the coastline in Inverloch today tell us the story of the rift valley and the animals and plants that lived there.

The cliff face near the Flatrocks site The cliff face near the Flatrocks site. The grey mudstone is the remains of a flood plain which was on the floor of the rift valley. The layer where we find most of our fossils lies above this and at the top is massive sandstone. To the left of the mudstone you can see a fault where the rock layers have shifted dramatically from their original horizontal deposition.
Image: Lisa Nink
Source: Museum Victoria

The fossil layer itself consists of the sedimentary rocks, grey sandstone and conglomerate that were deposited during flooding of the rift valley. The conglomerate pebbles are made of clay eroded from the flood plain soils during flooding. The sandstone is grey because it contains grains of volcanic rock eroded from active volcanos some distance away and washed into the rift valley. The sediments also include the fossilised remains of dead animals, plants and trees. The time between the floods was long enough for large trees to grow, perhaps at least 100 years, and the floods were catastrophic.

Cliff at Inverloch “The main fossil bearing layer (under the red line) consists of grey sandstone with coal throughout it. The layer is bounded by a layer of mudstone below and massive sandstone above.
Image: Lisa Nink
Source: Museum Victoria

There are many fossilised tree stumps on the shore platform. Some of these trees lie horizontally with their fossilised roots still attached and are believed to have been knocked over by the force of the floods and washed down the river. We also find fossil leaves of ferns, gingkoes and monkey puzzle-like trees that once grew as part of a forest within the rift valley.

Fossil tree trunk A fossil tree trunk. If you look closely you can even see the growth rings.
Image: Lisa Nink
Source: Museum Victoria

The coal in the fossil layer is the remains of decomposing plants that once grew in the valley. Fossilised grains of pollen from these plants have also been found and by identifying their species, we can date the sediments surrounding them.

A nearby dyke (a long straight crack in the rocks through which magma from deep below the Earth's crust travels upwards and cools) is made up of basaltic rock, another igneous rock type. The dyke is 99.5 million years old and cuts through the grey sandstone, meaning it formed after the sedimentary rocks had been deposited. 

volcanic dyke at Inverloch Dale Nelson stands upon the basaltic dyke near the Flatrocks site.
Image: Lisa Nink
Source: Museum Victoria

We also find minerals at the site, like pyrite and calcite.

Crystals found at dinosaur dig Minerals found at the fossil dig site, shown with objects often found in geologists' pockets, for scale. Left: Pyrite crystals | Right: Calcite crystals
Image: Lisa Nink
Source: Museum Victoria


Dinosaur Dreaming blog

Infosheet: Dinosaur Dreaming - the Inverloch fossil site

Video: Dinosaur Dreaming

What does the Discovery Centre do?

by Jo
Publish date
26 February 2012
Comments (2)

Your Question: What exactly is the role of the Discovery Centre within Museum Victoria?

We play a very important role in making sure that you can access your state collection and this happens with requests made in person over the desk in the Discovery Centre, via the telephone, by snail mail and of course by email, and sometimes even by fax!

Visitors using the Discovery Centre Visitors using the resources in the Discovery Centre
Image: Jo Philo
Source: Museum Victoria

Every day when we come into the Discovery Centre we don’t know what the day will hold. Our inbox is jam packed with enquiries sent to us via our online enquiry form sent from many different people, with many different requests. The Discovery Centre is also responsible for responding to the various questions and comments that are posted on the different sections of the Museum Victoria website, the information sheets, the blog posts and the Collections Online webpages.

Visitors meeting Murray Visitors meeting Murray, the Murray Darling Carpet Python, in the Discovery Centre
Image: Jo Philo
Source: Museum Victoria

We are responsible for handling and responding to your research based enquiries for access to Museum Victoria collections and experts. This could be anything from an identification request along the lines of 'what is this spider?' or 'what type of bird made this nest?', or I’d like to find out more about dinosaurs, or CSIRAC - we handle them all. We can also help you with accessing the collection; perhaps your grandfather donated a camera to the collection and you would like to see it. Well, we can help. And of course, we can help with the donation process if you have a significant item that you would like the museum to consider acquiring.

Discovery Centre staff Jo and a visitor checking out the frogs in the Discovery Centre
Image: Kate Brereton
Source: Museum Victoria

The Discovery Centre also assists academic researchers with access to the collection for study and learning. We can also help you with getting copies of images from the collection, maybe to add to a family album or your family history research. Of course, there are also the requests we receive from publishers for copyright requests, or other state museums for object loans and historical societies for conservation advice. 

If you would like to know more about the Discovery Centre Team, we are all blog authors so you can read a few lines about us, and of course see a happy snap too!

Got a question? Ask us!


Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre

Immigration Discovery Centre

Pearling lugger photogrammetry

by Kate C
Publish date
24 February 2012
Comments (9)

Curator Michael Gregg, of the Maritime History department of the Western Australian Museum in Fremantle, recently visited the Scienceworks collection store to take highly specialised photographs of a model ship in our Transport Collection.

Michael Gregg with the pearling lugger model Michael Gregg with the model of pearling lugger Mary.
Source: Museum Victoria

The model is an exact replica of the pearling lugger Mary that operated out of Broome and Darwin in the 1920s and 30s. It was commissioned and partly constructed by Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Ingleton RAN in the 1930s to document a uniquely Australian type of vessel that was rapidly disappearing.

In 1913, the pearling industry was worth a fortune to Western Australia in exports. As Michael puts it, "Australia didn't ride on sheep's back, it was on the pearl oyster's back." In one year alone, 300 new luggers were registered. "At one stage, the guy who built this boat was turning out a new lugger every 14 days."

Michael is interested in the model because it captures details of design and construction that have been lost with the demise of the pearling lugger. "There are no Fremantle-built pearling luggers still in existence in their original form," explains Michael. This is in part due to mechanisation; the original Mary was herself fitted with an engine by the 1930s. But more significant was the illegal rebuilding of luggers and recycling of registration numbers by unscrupulous operators. World War II took a toll on the lugger fleet also, as boats were requisitioned by the Navy or destroyed ahead of a feared Japanese invasion..

"There were all sorts of shenanigans that went on with the pearling industry," Michael says. "The best way to run the industry economically was to import Malay and Japanese labour. Come the early 1900s, the White Australia Policy meant you could bring in indentured seamen to work on ships for up to two years but they were only allowed to work as crew, not boatbuilders." Pearling masters got around this technicality by signing up imported labour as crew, but quietly issuing them boatbuilding tasks as 'maintenance'.

There were three distinct types of pearling lugger built to cope with the different conditions in Broome, the Torres Strait and Shark Bay. The nature of these vessels – rapidly built to a standard pattern and considered reasonably expendable – means they were rarely preserved in model form. It was only Ingleton's interest in recording history that inspired the construction of this model, and it's being used now exactly as Ingleton intended.

Detail of pearling lugger model Detail of the Mary model showing its beautifully detailed rigging and fittings.
Source: Museum Victoria

"We were just gobsmacked when we discovered this model because we thought we knew of all the significant lugger material in Australia," says Michael. "We regularly trawl the net looking for references to pearling luggers. Because there was sufficient information in your Collections Online and it's searchable, it popped up in Google." One of the most exciting prospects for the model, and the reason for Michael's visit, is that he's using it to help develop photogrammetric software and techniques that will conserve Australia's maritime technology.

Michael Gregg taking photos Michael Gregg at work taking photos of the pearling lugger model in the Scienceworks collection store, experimenting with a 3D camera.
Source: Museum Victoria

Photogrammetry uses a series of photos analysed by a computer to build a 3D virtual model of an object. According to Michael, it's commonly used by police to help reconstruct road crashes. "It's great for working out the distance between two points in space, but we're really pushing the boundaries of what it can do." While the process will be most useful in recording full-sized ships, the Mary model invites some experimentation; he was using a 3D camera see if it would help simplify the laborious process of matching target points between different photographs. "It's much easier to work on a full-sized boat because you can stick targets all over it and nobody minds. With a museum-quality model, we can't do that. This is the first time I've recorded rigging simultaneously, too."

Michael sees photogrammetry as an incredibly useful tool for museums and more. Ultimately he hopes the software and techniques he and his colleagues are developing can do something absolutely extraordinary: use historical photographs to create something you can hold in your hand. The craze for stereoscopic photographs around the turn of the century produced countless images of one view from two slightly different angles, and these might one day allow 3D recreations of long-gone ships, buildings, artefacts and more. "It's very, very exciting."


Western Australian Museum - Maritime

Pearl lugger Mary on Collections Online

Q&A with Dr Andrew Jamieson

by Adrienne Leith
Publish date
22 February 2012
Comments (0)

Adrienne creates and presents public programs at Melbourne Museum and coordinates Museum Victoria's lecture series.

A new major exhibition is coming to Melbourne Museum this year called The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia. To learn more about the history and significance of Mesopotamia, I interviewed an expert in ancient civilisations, Dr Andrew Jamieson.

Can you first tell us a bit about yourself and how you are involved with the exhibition?

I am an archaeologist from the Classics and Archaeology program at the University of Melbourne, and for the past 25 years I have been working on archaeological projects in the Middle East. I'm helping with the development and presentation of The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia at Melbourne Museum, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of my knowledge at some public lectures at the museum.

Where exactly is Mesopotamia?

Ancient Mesopotamia corresponds with the area known today as Iraq, north-east Syria and south-east Turkey. The word 'Mesopotamia' is of Greek origin (meso 'middle' and potamia 'river'), meaning the land between two rivers – the Tigris and the Euphrates. Both the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers start in the mountainous regions of Turkey and flow into the Persian Gulf.

It was here, in a land through which the two rivers flowed, that some of the world's first great empires flourished - the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Statue of King Ashurnasirpal II Statue of King Ashurnasirpal II that was placed in the Temple of Ishtar at Nimrud where Ashurnasirpal established his capital city.
Source: @ The Trustees of the British Museum

So why is Mesopotamia so significant?

Mesopotamia is important for a number of reasons.  For example, Mesopotamia witnessed experiments in agriculture and irrigation, the invention of writing, the emergence of cities and complex society, and developments in art, literature, science and mathematics. Mesopotamia is also sometimes referred to as the 'fertile crescent' or the 'cradle of civilisation', because the crescent-shaped region was a moist and fertile land, and because the first complex societies emerged in this region.

Why is Mesopotamia relevant to us today?

For me, Mesopotamia is relevant today because it represents the origins or beginnings of western civilisation. Ancient Mesopotamia has a long and rich history that continues to influence our lives.

The Mesopotamians were amongst the first people to build and live in large cities. They also developed many aspects of technology including metalworking, pottery production, glassmaking, textile manufacture and leather-working.

The oldest writing yet discovered comes from southern Mesopotamia and dates to circa 3500 BC. It consists of pictographic signs incised on clay tablets that record the Sumerian language. The earliest writing was used to communicate basic information about crops and taxes. A few centuries later the pictographs were transformed into more abstract cuneiform ('wedge-shaped') characters. This distinctive script was incised on wet clay with a stylus (pen-like instrument), usually cut from a reed. Over thousands of years, Mesopotamian scribes recorded daily events, trade activities, astronomy, myths, and literature on thousands of clay tablets. So successful was this system of writing that it was used over three millennia by the different peoples of the ancient Near East.

Early cuneiform writing tablet, c. 3000 BC Early cuneiform writing tablet, circa 3000 BC. Quantities of barley allocated to officials listed by rank. The impressed circles and half-circles represent numbers.
Source: @ The Trustees of the British Museum

What can people expect to see in the exhibition?

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia is specially designed for Melbourne Museum It features over 170 objects highlighting significant episodes of Mesopotamian civilisation, including masterpieces from Sumer, Assyria and Babylon. It is rare for the British Museum to tour such priceless pieces. Some of these objects include an early Sumerian cuneiform writing tablet, a fluted gold cup with spout found in the death pit of the tomb of Queen Puabi at Ur that may have been used for drinking beer, a large stone statue of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II inscribed in cuneiform giving his titles and lineage, and much more.

Gold cup Gold cup with spout found in the death pit of the tomb of Queen Puabi. The long spout would have been used like a drinking straw, probably for drinking beer.
Source: @ The Trustees of the British Museum

The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia is a collaboration with the British Museum. It is on at Melbourne Museum from 4 May to 7 October 2012.


The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia

Video: What is Mesopotamia?

Video: The Mesopotamian Minute

Pre-purchase exhibition tickets online

Dr Andrew Jamieson at the University of Melbourne

SmartBar at Melbourne Museum

by Linda Sproul
Publish date
21 February 2012
Comments (6)

SmartBar logo SmartBar logo
Source: Museum Victoria

On March 1, Melbourne Museum will be presenting SmartBar – an evening event for adults featuring talks by museum scientists and interactive experiences.

As part of the event, the dissection of a road-killed bird will occur to demonstrate how Museum Victoria researchers study these sorts of animals that are brought in by concerned members of the public. This process increases our understanding of animal health, diet, welfare and conservation. The information we gain from this type of research is critical for our understanding of issues that impact Victorian fauna such as climate change and human activities.

SmartBar will provide Museum Victoria a chance to introduce people to the work of the museum, first hand. Beyond our exhibitions, we undertake important and ongoing research to learn more about our fauna, with a view to helping inform its conservation into the future. At SmartBar, we're giving people a chance to learn about some of that work and meet some of our staff in an informal setting. We're hoping this attracts an audience who would not normally attend Melbourne Museum so they too can become passionate, informed and respectful of Victoria and Australia's wildlife.

In earlier communications we described the event in a way which was misinterpreted by some readers. We apologise for any confusion or anxiety this may have caused and would like to thank everyone who has given us feedback on the SmartBar event.



About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.