If you visit Bodrum castle in November, there is a strong chance that you will have most of the exhibits to yourself. The cruise liners have finished docking for the year and just domestic flights are landing at Bodrum airport. Only the very determined visitor will be travelling around museums and archaeological sites. It is therefore the best time to explore our most obvious monument and perhaps pay attention to the smaller, less showy displays.
“Packaging” is not a very compelling subject, but one that we should take more care over. Our beaches and coves are full of discarded plastic bags and bottles and our lanes littered with discarded cans and containers, an ugly sight but fast forward 3,000 years and these remnants of our throwaway society will be the archaeologists’ data. Going by my early archaeological training, they will probably deduce that we worship at the shrines to Pepsi and Coca Cola.
The first exhibit one encounters on entering the courtyard of Bodrum castle is a display of ancient packages. Amphora - the word derived from the Greek ‘amphi’ meaning ‘on both sides’ and ‘pherein’ meaning ‘to carry’ - come in many shapes and sizes but to be defined as amphorae they must have two handles and be portable. They can be large or small, round or slim, squat or tapering, short or long-necked and with a narrow or wide mouth, (sounds like I am describing the human race). An amphora should not be confused with a large storage jar too heavy to be carried, this is commonly known as a ‘pithos’.
We have been making clay amphora since the Early Bronze Age (approx 3,000BC) and they have been used to carry wine, milk, olive oil, honey, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, cereals, pulses, fruit, herbs, nuts, sugar, kohl and gum arabic and they are always a happy discovery for the archaeologist as these clay containers are recognisable by both date and provenance, for example, amphorae from Rhodes were stamped with a rose design, Kos used a crab and those from Knidos have a bull. A pile of amphorae on the seabed is often the first indicator of an ancient shipwreck, the woodwork of the ship having long since decayed. A ship might have carried up to a thousand amphorae, transporting goods from one side of the Mediterranean to the other. The display in Bodrum Castle shows how easily the pointed bases of the containers stacked inside the hull.
The projecting base also acts as a third handle when tipping to pour out the contents. The shape of the amphora would be instantly recognisable to the consumer and could be changed to attract new custom when demand dipped; we shouldn’t assume that the advertising industry is a modern concept.
The durability of the amphora would suggest to our minds that they would be constantly recycled but evidence suggests that used oil amphora were considered a problem and often smashed and either left around the countryside or piled up outside ports. Waste packaging disposal is not just a nuisance of our era.
Wandering up and down the display of amphorae in the castle, I would rather my oil and wine came in these attractive clay containers and at about 6 gallons a time, my biceps would be considerably more toned had I had to fill my goblet from an amphora rather than from a wine bottle.