BMCR 2020.12.25

The tiny and the fragmented: miniature, broken, or otherwise incomplete objects in the ancient world

, , The tiny and the fragmented: miniature, broken, or otherwise incomplete objects in the ancient world. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xi, 227. ISBN 9780190614812 $90.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.][1]

Prefatory note: It is hard to write convincingly about the sensations of scale. It is even harder to write convincingly about sensations from the long-ago past. This volume bravely makes the attempt: the authors and editors at many points invite us to imagine tiny objects and ancient humans performing with and for each other, and to focus our attention on the sensations of those imagined performances. In the spirit of this endeavor, I have written this review as a series of performance fragments. Although they are fictional, I believe they capture faithfully my own interactions with the wide variety of very small (and very large) objects, material and intellectual, that are on display in this work. Some of my theoretical inspirations in the area of object performance can be found at the end of the review.


And so if I tell you the full story, what is there left for you to do?
-Dayanita Singh, interview on “Museum of Chance” (2013)


1. Everything

-Everything is very small, everything is broken.
-That’s correct.
-From the standpoint of The-Everything-and-Everybody, at least.
-What I give you is a fragment of me.
-It’s better with marks. Marks of you on it.


2. The Sign of Tanit

-Do you know about the Sign of Tanit?
-It’s a women’s restroom icon, but old. Also it doesn’t have a face, but then too somehow it is a face, for someone else. Not Tanit.


-I find it very disturbing. Tanit is there, where there is child sacrifice.
-Have you ever been to the Tophet?
-No never.
-It’s in a very posh neighborhood, which is weird because of all the dead children.


3. Toys

-I’m not sure playing with toys is like this. A child can make Superman out of a tin can, the can doesn’t need legs and arms and a cape, they just need to say, “Look, it’s Superman!”
-And hold it and fly it around.


4. Seal Play

32: At their largest, standard Playa de los Muertos figurines fit comfortably in a human hand.
41: The smaller figurines usually cannot stand on their own; pierced through the neck, the majority…must have been suspended. One possibility is that they were intended to hang as pendants on the bodies of people.
191: This clarification is especially important here because ever-fewer Western readers have visited monuments and sites in Iran over the last almost forty years since the Iranian Revolution. Thus Western contemplations of Persepolis increasingly lack personal internalized memories of scale informed by actual experience of the physical.
201: When I climb the stairs of the Central Building, these small figures feel… like a chatty gaggle of children at my side.
201: The yardstick in this instance is poetic.


5. Holes

-I liked the part about Gordon Matta-Clark, even though I don’t know anything about Neolithic holes.
-Nobody does, that’s the point. Or what holes even are. Any holes, what they are. I don’t know.
-But even though I really only learned who Gordon Matta-Clark was a few years ago, when he came up in the essay about cutting and opening, I thought: Oh, I know something.
-That’s a good feeling.
-It really is.


Table of Contents

1. In/Complete: An Introduction to the Theories of Miniaturization and Fragmentation, 1
S. Rebecca Martin and Stephanie M. Langin-Hooper
2. Breaking Bodies and Biographies: Figurines of the Playa de los Muertos Tradition, 24
Rosemary A. Joyce
3. Tiny and Fragmented Votive Offerings from Classical Antiquity, 48
Jessica Hughes
4. Divinity in Part or in Full? Representations of Tanit in Texts and Art, 72
S. Rebecca Martin
5. Style as a Fragment of the Ancient World: A View From the Iron Age Levant and Assyria, 99
Marian H. Feldman
6. Stronger at the Broken Places: Affect in Hellenistic Babylonian Miniatures with Separately Made and Attached Limbs, 116
Stephanie M. Langin-Hooper
7. Tiny Bodies for Intimate Worlds: Human Figurines in Iberian Iron Age Sanctuaries, 145
Mireia López-Bertran and Jaime Vives-Ferrándiz
8. Incomplete: The Uneasy Powers of Holes, Cut Surfaces, and Neolithic Pit-Houses, 170
Doug Bailey
9. A Response: Scaling the Walls of Persepolis Toward an Imaginal Social/Material Landscape, 188
Margaret Cool Root

Suggested reading:

Eric Bass, “Visual Dramaturgy: Some Thoughts for Puppet Theatre-Makers,” in Dassia N. Posner, et al., ed., The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (New York: Routledge, 2014), 54-60.
Dwight Conquergood, “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research,” The Drama Review 46.2 (2002): 145-56.
Elizabeth Ann Jochum and Todd Murphey, “Programming Play: Puppets, Robots, and Engineering,” in Posner, Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance, 308-21.
Dean Wilcox, “The Defamiliarization of a Significant Phenomenon,” Theatre Research International 25.1 (2000): 74-85.

[1] Editors’ note: Other reviews of this book can be found here: C. E. Barrett, review of The Tiny and the Fragmented: Miniature, Broken, or Otherwise Incomplete Objects in the Ancient World, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 79.2 (2020): 360-365. doi: 10.1086/710364; P. Kiernan, review of The Tiny and the Fragmented: Miniature, Broken, or Otherwise Incomplete Objects in the Ancient World, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 30.4 (2020): 711-712 doi: 10.1017/S0959774320000268.