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The Athlit Ram: Classical and Hellenistic Bronze Casting Technology

Asaf Oron
Thesis: December 2001
Chair: Pulak
Nautical Archaeology Program

In 1980 a warship ram of bronze was discovered at Athlit Bay, south of Haifa, Isreal. The subsequent study of the ram added significantly to the knowledge concerning Classical and Hellenistic large-scale bronzes. The Athlit ram far exceeds other existing rams in size and is one of the largest bronzes to have survived intact from the ancient Mediterranean world. Initial metallographic and metallurgical analyses of the ram, made shortly after its recovery, led to the conclusion that it was cast horizontally as a single piece in a two-part sandbox. However, the use of this casting method, commonly referred to as sand-casting, has not been documented prior to the late Medieval period. Such a conclusion is therefore inconsistent with existing knoledge of Classical and Hellenistic bronze casting technology.

Through the use of advanced analytical techniques and careful visual examination, the current study re-evaluates the technology employed in casting the Athlit ram. Newly gathered data, complemented with archaeological evidence from foundry remains and other surviving bronzes, indicate a close technical correlation between the methods used to produce the ram and the techniques used to create contemporary bronze sculptures. With the reference to ancient literary sources and modern technical studies, the current work attempts to reconstruct the casting sequence used. The conclusions place the Athlit ram comfortably within the known parameters of Classical and Hellenistic foundry practices. This study suggests that the ram was cast using the lost-wax technique and speculates about the adaptation of this casting method in order to use the bow timbers of the ship as a temporary core on which to build the wax model, thereby more efficiently fulfilling the design requirements of the ram.

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