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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Shovel for Incense
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
3.5 x 10.8 x 23 cm (1 3/8 x 4 1/4 x 9 1/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is black with areas of green and red. Light brown burial accretions are present over approximately half of the surface. A 4-cm crack is present on the front edge near one corner; two small losses at this crack completely penetrate the shovel. A 2-cm crack is present on the front edge near the middle. Other irregularities on the edges appear to be casting flaws.

The wax model for the shovel was made by working directly to construct the components from a sheet (c. 2 mm thick) and other bits of wax. It is possible that the spade section was made by pressing a wax sheet into a rectangular form and then refining the edges with incised lines. The handle was made by cutting a tube of wax in two longitudinally. The column-capital shape and other embellishments were fashioned directly in wax and pressed in place. Three small rods of wax were added on the reverse of the handle to provide structural reinforcement. At least three incised concentric circles decorate the top surface of the spade section. One or two more may be hidden by burial accretions. In each case, a central point impression is surrounded by a 4-mm and a 10-mm incised circle. The circles are not all complete, and the condition of the shovel makes it difficult to determine whether the lines where made with a stamp or a compass. They were probably made in the wax model.

Henry Lie (submitted 2011)


Recorded Ownership History
[Bernheimer's Barn (Mr. Paul Bernheimer), Norton, MA], (1957-1959), sold; to the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University, (1959-2012), transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This incense shovel consists of a shallow rectangular pan and a half-cylinder handle (1). The pan is decorated with a molded rim on three sides with incised grooves and acroterion-like projections on the two corners adjacent to the handle. The pan rests on four small feet, one near each corner of the pan, and there may have originally been a fifth to support the handle.

The handle takes the shape of an unfluted column with a Corinthian capital; the capital has three visible leaves and a thin abacus. A rounded torus (ring) marks the center of the column. At the terminal of the handle, a flat metal tang sticks up from the column base. The handle is hollow on the underside, with a strengthening bar running the length of the column. It is attached to the pan by means of two projecting tangs joined to the underside of the rim.

Incense shovels such as this one are often found in multiples, particularly in Israel and Syria, and they may have played a role in Jewish religious practices (2).


1. Compare Piccoli bronzi del Real Museo Borbonico (Naples, 1858) pl. 4.35 from Herculaneum; Musee du Louvre, inv. no. Br 4472 (collection de Clercq); and Princeton University Art Museum, inv. no. y1946-222.

2. See D. G. Mitten, “Two New Bronze Objects in the McDaniel Collection,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965): 163-67, esp. 164-66.

Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

  • David Gordon Mitten, "Two New Bronze Objects in the McDaniel Collection", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (1965), Vol. 69, pp. 163-67, p. 164-66, pl. 2.
  • John Crawford, Sidney Goldstein, George M. A. Hanfmann, John Kroll, Judith Lerner, Miranda Marvin, Charlotte Moore, and Duane Roller, Objects of Ancient Daily Life. A Catalogue of the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection Belonging to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, ed. Jane Waldbaum, Department of the Classics (unpublished manuscript, 1970), M132, p. 189-90 [J. S. Crawford]

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/20/2024 - 05/05/2024

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

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