The Tomb of the Diver

Ever since my visit to the Stonehenge Exhibition at the British Museum I’ve acquired a heightened interest in the art of our ancient ancestors. For starters I’m amazed at the standard of craftmanship achieved by people who only had basic tools. Without a global trade network they would have had only limited access to materials too. I’m also fascinated by the insights that their creations provide about their everyday lives and belief systems. Where they that different from us? Some of the art suggests that there were more similarities between life of yesteryear and today than we would imagine.

I was very taken by this picture of that I came across the other day that decorated the ceiling of the Tomb of the Diver. At first glance I thought that it was modern given the current popularity of outdoor swimming. I thought someone had designed it with a retro twist, perhaps twenties or thirties inspired. However I was wrong for it’s about two and a half thousand years old. I’d probably have twigged if I’d taken a better look. Then I would have noticed it was painted on a limestone slab, ingenious to the area of Italy where it was found. There are, after all, visible signs of wear and tear! I was most surprised about the diving board contraption. Did our forebearers build these in days gone by so that they could make a splash when they took a dip?

Wikipedia goes into rather a lot of detail about the Tomb of the Diver. I’ve added a link here for those that are interested. Not only was the ceiling painted but there are also illustrations on the four wall slabs. At first glance, ‘orgy’ sprang to mind. One theory is that the naked and lightly clad people were welcoming the grave’s occupant into the afterlife. Party on guys! And diving itself was used in ancient history as a metaphor for plunging into the unknown at the time of death. Therein lies another source of fascination for me. Our ancestor were not just occupied with the basic routines of daily life. Just like we do it seemed they liberally used symbolism to make sense of more complex ideas.

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