Weekly Auctions of Exceptional Items
0 selections
Log In
0 selections
lots of lots
Lot 0172
8th-10th century AD. A tall bell-shaped sounding lead with tethering hole in a stout lug at the upper end and concave tallow cup in base; two crosses marking each side of the weight shaft and one above the tethering hole. See Oleson, J. P. 'Testing the Waters: The Role of Sounding-Weights in Ancient Mediterranean Navigation.' pp.119-76 in Hohlfelder, R. L., ed.,The Maritime World of Ancient Rome. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 2008 for discussion of usage; and see Galili, E., Sharvit, J. and Rosen, B. ‘Symbolic Engravings on Byzantine Sounding Leads from the Carmel Coast of Israel’, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 29, 2000, pp.143-150 for examples of crosses on sounding leads. 4.2 kg, 15.5cm (6"). From the collection of a London ancient art specialist; from a collection acquired in the 1970s and 1980s. A sounding lead is a bell-shaped weight, usually made of lead, which was used by ancient mariners to determine the depth of the water and to bring up samples from the bottom. They were a critical piece of navigational equipment in Mediterranean cultures from at least the 6th century BC. The concave cup in the base of the lead would have been filled with tallow, a hard substance made from animal fat which picked up material from the sea or river bed, allowing mariners to accumulate knowledge of coastal geographies. The earliest description of the sounding weight in use is found in Herodotus' Histories (2.5.28) where it is recorded that it will be a day's sail away from Egypt when the sounding weight brings up mud and measures eleven fathoms (about 20 metres").


Fine condition.

Buyer's Premium

  • 30%

Byzantine Ship's Sounding Lead

Estimate £600 - £800May 22, 2018