A Roman fan made of ivory that belonged to a noblewoman in the 3rd Century AD has been found in southern Spain and is believed to be the biggest ever found.
The fan, or ‘flabellum’ in Latin, was found by an internship student from University of Seville who was working on packaging and cataloguing artefacts found during a dig that started in 2005 at the archaeological site of Italica located on Extremadura de Santiponce Avenue in the city of Seville in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.
Marisol Gil de los Reyes, 62, director of the Archaeological Museum of Seville, told Real Press in an exclusive interview that the fan arrived at the Museum in 2008 after a dig that started in 2005.
She said that “it arrived at the Museum along with different objects from the excavation and the items were left there”.
In 2018, the packaging and registering process of the items started and the student spotted something that grabbed their attention and showed it to the curator who started the investigation along with different experts of ivory works.
Gil de los Reyes explained that “it is a piece that grabs one’s attention because the two elements were symmetrical, one of them is fractured but both are still in a good state.”
After the investigation, it was revealed that the two pieces belonged to the same item and it was then confirmed it was a fan.
She added: “There is gold leaf stuck in the items and the fabric used for fanning has disappeared, so it is believed that it was organic and disappeared over time. It was probably papyrus.”
The museum director also highlighted that the size of the fan is unique as it is bigger than what has been found anywhere else in the world.
She said: “Its size is over 30 centimetres (11.8 inches), and other items like this are commonly between 20 and 30 centimetres (7.87 and 11.8 inches).”
The expert also said that the fan was used in a burial in the 3rd Century AD.
She added: “The funeral ritual involving the fan is very interesting, as it was located above a lead coffin, like a last gesture for the deceased.”
The rest of the artefacts and the fact that they included gold threads confirmed that the remains belonged to someone of significant social relevance as “the shroud was quite luxurious”.
Gil de los Reyes also explained that back then, burial was not the most common ceremony so “it made us suspect that she was from the social elite”.
The fan’s origin is still unknown as it is believed that it was brought from abroad, which would confirm that the item belonged to a person of means.
Gil de los Reyes explained that fans were commonly used by individuals in those days but not by slaves, and that the main purpose was to fan oneself, dismissing the notion that it was used for flirting, a trend that emerged much later.
The fan has been cleaned and taken to one of the museum’s storehouses where experts plan to investigate it further.