Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Greetings from PACHI

I would like to take the opportunity to wish PACHI readers a very merry, peaceful and safe Christmas, and the freedom to celebrate it as you would wish. This year's Christmas vignette represents an Old Believer brass icon of St Nicholas, of nineteenth century form. This one is from eBay, and may or may not be a dug-up.* These icons however are a type of portable antiquity quite often found with metal detectors (among other places) on battlefields in Poland and adjacent areas, it seems from this that they were carried as an act of devotion, or perhaps talismans, by men going into action. Some were perhaps dropped while dodging bullets others however are in such a condition that suggests the person carrying them had been blown to pieces by suffering a direct hit. What is interesting is that they are found on the killing fields of nineteenth century battles as well as the First World War and (according to metal detectorists) the Second World War too. They were being carried by men of the Soviet Red Army (perhaps conscripts from the north) which of course was nominally atheist. While I am not advocating that all such icons or modern battlefields should necessarily be subject to archaeological resource protection legislation, there is a lesson here for those who contest the validity of points made about the need to protect finite archaeological resources. The stories these items can tell through knowing the full context of discovery is lost the moment that it is dug up and enters the ephemeral personal collection of someone who is not - like collectors of other types of artefact - interested in provenance information. That is even the case when, as here, the object has writing on it labelling the three main characters represented (St Nicholas the Wonder Worker, the Mother of God and St John the Forerunner) and pictures on it, the Saint in the omophorion holding a Gospel Book, the BVM and John the Baptist as well as two other saints (I'm not sure which) down at the bottom. Here we can get some information from this object just by looking at its external characteristics, it is an 'addressed source', so one made to carry (in fact quite complex) information. But the social context of the functioning of that information and values carried by this particular object can only be fully appreciated by knowing the circumstances where it like this ended up before becoming a collectable geegaw.

* A lot on sale there are fakes/ modern casts

1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

Thank you, Paul, and what a fitting way to wish us holiday greetings :) The feeling is more than mutual!

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