Saturday, 19 January 2013

"Pricelesss Artefact" of "No Value" Stolen

It seems to me that sometimes the rhetoric used in some of our discussions indicates a certain lack of clarity of ideas. An article in The Jewish Press loudly complains "Rare Artifact Stolen from Tel Shiloh Archaeological Site".
A recently uncovered rare archaeological artifact was stolen this week from the Tel Shiloh archaeological site. Tazpit News Agency reported last week about the artifact, a broken clay pitcher lying in a layer of reddish ashes, that helped complete the story of the devastation of Shiloh, the ancient capital of Israel during the First Israelite commonwealth. The ashes found attest to a devastating fire that raged at the site. The dating of the clay pitcher, 1,050 BCE, correlates with the dating of the events depicted in Samuel I, C. 4. This artifact is one of its kind, and only it can shed light on the biblical mystery it solves.
Really? It's a broken pot. Does it date the layer, or does the layer date it? Text-driven archaeology was never my favourite.
The site administration filed a compliant with the police immediately after the theft had been discovered.  Avital Selah, director of the Tel Shiloh site, told Tazpit News Agency he could not imagine a motive for the theft. “I don’t know what can be done with it; it has no value as an antique, but does have immense historical significance. I believe it may be the act of someone who desired to have the artifact in his possession after hearing about the discovery in the media. I don’t think there was criminal intent here; I don’t think it was a professional job, only poor behavior. I call on the person who took the artifact to return it and save this extremely important historical finding.”
So it has immense value but no value? Obviously two (or maybe three) different types of 'value' are being referred to here. The question is whether, if the thief has a conscience and - dspite the 'value' the item has for him or her personally - returns what he or she took, the item as a loose decontextualised object will (re)gain either type of value.  Within what context is 'value' assigned by whom?

Obviously though, for the archaeologists concerned, it was the object's situation in a particular context of discoery that gave it the value they assigned to it. Removing it and losing the information where it came from reduces it to a piece of old ceramic with minimal commercial value, which can only be of personal souvenir (or trophy) value to its "finder".

Aryeh Savir, 'Rare Artifact Stolen from Tel Shiloh Archaeological Site',   Tazpit News Agency January 17th, 2013

Vignette: the stolen pot in situ (slightly edited to remove rodent burrows in section).

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