Saturday, 19 October 2019

Archaeology's Artefactual Backlog

Michael Press @MichaelDPress criticises archaeology's greed to acquire "new' material that cannot possibly be processed (19th Oct 2019):
One thing that strikes me about the Hobby Lobby/Oxyrhynchus fiasco: It points to the unfathomable amount of ancient documents and other artifacts that remain unpublished -- and not even fully processed! The Oxyrhynchus papyri consist of hundreds of thousands of fragments gathered more than a century ago, and yet we still have little idea what's contained in most of these documents. The same is true of the Cairo Genizah -- witness recent crowdsourcing efforts just to sort these hundreds of thousands of documents over a century later: Or the recent post on a previously unknown Ibn Gabirol poem: Fragment of the Month: October 2019 In October 2019's Fragment of the Month a new poem by Solomon ibn Gabirol is found in plain I can't even count the number of excavations in Israel from 50 or 60 years ago that have seen no final publication. And yet -- rather than process this material, everyone is rushing to gather new material! New excavations! Or, even worse, embrace unprovenanced material! There is a real lesson here about the dire need to process this material. What we have are discipline-level failures in archaeology, papyrology, and more, to deal with this problem. Material is stolen or disappears, huge amounts of data lost. What will we do about this?
The same goes for the greed to get our hands on the hoiked hauls of artefact hunters who've raided the archaeological record for collectables. How many of the Treasure finds from the last two decades of activity of the Treasure Act have seen proper, monographic, professional publication? That is a serious question. may are displayed in museums up and down the country, how many have more than a summary publication?

The PAS collects what it calls 'data' about some of what artefact hunters hoik out of the archaeological record, yet where is there a properly-presented study of collecting habits based on this information? Indeed where is the one on how it looked ten, fifteen years ago, and the one on what has changed since? Such a survey is vital in order to understand what is collected in terms of the archaeological evidence it would have been (and which supporters of the PAS approach fondly think it still is).  Yet all we get is "wotta-lotta-stuff-we-got" jubilation (and "look at this interesting thing-gonna-tell-you-a-story" superficiality), and no holistic meaty synthesis of what it all means. All those 'data' - on what?

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