Sunday 24 February 2013

Self-Serving Artefact-Centred Museological Bull

Elginism retweets a text by somebody called "" (I'm not too clear who that is) who writes:
Prize for the most self-serving bullshit seen in 2013 goes to the for this, next to the Elgin Marbles 
Parthenon Marbles label in British Museum (photo by xiij)

The BM says a lot of self-serving bull about its Portable Antiquities Scheme, "partnering" (sic) artefact plunderers countrywide, too. It is actually the same thing.  

Elgin sawed, knocked-off and prized most of those blocks from the structure and material associated with it. The building was vandalised by Elgin to get those still on it into portable form. the ruin he left behind was weakened by these activities (carried out exploitively with no thought at all for the long term consequences for the original site) and parts of it protected by those removed elements were exposed to the effects of weathering and pollution. Hoiking them out of context to juxtapose them with similarly hoiked and decontextualised [looted remains of] "other civilizations such as those of Egypt, Assyria and Persia" (sic) really means nothing at all. Nothing the western European viewing public would not get from looking at the same sculptures in Athens with an art book in your hand or downloaded into your tablet.  Or getting on a plane and travelling to Egypt or the Middle East to look at the monuments (still) in situ there.

In the case of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, British and foreign artefact hunters and collectors are being encouraged to dismember the archaeological record to hoik out what they fancy for their collections, disrupting the archaeological record in a manner that cannot be mitigated. What is left behind by this exploitive hobby has severely reduced value for archaeological inference and interpretation, while the material removed loses a large amount of the information associated with it as it passes undocumented through ephemeral personal collections.  Hoiking them out of context to juxtapose them with similarly hoiked and decontextualised [looted remains of] other sites gives the possessor maybe some fleeting pleasure and entertainment, bragging rights, and maybe financial gain. Archaeologically the gains are minimal.

It obviously is futile to turn to an institution like the British Museum, with its own hangups and agenda, to give the British (or any other) public any kind of a moral lead in the treatment of the archaeological heritage, which consists of sites, monuments and archaeological assemblages and patterns in the soil, not a pile of displayed decontexctualised artefacts, no matter how "oooo-ah!" nice they look. The artefact-centric view of archaeology surely went out with Schliemann and Kossinna. 

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