Saturday 9 February 2019

MDAs and the Ethics of Portable Antiquities Collecting

There is an interesting thought in the blog post by Prof. Howard M. R. Williams [Prof. Archaeodeath] on the Welbeck Hill Flog-off Fiasco hosted by Hanson's auctions ('Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill'):
 while human remains are the most emotive and particularly contentious sale items that prompted the ire of archaeologists, the integrity of collections of mortuary-derived artefacts are equally deserving of our attention. Indeed, I would suggest that the sale of mortuary-derived artefacts without human remains should be considered no less controversial and unethical. I’m looking forward to a forthcoming paper by Adam Daubney reflecting on the ethics of the sale of artefacts unquestionably from mortuary contexts, since splitting bones from artefacts doesn’t make the latter any more ethical as sale items!
Indeed, sounds interesting, especially as coming from an FLO (FLOs generally keep out of discussions of the ethics of antiquities collecting - which is a shame as the perspective on it will necessarily be of a specific character). I am not sure about the idea that Prof. Archaeodeath seems to be pondering about not splitting grave goods from human remains, so if a collector collects the grave goods, he would have to curate the body too - for example in collector's wife's bedroom wardrobe.

This while thread of thought raises an important issue about the 'portable antiquities' that are deemed collectable as 'ancient art'. Many of them come from graves. So ancient Egypt we think of shabtis, 'mummy beads' (not all from mummies), amulets (ditto), Fayum portraits, the front part of mummy cases ripped off and 'portableised' as "mummy masks", cartonnage frafments, including mummy masks, canopic jars and their lids, heart scarabs, tomb models etc. In South American archaeology we have all those West Mexican figurines made as accompaniment in the grave Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit. The textiles from mummy bundles, gold ornaments such as those from Sipan. In Asia, Han and Tang tomb figures. In Europe, complete red figure vases from Etruscan tombs, complete fragile Roman glass vessels and lamps from graves. Roman and Greek grave stelea. The list goes on. In fact, a very large proportion of the portable antiquities collectables on the market today come from graves. There's two reasons for that, firstly graves contain buried objects of - quite often high quality and complete, but also graves tend to occur in groups (family, community, group) - so if you find one and dig around there will often be more - and are often still marked on the surface or figure in local folklore. So if you want to find old objects to sell to some graspy middleman, these are good places to look for them. Metal detectorists find the 'partifacts' in open fields that feed the lower end of the market, tomb-robbers' finds tend to go more to the upper end of the market.

Perhaps it is worth taking a good look at the ethics of the portable antiquities trade as a whole with regard to mortuary-derived artefacts (MDAs).        ,

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.