Saturday 15 January 2022

Lost Archaeology: Is Hearsay The Best We Can Do?

From a papyrologist that attended an online presentation about the trade in ancient material by Prof Erin Thompson... It seems that there are some ancient wooden writing tablets floating around coming (it seems) from Byzacena, and this group (?) of material has been on the market for "a while". Apparently most European and US academics are not willing to touch them and so nothing has been published, "although one can always find obscure journals of course ready to host shady objects". 

I have recently seen photos of what seem likely to be part of this group of objects, and it is my opinion from a number of visible characteristics that the ones I saw were most likely fakes. 

And where are these objects now? The ones I saw were on offer by a dealer.

But here we have a pretty typical situation, some hearsay tales of what would be really important finds if we knew more about their context ("from Byzacena" - still less "thought to be from Byzacena" - is not any form of archaeological context of deposition or discovery). There is some doubt that the objects are part of a closed single find, some characteristics suggest some are inserted fakes. And there is no firm documentation by which that context will ever be reconstructed with any certainty (that is the reality behind the soothing assertations of the Ixelles Six academics that this sort of situation is "merely zero gain")* 

The papyrologist even states: "as usual, very hard to find any solid information, only hearsay...". This is totally unsatisfactory. And what are archaeologists "doing" (I use the term loosely) about it? comments open, below.

By the way, for those not keeping up with the ancient world, Byzacena - more or less Tunesia.
Hat tip Prof Erin Thompson

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