Tuesday 17 May 2022

Buying the Past in Pieces: World History Seen from Idaho

The Idaho firm Engineered Labs (Tim and Cory Marriott) designs and manufactures "unique science-related gifts", amoung them is
"the Heritage Personal Museum, a collection of fragments from 33 historical artifacts and rare specimens enclosed in an acrylic case, which it sells on its website for $189.99. The collection features fragments of items such as Egyptian mummy beads, a woolly mammoth tusk, and Mayan jade"

 One of the Marriots explained that "the company would only sell fragments “that are already broken in small pieces” for the product", which really begs the question of where on the market one can actually acquire (legally or without regard to antiquities laws) buy such small embeddable pieces? As far as this observer of the trade is concerned this looks to be an extraordinarily difficult task. Unless they are misleading us about not breaking stuff up to sell off piecemeal. Here's the blurb and full list of the current offering (note, the "Mayan (sic) jade" is missing):

 The Heritage Museum is a collection of artifacts from the history of the world. The specimens have been specifically selected and curated for the museum. From meteorites and dinosaur fossils to barbed wire from D-Day, the personal museum includes artifacts from some of the most important events in history. Each artifact is carefully prepared for inclusion. The samples are then professionally cast in acrylic. The museums are polished to a glass-like surface and will last for generations with proper care. [...] Each artifact in the museum is authentic and has inherent historical importance. The artifacts span not only the history of the world but also the history of the universe. The museum dimensions are approximately 4.5" x 6.0" x 1.0" and contain 33 artifact specimens. A microfiber bag and a certificate of authenticity come with every museum. The following list shows the specimens that are included in each museum. We hope that you will find the following artifacts as interesting and intriguing as we do. 

1.     Revolutionary War Lead

2.     USS Constitution Wood

3.    Civil War Bullet

4.   Wright Brothers Flyer Fabric

5.   [Lockheed] SR-71 Titanium

6.   Space Shuttle Insulation

7.   Apollo 11 Command Module Metal

8.   Sand from Pearl Harbor

9.   D-Day Barbed Wire (Utah/Omaha Beaches)

10.           Sand from Iwo Jima

11.           Trinitite (The Manhattan Project)

12.           Berlin Wall

13.           Titanic Coal

14.           Great Wall of China Fragment

15.           Ancient Greek Pottery

16.           Coin from the Roman Empire (c. 300 AD)

17.           Pompeii Ash

18.           Egyptian Mummy Linen (c. 100 BCE)

19.           Woolly Mammoth Hair

20.           Mini Shark Tooth Fossil

21.           Megaolodon Tooth

22.           Petrified Wood from Antarctica

23.           Insect Embedded in Amber

24.           Ankylosaurus Armor

25.           Tyrannosaurus Rex Tooth 

26.           Dinosaur Egg Shell

27.           Dinosaur Coprolite 

28.           Triceratops Brow Horn

29.           Plesiosaurus Bone

30.           Moldavite

31.           Stromatolite

32.           Martian Meteorite

33.           Carbonaceous Chondrite"

It is interesting to note that of these 15 items (Nos 19-33) are geological specimens that can be picked up at most rock and mineral markets. We note that virtually none of them are provenanced (for example what is the registration number of the meteorite specimens used?).

Then we note that in this encapsulated view of "
not only the history of the world but also the history of the universe" the USA figures very prominently... (nos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). One wonders how some of this material was accessed, for example the metal from space vehicles (as I understand it remains like this are property of the US government). For this reason, there is no piece here of space shuttle wreckage, and material from (American) Civil War battlefields. I guess that "Berlin Wall" and "Titanic coal" are also here because of a perceived US connection.  Note that nothing pre- 17776 is there for the entire American continent. This is White American history. 

This basically leaves five items to represent the rest of world history, black and white: 14. Great Wall of China Fragment (protected monument, "obtained by governmental permission from the Badaling Section". This theme will appeal to Trump voters though), 15. Ancient Greek Pottery (unprovenanced, "4th century BC"). 16. Coin from the Roman Empire c. 300 AD ("the ancient coin included in the Heritage Museum comes from this profoundly influential empire", so metal detecting somewhere... The ones pictured seem to have Trier mintmarks), 17. Pompeii Ash, 18. Egyptian Mummy Linen c. 100 BCE (so, actually Coptic: unprovenanced, how and when did it leave Egypt?). So the staple eBay collectables periods, Egypt, Greece, Rome (no "Viking"?) and China.  

This product came to notice because of a silly Tiktok video that featured the deliberate shattering of an Indus Valley pot, apparently in the company's stores. There are other pots of this class type visible, one has a drainage hole and was presumably manufactured as a plant pot. Another has non-canonical decoration. When a fuss blew up about the video, it was explained that the pot was a replica ( Ade Onibada, 'Turns Out That 3,000-Year-Old Artifact That Was Destroyed In A Viral TikTok Was Fake And The Company Has Nobody To Blame But Themselves' BuzzFeed News May 13, 2022):

The short clip that has gone viral and prompted criticism was captioned “this pottery made it 3,000 years without breaking” and ended with the creator tossing the small pot to the ground, where it smashed on impact. In reference to the now-deleted TikTok, Marriott explained that the employee made the decision to incorrectly describe the replica as a 3,000-year-old artifact “to grab attention.” “Obviously, we wouldn't break a pristine cultural artifact just for a TikTok video,” Marriott said in his email.
So, just a stupid marketing stunt to draw attention to themselves.  And yes, most Indus Valley/Harrapa/ Mehrgarh pots and artefacts on the market are fakes.

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