Monday, 19 May 2008

Intellectual Consequences: can we trust the find-spot?

I was keen to follow the "find-spot" of a piece of Attic black-figured pottery which surfaced before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
  • a. The original dealer's catalogue gave no indication of find-spot.
  • b. The initial publication in a British archaeological journal gave the find-spot as "reputedly" from a named site in Tuscany.
  • c. The pot's publication in a study of related pieces stated, "Provenance: probably Italy (... alleged [Tuscan] provenance ...)".
  • d. The Beazley Archive database does not give any indication of find-spot in its "provenance" field - though it does note, "said to be from [Tuscany]" in the record section.
  • e. The museum in which it resides gives the Tuscan site as the database entry under "Field Collection".
Did I mention that the dealer was Robert Hecht?

This amphora highlights the problem with language. Many pieces of this type of pottery have been found at Cerveteri in Etruria. The alleged Tuscan site would be a significant find-spot. But is the report trustworthy? Should the location be presented as "Field Collection"? Or is "Field Collection" really a euphemism in these post-Medici Conspiracy days?

Should we be more careful in recording and presenting information? What are the intellectual consequences of using find-spots provided by dealers in studies of the distribution of Athenian pottery?

I suggest some possible designations (based on the codes developed by Gill and Chippindale):
  • i. Excavated by 'x' at 'a'
  • ii. Said by dealer 'y' to have been 'found' at 'b'
  • iii. Allegedly from 'c' (source of information unknown)
  • iv. Perhaps from 'd' (the type of object that could be expected to have been found at 'd')


Unknown said...

This "Save the Rainforest" web site sells ancient Roman coins to help fund its conservation efforts. What do you think?

David Gill said...

And looted marble figures from the Cyclades in the Agean were sold for the benefit of WWF:

PAS and Finds in Eastern England

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