Skip to main content

Partage: Some Preliminary Thoughts

James Cuno has put the issue of partage back on the agenda. He explains in Who Owns Antiquity? how it worked:
For many decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeological finds were shared between the excavating party and the local, host country through partage (p. 14).
He then provides examples including:
  • The Gandharan collection (from Afghanistan) in the Musée Guimet, Paris
  • The Assyrian collection (from Iraq) in the British Museum, London
  • The Lydian collection (from Turkey) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (but not to be confused with the "Lydian silver" in the same museum)
  • The Egyptian collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Cuno then states, "With the surge in nationalism in the middle decades of the twentieth century, it has become almost impossible to share archaeological finds".

While it may be true that fewer finds are shared with the excavating sponsors, the notion of partage has continued beyond "the middle decades of the twentieth century". Let me give two examples, both from Egypt, and both now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

One is the archaic Greek bronze griffin protome from a cauldron excavated in north Saqqara along with Egyptian bronzes of the 4th-3rd centuries BCE. Is this evidence for East Greek mercenaries in Egypt? Did Greeks living in Egypt place this distinctly Greek object in an Egyptian context? [JSTOR; no. 4]

The second is a 6th century BCE Carian funerary stela (with Egyptian elements) from Saqqara that was reused a 4th century BCE votive pit. Is this evidence for a long-standing and established community of Carian mercenaries? [JSTOR; no. 26]

Both these are significant finds that shed light on the Greek communities of Late Period Egypt. The use of partage has allowed these pieces to be shared with the international academic community.

Cuno makes a strong point about the care and protection of archaeological material. The impact of the theft, loss or destruction of objects from museums in Baghdad and Kabul has been lessened because finds from excavations of previous generations had been shared with museums outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Sharing the objects had spread the risks.

But can these archaeological "treasures" be shared with the international community through partage alone? (Cuno seems to like partage because it will allow museums to "own" excavated objects.) What about long-term loans?


Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.