Out of Context

There’s been some noise over the past week or so about the fate of items without their provenance. On the one hand, without provenance, it’s very difficult to determine an item’s role or importance, and you certainly don’t want to waste precious time on an item that might be routine or misinterpreted. On the other, you don’t want to let the item out of your control, just in case you discover a similar item that might be able to shed the smallest bit of light on the mystery item’s purpose.

It’s causing quite the ethical debate in archaeological circles these days, and reminding me part of why I enjoy trying to follow these discussions. The pure mystery of uncovering the day-to-day life of past people intermingled with trying to do what is right and proper for an item and its associated culture, even when that culture is unknown.

…it occurs to me that I’m really romanticizing something that is a complicated dilemma on so many levels…


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