Saturday, March 2, 2013

Object Registry Fragment Foolishness

Archaeo-Blogger David Gill wants more details of the Met’s 10,000 or so vase fragments placed en masse on the AAMD’s object registry.  Presumably Gill wants each pictured separately to facilitate detailed study of their potential origin so additional pieces can be repatriated to Italy or perhaps Greece or Turkey.  But why should the AAMD’s procedures be the same for the $10,000,000 artifact as for the $10 artifact?  Gill’s confidant Nathan Elkins has already recognized that coins—given the sheer numbers that have survived-- should not be treated as the AIA treats other artifacts.  Gill should give vase fragments the same break.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

Peter, I must agree with David Gill on this.

With respect to museums and collectors, the trend is toward transparency and much greater exposure. I can see no reason why the collecting institutions and indeed individuals in every destination country in Europe as well as the US should not make available for scrutiny everything they have, with good images and full details -- and invite source countries to comb through them, item by item, for anything for which they believe they have an evidentiary claim.

I would include in this every object, not just intact objects but everything, no matter how small or insignificant -- broken fibulae, worn coins, terracotta fragments (not just vase pieces), chipped and broken pieces of sarcophagi, threadbare papyri -- everything. Remember, to those of us who are archaeologists, as I am, everything is of the same level of importance, and a numismatist like Dr. Elkins, who should know better, should not tell you otherwise.

Frankly, I can't understand why the museums of America have not gone down this path already. Why, for heaven's sake, has the AAMD issued guidelines that call only for the exposure of objects under consideration for acquisition -- that is prospectively -- when member museums have enormous volumes of material that, if given the clear light of day, would allow us all to benefit. Not doing so needlessly raises questions about the intent of the guidelines and concerns about whether the AAMD believes there should be a limitation on transparency or, worse, material that should not be subject to scrutiny.

I look forward to the day when the AAMD decides to recant and publish on its object registry the ten or fifteen or so million objects that now gather dust in museum storerooms, and when private collectors can add to it what they have. Consider the thought with respect to yourself and your fellow collectors of ancient coins -- and what it would mean to have two or three million of them (at a minimum) on public view.

I also look forward to the day when museums in source countries -- as well as archaeological excavations -- publish everything in their storerooms. Not only would that add to the visible material record, but it would make it much more difficult for stolen archaeological material in countries with weak enforcement to disappear without identification.

Gill is right, I am happy to say. Good for him.

Best wishes,


Paul Barford said...

So, Mr Houghton, via Mr Tompa, "two wrongs make a right"? Is that your argument?

Cultural Property Observer said...

"It is so sad that Mr. Barford, who is generally given to running off at the mouth, finds himself so speechless in this instance. Since it seems he cannot address the issue -- full transparency or not -- we should not seem surprised.

Warm regards,


Paul Barford said...

Mr Houghton, at least I can work out how to post my own comments here.

I am not "speechless". I observed that you were applying a "two wrongs make a right" argument. What kind of a person do you imagine would want to engage in an in-depth discussion conducted at that level?

If you look at the original post, rather than Peter Tompa's summary, you will see that the initiative to put all the bits online (which would help getting joins with items in other collections identified - and thus their 'study') came from the Met and not Professor Gill.

Mr Tompa, you will find the word is "confidant" and not "confident" - two different words. One is a noun, the other an adjective.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thank you for noticing the typo. It has been fixed.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I should also note we are talking about two different things. The AAMD registry has one entry with the items listed en masse. At some point in the future, the MET indicates it wants to digitize all the items, but that is quite different and has nothing directly to do with the AAMD registry of acquisitions.