Monday, 6 October 2014

Atlatl dart finds new home in southern Alberta museum

The interpretive center and museum at
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta
A 5,000 year old stone point (atlatl dart) found fifty years ago at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump has been donated to the museum at the site by the collector who found it.

The finder, John Viens, said "“I never considered myself to be the owner of the point, I felt I was more of a custodian.” Ask any collector of artifacts about their ownership and you will most likely get a similar response. Not all collectors will decide to donate an object from their collection to a museum, but most museum displays owe a lot to former collectors of their exhibits. Some collectors prefer to leave their collection to their heirs for them to decide what should happen, but collectors who have a good relationship with a museum frequently leave something to that museum. Take Richard Hattatt, for example: he was a businessman who collected ancient brooches and published three books on them. He would collect, research, and then write a book. Then. he would sell his collection and do the same thing again. He had a good relationship with the Ashmolean Museum and not only left them some rare brooches that were needed for their collection, but a sum of money as well.

It would seem that those people who complain that something has "disappeared into a private collection" don't fully understand how things work. Without friendly collectors, museums would be displaying far less material and trying to purchase similar items can easily exceed the available budgets. Collectors also have specialized knowledge that is lacking among museum staff. It's not that the staff knows little, but there are just too many areas of specialized knowledge to be represented by the staff of even the largest museums.

There is quite the contrast between what happened here and with the elderly collector whose collection was raided by a hundred FBI agents in the US.


  1. Great post John and one that needs to be shared. We collectors are all too often made to look bad when in fact we have a lot to offer to the community. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Dick, besides such stories as finders donating things to museums, the metal detecting clubs frequently find lost items for the public and assist police with evidence recovery. The Calgary metal detecting club was putting together a training course for the city police in using metal detectors.

    I once took some things from my own collection to my daughter's school and gave a talk about them. The kids got to handle items from a Neanderthal hand ax to ancient coins. It must have made an impression as, for quite a while afterwards, kids that I did not know would greet me by name as I passed on the street. There was nothing comparable that those kids could have seen in the local museums at all.