Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The quest for the Holy relic of archaeology: part one

Relic of the Holy Blood carried during the
Procession of the Precious Blood
(Bruges, Belgium) photo (modified): Carolus

The ostensibly practical problem of storage problems for archaeologically excavated material as discussed by Morag Kersel in Storage Wars is but the tip of an iceberg containing pathological and religious elements.

Two papers with similar titles could be seen as a question and an answer, but as each does not refer to the other, the primary question can be seen as either. It is of no importance which came first and I have arranged them to reveal, mainly, just one aspect of the issues that are discussed. The quotes I have chosen reveals my first theme.

"Yet, maybe the storage crisis is based on an assumption that has already begun to be questioned in the wider field of cultural heritage: that significance is intrinsic to the artifact (De la Torre 2013). The perceived responsibility that all excavated ancient artifacts must be curated in perpetuity, whether they undergo any further analysis, speaks of the belief in a kind of sanctity that infuses the artifacts themselves. This harkens back to the Late Antique cult of relics, in which the objects touched by the apostles or saints were deemed to share in their metaphysical power (Brown 2009). Are we afraid to throw away the bulk of collections that have lost their context and documentation because they are inherently “holy” in some way?" 
Neil Asher Silberman, Is Every Sherd Sacred?: Moving Beyond the Cult of Object-Centred Authenticity Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies,Volume 3, Number 1, 2015, pp. 61-63
 "Interestingly – and comparable to the selective inability of hoarders to discard – we see this necessity only if we think of objects as archaeological finds: the same Roman coin is of little interest to us if it has been held in a collection for the last 500 years; but if recently found in the ground, it becomes a priceless archaeological treasure." 
Raimund Karl, Every sherd is sacred: Compulsive Hoarding in Archaeology. In G. Sayeh, D. Henson, Y.F. Willumsen (eds), Managing the Archaeological Heritage. Proceedings of a session at EAA 2014, Istanbul. 2015

Taking Silberman's secondary title: "Moving Beyond the Cult of Object-Centred Authenticity", we might perceive that Karl's hypothetical Roman coin is really not the cult-imbued object after all, as the circumstances of its history is what gives it that status. So what is the hidden object at the centre? It is highly significant that, "object-oriented" and "authenticity" appears only in the title (although "authentically" can be found once in the text. We can trace earlier usage of  these terms and I have selected such examples from one source (in the title and text) that will play an important role and identify the sign in question later in this topic:

"...the shift from an object-based epistemology, the language of late-19th century museums, to an object-based discourse, the dominant voice in late twentieth century museums. 
"Whether an object-based epistemology has evolved or has been completely eclipsed by the inclusion of the visitor's perspective in an object-based discourse is a question that is beyond the purview of this chapter, although the evolved role seems more likely. ... In the original object-based epistemology, the natural history of the object played center stage; in an object-based discourse the central role is likely to be that of the object's participation in the cultural or lived history of the visitor, with the scientific nature of the object relegated to a supporting part." 
E. Margaret Evans, Melinda S. Mull and Devereaux A. Poling, The Authentic Object? A Child's-Eye View. in S. G. Paris (Ed.) Perspectives on Object-Centred Learning in Museums, Mahwah, (pp. 55-77)
Some people make the mistake of referring to only an artefact as an object and thus differentiate it from an archaeological site. An object is anything that can be named, thus we have "material object" to clarify what is solid as opposed other non-material sorts of objects like "success"; "good health";  "love"; and so forth. What names or thinks about an object is the subject. The subject is always alive. Hence when you think about something, you are being subjective. If someone is pointing at you, to that person, you are an object but the person's reason for pointing is subjective to that person.

Karl thus shows us that the true object which is imbued with significance (subjectively) is the archaeological site.

Read all of the papers to which I have  linked as their other content is also important in this series, and I will be back tomorrow with more.

John's Coydog Community page

No comments:

Post a Comment