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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why we share questionable artifacts

Recently, we posted a picture and a corresponding link on Tumblr for a beautiful necklace featuring an Akkadian lapis lazuli cylinder seal that dates back to at least 2154 BC.

Necklace set around a lapis lazuli Akkadian cylinder seal, ca. 2334-2154 BC. (Source)

We currently have 97,151 followers on Tumblr. The post featuring the necklace got 92 notes, mostly liking it and sharing it. There were a few notes that were less than positive and questioned our reasoning behind posting such filth, and maybe even our integrity as a source of Mesopotamian history.

You see, the necklace containing the ancient cylinder seal also happened to have a price. This means that it is not sitting in a museum, but in a private collection, ready to be sold to the highest bidder, making questionable not only the cylinder seal’s point of origin, but also its authenticity.

I can understand where these irate people are coming from. What the world witnessed in 2003 during the looting of the Iraqi National Museum left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths, including mine.

But before you completely dismiss the cylinder seal as an illegitimate artifact just because of where it happens to be sitting (in a necklace design), I think it’s important for me to explain why we at All Mesopotamia post links to items such as this. I assure you it is not because we want you to buy ancient artifacts and wear them to a cocktail party.

The fact of the matter is, the cylinder seal used in this necklace and countless other priceless historical artifacts from all over the world are sitting in the same kind of archaeological limbo, with price tags attached, illegitimately acquired and passed around, their significance overlooked and forgotten, becoming mere trinkets. Sometimes there’s a happy ending for such artifacts, however, but only when enough of the right people know about them.

Of course, it’s nice to think that all ancient artifacts we see in museums were excavated by the hands of legit professionals representing legit organizations that take utmost care in preserving humanity’s history, but that is simply not the case. From time immemorial, people have unknowingly been stumbling upon priceless things that hold great significance. Not everything clicks from day one. Not all artifacts are excavated with the same grandeur and fanfare as the Royal Tombs of Ur or the winged bulls flanking the entrance to Sargon’s palace. Everyday people stumble upon the most important artifacts all the time, because there is just no telling where you’ll find what…

Take, for example, the story of the Burney Relief.

“A major acquisition for the British Museum’s 250th anniversary.” The Burney Relief, aka Queen of the Night Relief, Old Babylonian period, ca. 1800-1750 BC. (Source)

All that’s known about the origins of the Burney Relief is that its journey began in the inventory of a Syrian dealer who may or may not have acquired it himself in Southern Iraq in 1924. It then passed through many amateur hands before it was finally purchased by the British Museum in 2003, 68 years after they passed on it the first time.

Note that Sidney Burney, whose name is attached to the relief, was only a London antique dealer, not some archaeologist who could decipher what he was looking at. Moreover, Burney wasn’t the first nor even the last dealer to get his hands on it before it became part of the British Museum’s collection. Even after renaming the relief Queen of the Night, there are still questions about what secrets the relief holds, but there is no longer any question about its authenticity and importance.

My point is, just because an archaeologist didn’t dig it out of the ground, doesn’t mean it should be dismissed or forgotten. That is why we posted the Akkadian cylinder seal, even in its new setting in a necklace. That is why we post other artifacts that unfortunately have impossibly cheap price tags…

We do it in the hopes that someone out there will know better what to do with it. We do it in the hopes that the questions we’re told have no answers might have an answer in that one artifact waiting to be noticed on an unsuspecting antique dealer’s shelf. We do it in the hopes that these pieces of humanity’s history get out of the wrong hands and into the right ones so that we, the human race, can understand ourselves better.

One follower on Tumblr stated that he/she will be unfollowing us, that they’re disappointed we posted this necklace and questioned our integrity. Well, to each his own. I’m sorry to see that follower go, but I will not stop doing what I’m doing, because I believe there are more answers out there than we can imagine, and we have to look everywhere for them. Here is my response to that individual. And while you’re at it, you should take a look at the comments left on Facebook regarding this matter (from June 24th), one of which is in Spanish (with translation) and talks about the same issues facing South American artifacts.

Let’s do our part to get every artifact noticed so that if it is in the wrong hands, someone who can get it out of those hands knows about it!

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3 Comments

Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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