The conservation of unprovenienced artifacts: An archaeological conundrum

Michael B. Barber


Scientific archaeology depends on data, and much of the data encapsulated in an artifact is related to its integrity-its precise placement within a site and within a culture. Once that integrity is compromised, the artifact loses its scientific value. Metal-detecting enthusiasts and/or casual collectors of artifacts who seldom record anything beyond vague location destroy context. However, integrity is often permeated with various levels of cultural relationships. Sometimes, although the physical location within a particular site may be lost, it is still possible that the artifact can be tied to that site by other factors. If these artifacts are metal, conservation may be sought out. Hence, the conundrum-should unprovenienced artifacts be conserved if the owner has deliberately destroyed the historic context? If some data is left, is there an obligation to save it? This paper will explore these issues from an archaeological perspective.

2007 | Richmond | Volume 14