Monday, 10 October 2011

Hatshepsut - Provenance

In reference to the Hatshepsut Project artifacts come in various shapes and sizes. Maybe as small as an inscribed bead to the much larger statues. Each and every artifact discovered in Egypt has a story, whether inscribed/ painted or not. The value of each and every item increases depending on the completeness of information we have regarding its provenance.
The very many fragments of statues discovered by Herbert Winlock (on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) at Deir el Bahri have a clear provenance.  Each and every one of those statues came from Deir el Bahri. Each one was treated to various levels of destruction before being dumped in pits which were uncovered in the 20th century. 
The British Museum (Hatshepsut) obelisk, found at Qasr Ibrim has some history. It was treated to the same defacement as many of Hatshepsut’s monuments, a point not unexpected. It was re-used within a later monument which saved in from the ravages of time. What would be good for this obelisk is to know where Hatshepsut erected it originally. It seems to have lasted into the time of the sole reign of Thutmose III (perhaps Amenhotep II), where either standing or not was defaced. We cannot blame anyone for the lack of provenance. It was re-used/ recycled after Hatshepsut’s death.  We may never know the original location of this object. We are fortunate to have this little obelisk at all, after 3500 yrs or so.
The amount of information that can be gained from a single object, which may not be particularly eye catching in a museum is incredible. A small scarab beetle, which lies surrounded by many others perhaps in better shape, cannot be ignored. Often we can gain information such as which god the item is dedicated to, who dedicated it, which temple and more.  Whereas it’s nice to see a Scarab Beetle of Hatshepsut, its better to have the most complete information- leaving less room for guesswork.
It’s not just the inscriptions, but say a Scarab Beetle dedicated to Amun was found within the temple of Karnak, with the name of Hatshepsut. We can say that it was dedicated BY Hatshepsut TO Amun at Karnak. This is preferable to “Hatshepsut scarab with name of Amun inscribed” which we would get without the information of its discovery location. If a canopic jar with the name of Hatshepsut is ever found, great. However, as this item was NOT found by anyone who recorded it in the records we read today, there is a chance that it was stolen. If stolen, where from? where’s it been?  was it found in KV20? Or do we draw a blank?  Then, what happens is there are human remains in the above canopic jar? The only acceptable provenance (excavation) has been ruled out, so how can we link the remains with Hatshepsut, with great certainty?
Artifacts have a number of ways of ending up in our museums collections. Many are acquired through excavations. Some have been purchased on the antique markets, some are gifts and others are bequeathed by the “owners” of these items in their Last Will and Testimony.  Then there’s the black market. Today’s stance on the purchase of items which come from the black market is clear. It is illegal and unacceptable. If the true number of Egyptian artifacts scattered across the globe which were bought on the black market was known, it would make for shocking reading. Again we should be lucky to have these items today. Its only when an items provenance is put into question do we realise what we are missing. We cannot do a thing about it. 
These are but brief comments. The more museums I visit in person or virtually- the more I see the importance or provenance. More often than not it is the lack of provenance which sticks in the mind.
One item of note in recent press is the Hatshepsut vessel containing the carcinogenic substance.  Who originally found this object? EXACTLY where and when? What happened since then? The Hatshepsut Database I am creating has a number of blank entries- and will remain so until this information is volunteered to us. 


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