Terracotta female protome, found in a tomb, Macri Langoni,  525-500 BC. Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Coroplastic Studies Interest Group
Promoting the Study of Sculptural Objects Made in Clay from Antiquity

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Last update:
January 3, 2015


American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting 2010

Studying Artifacts of Uncertain Origin

ASOR Round Table, Friday, November 19, 2010, 12:45–2:00 PM
Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Augusta Room, Second Floor, Atlanta, Georgia

For webcast interventions and background materials for the discussion click here.

This Round Table will consider how the field should deal with the controversial issue of studying, exhibiting, and publishing artifacts whose origins are contested or unknown. Our brief exchange of views may contribute to a clearer understanding of researcher responsibility and a cogent statement about how we can collectively and as individuals combat abuse and illegal trafficking in archaeological objects of study.

Organized by Rick Hauser

Senior Staff, Archaeological Expedition to Urkesh

Wth the participation of:

Christina Kahrl Brody
Assistant Registrar, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Author, “Studying the Skeletons in the Closet: Unprovenienced Archeological Material in Museums.”

[Unprovenienced artifacts in museum collections] are a sort of “skeleton in the closet”. They are not researched, exhibited, or used for educational purposes, and are certainly not published. While this is ethically and legally a safe approach, it abandons the museum’s mission. . . . Research of a collection is not only the obligation of a museum; it is included in the very definition of the institution.

Zahi Hawass (recorded intervention)
Secretary General, The Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt
Author, “Inside the Egyptian Museum . . .”

Regardless of whether an artifact has a known origin or not, it is still of academic and scientific value and should certainly be studied. You can’t ignore it! [Without this,] the objects would live in the dark, all the time.

View recorded intervention.     

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David I. Owen (recorded intervention)
Bernard and Jane Schapiro Professor of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Cornell University
Author, “Censoring Knowledge: The Case for the Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts.”

Objects have value outside of context. This bugaboo that has been promoted . . . that context is everything  is exactly that—it’s absolute nonsense.

View recorded intervention 1     View recorded intervention 2   View recorded intervention 3

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Elizabeth C. Stone (recorded intervention)
Professor, Department of Anthropology, SUNY at Stony Brook
Author, “Archaeological Site Looting: The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Southern Iraq.”

My basic feeling [about] a lot of the material that comes out, is that (A) it is meaningless outside its context, so I don‘t know why you are studying it. And (B) you haven’t the faintest idea whether it’s real or fake.

View recorded intervention 1     View recorded intervention 2        

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Christopher A. Tuttle, Moderator
Associate Director, American Center of Oriental Research Amman, Jordan
Author, The Nabataean Coroplastic Arts: A New Approach for Studying Figurines, Plaques, Vessels, and other Clay Objects.