“Regarding the issue of unprovenanced antiquities: surely even without substantiated provenance, there is still some factual knowledge to be derived– the approximate age of the item, for instance, and its general geographic origin? As a layperson in this area, I understand the additional value of confirmed provenance, but should that also mean that an item lacking provenance has no value at all?”
This was a great question in response to my last post, discussing a magazine editorial on scholarship, ethics, and artefacts lacking in proper archaeological provenance. (An unprovenanced artefact is one with an incomplete or unscientific record of its origin). The one-sentence answer is yes, there is always something to be gained from any existing piece. The more complete, complex answer has to do with the importance of knowledge and the nature of scientific inquiry. In archaeology, consider provenance another word for context. The moment something is pulled out of the ground, 90 percent of its meaning is lost.