An Exercise in Artefacts

Because there is always more to know

I have recently been working on a project with Glasgow Museums, helping to sort and re-catalogue a large antiquarian collection bequeathed by Ludovic McLellan Mann in 1955.  The importance of this project has been to reorganise the artefacts, emphasising their provenience so that more can be learned about the distinct sites Mann collected from and excavated. 

What has come out as most interesting to me throughout this project, has been a new understanding of the way collectors thought.  Many of these objects have been labelled extensively, giving information about the object, where it is from, and sometimes who collected it.  What I really wasn’t expecting however, even after working through this collection for six months, was a description of the weather., an axehead of grey-green polished stone with some black and brown iron discolouration, very regular in shape, with a slightly flattened but sharp blade and an unpolished broken butt.  The axehead is marked ‘Kirklauchlan Stoneykirk Nov 1913 when raining’.

Why was the rain such an important aspect of the object, necessary to be permanently marked on the tool itself?  It is in stepping in and examining such objects, that one can really understand the way the collector’s mind works.  Such markings were not done for a museum, nor were they done for researchers to understand the conditions of finding.  When Mann marked this object, he wanted to remember where and when he found it.  Having worked extensively in Stoneykirk, and certainly collected from other locations in November 1913, it was important to him that he recollect the specific details of this find.

What does it mean to us now that it rained on that date in November 1913?  Nothing.  But it does allow for further understanding of this interesting character, who not only amassed an incredible collection of archaeological objects, but also had the capacity to recall how he came about them.  In a time when the recording of archaeological contexts was not particularly significant, he created a collection documented to mirror a modern field journal.  Despite the differences between antiquarians and archaeologists, it is clear that Mann held the values we too consider important.

While the rain falling in Kirklauchlan is not significant archaeologically, it is significant to understand how important provenance was to this collection.  That he would mention the weather for this find lends credibility to the other markings.  He recorded his finds, their contexts, and any other anecdotal information when he found them.  And as such, the value of his collection rises archaeologically.

1 year ago
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