Another challenge is addressing a request that would require taking a small portion of an object to determine its chemical signature. A hard decision has to be made whether to accommodate this request as this might damage the integrity of the object. With any luck, only the nature of the surface of an item need be ascertained, where upon a portable x-ray fluorescence piece of equipment can be used (pXRF); this excites the atoms of the exterior of the object in a way that enables identification of its material. Using this process, a seemingly genuine dagger’s pommel was found not to be of ivory as claimed, but paste painted over to resemble ivory.
The’ Decolonisation’ process requires knowledge of how items were acquired and perhaps whether they should be returned because the museum has material from all over the world. There is the matter of private collections that have been gifted to the museum. One such is the Fawcett collection. Dr. Fawcett was serving in the army medical service in Macedonia during the First World War and became interested in objects from the ancient world to be found locally. He was wealthy and after the war began his collection mainly of smallish objects of stone or bronze. As he progressed he wanted to systematise and show development of fashion and manufacture. He was not interested in where the objects came from, or how they fitted into the context of an archaeological investigation; he simply went to dealers and the like and bought what fitted his collection. However, there was always the risk of buying a fake so when objects began to turn up from the ancient state of Luristan (In Iraq) he eagerly entered the market, but the locals who were finding these objects realised there was a lot of interest and began to manufacture fakes. It is estimated that about a third of all the objects claimed to be from Luristan are indeed fakes, so the Fawcett collection of these objects were analysed using pXRF. The results were then compared against pRXF test results that have been gathered from excavated objects with a known Luristan provenance. Happily for the museum the comparison showed that the Fawcett material was genuine and had not been faked.
Dr.Fawcett kept very detailed records of how he acquired the items of his collection and their descriptions, but not necessarily their provenance; one item simply had “Co. Antrim, Ireland“as a record. Thus. by no possible description could he be termed an Archaeologist. If he came across an item that seemed a better example of something he already possessed, he would simply sell off the one and keep the new one. Thus, items from his collection have ended up all over the world.
Meanwhile, his meticulously kept written records have been digitized, a mammoth task, by our treasurer, Steve Hastings and are now available online. Gratifyingly for Steve and Gail, researchers have been accessing this record for its content, which has made all the effort worthwhile.
(Summarised by Bev Knot)