Foundry or museum: the price of the past
(New University of Lisbon)
Paper short abstract:
This paper addresses the importance of money in the production of knowledge about the past, focussing on the trajectory of various objects of archaic jewellery dating from the late Bronze Age: gold collars and bracelets, appearing in Portugal in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Paper long abstract:
Most objects that make up the archaeological collections of museums are not attributed any monetary value until such time as they are validated scientifically. However, archaeological collections may feature objects that have a high monetary value due to the precious metals they are made of, in particular gold. While they are regarded as having been scientifically validated both by those responsible for organising museum collections or private collectors, they also represented a stock of value for their owners and therefore were more often melted down and the gold sold than preserved as museum exhibits. Mostly from the late nineteenth century, some of these objects were gradually acquired by museums, becoming part of the memory of the nations that had the economic resources to make them part of the knowledge production process. The gold objects referred to in this paper, currently housed at the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (National Archaeological Museum) in Portugal, France's Musée d'Archeologie National and the British Museum in the UK, were preserved by individuals with an awareness that their scientific value gave them greater economic value. The trajectory of these objects highlights the heterogeneous nature of the network of actors and sites that channelled objects to museums, from shepherds and children that found this objects in the fields to actors associated with the trade, as dealers, auctioneers or goldsmiths, or institutional actors as museums.
Collections as Currency? Objects, Exchange, Values and Institutions