Acquisition and Care of an Archaeological Collection -- By: Robert H. Smith
ATJ 7 (1974) p. 3
Acquisition and Care of an Archaeological Collection
The collection described in this Bulletin began one crisp day in the fall of 1958, soon after I arrived in Jordan to spend a year studying Palestinian archaeology at the American School of Oriental Research (now the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research) in Jerusalem. Although I had delved into archaeology as a graduate student at Yale, I had not yet dealt with Palestinian artifacts extensively at first hand. As I stepped into a dark cubbyhole on the Via Dolorosa that passed for a shop, I began my personal encounter with Palestine’s ancient past. I could not have suspected then how far that acquaintance was to lead me.
I looked over an assortment of jars and bowls with mild curiosity. I grew more fascinated when, at the dealer’s invitation, I picked up some of the pieces and handled them. Soon I was examining each vessel with interest. I was most attracted by a number of small moulded clay lamps which displayed a wide range of forms and decoration. When I found that most of the lamps were within a price range I could afford, I could not resist the temptation to buy a few as future teaching aids. I placed the lamps in a row and tried to decide which one or two were most representative. But the variety was too great, and I had no basis for preferring one over another. When I left I had under my arm a parcel containing not one or two but a dozen lamps, along with a few shallow bowls of various forms which were so plain that the dealer, probably despairing of finding a purchaser, had priced quite moderately; these latter I assumed had no particular archaeological importance but thought they might be useful for study.
Almost every collector begins with the chance acquisition of one or more pieces which pique his curiosity, and I was no exception. When I examined my purchases at leisure, I realized that I wanted to know as much as I could about their ages and cultural contexts. Thus I began what became many hours of searching through archaeological reports and studying
ATJ 7 (1974) p. 4
objects on display in Jerusalem’s museums. The first identification was made only after lengthy search, but the second came a little more quickly, and the third still more rapidly. All of the lamps were from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, and the range of types which I had arbitrarily selected proved to be a fairly good one. As I progressed in my identifications, I found that my critical discrimination developed by leaps and bounds, so that I began to perceive interrelations among lamp types. The small group of lamps was already serving the most important single function a collection can serve—unless one considers sheer aesthetic enjoyment to be above all...
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