Archaeology Odyssey 2:2, May/June 1999

Bought on the Market

A gallery

In putting together this issue’s article on the Antiquities Problem (“The Great MFA Exposé”), our thoughts turned to unprovenanced objects that can now be studied by scholars because they were bought on the market. If these important remnants of the past had not been purchased—perhaps, in some cases, illegally—they would have disappeared from view for decades or perhaps forever. A good example is the Dead Sea Scrolls (see photo of the Isaiah Scroll), almost all of which were bought from antiquities dealers. Among the most exciting archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain biblical manuscripts (among other documents) a thousand years older than our earliest copy of the Hebrew Bible, providing fascinating new insights into how the biblical text developed. Who could reasonably prefer that the scrolls, because they were not found in a legal, controlled excavation, remain untouched by responsible scholars? In the following section, we have assembled a group of similar finds, which have checkered histories and yet illuminate the past: a clay prism mentioning the mysterious Hòabiru, perhaps related to the word “Hebrew”; an ivory carving in the shape of a small pomegranate that once formed the head of a scepter in Solomon’s Temple; a seal impression belonging to the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah; and rare blown glassware from the first-century A.D. Greek artisan Ennion. These examples have been chosen by the editors, but you, our readers, probably have your own favorites.

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