Friday, November 02, 2018

F. M. Cross on publishing unprovenanced inscriptions

VARIANT READINGS: An Old Quote from Frank Moore Cross on Unprovenanced Artifacts (Brent Nongbri). I agree that this quote has not aged well, although I am not going to judge it comprehensively without seeing all of it in context. The quoted extracts are from a 2005 article that is behind the BAR subscription wall. I don't have access to the full text.

I agree with Cross that we shouldn't dismiss unprovenanced inscriptions solely because they are unprovenanced. But, as I have been saying for some time, I think we should assume they are forgeries unless a credible case is made for their being genuine. And doing that is getting harder as forgers become more skilled.

(In the past I have said a "convincing" case. I think a better word, as above, is "credible." Scholars may agree that a case is credible — that is, based on solid evidence and supported by reasonable arguments — even if sometimes they are not fully convinced by it. By "credible" I mean a case that passes peer review.)

There has traditionally been an unfriendly rivalry between epigraphers and "dirt archaeologists." That is unfortunate. I hope that these days we have gotten past it. Both are critical for recovering knowledge about antiquity.

I am open to the idea of the IAA selling duplicate artifacts (e.g., potsherds and even pots), which they have in profusion, rather than just warehousing them. An argument in favor is that doing so would undercut much of the antiquities black market. An argument against is that advances in technology may someday allow us to extract useful information from those duplicates, so archaeologists should retain access to them. There may be some workable compromise.

I am not an expert on the antiquities market, so I have no opinion about Cross's proposal to shut down licensed antiquities dealers. It would be interesting to listen to experts debate the question.

Full disclosure: Frank Cross was my doctoral supervisor.

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