Sites, landscapes and 'portable antiquities': the nature and value of context in the music-archaeological record

TitleSites, landscapes and 'portable antiquities': the nature and value of context in the music-archaeological record
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsLawson, G
EditorHickmann, E, Both, AA, Eichmann, R
Book TitleMusikarchäologie im Kontext = Music Archaeology in Contexts: archaeological semantics, historical implications, socio-cultural connotations
Series TitleStudien zur Musikarchäologie 5; Orient-Archäologie 20

This contribution offers a synthesis on issues generally subsumed under the heading of "archaeological context", and the case is argued for why music archaeological finds [instruments] must always be considered in conjunction with their findspot and the objects and materials surrounding them. Concepts such as "context" and "assemblage" have specific archaeological meanings and definitions. This is shown with the aid of selected examples: instruments from pagan graves, instruments from shipwrecks, scattered fragments from medieval towns and isolated finds in the landscape. Knowing the context of a find widens the meanings we can attribute to it. Conversely, looted objects outside their context [for instance those discovered by metal detecting] loose much of their meaning. The problem of illegal excavations can, for instance, be glimpsed from the damage caused to archaeological sites by looters; in addition, the treasures which the looters are after are deprived of their cultural value. This applies especially to musical instruments. For this reason, it is in the interests of music archaeologists the world over to increase awareness of this state of affairs. This also includes encouraging museums to adopt a transparent strategy of acquisition. Stricter controls do not have to alienate the public: in Great Britain and other countries, the systematic development of regional "Sites and Monuments Records" [SMR] shows how surface finds by amateur archaeologists and "treasure hunters" can be a valuable contribution for the understanding of our human - and musical - past, if their context has been documented. []


Music Archaeology in Contexts includes papers from the 4th Symposium of the International Study Group on Music Archaeology at Monastery Michaelstein, 19-26 September, 2004

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