Abstract: The Lure of the Relic: Collecting the Holy Land


The relationship between people and things is a crucial avenue of investigation in understanding past cultures. While the social aspects of material culture have come under closer scrutiny over the past few decades, what remains largely unexplored are the reasons why people collect archaeological artifacts from the Holy Land. An examination of the social contexts and the consequences of the consumption of material culture is integral to a fuller understanding of archaeology in the eastern Mediterranean. The interplay of these spheres provides an intriguing lens for the examination of the lure of relics from the Holy Land. Many of the motivating factors behind the collecting of eastern Mediterranean materials echo the rationales of early archaeological practice in the region — a desire to establish a connection to the land and the past through material manifestations; and a desire to save the past. Artifacts from this part of the world have long-held a fascination for pilgrims, tourists and locals, which can often be tied to a substantiation of faith based on the material past. At the same time the archaeological artifact, once removed from its context, acquires a new facet to its object biography, that of looted artifact. Employing case studies from Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority this lecture examines the collecting of archaeological materials, the effects on the archaeological landscape and the object biographies of those artifacts enmeshed in the trade in antiquities.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

2014    M.M. Kersel. The Lure of the Artefact? The Effects of Acquiring Eastern Mediterranean Material Culture. In A.B. Knapp and P. van Dommelen (eds.) The Cambridge Prehistory of the Bronze and Iron Age Mediterranean. Pp. 367-378. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

2013    M.M. Kersel and M.S. Chesson. Looting Matters Early Bronze Age Cemeteries of Jordan's southeast Dead Sea Plain in the Past and Present. In S. Tarlow and L. Nilsson Stutz (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, pp. 677-694. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2012    M.M. Kersel. The Value of a Looted Object – Stakeholder Perceptions in the Antiquities Trade. In J. Carman, C. McDavid and R. Skeates (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology, pp. 253-274. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2012    M.M. Kersel. The Power of the Press: The Effects of Press Releases and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade. In Carol Meyers and Eric Meyers (eds.) Archaeology, Politics and the Media, pp. 72-82. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

2012    N.J. Brodie and M.M. Kersel. The Social and Political Consequences of Devotion to Biblical Artifacts. In P.K. Lazrus and A.W. Barker (eds.) All The Kings Horses: Looting, Antiquities Trafficking and the Integrity of the Archaeological Record, pp. 109-125. Washington DC: Society for American Archaeology.

2008    M.M. Kersel. Imperial Intersections: Archaeologists, War and Violence. Comment. Archaeologies. Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 4 (3): 506-516.

2008    M.M. Kersel. The Trade in Palestinian Antiquities. Jerusalem Quarterly Winter 33: 21-38.

2008    M.M. Kersel, C. Luke and C.H. Roosevelt. Valuing the Past. Perceptions of Archaeological Practice in Lydia and the Levant. Journal of Social Archaeology 8 (3): 299-320.

2008    M.M. Kersel. A Focus on the Demand Side of the Antiquities Equation. Near Eastern Archaeology 71(4): 230-233.

2007    M.M. Kersel. Transcending Borders: Objects on the Move. Archaeologies. Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 3 (2): 81-98.

2006    M.M. Kersel and R. Kletter. Heritage for Sale? A Case Study from Israel. The Journal of Field Archaeology 31 (3): 317-327.

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA Facebook Instagram YouTube Twitter
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!