Doing Archaeology Outside of the Trench: Energizing Museum “Diaspora” Collections for Research

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Department 1

East Asian Studies


Excavated artifacts and field notes from archaeological excavations are often stored in museums for research and display. Many of these old collections were transferred from their home countries to distant museums from the late 19th to the first half of the 20th century through academic expeditions, inter-museum exchanges, and commercial deals. This paper offers a heuristic tool to generate and examine archaeological research questions that address the sociocultural lives of ancient people utilizing the strength of existing museum collections. Methodologically, it is necessary to select artifacts that are diagnostic on surface appearance and that can be linked, as a “diaspora” collection, to the “original” dataset in their homeland. Diaspora artifacts are those that were unearthed in a homeland site that is far away from the museums where they are currently stored. As such, the site or at least the specific region of their origin needs to be firmly established. Once the diaspora collection is embedded within its homeland dataset, this facilitates development of meaningful research questions and leads to solid archaeological research despite the lack of detailed excavation information. A case study to exemplify this approach is drawn from Jōmon-period pottery data originally excavated near Tokyo and currently stored in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), Philadelphia. This methodology leads to a conclusion that certain types of special pots in Late Jōmon were used as containers for botanical insect repellent and indoor fragrance.



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