It is not often that we get to see the progression from donation to collection up close, especially if you do not have a career in the world of museums or art galleries. Since we have a unique opportunity to be part of such a process here at From Stone to Screen, we thought it would be interesting to share it with our readers and followers.
Collections in museums often come about as a result of a donation by someone who collected artifacts or artwork throughout their life. Often at the urges of relatives or because space needs to be cleared out, these possible donations are then packed up in boxes and sent off to their future homes, usually museums, galleries or laboratories depending on the type and significance of material. In this particular case, the donation was sent to the UBC Lab of Archaeology (LOA) located within the Museum of Anthropology.
The Blackmore Collection was donated by the family of Harvey F. Blackmore, who worked for the Bahrain Petroleum Company in the 1960s. During his time in Bahrain, Blackmore was allowed by the Bahraini government to supervise a number of amateur excavations. It is from these very same excavations that our donation came from.
When the boxes first arrived to the care of LOA, they had to be repackaged in plastic and set aside in quarantine for at least the first six months. This is a standard procedure in most museums, we learned, to ensure that no pests remain in the material. Once the period of quarantine was over, it was possible to begin unpacking the mysterious boxes that had sat on shelves for the past six months!
As the unpacking began, it became clear that some side research on Bahrain would be necessary. We came across very different type of objects, ranging from lamps to full vessels to seals to glass artifacts. While this period of unveiling the mysterious artifacts in all their glory was exciting, we were careful to try to determine approximate dates based on the artifacts style and materials.
We learned that this particular donation has artifacts dating to when Bahrain was Dilmun, in the early 2nd millennium BCE, most clearly seen in the Dilmun seal impressions. It then jumped to 300 BCE-600 CE, during the Tylos Period. In this period, there was a heavy influence from the Parthian and Sasanian cultures, visible in the pottery found in collection.
Research wasn’t the only part of the unpacking process. We also had to figure out how to store and catalogue all this material. Our space in MoA for this project is the Pottery Lab, where we were able to store the material in shelves and drawers. Before we place them there, however, we either ensure that they have a comfortable base or tissue paper with an artifact number, or, if they are smaller, we place tissue paper in a small plastic box before placing them in the drawers.
In terms of cataloging, we assigned the artifacts numbers and entered them into a larger database. Currently, said database is being updated to reflect new changes in what we learn about the material as we continue to research it. But it wasn’t only artifacts that we unpacked from the boxes.
A large portion of the boxes contained relevant documentation about the donation, but these ranged from personal mail to old photographs, all of which were in varying stages of preservation, and all of which may be invaluable to our research. So we set out to do what we do best, and digitize all of this material as well!
Once we finished our unpacking and very preliminary cataloging, we realized we had over 200 artifacts! They include a variety of objects, from ceramic to metal, all of which we continue to learn more about. These artifacts are useful not only as teaching tools for prospective archaeologists, but also for research purposes.
Currently, we have unpacked all the material and digitized all of the documents. However, there is still much to be done! Although we cataloged the artifacts, this is still a work in progress that continues to change, and further information and photographs will be needed. Additionally, while the documents may be digitized, they have yet to be organized in a coherent fashion for those interested in looking at them, and so this is another task that we must complete in the near future.
Most prominently, of course, we need more knowledge and further research on the individual artifacts themselves. After all, we have still only scratched the surface in terms of research for this collection, and the possibility for both UBC students and researchers from outside the university to work on these artifacts is still a goal that we are working towards.
Ambitiously, we would like to eventually curate an exhibition on the Bahrain artifacts at MoA, as it would reflect the importance of the donation and the final step into making it a collection. The Blackmore Collection is important not only to our own project or to our department, but to the university as a whole, and such an event would serve to demonstrate its significance.
For the moment, however, this is a goal that remains in the far future, as we are still in the beginning stages of this process, although as you have read, much has been accomplished already. Our small collection has been very educational, revealing exactly how much work goes on behind the scenes of museums worldwide whenever they attempt something similar. While we have progressed very far, there is much work yet to be done, but as we continue to organize and try to make sense of the digitized documents, we have a clear goal in mind. And that goal is a comprehensive, researcher-friendly collection and (fingers crossed!) exhibition on the Blackmore material.
For now, however, we say, greetings from Bahrain(-i documents)!