What is provenance, you might ask? According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, it means “origin or source” or “the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.” The lack of it can leave you with an intriguing, or frustrating, mystery. I’m currently working on a collection that includes correspondence with notable archaeologists during the 1960’s as well as a large collection of artifacts. We know the basic provenance for how the Special Collections came by these items, but we do not know for certain how the donor came by the items. Some of the correspondence gives us clues as to where some pieces originated, but we lack any substantiated information. We know none of the archaeological details nor provenance of the items. Unfortunately, this missing information greatly devalues these items.
The correspondence insinuates that some of the items are from the Valdivia culture, an ancient culture that was discovered by notable archaeologist Emilio Estrada (part of the correspondence in this collection is from Estrada). However, we do not have any solid evidence that these items came from Estrada or from the Valdivia culture. Alas…
The above image is of one artifact from the collection. This particular piece is a large pot or vase that contains several ceramic beads & a couple of pot sherds. The only identifying marks are on the bottom of the pot in black ink: “605 La Pena”. As we continue to read through the correspondence, hopefully we can find some clues to the origins of these amazing pieces.
Expect updates on this collection as we continue to explore the mystery.