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Illuminating History by Lily Díaz, 25.IX.2000

become coveted items hunted and given privileged places of honour in public institutions such as museums.6 0

Michael Shanks has identified this as the paradoxical state of "duality of autonomy and dependency."61The past is gone, but artefacts and objects remain. The object is autonomous, because its material existence is evidence of heterogeneous and mysterious origin. However, once divested from the networks of knowledge in which it was produced, the object also reveals a vulnerability, a dependency for content, on its original maker. According to Shanks, there is a tension between the expressive (or significative) character of the object and its materiality:

"If it were back in the workshop where the [artefact] was made, we might have a good awareness of its meaning. If we were the ones who actually made the [artefact] it would be very much dependent on us."6 2

This break between the physical existence of the object in time and whatever its original meaning was, can only be bridged through research and interpretation. Shanks argues, therefore, that ancient artefacts, have a post-history that is created by art historians and archaeologists using tools such as classification systems. Once assigned the label of art, for example, an artefact is deemed as timeless and the function and purpose it fulfilled in the society that created is not a necessary referent.

Among the questions that arise is whether it is possible to device methods of inquiry that allow us to discern, not only how the different histories of objects and artefacts are built? When we are leaving the realm of the ruined artefact or fragment (pre-history) and entering that one of interpretation (post-history) Can we identify discursive practices that affect how our appreciation of ancient artefacts is constituted? In what ways to they operate? Do they alter our sensitivity and valuation of the object on display?

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ibid.

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