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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Publication details

Caple, C. (2010). Ancestor Artefacts - Ancestor Materials. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 29(3): 305-318.

Author(s) from Durham


Ancestor artefacts (objects of an earlier period, valued for their age and associations, which are retained into a later period) are normally identified by archaeologists owing to the difference between the date of the object and its context. These valued artefacts often demonstrate evidence of veneration (collection, cleaning and care). Recently, the importance of fragments in referencing an earlier object and its associations has been recognized (Chapman 2000), though the detection of such fragments, even when in significant contexts, presents a challenge to archaeologists. The first example of an ancestor object which no longer exists, even as fragments, but as remelted metal, is presented in this paper. This suggests that the material of which an artefact is composed may have significantly greater cultural meaning than previously proposed. Distinguishing such ancestor material from material recycled for economic benefit or its desirable physical characteristics presents a significant challenge to the archaeologist and archaeological scientist.

Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China