importance of keeping records of artefacts - not only as a means of establishing whether a piece was recently looted or not but for its own sake. Despite claims by some dealers and collectors of ancient artefacts that preserving scraps of paper or other evidence of an item's collecting history is unimportant - "who cares about its recent history?" - a scruffy little cardboard label tucked inside an old pot made a huge difference to its significance. The Guardian reports that Guy Funnell and his partner found the broken and glued together pot when clearing out a garage stacked with his father's possessions in Cornwall. His grandfather had been a taxi driver and family tradition held that the pot had been given to him in lieu of a fare.
The little black and red pot turned out to be from pre-Dynastic Egypt and around 5,500 years old. That is quite impressive in itself but the type is not that uncommon on the antiquities market. What made this one exceptional was that "scruffy little cardboard label" tucked inside it, the knowledge of how it came into the taxi driver's possession, and the faintly pencilled number '1754'. An investigation by the Petrie Museum in London confirmed that the pot was discovered by the famed Egyptologist, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, in 1894-5. The pot not only illuminates an aspect of Ancient Egypt (we now know precisely what grave it came from and what other artefacts were associated with it); it also sheds light on the work practices of a 19th-century archaeologist.
Alice Stevenson, curator at the Petrie Museum, observes: "There were obviously many such cards, but I have never seen or heard of one before – there must be more out there, which would help us trace the distribution of this material through museums and private collections."
(Hat tip to Kyri)