The past is a contested space where memories, meanings and habitation are negotiated, constructed and claimed.
Through researching, interpreting, and recording the past, privilege is created and maintained, conferring a sense of possession. Who can claim to be the rightful owner of an ancient past?
Ancient world researchers constantly construct the past from physical remains, material objects, literary and other texts. Such intimate knowledge creates a powerful possessiveness towards a past that is simultaneously valued and jealously guarded. Are archaeologists, ancient historians or classicists privileged over other claimants, such as contemporary novelists and film-makers?
How valid are the claims of modern populations to the ancient pasts of their homelands or ancestors? Fractious arguments over the repatriation of objects and human remains continue: governments, cultural organisations, indigenous communities, and the public all claim the rights of possession over the material past. For contemporary indigenous communities worldwide, possessing the past is not merely the right to tell a story or display an object. It is the right to recognition, self-determination and often survival, despite past colonial brutality. Possessing the past is political. It is also personal and emotional. The power of possession and the concept of ownership is the theme of the 2014 AMPHORA issue of the MHJ.