Melbourne Historical Journalamphora cover

42:2 2014 (The Amphora Issue) 



The past is not just a foreign country. It is also 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? Are archaeologists, ancient historians or classicists privileged over other claimants such as contemporary novelists and film-makers? How valid are the claims of contemporary populations to the ancient pasts of their homelands or ancestors?

Ancient world researchers, for whom the past is usually both foreign and distant, constantly construct the past from physical remains, material objects, literary sourc­es and other texts. Such intimate knowledge creates a powerful possessiveness to­wards a past that is simultaneously valued and jealously guarded.

Contemporary and recent historical culture too has its claims: visual and text-based media appropriate and distribute other compelling versions of the past. The ancient world becomes high drama (Gladiator), personal tragedy (David Malouf’s Ransom), spoof (Buster Keaton’s Three Ages), or even part of the future (Battlestar Galactica’s classically-referenced pantheon [the Lords of Kobol] or Dr Who in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’).

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. Ideas of national identity, cul­tural oppression and appropriation, and the significance of geographical and histori­cal contexts are explicitly referenced in debates over the return of objects and human remains. Indeed, for contemporary indigenous communities worldwide, possessing the past is not merely the right to tell a story or display an object, but representative of the right to recognition, self-determination and often survival despite past colo­nial brutality. Possessing the past is political.

Feature Articles

Kyle Gervais (Western U, Canada): ‘This is my Sparta! 300 (1998), 300 (2007), and Three (2013 – 14).’

Lindy Allen (Museum Victoria): ‘The Never Ending Story: The Repatriation of Ancestral Remains from Museums.’


Christopher Hale (U Melbourne): ‘Middle Helladic Matt Painted and Dull Painted Pottery at Mitrou: an Important Distinction in Central Greece.’

Kyle Conrau-Lewis (Yale U): ‘The Perversion of Virtue: a Case Study of Statius’ Hippomedon.’

Book Reviews

Byron Waldron (U Sydney): ‘Andrea Salimbeti & Raffaele D’Amato, The Carthaginians 6th-2nd Century BC, Elite 201.’

Larissa Tittl (U Melbourne): ‘Christopher Watts (ed.) Relational Archaeologies. Humans, Animals, Things.’

Exhibition Reviews

Alina Kozlovski (U Sydney): ‘Lego Acropolis: Nicholson Museum.’

Larissa Tittl (U Melbourne): ‘Aztecs: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Melbourne Museum and Australian Museum.’

Featured Artworks

Sam Leach

Hohle Fels B (Cover)

Vulture Bone Flute (p. 3)

Hammer and Anvil (p. 30)

Morris Measure (p. 58)

Paleolithic Tool with Chevron (p. 79)

‘Artist’s Statement and Biography.’

Clare Belshaw

Pandora and Possession (p. 19)

‘Artist’s Statement’


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