Wed, 2.18.2015. (Cont'd from 2.17.15) I am continuing my discussion of the intellectual and emotional appeal of collecting--an irresistible combination for a certain type of person who is both lover and learner--the passionate nerd.
5. Rewarding rediscoveries. Collectibles are often coy about giving up their secrets. After the initial celebration of a treasure found, the honeymoon fades. The true collector (as opposed to a mere connoisseur) accumulates more than she can possibly display, so that the once-and-forever beloved get pushed back farther on the shelf or deeper into the closet. Like a conscientious school teacher with too many kids in her classroom (or a sultan with his harem?--yikes), I do try to give each of my darlings some renewed attention as the years drift by.
If I'm lucky, the ghost in the artifact will share a little more, will give me "new eyes." I bought a strand of "ancient amulets" at a tribal arts show in NYC in 1997 (image below). It was an intellectual purchase and very expensive--but I was egged on by Jim, who saw it as "a whole collection" on a single string. The beads were from a variety of eras and empires: Egyptian, Bactrian, Roman, Sasanian, Parthian, Sumerian--but it was unclear which was what. Each bead really has its own story, but I was overwhelmed. I studied it on occasion but it always got put away with no new insights.
Recently, I pulled it out again. I'd been reading about the crime of stealing antiquities in "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum" by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. I decided to "own" the crime that someone had possibly engaged in on my behalf. It was a casual encounter: I was sitting in front of the TV, playing with my strand of beads. I also grabbed the jeweler's loupe (magnifier) and put the macro lens on my camera. These tools help me travel closer, become more intimate with my tiny treasures.
Occasionally, what was hidden before, reveals itself. Several beads that I thought were tiny feet turned out to be (of course!) hands with closed fingers--maybe an early Islamic representation of the hamsa or Hand of Fatima, or it could be pre-Islamic... A little pop of insight has opened a new door for research. I see something I didn't see before.
Then my camera lens caught what looked like human-made scratches on a rock crystal bead with a "plano-convex round" shape (see first image below). I had to hold the 1/2" bead with a tweezers and struggle to get the loupe focused on the emerging picture. Then suddenly I saw it! A human figure, his face in profile, his legs moving, a leafy plant in one hand, and a stick or knife in the other. I went crazy. Unbelievable! I wanted Jim to see it, but it was like pointing out features on the face of Mars through a telescope to someone not quite as zoomed in as you.
When such a revelation occurs, the sensation is that of "oneness," of harmony with the universe, of finally seeing through the jumbled blur of everyday life. A message has emerged through the static. It is like that starry-night ability to fine-tune an old AM radio to a station thousands of miles away. Except that in this case, it's thousands of years away. Time has collapsed.
(See images below. The third image is an attempt to trace the figure to make it clearer.)
I have tried to investigate this bead, which now may be called a "stamp seal" (as opposed to a cylinder seal).One path led to the Sumerian diety Enki "the creator and protector of humanity in the Babylonian flood myth." Now I'm looking at a page of ancient seals dug up in Turkey, from the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus (700-400 BCE) [The History Blog]. Mine is crude by comparison to the seals shown on that page, but not inconsistent-- maybe the work of an amateur or student? So now the mystery becomes a puzzle and a task ("research ancient stamp seals").
My rush of excitement helped me enter the headspace of cultural criminals who would collect such objects for their secret enjoyment. Or maybe I should say that it made me forget all about boundaries, right-thinking vs wrong-thinking, and the claims of nations. I had a tryst instead.
PHOTO, top. A sampling of beads from the collection.
THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.
TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.
PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.
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