Provenance inconnu and other stories: developing engaging labels for ancient history collections




Archaeological collections, labels, museum interpretation, storytelling, provenance, object biography


Storytelling lies at the heart of how museums share their collections with the public. However, not all stories are treated equally. Archaeological collections, with their small finds and fragmentary artifacts, find that many of their stories are relegated to the succinct, objective language of a label, necessarily truncating the rich associations that each object embodies. This does not allow much space for stimulating visitors’ imagination, and is even less conducive to motivating a critical approach. In cases where there are gaps in the object’s origins, the regular label format may give little to no clarification on the object’s life. As a thought-experiment in the possibilities of object biography, we chose the case study of a humble bronze figurine in Musée L’s archaeological collections. Despite its missing provenance and incomplete provenience, we developed a series of display interventions through which we could tell its story in the museum in new way.

Author Biographies

Annelies Van de Ven, Université Catholique de Louvain

Annelies Van de Ven is currently working as an F.R.S. FNRS post-doctoral researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain, focusing on the history of archaeological teaching and collecting within Belgium. Her research is being conducted in partnership with the Musée L. She previously completed her doctorate at the University of Melbourne looking into the biographies of contested artefacts. Alongside her research, Dr Van de Ven is engaged in an outreach project developing educational tools in regional Victoria. She is also part of the GAIA Rabati excavations team and is one of the fieldschool trainers.

Sarah Kielt Costello, University of Houston - Clear Lake

Sarah Kielt Costello is Professor of Art History and Program Director of Humanities at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. Her research areas include early Mesopotamian and Cypriot art and archaeology, as well as museum and heritage studies. She has conducted archaeological research in Cyprus, Turkey, Israel and Greece.




How to Cite

Van de Ven, A., & Costello, S. K. (2024). Provenance inconnu and other stories: developing engaging labels for ancient history collections. Museum & Society, 22(1), 158–173.