Provenance Illusions and Elusive Paradata: When Archaeology and Art/Archaeological Practice Meets the Phygital

Paul Reilly*, Simon Callery, Ian Dawson, Stefan Gant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


In this art/archaeological study, we question the utility of the interrelated concepts of provenance, provenience, and paradata as applied to assemblages in art, archaeology, and cultural heritage contexts. We discuss how these overlapping concepts are used to establish values of authenticity and authoritative attributions. However, as cultural assemblages are increasingly being extended through virtualisation, they may exist digitally as well as physically, or as combinations of both, that is phygitally. We show how provenances and paradata can now become unstable and even detached from the assemblage. Through a sequence of collaborative projects, we expose two provenance illusions at the centre of archaeological recording and presentation practices. In these illusions, the archaeologists and much of the archaeology they record actually disappear from the authoritative reports that are published. Using a transdisciplinary, diffractive art/archaeology approach, these illusions are unpacked to reveal how superficially slight changes to traditional archaeological “drawings” and “photographs” have wrought fundamental ontological shifts in their modern phygital incarnations which undermines their provenances and associated paradata. We conclude that archaeology like fine art does not require conscious paradata in order to support statements of authority and interpretation. Instead, we argue that archaeologists should adopt an art/archaeology approach and subvert and dismantle established practices, methods, tools, techniques, and outputs. By highlighting and challenging inconsistencies in what we say we do with what we actually do, we expose gaps in our knowledge and data and shortcomings in our practices. These deficiencies can then be tackled by developing more robust (trans)disciplinary approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-481
Number of pages28
JournalOpen Archaeology
Issue number1
Early online date17 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2021


  • Archaeology
  • Conservation
  • Education


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