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Academic Archaelogical Marble Question


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Many thanks for the post, Alan, and those thoughts. I had been beginning to wonder if as an undergrad I was just looking in the wrong places for sources.

By the by, you have now given me a very solid idea of what to do for my masters, and, if it is allowed, my doctorates and beyond. Heck, I would even do it without the degrees if I'm allowed. Aside from informational resources being a challange, I am also finding that getting access to archaeological collections to look at just marbles is an issue as well. Unfortunately one such as myself cannot walk into a place of curation and say, "I would like to see all your marbles." I've had to put forth a blessedly simple research proposal to one place, giving them my research methods as well as...and this is the big one... the site name, site number, artifact catalog number, and provenience. That last bit can be rather annoying since only one place in our state has a registry of site names and numbers, and they are very select on who they allow access to (i.e. no one knows where or what all the sites in Missouri are, save them, which keeps the sites relatively "safe"). This poses a problem as that I have to find archaeologists who have either worked on historical sites with marbles in them or know of sites... and they must be willing to let me access their reports as well as the database on the marbles.

In short, I'm left with the impression that archaeologists look at marbles and think, "Oh, look, children's toys. All it tells us is that there were children here," and then promptly catalog them and put them into curation with only a passing analysis in their reports. Mind you, only of late have archaeologists both historic and otherwise started looking at children in the archaeological record, and the part they played in the community.

Now, here's a question... and this is telling of the modern age I'm living in and the modern eyes I have... just looking at my modern glass marbles... the clay ones that were excavated at a site that had brick laborers' homes circa the mid 1800's were rather small, I'd almost call them pea-sized. Which only goes to show my current level of inexperience.

To which, I thank you all for your tolerance of me, and your willingness to educate someone as ignorant as I.

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In most things in life (archaeological research seemingly not an exception) to acquire a thing (in your case - access and cooperation) - one need to define a "win-win" in the eye of the collection curator or the responsible archaeologist. Curators and archaeologist IMO want different things. I think it best for you to pause and develop essentially what could be called a classic Business Plan (as brief as it might be) to define to both yourself and OTHERS:

1) What your goals are

2) Your plan of how you will accomplish them

3) The resources you need to accomplish those goals

4) The places those resources exist and who the "gatekeepers" are

5) Their gain (win-win) from that cooperation

6) Your strategy for gaining that cooperation (advocates, Letters of Introduction, opinion-shapers, collection donors etc)

Some gatekeepers want homage. Some want tangible intellectual capital (which your results will create). Others are swayed by donor money/donor wishes. I would give thought to a multi-dimension approach to securing cooperation. If one plan fails - have a back-up. Ask senior people in the field "Who knows curator/archaeologist Bob Smith?". Try to avoid going in cold - its too easy to say know. Try to secure the advocacy of a connected person - and have a call or letter proceed your request. Be prepared to define the gain to the field/institution that comes from your work. Of course you would make a copy of your vetted work available to them and acknowledge their assistance in the work (note that in the request). Your thesis advisor(s) can probably tell you who is connected to whom. If a collection is funded by a donor - see if you can connect to that donor (without the curator feeling you went around them).

I would give some serious thought how your work can and will support related areas of archaeological work and study. Don't appear to be stand-alone and insulated. The more impactful they believe your work to be - the more likely they will be supportive of it.

Hope this helps.


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put away the books and turn off your google and talk to ron shepard and brian graham...these guys will help you more than you could imagine....the books are full of errors and were written as a self promotion...these forums are ego-driven and will confuse before educating...youve gotta talk to people who made and played marbles...not those who sell them...or are into it for money....keep it simple and remember that fun and comradrie is what marbles are all about....youre first stop is with ron and brian.....i dont see how in a few months you can get everything about marbles...it takes years to truly understand what collectin marbles is all about....good luck

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Another book you may to read is "Chinas Hand Painted Marbles of the Late 19th Century" by Jeff Carskadden and Richard Gartley. This book goes into some detail of their research and dating of marbles from digs including privy digs. Also I agree with what Duffy said in the previous post about talking with collectors. Next month just north of St Louis is a small marble show in Hannibal(you can get the show details in the upcoming show thread). You can sit down with collectors who would be more then happy to tell you what they know or think they know. LOL You would also be able to examine what they have for sale and look at part of their collections that they may have brought along for display. There's no better way to learn marbles then to hold them in your hands.


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I am an archaeologist at Texas State University and have been doing professional archaeology for over 30 years. Archaeologists do pay attention to marbles and treat them like any other class of artifacts. In my own work I have recovered a variety of marbles from Maya sites some of which date back to 1200 BC. Recently I have recovered some from an English settlement in the Caribbean. Many of my colleagues know that I am also a marble collector and contact me for advice about marbles they have recovered from prehistoric and historic sites. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information.

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Many thanks for the information, Charles.

Needless to say, the family and I will be headed up to Hannibal that Saturday with much enthusiasm. I'm looking forwards to talking to folks and learning a lot, as well as perhaps starting my own personal foray into marble collecting (though I am a neophyte, to be certain); miniature works of art in glass and porcelain that seem so much better than any rare gemstone.

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