Archaeology Month: Lost and Found


October is Archaeology Month! Sira has previously looked at an item from our archives from an archaeologist's perspective, and today she takes a closer look at an object from our museum collection.

Archaeologists often study things that have been lost, dropped, or discarded. Unlike a painting or document that has been preserved intentionally, these items can tell us about the parts of the past that have been long forgotten.

One object that we hold in the collection has a fascinating backstory that allows us to imagine the lives of everyday people doing everyday jobs.  The card attached to this pin says “At one time while repairs were being made on the organ at Kings Chapel this old pin was found within the organ. This organ was procured from England in 1756 and paid for by private subscription. It cost 500 pounds sterling and was said to have been selected by the great Handel himself though the great master was at that time blind. This pin was found by the Boston organ builder, Mr. Henry E. Holland. 1886”

NN2008.0010 with penny for scale

While we know quite a bit about the life of Handel, for me the more interesting life to consider is that of the person who dropped this pin into the organ. Did it belong to one of the people who made the organ in England? Was it dropped into the organ during production, or afterwards? Did it fall in while the organ was being produced? During transport? After it arrived in Boston? What did it hold? Clothing? Sheet music? Did they notice it was missing, perhaps get down on hands-and-knees to look for it?

In this case, Mr. Henry E. Holland acted as an amateur archaeologist by preserving the pin and telling us as much about the circumstances of its discovery as possible. Knowing where and how it was found gives us a much deeper understanding of the object itself – the pin alone tells us very little, but the pin and the story together give us material around which to imagine a narrative.