The Bridges collection is a diverse group of material that was accumulated by the Bridges family in the 1960s. Mr Bridges worked for the British Council on Cyprus; during their time there the family began to collect archaeological material. Following consultation and approval of Professor Vassos Karageorghis (former Director of Antiquities and former Director of the Anastasios G. Leventis foundation in Cyprus), in 1994 and 2003 Mrs Margaret Bridges donated the collection of 184 objects to the University of St Andrews to be used for education purposes.


Fig. 1 Part of the Bridges collections

Before the last of the UNESCO agreements (1972, follow link here for more information) it was not uncommon for people to collect portable material culture such as pottery or figurines. Sometimes these developed into private collections which, over time, were often donated to museums, universities and schools for care.

With any private collection it is difficult to understand the date and function of many of the objects without knowledge of the original context (domestic, burial, religious etc). Without provision of information about the archaeological context to many, the material remains conceivable in terms of an art object rather than archaeology. One of the key aims of our project is to try to provide as much archaeological context for the objects as we can so, that users can gain a more enhanced understanding of the material as well as the issues concerning collections such as this. You can see our efforts to provide more context for the objects on our website, here.

The Bridges collection is a static collection; the university does not add to the archaeological collection nor does it seek to. The University of St Andrews has consistently used its collection for education purposes: its own students, the wider community of schools and also the public. The task of making collections accessible has become easier in the last decade through the provision of on-line resources. Over the last year, our digitisation project has been making the material even more accessible by providing 3D models online and via our social media pages. By being able to interact with the model not only can the user see more but by using more of their senses can gain a more insightful experience. The project team has undertaken a series of experiments on around 100 participants of different ages and backgrounds, to assess the perception of portable material culture in different media (behind a glass case, touching replicas without seeing them, handling the real object and interacting with the objects in 3D). Our results have been fascinating and we will write about them soon.


Fig. 2 Interacting with the Bridges collection as part of the 2016 experiments.

UNESCO conventions on cultural heritage

Since the UNESCO conventions have been adopted and publicised, the multifarious issues associated with buying and selling archaeological material have become common knowledge. These issues include the loss of context of the item which has often been looted from archaeological sites. The illegal extraction of objects is done without regard for the surrounding archaeology or other material which results in significant destruction of the site. The purchase of illicit antiquities also helps to encourage a market for the material, which means the destructive cycle is perpetuated. In spite of the UNSECO conventions, work by local and international law enforcement, research and pressure groups as well as a code of ethics adopted by museums and universities, tragically the sale of illicit antiquities continues. Illicit antiquities is a term used by archaeologists to define ‘Archaeological objects which have been torn from monuments, stolen from museums or illegally excavated and/or exported’ (Brodie & Tubb eds. 2003 Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology Pg. 2).

On a global level, institutions and the police are working to curb the sale of illicit antiquities. At a more local level, public, private and university museums also follow the Museum Association Code of Ethics which provides guidance on making new acquisitions and ensuring due diligence is applied (see point 2.4-5). It is the duty of institutions with private collections to make them as visible and useful as they can be for scholars and the public.


Key Websites: (research consortium on global trade in illicit antiquities) (Blog by Dr Neil Brodie) (International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods) (Department of Antiquities of Cyprus) (World Monuments Fund)


For further reading see:

Cuno, J. Who owns antiquity? Museums and the battle over our heritage, Princeton 2008.

Renfrew, C., Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: the Ethical Crisis in Archaeology, London, 2000.

Waxman, S. Loot: the battle over stolen treasures of the ancient world, London 2008.

Articles by Brodie and other in IARC Culture without Context:


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