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Provenance, from the French provenir, "to come from", means the origin, or the source, of something, or the history of the ownership or location of an object,[1] The term was originally mostly used of works of art, but is now used in similar senses in a wide range of fields, including science and computing. Typical uses may cover any artifact found in archaeology or object in paleontology, or some document, such as a manuscript, or even an item of literature in the broadest sense, including a first edition of a very rare published work. The primary purpose of provenance is to confirm or gather evidence as to the time, place, and if appropriate the person responsible, for the creation, production or discovery of the object, but this will typically be accomplished by tracing the whole history of the object up to the present. Comparative techniques, expert opinions, and the results of various kinds of scientific tests may also be used to these ends, but establishing provenance is essentially a matter of documentation.

In North American archaeology, and to a lesser extent in anthropological archaeology throughout the world, the term provenience is sometimes used instead. Usually the two terms are synonymous; however, some researchers use provenience to refer only to the exact location in a site where an artifact was excavated, in contrast to provenance which includes the artifact's complete documented history.


[edit] Arts and antiques

The provenance of works of fine art, antiques and antiquities often assumes great importance. Documented evidence of provenance for an object can help to establish that it has not been altered and is not a forgery, reproduction, stolen or looted art. Knowledge of provenance can help to assign the work to a known artist and a documented history can be of use in helping to prove ownership.

The quality of provenance of an important work of art can make a considerable difference to its selling price in the market; this is affected by the degree of certainty of the provenance, the status of past owners as collectors, and in many cases by the strength of evidence that an object has not been illegally excavated or exported from another country. The provenance of a work of art may be recorded in various forms depending on context or the amount that is known, from a single name to an entry in a full scholarly catalogue several thousand words long.

In transactions of old wine with the potential of improving with age, the issue of provenance has a large bearing on the assessment of the contents of a bottle, both in terms of quality and the risk of wine fraud. A documented history of storage conditions is valuable in estimating the quality of an older vintage due to the fragile nature of wine.[2]

[edit] Science

Evidence of provenance can be of importance in the fields of archaeology and palaeontology. Fakes are not unknown and finds are sometimes removed from the context in which they were found without documentation, reducing their value to the world of learning. Even when discovered apparently in-situ archaeological finds must sometimes be treated with caution. The provenance of a find may not be properly represented by the context in which it was found. Artifacts can be moved far from their place of origin by mechanisms that include looting, collecting, theft or trade and further research is often required to establish the true provenance of a find. Fossils can also move from their primary context and are sometimes found, apparently in-situ, in geological deposits to which they do not belong, moved by, for example, the erosion of nearby but geologically different outcrops.

Most museums make strenuous efforts to record how the works in their collections were acquired and these records are often of use in helping to establish provenance.

Seed provenance refers to the specified area in which the plants that produced the seed are located. Ecologists maintain that planting seeds of the correct provenance is important for conserving the local genetic diversity.

Scientific research is generally held to be of good provenance when it is documented in detail sufficient to allow reproducibility.

[edit] Archives

Provenance is a fundamental principle of archives, referring to the individual, group, or organization that created or received the items in a collection. According to archival theory and the principle of provenance, records of different provenance should be separated.

In archival practice, proof of provenance is provided by the operation of control systems that document the history of records kept in archives, including details of amendments made to them. It was developed in the nineteenth century by both French and Prussian archivists.

Provenance is also the title of the professional journal published by the Society of Georgia Archivists.

[edit] Computers and law

The term provenance is also used in relation to ascertaining the source of goods such as computer hardware to assess if they are genuine or counterfeit. Chain of custody is an equivalent term used in law, especially for evidence in criminal or commercial cases. Data provenance covers the provenance of computerised data. Secure Provenance refers to providing integrity and confidentiality guarantees to provenance information. In other words, secure provenance means to ensure that history cannot be rewritten, and users can specify who else can look into their actions on the object. [3]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ OED"The fact of coming from some particular source or quarter; source, derivation"
  2. ^ Oxford Companion to Wine. "ageing". 
  3. ^ The Case of the Fake Picasso: Preventing History Forgery with Secure Provenance, Hasan et al, USENIX FAST 2009.

[edit] External links

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