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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, 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 a copy of a printed book. In most fields 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.

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.

Certificates by recognized experts play an important role in art, sometimes making a difference in prize that may amount to several millions of dollars or euros.
Certificates can be tricky as well as can be seen from the case of Jacques van Meegeren who forged the work of his father Han van Meegeren (who in his turn had forged the work of Vermeer).

Jacques sometimes produced a certificate with his forgeries stating that that particular work of art had been created by his father Han van Meegeren.

See Jacques van Meegeren.


Wines

In the context of cellaring fine wine First Class Provenance is a term used to validate or certify that a given wine or wine collection has been maintained properly and with the highest degree and utmost level of care. 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.winepros.com.au.

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.

Books

In the case of books, the study of provenance refers to the study of the ownership of individual copies of books. It is usually extended to include study of the circumstances in which individual copies of books have changed ownership, and of evidence left in books that shows how readers interacted with them.

Provenance studies may shed light on the books themselves, providing evidence of the role particular titles have played in social, intellectual and literary history. Such studies may also add to our knowledge of particular owners of books. For instance, looking at the books owned by a writer may help to show which works influenced him or her.

Many provenance studies have been historically focussed, and have concentrated on books owned by writers, politicians and other public figures. The recent ownership of books is also studied, however, as is evidence of how ordinary or anonymous readers have interacted with books.

Provenance can be studied both by examining the books themselves (for instance looking at inscriptions, marginalia, bookplates and bindings) and by reference to external sources of information such as auction catalogues.

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. Artifact 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 deposits to which they do not belong, moved by, for example, the erosion of nearby but 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.

In the strictly geologic use of the term, provenance instead refers to the lithologic origin of a rock, most commonly in sedimentary rocks. It does not typically refer to the circumstances of the collection of the rock.

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.

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.

See also



References

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


Bibliography

Provenance in book studies

  • Myers, Robin, Harris, Michael and Mandelbrote, Giles, eds. Books on the move: tracking copies through collections and the book trade. London: British Library, 2007. ISBN 9780712309868.
  • Pearson, David. Provenance Research in Book History: a Handbook. London: British Library, 1998. ISBN 978-0712345989.
  • Shaw, David, J., ed. Books and Their Owners: Provenance Information and the European Cultural Heritage. London: Consortium of European Research Libraries, 2005. ISBN 0954153537.
  • Shaw, David, J., ed. Imprints and Owners: Recording the Cultural Geography of Europe. London: Consortium of European Research Libraries, 2007. ISBN 9780954153564.


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