However, now aged 78, Mr Abbott hasn’t retired and work commitments continue. He has realised that research on the collection must be conducted by someone else, and has entrusted the extraordinary collection to Flinders University – for its researchers and collaborators to undertake this vast challenge.
Along with Mr Abbott’s gift to the University, a significant donation from his good friend Alastair Hunter OAM will enable Flinders University’s Dr Martin Polkinghorne to research the works and uncover their historical and cultural stories.
Funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC) will also support the research and help to reveal the stories behind the largest known collection of trade ceramic in the world.
The collection comprises two categories of ceramics – trade ceramics acquired from markets, and a large number of pieces recovered from shipwrecks in Indonesia, some with shells and crustaceans still attached.
Where the ceramics were sourced is of particular interest to Dr Polkinghorne, Senior Lecturer of Archaeology at Flinders University.
“Our first task will be reuniting the pieces with the ships they came from, and this will build a detailed narrative of the maritime silk trade route, which was the greatest trade route in the world at that time,” says Dr Polkinghorne.
“We will be working hand-in-hand with regional colleagues, including the Indonesian ministry that administers shipwrecks, comparing ceramics they have from the sea floor with our collection.
“The intention is to ensure the pieces are correctly provenanced and to reconnect the collection with the communities of their origins.”
The research also hopes to locate which kilns were used to fire the ceramics by using elemental analysis of samples taken from the objects, and, as most pieces would have been made by master craftsmen, identify individual artists.
“It’s important to recognise that we are leading the way in evaluating these types of ceramics and working to discover the context of their origins,” says Mr Abbott.
The vast project, which is expected to take up to five years, will involve several PhD students from Indonesia coming to Flinders to help with the research. Dr Polkinghorne plans to share discoveries from the project with Indonesia, to promote deeper cultural and research links between Flinders and its Southeast Asian partners.
Providing the financial support for the research, Mr Hunter says, “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to support this project, for academic purposes alongside building and strengthening Australia’s relationships with our Indonesian neighbours.”
“My late parents, Tom and Elizabeth Hunter, were passionate collectors of art and antiques, including Asian ceramics and objects. They would consider this gift a wonderful investment in education and sharing international research.
“It is to the University’s great credit that this extensive collection will be preserved, curated and displayed by Flinders for public benefit.”
By employing and enhancing international conventions that relate to these collections, Dr Polkinghorne and his team hope to preserve the underwater cultural heritage of our region for future generations.
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