Definition: The Second Life of an artefact is an object narrative made up of the events, interactions and usages which occur post the artefact’s original purpose/contemporary usage, i.e. the artefacts First Life.
The idea of the “Second Life” of artefacts is a concept that has been slowly developing throughout my research over the past five or six years. The idea developed out of my work with archaeological collections; these artefacts have very definitive separations between their First and Second lives, which usually occurs when the artefact is buried and becomes part of the archaeological record.
The First Life of an artefact is that original purpose it serves within its contemporary context. The second life is any role the artefact serves beyond its original usage and context.
For Example the “Mask of Agamemnon” from Mycenae
First Life: A burial mask from Mycenae, Grave Circle A, Grave V, 16th cent. BC. Its original purpose was a funerary object for a wealthy man.
Second Life: When Heinrich Schliemann discovered this mask in 1876, he declared it to be the Mask of the legendary King of Mycenae, Agamemnon – with absolutely no archaeological proof. There is even debate on the authenticity of the artefact. Is it a fake? Was it seeded from another location? Assuming it is a genuine ancient artefact; all this controversy adds to the artefacts Second Life. It has become an icon of late 19th-century archaeology, a time before proper scientific method was used in excavations.
Sometimes artefacts will develop a far more interesting Second Life than their First Life. Artefacts that were simple utilitarian pieces within their contemporary context have become controversial, paradigm shifting or icons of their era.
I purpose that extreme examples, such as the Parthenon Marbles, The Warren Cup, The Rosetta Stone, etc. have the capacity to be studied beyond their contemporary cultures and context. The time they have spent interacting with modern cultures has created a new context for these artefacts; they have developed second modern lives.