The Blind Touching the Artifacts

I was looking through news articles just now, trying to find something that would click with what we talked about in class today, when I went to the front page of the Fox News Archaeology tab. On that page, there was an article about a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which has a rather large amount of blind patrons coming through it ( It must be difficult for these people to get any experience at all going through the museum; after all, most information is gathered from looking at artifacts, and there can’t be much else to glean from the docent’s speeches when you can’t see what’s in front of you. However, it is said that blind people can “see” very well with their hands, by touching. And that is why what this museum did was so amazing for them.

Usually (when you can see, at least) there are strict “no touching” policies in effect in almost every museum. I’m sure every one of us has been on a class trip where we were violently whispered at to keep our hands off of the precious artifacts. This makes sense, too; just today Ethan mentioned that the oils on our hands can destroy artifacts much more than the average person would expect. But the people in charge at this museum decided to give the blind something more to visit for; they allowed them to touch artifacts, giving them the ability to get significantly more involved in the museum attractions and hopefully drawing more blind people to come and learn about archaeology. It was an amazing display of adaptation for the museum, who now has a lot more people who it can educate.

However, with the fact that our hands can destroy the things they’re striving to learn about, could it be worth it? I personally am very concerned for the artifacts in the museum, which will be exposed much more to human flesh, and who knows how long they’ll last. As exciting as it is for a whole new category of disabled people to be able to experience a museum in a way they haven’t before, I can’t help but wonder if this museum’s policy will end up hurting more than it helps.



5 thoughts on “The Blind Touching the Artifacts

  1. I can definitely see where this can become an issue for many archeological museums and museums in general having people touching artifacts. In order to keep the artifacts as close to the shape they are in currently, it is best to not be touched, especially if the people aren’t being extremely careful with the artifacts. Furthermore, the artifact could be destroyed accidentally if touched in the wrong way. For example, when Ethan brought out a bunch of artifacts for us to see, he told us to not touch one of the pots because it was very delicate. If a blind person did not know to not touch the artifact, it could have been damaged beyond repair.

    On the other side of this topic, I find it interesting to see what the blind think about the artifacts they touch. Obviously, blind people interpret the world in a much different way than those with sight do. If there were some artifacts in museums that could be handled by people, I would be very interested to see what blind people’s interpretations of artifacts would be compared to ours. Would they appreciate the artifacts as much? Would they understand the importance of them? It is a study that I feel would be very cool to look into.

  2. I think this issue is a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, the blind are not able to experience the many findings from different sites around the world as easily as those who are able to see. This museum tries to help out blind people, and I think it’s great.

    I’m sure that some of the artifacts can be analyzed to see how much handling that each can take before letting visitors come in and touch them. Some should be kept off limits at all times, while the more recent ones without as much erosion could be ones to be handled. They should not be deprived of our ability to learn from the past. I’m sure that certain requirements must be met before an artifact is displayed this way. I also think that more museums should be hands-on in general. I don’t think this should be solely limited to the blind, and I doubt it is, but I feel learning about the past would attract more people with this concept.

    I can’t imagine trying to imagine the past cultures of history without having any shapes, structures, and colors to set the imagined scenario. This opportunity gives them a chance to see similarities and differences in objects they touch in the museum versus those they touch everyday.

  3. I think it’s a good idea to give blind people a more complete museum experience, but I doubt that having them touch the actual artifacts is a good idea. The museum’s collection needs to be kept safe for the enjoyment of all future patrons. The article does state that the artifacts were selected as ones that people should be able to safely touch, but you’d think that having that many tours would do some damage over time. I wonder if replica artifacts would be a good solution. Either 3D printed ones or something similar by another process. 3D printing wouldn’t necessarily have the same texture as the original artifact, but it would have the same shape, which is something. At least for more delicate artifacts. Or they could rotate which artifacts the blind actually touch and which are replicas. Having that many people regularly touch artifacts is eventually going to harm them. I think a system like this should be implemented in other museums as well, because currently the blind aren’t really able to experience anything besides an audio tour in many museums. There should definitely be a way for them to enjoy museums, as long as the museum’s collection isn’t damaged by their experience.

  4. I think it is great that there is a museum that is catered to the blind! I hadn’t ever thought about how the blind would be able to enjoy a museum before. Museums are mostly walking around looking at exhibits and reading the information about them, which is certainly not accessible to blind people. Everyone deservers to enjoy learning and discovering what these museums have to offer. I think becoming conscious of this fact is important so that more museums will start becoming accessible to the blind as well as other people with disabilities. Although this museum has a great idea, I can see the dilemma here. Allowing people to constantly handle the artifacts will no doubt cause damage to them over time. Once these artifacts are gone they are gone forever. Like what was mentioned above, I think that making replicas of the artifact for people to handle would be the best idea. 3D printing was the first thing that popped into my head since we just talked about how archaeologist are using it now to replicate artifacts. If I were designing this museum I would have the real artifacts in cases with the replica or 3D printed artifact next to it allowing people to be able to handle that one instead and still be able to get an idea of what the artifact looks like. I would also include the option of audio, that way a blind person or even little kids who don’t want to take the time to read, would be able to get an explanation as to what the artifact is.

  5. I was very curious about what you were writing about just by reading your title. I think that we all have been to museums and wished that we could analyze everything a little bit further. It is great that we are able to even see these, and that museums are open for us to appreciate the artifacts. I think that this museum in Philadelphia is a fantastic idea, and the fact that they are allowing blind people to get involved is great.

    It does raise the question that you mentioned whether it is worth the possibility of harming and destroying the artifacts. I think it is important that everybody has the opportunity to learn and appreciate the wonders that we have accumulated from the past. I think the benefit that these people would get outweighs the minute loss that could occur from people touching the artifacts. At the same time, I think the museum should be careful about letting people touch the artifacts. In the article, it says that people sanitized their hands before feeling the pieces, and that should prevent the artifacts from being damaged. Due to this, it seems that there is little harm, and the people who visited the museum can have an enjoyable experience like those who can see the artifacts.

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