This is from the Great Wall of China. It was collected by someone called James Lowe in 1876.
Many people over the last two and a half thousand years have attempted to dismantle the wall. I’ve no idea how Mr. Lowe succeeded in pocketing this souvenir. He probably wouldn’t get it through customs these days. But then very few of the objects in any museum would get through customs these days.
Any great empire is built by crushing and excluding what it cannot control, but even the greatest of all empires cannot survive forever without itself being destroyed. China has done pretty well so far, but one day even this great wonder of a wall will be gone. Having withstood Mongol hordes for millenia, parts of the wall in Gansu, gateway to the Silk Route, may be reduced to mounds of dirt in another 20 years. They are being swept away by sandstorms, a result of desertification caused by human agriculture. Other parts of the wall are being washed away by flash floods caused by extensive deforestation by humans.
The wall has also been dismantled to make pigsties, coalmines and factories, blasted to make way for roads, and torn down to make tourist villas. In China the driving force of economic development has often overwhelmed any other consideration. Indeed Chinese idealogues have often even actively striven to eradicate the past.
Add to these forces the enthusiasm of tourists like Mr.Lowe, and the Great Wall now stands reduced to approximately a third of its former glory. As China develops it won’t be long before the remaining third is gone. Who cares?
It seems ignorance and neglect may be even greater forces than war. The real barbarians can never be kept out by fortifications. They are already here.