Provenance is a word that refers to the place and time where some artifact or other object originated.
Provenance is a particularly large concern when it comes to works of art; a documented provenance for a piece demonstrates that it is not a forgery; it was indeed made by the artist given credit for it. The history of previous owners demonstrates also that the work was not stolen, and that a seller has good title to convey to a purchaser.
For similar reasons, provenance is important in archaeology and palaeontology. Here, while the concerns about forgery remain, at least for human artifacts, an accurate provenance for a find can reveal data about its date. Finds that remain in situ are always much more informative than those that have been removed by "collectors;" scientists can learn more about their origins from the environment in which a find was located, but the surrounding dirt and dust is seldom of interest to pot-hunters or treasure-seekers.
See also: chain of custody