Wednesday, 31 December 2014

PACHI in 2014

The caption says: "Dr Vincent Drost recording the #pasmillionth object"
on the PAS database" (photo PAS - see here for discussion).

Another year draws to a close and traditionally this is a time for taking stock. I see from the sidebar that this year I wrote just over 1800 posts, which it is quite a challenge to summarise. Some of these were just reporting something going on in the portable antiquities world - summarising a news article of interest with a short comment. Other posts were more substantive and analytical, and took a lot of work to think through, research andpost up. Between these two extremes are texts which fall between the two stools.

The blog in 2014 concentrated on the same issues as in 2013 and preceding years, while new areas of interest/concern also emerged. At the beginning of the year we had the emerging topic of papyrii (Sappho, the mummy-mask dissolvers) and then of course in the middle of the year started to emerge the big story that kept me awake at nights (sometimes literally), the emerging humanitarian and cultural drama in Syria and northern Iraq.

I have continued to challenge the received opinions about collectors and collecting, the ones propagated by the trade and its lobbyists, by apologists for artefact hunting, and more disturbingly - the view of artefact hunting and its effects foisted on the British public by a Scheme they pay for (the PAS).  I show that there is a multiutude of cases - actual people doing actual things and talking about them - which should be prompting us to take a good hard look at the rosy picture everyone wants us to believe.

A few random highlights and lowlights come to mind. In March we were discussing the pre-release material from National Geographic's "Nazi War Diggers" which in the end led to this programme being withdrawn. There was discussion of the excavation at Crosby Garrett where metal detectorists reported they'd found a Roman parade helmet - the hole produced more questions than answers. Both of these issues relate to what is understood as 'best practice' in artefact hunting, a theme which continued to be explored on this blog throughout 2014.

April saw some discussion of the plans of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to take recording of artefacts found by members of the public out of the hands of professional archaeologists and turn it over to 'trained' members of the public. I called this 'karaoke recording', but details remain vague. The PAS obsession with boosting overall recording statistics is also a theme that recurs later. April was also marked by a number of UNESCO fails, which began a series of comments on this later on in the year. A post on April 1st raised the issue (the so-called 'Lepidop question) of why - if it is so 'good for the heritage' - archaeologists do not go on metal detecting rallies. Like most issues raised on this blog, that never got taken up anywhere.

May was the period when I was discussing the US-Egypt MOU and in particular the reactions of collectors, following sheep-like the urgings of the dealers to oppose measures intended to impose minimal controls to reduce smuggling.  Collectors like to present themselves as homegrown 'avocational scholars', but some of their mental gyrations at the dealers' bidding  (and in particular on the issue of the circulation of ancient coins outside Egypt) really does cast doubt on their ability to think analytically about anything at all.

June and July saw the sale of the Sekhemka statue (and the mysterious fire at Castle Ashby the night before). SLAM and its acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask was in the news, while over in the US Congressmen Israel and Rangel briefly supported the coineys.  The decision on the so-called Getty Bronze was deferred and we are still waiting...

In August rumblings about the no-questions-asked market led to a group of dealers setting up yet another dealers' association to bolster the facade - the ADCAEA. After a brief flurry of activity and producing a Code of Conduct (and due diligence guidelines a few weeks later), it settled down to doing about as much as all the rest.

September saw the 'Dunelme hoard' hoiked up, a desultory discussion in the metal detecting and archaeological communities followed by the usual silence. The metal detecting month however was dominated by the bru-ha-ha around PAS recording its "millionth find". This was a disaster ("PAS Milliongate"). the millionth fnd was trumpeted by detectorists as a victory of the voluntary recording that they are doing, but the millionth find boosting the database was in fact from a hoard (Seaton Hoard), so a Treasure items the reporting of which is mandatory. Ridiculous sham. In the meanwhile the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion counter quietly ticked off the five millionth object hoiked since the PAS began.

In October Cuno revived his zombie 'universal museum' arguments and the TV comedy series 'detectorists' aroused great excitement (metal detectorists on their forums are still repeating to each other the jokes like children to show their mates they understood them). November was the apogee of posts here on Syria, trying to untangle plausible from implausible, fact, inference from alarmist invention and misrepresentation on the one hand and the glib dismissals of a dismayed antiquities trade on the other.

These topics all continued to be discussed in December, just recently we had the bad practice of the Lenborough hoard and then the Holt hoard recovered by metal detectorists. These no doubt will be returning in the next few weeks.

I was struck by the number of situations where it was pointed out at the end of a post discussing bad practice in artefact hunting in England and Wales that it would be appropriate as part of its outreach that the PAS commented on something that had cropped up and was being discussed for example on metal detecting forums. In the whole of 2014 this happened only once, when one FLO contacted me and explained about the out-of-place artefact that we'd been discussing (a Danubian brooch found on a rally). In every other case, the PAS did not issue any kind of a statement as part of its "outreach". Indeed, this year has seen a record number of FLOs refusing to even acknowledge that they received a request for further information, let alone answering it.  Perhaps they need reminding what the initial "L" stands for in their job title.

Archaeologists in Britain in general also refuse to discuss any of these issues in any detail. This is a malaise which of course is very much to the advantage of artefact hunters who are secure in knowledge that whatever bad practice they exhibit, only a few 'radical archaeo-bloggers' will ever point it out, and that will get ignored by the whole archaeological community.  The rest will sit quiet and not react.

The picture at the head of this post sums up 2014 in artefact hunting in general. Here we have the facade in operation. Its from the Facebook page (the one they remove substantive questions and comments from) of the The Portable Antiquities Scheme from 2nd October 2014. The caption reads "Dr Vincent Drost recording the #pasmillionth object". Readers of this blog will know that when he did, and the record showed up before the PAS were ready for the press-launch fanfare, Dr Vincent Drost and his records disappeared from the database. What I think is syptomatic about this picture is that the declared "millionth object" in the PAS database should not be there (as it is not a voluntarily reported non-Treasure item) is not anyway the millionth record, and in fact in the photo Dr Drost is not holding anything in his hand. The object in the photo is an imaginary one. That symptomises the discussion of portable antiquities collecting in the English-speaking world. Superficial pap is foisted off on the rest of us by all sides, outright lies are presented as fact, discussion of them is discouraged and suppressed and nobody actually gives a tinkers.

Happy New Year.

Kris Goes Out Met'l Detecting

Metal detecting kit
Kris goes out metal detecting at the end of the year and has a word of advice for his fellow artefact hunters before trying to find a "pot of yummies" at the end of the year. What happened to the lead artefact Greg found? And yes, we all look forward to hearing the truth about the pulling of the TV show you got yourself involved in - why not tell it now?

UPDATE 25.01.15
Because he seems not to understand, I need to explain to Mr Rodgers and his readers that lead does not  naturally occur in elemental form in the soils of SE England. A hemispherical piece of lead or lead alloy in the soil on a site where other historical material is coming up is what we call an "artefact". It is a very technical term, I know, difficult to understand for some. A lead artefact is a lead artefact and is part of the archaeological/historical record of the site from which it came. The problem is when sites are ripped apart like this by people who cannot understand what they have taken out of the archaeological record and have in their hands. It does not take an intellect the size of a planet to be able to differentiate nineteenth century stoneware bottle sherds with rouletting ("holes") from Roman earthenware with "what looks like Roman numerals". It is impossible for people like this to make a proper record of the surface archaeological patterns and associations of this site they are disrupting when they cannot recognize the nature of the evidence. It is like trying to listen to and understand a Caucasian shepherd's son without knowing what the words mean ("I like the melody"). The issue with cognitive skills is that some people faced with a task comprehend its essence and easily learn how to do it, others lag behind in such abilities, or even the will to apply themselves to learn even simple skills like this.

What I am particularly concerned with is the number of metal detecting artefact hunters and collectors which fall into the second group, which profoundly affects the manner in which we should be approaching the issue of 'outreach' to them in the first place, but also the manner in which we interpret the 'data' produced as a by-product of part of their activities. It seems to me that these are both issues which are ignored in the current broad-brush approach to artefact hunting (basically the PAS public position is that they are all 'responsible enthusiasts' who are all engaged in 'doing the same as us'). Quite clearly the picture is far more nuanced than generally presented to the media, and obviously is not applicable to the whole artefact hunting milieu. My blog raises the (perfectly valid) question to what extent is it untrue of the bulk of the metal detecting community.

I encourage my readers to go and look at online resources such as metal detecting discussion lists, blogs and websites produced by detectorist for detectorists to decide for themselves based on what they see there (a prelminary list can be found here: 'Pointing out Propagandist Fallacy 'Negativity', or the Only Realistic Basis for Discussing an Issue?' PACHI Monday, 1 September 2014). They are all "ambassadors for the hobby".

Heritage Action Look Back at their 2014

Alan S has concluded his "2014 Review of the Year" in three parts (here, here and here). To judge from the way metal detectorists react to HJ, one would be forgiven for thinking that the blog is all about artefact hunting, but in fact one can see that HA (like this blog) is concerned with many more wider issues too. One would have thought that "metal-detectorists-history-enthusiasts-passinitly-intrestid-in-the-past" would be supportive of such initiatives, but no. In the review, the most that is said about artefact hunting is this:
And finally, metal detecting. It’s been a bad year for depletion of the archaeological resource, with several major hoards coming to light, almost always in poor circumstances, with ill-disciplined excavation and greed at the forefront. We end the year with a plea to all archaeologists to finally speak up.
Will 2015 be the year when British archaeology finds its voice about the effects of collection driven exploitation of the archaeological record? 

Lenborough Hoard Excavated by FLO

Anon, 'Silver coins worth £1m found on farm' Buckingham Today, 31.12.2014
Miss Tyrrell was immediately called over to help excavate the coins. Weekend Wanderers founder Pete Welch said: “From the outset it was done properly and I’m pleased about that. “Ros, bless her, spent four or five hours on her belly in cold weather down a hole.”
here's a photo to show that indeed the PAS' FLO was fully and personally responsible for the way this hoard was hoiked.

Shambles. Spot the FLO (Buckingham Advertiser).
This is the way public outreach is done in Buckinghamshire. The FLO herself showing for all the world to see how much value Buckingham archaeology places on "archaeological finds in their context" "Jus' scoop it out and stuff it in this bag, we'll count it later". The public seeing this will draw their own conclusions on what British archaeology is about and what British archaeologists do.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

More Extra-Legal Fiddling of the Treasure Act?

An interesting comment from Neil MacGregor in the 2012 Annual Report of the PAS:
The Treasure Act 1996 would be unworkable without the support offered by the PAS and its network of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs). The FLOs are the primary point for reporting Treasure finds, but also offer guidance on the Act, write reports on Treasure finds and also help courier them to and from the national museum, for valuation etc. This is in addition to their primary role of recording non-Treasure items found by the public, raising awareness of the PAS and the importance of recording archaeological finds.
What insurance cover do these objects have when in transit in the FLO's car? In how many cases last year were specialist security firms commissioned by the PAS to do this work and how were the costs met if the involvement of the FLO in the process is not defined in the Treasure Act? What guidelines are issued to FLOs undertaking this task?

If the Treasure Act is "unworkable" without adopting extra-legal measures, then is not the logical solution to get it changed so it can work within the frames established by law?

PAS loses Direction

After so many changes, PAS seems
to have no clear policy any more
Professor David Gill writes about Material from controlled archaeological excavation changing the character of the PAS database. David has found references to at least 392 examples of material from "Controlled archaeological excavation" being in the database, despite the fact that the PAS declares: 
We do not record details of objects found by archaeologists, and these data can be found within the local Historic Environment Office.
There is thus here a gross conflict between what the PAS says and what it does.  To this may be added the use of the PAS database to record Treasure finds (when the PAS was set up to make a record of finds falling outside the scope of the Treasure Act - which requires by law other reporting mechanisms). Why is there this duplication?

This is particularly puzzling when we learn that the PAS does not have the resources to record all the non-Treasure items being (it says) brought in for recording by finders and is turning away material found in metal detecting which thus disappears into scattered ephemeral personal collections without any record (for example, blithely here page 4, from the Scheme's deputy director). Surely the answer is to more strictly define the scope and activities of the Scheme, and focus the resources on a single task, which is liaising with members of the public finding non-Treasure artefacts and encouraging best practice - which includes recording those items so this information is available in the public domain. Wasting resources on other tasks is weakening the ability of the Scheme to undertake its primary (and publicly funded) purpose.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Dorset Hoard "Done 100% Properly"

Holt, innit (Wikipedia)
The site of the two-day 'bigga-digga' Dorset hoard hoik was kept hidden in the two videos, note how the camera was always kept to the ground so you cannot even see which way the various parts of the trench were facing. There was a mention though that an earlier group of coins had been reported from the site, a 'year and a half earlier', when was that? We can probably assume that the hoiking of the base of the hoard took place in the week preceding the video being posted that would be the very end of November 2014. This would mean the initial discovery had been made May/June 2013. The only likely group of objects (number and date range) in the PAS database is DOR-D49090 (295 silver [sic] radiates to AD 286) from Holt in East Dorset north of Wimbourne Minster. The record was created on Tuesday 16th April 2013. The 295 coins match the range of those found later- with the exception that later coins of Allectus were found, but for whether they actually belonged to the original hoard see my comments on what the video shows. This appears to be a summary account of the geophysical examination of the site, note the difference between what Dr Chadwick reports and what we learn from the video. To what can we ascribe these discrepancies?

Nigel Swift drew my attention to another hoard found involving the same finder and the same FLO  ('and her partner') at the 2013 MDF forum dig (also apparently hoiked out in less than two days) Nov 9th to 10th 2013. Interestingly in this case, there's reference to this hoard being guarded overnight by him, UK Security Associates and archaeologists, assisted by various dogs. Who paid for the security firm? This however does not seem to be the same find. This commercial rally was held:
near Poole in Dorset and the South West. Its very close to the junction of the A35 and A350, about one mile west of there [...] lots of land to be searched and all of it is steeped in history from the iron Age through Roman, Saxon, Viking and medieval periods. Not too far away from some recorded roman hoards! All of the land is pasture and is strictly organic, so no nasty fertilizers to erode away any finds that appear from the past. [...] seven large pasture fields that surround an ancient church in a historic village. Lots of recorded history from all ages. [...] You are free to roam the fields all day until darkness descends. Sunday 10th November [...] a large expanse of new undetected organic pasture that is right down to the coastline, an area that has seen roman/saxon and viking invasions. Anything could turn up. [...] Pasture detecting has its followers who appreciate the quality of the finds that have not been chopped into fragments by the plough. [...] General rules – Rubbish bags to be carried, holes to be filled in, all good finds to be reported, 50/50 sharing with farmer if items of high value appear. FLO will be in attendance. [...]  I am expecting some overseas members, including a good bunch from Ireland!
Then on Sun Nov 10, 2013 7:47 pm we read:
The next run of posts will probably feature some rumblings of a roman hoard and I am happy to announce that is indeed true, found today, FLO and partner on the scene and everything has been done 100% properly. I am sure Gary (coinhunteruk) will post a few pics, I was honoured to be there with Gary and Mark when the possible 300/400 coins were retrieved, site is now secured properly and will be excavated tomorrow. Lots more reports to follow, we were all SO excited.
We all wonder what it means "doing it all properly" on 10th Nov 2013 when Gary CoinhunterUK was (presumably) there or at least kept in touch, yet a year later (end of Nov 2014) managed not to learn a thing and completely trashed the next one and was filmed doing it.

And what actually is the problem of giving a site a name? Why cannot coinhunterUK bring himself to say on the video "I'm driving my car actually, and am on my way to the findspot of the Holt Hoard which I found in April 2013"? What actually is the problem, why make a mystery of what these people are doing to the common archaeological heritage?  What are they hiding?

Heritage Action on Dorset CoinHunterUK Hoard Hoik

"Oh Spiffing! How mad is this?" say Heritage Action about:
A video hosted by a young kid showing a detectorist using a JCB to get down to a Roman coin hoard at a spot determined by the results of an archaeologist’s  geophysical survey!  Could anything be madder? Well, how about the fact the British archaeological Establishment will probably say not a word against it as it’s probably legal innit! Actually, I think we’ll send a link to it to the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. Let’s see if they think, like the kid says, that it’s “awesome”.
I think there is a good case for a change in the law to protect spots where Treasure has been found with a 50m buffer zone, to prevent exactly this kind of crude targeting. The base of that hoard was preserved well below plough level until CoinHunter UK came along with a 'bigga-digga' to hoik the rest out so he can get his Trezzie-cash, one way or another. If the arkies won't dig it out for him and are content to leave it preserved in situ (how many hoiked third century hoards do we need all at once in our museums for goodness' sake?), he'll jolly well do it hisself with the connivance of the landowner and the help of the junior reporter and his mum and dad.

Metal Detecting Bad Practice Again: Dorset Roman Coin Hoard Hoiked

Roman Coin Hoard Found in Dorset. There are two really thought-provoking videos (here and here) of the re-exploration of an earlier hoard findspot which really call into question just what it is artefact hunters think "best practice" is. The status of this Treasure case is not stated, has there been an inquest yet? Was the hoard disclaimed? In the comments there is a reference to the FLO telling the finder that there are no more coins and that there will be no further work done on the findspot, has he come back to boost his Treasure reward? The first film starts out with an introduction by the teenage video maker (Liam aka 'Argent detector'), who plugs Garrett detectors (are they paying him for this?).

The next part of the video shows Gary Smith  ("who is also known as Coin Hunter UK" [is that an ebay nick?]), first telling those of us who cannot see "I'm actually driving in my car...." ripping stuff this.  He continues in Estuary English:
"Recently I had 295 Roman coins, it's erm, sca'ered in a field, it's - what could be done,...  c'llect 'em all up, no po', no nuffin else....fair enough, brilliant, ... hoard... amazin'...., buzz of a lifetime. Naaw, a year and half la'er, I'm goin' back ou', to this same hoard spot where we had the sca'er, and we've got a mini-digga [giggle] we're going to be hopefully tryi' to find any deeper coins there or a pot or anyfin' that remains deepa".   
But if you thought the mechanical excavator was to remove topsoil (which seems not to have been detected first) to do a careful exploration of the site, you'd be mistaken. The guy is digging into and probably through the base of the ploughsoil blindly into what is below with a spade, without methodically cleaning the base of the trench first and the video shows he's leaving a hell of a mess. This is not exploration of what is left of the hoard and identification of its context of deposition, it is deep artefact hoiking pure and simple. Did his FLO (Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen) know what he was planning and did she advise on this? Metal detector Boy appears again and plugs Garrett again. ("that's awesome, it looks like he's been and gone and found another coin"). Then there's pottery  "I've never had no po''ery" Garry says. Then he proudly shows the destruction he has wrought in the bottom of the trench, "holes everywhere, that's nasty" he admits. [I am informed by a reader that what he probably said and mispronounced was a boast: "that is deep"].

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
There is no evidence that he was plotting the position and depth of any of the new finds, some of which are coming from depths below the ploughed layers. At the end of day one (when the 'mini-digga' proved not to hoik quickly enough and they brought in a bigga-digga) the man had removed another 150 coins out of the ground dating from 260 -296 AD (Gallianus, Claudius II, Victorinus, and Allectus).

They were obviously expecting "a pot", but none was found with the metal detector (umm... duh), "although Garry did fin' po'ery fragments. One piece even 'ad coins stuck to it, which proves that the coins must've been in some kind of pottery vessil t'start wiv, an' not jest a leather pouch like the FLO suggestid". They stubbornly stuck by the expectation of a pot (a la Frome Hoard maybe?) throughout the whole project and when the did not find one, come up with an explanation - inflexibly ignoring the possibility that there had been no pot containing the coins.

Sadly, Metal detector Boy had to go to school the next day and his Mum and Dad (Nick and Julie) are in the second video filming the rest of the bad practice hoik. It has to be said, the kid has a much better idea how to make a video than his parents, who mostly record a lot of vacant dialogue and cackling.

Posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist 13th Dec 2014.

At the beginning of the second video, we see "fifteen or twenty [coins] which were left on the surface last night". Much is made of the "deterioration" of the coins but note none of the ones visible in the video show any plough damage. Another 150 coins were found in the first part of the day.

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
A bit later in the video, Mr CoinHunter says "we are basically down to subsoil now" when in the section you can see that they were down to subsoil twenty centimetres higher. It seems metal detectorists in general have a problem reading soil layers - which rather casts doubt on the abilities of these amateur archaeologists (as some would have it) to do anything like archaeology at all. Not exactly rocket science is it?

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
 This comes out really clearly when you watch the segment of the second video from here to here. The removal of 'layers' is obviously not done by hand. They've used the ('bigga')  mechanical excavator here, and it has scraped across the claggy base of the hole. CoinHunter walks across swinging his screeching machine, notice what happens when the machine passes over the area of darker colour and other texture. It bleeps there and not the orangey-brown material. Conclusion? Let's see how long it takes them to spot what they are walking right across (and then decide to document the soil change in horizontal section and plot the coins from inside it). At the beginning the penny fails to drop, he perceives only "loads of signals" and not the feature which contains what is left of the hoard!

Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
the yellow line added by me to show where the 'hits' are.
 Eventually though they get it, though not until after they'd taken it down a couple of times more (by machine).  Then they notice the colour differences.
"Look how deep I am, which metal detector can find coins this deep? "
Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
Then we see there is a second feature in the (SE?) corner of the trench. What is disturbing about this is that because they are just hoiking coins and assuming they have all come from a putative "smashed pot". They assume at this stage that they've not found because it has been smashed (thus confirming to their minds that they are still in ploughsoil when in fact they've been digging archaeological deposites (with a JCB and pointy spades) for the last couple of hours. They are thus mixing artefacts from the same depth together in their finds trays. This means that they are mixing coins from outside the hoard (including that other dark-filled feature) with those in what clearly is the base of the hoard still in situ in an archaeological deposit which they are filming themselves in the process of destroying.

Then there is a break, the film and excavation develop into chaos. We do not see how they treated the hoard findspot or the feature it was in ("we got down to a depth where there was no more coins"), the next shot shows a dump of earth on the spot. They must have dealt with the feature pretty summarily.- given that the previous shots were late morning, and before the light failed they explored two more trenches either side, mixing the coins from them with the first lot. No doubt their report will reveal what it was.

At the end of the film, the guy is still schematically fantasising about the mythical "pot" - if there had been a pot, whether or not it was hit by the plough (and if so, where are the bits?), the base would still be in the pit in which the hoard was deposited (hypothetically in it). There obviously was no pot. The FLO was right, not that these numpties with their crude spades and mechanical diggers seem to have been capable of identifying and documenting the traces of whatever container the hoard had been deposited in.

The net haul "six hundred to seven hundred Roman coins" - but whether or not they all came from the same hoard will now never be known.  The end-of-day finds shot shows a lot of large pieces of settlement pottery (this is clearly not one vessel). So again we have a hoard buried on an archaeological site, and once again we find metal detectorists targeting a known site.

All those coins will need cleaning before they can be recorded. Who will pay for that? Indeed what is the legal position with cleaning items whose ownership has not yet been determined by inquest? Suppose the person to whom ownership is assigned has other opinions over the methods of cleaning that should have been used?

We are assured that "the Full story of This Roman Coin Hoard will be in an Upcoming Treasure Hunting Magazine". I bet it will not actually be the full story, as it seems so much will have been missed by such heart-breakingly inadequate methods. The PAS has wasted huge amounts of public money trying to explain to people like this the "value of archaeological finds in their contexts". I am sure these people see the "value of archaeological finds", though it seems highly doubtful whether they understood anything else from nearly two decades of archaeological outreach and treatment as "partners".

Now, will the Dorset FLO backed by PAS Central office be issuing a statement condemning this destruction of a chunk of the archaeological record shown here on film? Don't hold your breath folks. More likely they'll be saying "oooo, wotta lotta stuff you got, Gaz!! Thanks!".

This hoard was hoiked in Holt.

James Vessey and the Culture Thieves

For some time now metal detectorists have been reacting to all and any criticism of the way artefact hunting is done in the UK by posting a link to a single story, though usually without comment explaining why they think it of such exceptional interest (most recently here).

The story comes from a court case in June 2013 and refers to a middle-aged bloke, James Vessey, who lived on a houseboat in Oxfordshire when he somehow came into possession of three post-medieval pottery bottles that had been dug up in the upper layers of an archaeological dig in Bath during the redevelopment of the city’s SouthGate shopping centre five years previously. It seems Vessey worked in some capacity for the archaeological service was carrying out the excavation.

The sale of one of the vessels was spotted by an archaeologist who realised where they had come from and informed the police. Vessey admitted the charge of theft by employee at Bath Magistrates’ Court on May 22 and was given a four-month suspended prison sentence, 270 hours of unpaid community work and told to compensate a man who bought one of the vases on eBay for £190.60 in July 2012. I wrote about this story before, but metal detectorists seem unwilling to let it pass into history. 

 The reason is of course that since this theft in 2008, at least four UK metal detectorists have been convicted for theft in the same period, and a similar or larger number arrested for such an offence but not (yet?) charged. Those sentenced, by the way, got similar sentences to Mr Vessey. So while the Vessey case has several things in common with a number of metal detectorists one could name from the news in the same period in connection with sentencing for artefact theft, there are two differences.

The first is the objects he stole were documented when they came out of the ground, so the owner of those offered anonymously for sale could be identified. The actual origin of many metal detected objects cannot be established, as finders do not normally obtain protocols of assignment from the landowner, and even if the object is recorded by the PAS, the latter does not normally carry out any kind of verification of the truth of the reported findspot.

The second way in which the Vessey case differs from the artefact hunters who steal objects is that Mr Vessey was turned in by a fellow archaeologist who spotted the pots he was selling and informed the police. None of the metal detectorists sentenced since 2008 was turned in by a “responsible metal detectorist”. That, and the fact that this single case turns up with monotonous regularity posted by metal detectorists in comments on blogs, tells you something.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Papyri on the Market - Telegraph

Philip Sherwell ('The online battle for papyrus texts', Telegraph, 28 Dec 2014) writes of how ancient papyri are "now increasingly hot items in the distinctly 21st Century world of the online auction trade".
A rectangular scrap measuring about 4.5 inches by 1.5 inches and featuring 15 partial lines of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad in the elegant hand of a 4th Century Egyptian scribe was just [DEC] picked up by an unidentified European buyer for £16,000 after a feverish Internet auction battle. That price was way above the posted estimated but is typical of the sums that collectors will now spend to lay their hands on these fingerprints from the past. Indeed, it is not just modern art that has been setting jaw-dropping records at auction recently - so have ancient scrolls. When a fragmentary parchment sheet from the 3rd century AD featuring portions of Paul’s epistle to the Romans was bought at Sotheby’s for £301,000 auctioneers and antiquity experts alike were stunned. But although there is no suggestion of any impropriety in these particular sales, scholars are alarmed by the burgeoning online trade as some unscrupulous sellers also cash in.
I think the first question is what somebody would 'do' with such a fragment. Modern critical editions of the full text of the Iliad and Romans can be bought in both the original and in paperback translations at the local bookstore, and the only thing that comes to mind is that these private buyers display them as some kind of ('instant-erudition-granting') trophies.

Perhaps interest was raised by the Buying spree that led to the formation of collections like that of the Green family, but whatever the reason this has become a lucrative and "free-ranging trade, particularly on the online auction giant eBay, where precious documents are carved up for sale, potentially stolen goods are trafficked and forgers can flourish". Sherwell mentions Brice Jones (papyrologist and lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity at Concordia University in Montreal) whose online sleuthing has discovered many items that are incorrectly labelled or their provenance unclear. There is also the question of forgeries (the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is mentioned).
Much more distressingly, some sellers are dismembering papyrus books to sell items page-by-page, a financially profitable endeavor that amounts to little more than vandalism of ancient works. One eBay papyrus seller turned out to be two sisters who ran an online beauty supplies store. They had inherited a Book of Revelation from which they cut individual pages to sell on an ad hoc basis to fund the wedding costs for one.
A fragment of 4th Century AD papyrus
of Homer's Iliad, sold by

'Ancient Resources' , "Ex Hamdy Sakr
collection, London, formed in the 1960’s".
The majority of the fragments surfacing on the market are of unclear origin. The manuscript of Homer mentioned above was sold by a seller who claimed they (like a number of other objects he had were from an old collection which he said had belonged to a "Hamdy Sakr", the composition of whose "collection" when reconstructed from what the dealer claims to have from it is - to say the least - thought-provoking). One may well wonder whether it was this same seller (Gabriel Vandervort) contacted by the journalist who is quoted:
However, the owner of a small specialist Internet auction company, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, pushed back against these criticisms. “We are scrupulous about making sure of ownership although not everyone is so fussy and it’s true that there are some people who know nothing who are out trying to make a buck in the wild West of the Internet,” he said. “But some of these archaeologists and purists simply hate the fact that that any private person would own, buy or sell antiquities. “They ignore the fact that items like this have always been collected [...] Collectors play a crucial role in preserving these items with their interest. A lot of these items would remain hidden, forgotten, fading away, unknown to the scholars, if there was not a market for them.” 
Hmmm. First of all, why the owner of a small specialist Internet auction company considers there to be any "sensitivity" in discussing the legitimate antiquities trade and slamming the cowboys remains unclear to me. This should be a matter for open debate and discussion. I am not one of those "archaeologists and purists" who "simply hate the fact that that any private person would own, buy or sell antiquities", and actually know very few who are. There is however a vast difference which dealers and collectors pretend not to see between wanting something 'done properly' and not wanting it to exist at all. I really cannot see why a legitimate dealer, truly dedicated to "making sure of [licit] ownership" would not be in wholehearted agreement with those who want to see collecting done in a licit, ethical, lawful, transparent and responsible manner. Can you?

Again though, we see the object-centred view of the antiquitist apologists. Even the worst and most irresponsible collector with archival-quality storage conditions may play a role in the preservation of the objects. The question is what was destroyed, what associations, what contexts, what information was destroyed  when the object became 'ungrounded' and "surfaced" on the market and then passed from hand to hand  (when, where and how)? In any case, as Sherwell points out, the antiquities trade has not alwaysled to the preservation of material, citing the dismemberment of manuscripts to sell the pieces at a higher price than one complete element, or the fate of the famous papyrus codex of the Gospel of Judas.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting Gormlessness: Unfounded Accusations Again

At the end of November last year Michael Lewis, Deputy Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum published a fluffy blog post ‘When a find is recorded, it is truly discovered’: metal-detecting and its contribution to archaeology'.

I discussed some of the issues raised by the original text a couple of times (PACHI Sunday, 15 December 2013, 'PAS's Michael Lewis on "Metal-detecting and its Contribution to Archaeology", PACHI Monday, 16 December 2013, 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Jan 2014 Issues of "Treasure Hunting" and "The Searcher"' and 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What the PAS Say and What the two Hobby Magazines Tell us', together with: 'Gustaf Kossinna Haunts Bloomsbury').

This text was also noted on a detecting forum near you and a thread was started 'Detecting and its contribution to Archaeology ' (from Thu Nov 28, 2013), the same day as the original appeared. There was nothing much for me to comment on in the tekkies' evident pleasure that Lewis had mentioned them and gone through some of the pluses and none of the minuses, so I did not pay much attention at first. As the thread developed, however, there were some comments which diverged from the rest and I discussed what I saw as their implications (PACHI Wednesday, 10 December 2014, 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Carrying on Despoiling for Own Gratification' ; PACHI Sunday, 14 December 2014, 'Detecting and its Non-contribution to Archaeology').

Now I note that in that thread, an update has been added (between 14th Dec and 28th Dec) to the post of 'Geoman" (Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:33 am) to which I referred: 
Update - it seems that the detractors have been using this thread to bolster their anti detecting campaign to the extent that they have claimed that the "PAS says they want all recordable finds brought to them". Now i am sure members of this Forum know that this is not a true situation when recording with the PAS. However as this thread has been made invisible to the detractors, they are making their usual exagerated  (sic) claims on the back of it. It is unfortunate that those outside the hobby looking at their comments, are unable to see what has originally been posted here so they can be fully aware what the detractors get up to and how they selectively present comments made by others and basically lie to suit their own ends. I wonder if it was a wise move to hide the thread.
How nice to be publicly labelled (once again) a "liar" by somebody hiding their real name behind an assumed identity. Mr "Geoman" (sic), if you want to make allegations like that then at least have the balls to sign them with your real name.

First let "Geoman" not attempt to put words into my mouth: as should be clear from what is being discussed, any 'campaign' conducted here is for increased best practice in antiquities collection and is anti thoughtless and irresponsible behaviour, this blog is not "anti-collecting" per se.

Readers of this blog are ALWAYS encouraged to check what I say against the original, to which in most cases I give direct links. What usually happens is that they are prevented from doing that because (although no metal detectorist anywhere in the UK will admit to having ever read my blog), very soon after I provide a direct link, the metal detectorists in particular hide the threads (or videos) to which I refer. They do this to avoid outsiders seeing that what I write is what they are in fact presenting.  I am all for the metal detectorists of the UK all following "Geoman's" advice, make the material available, let people see, let people judge for themselves what they think about it! Do it!

In general, I have alwys stresed that anyone interested in these issues must register with the metal detecting forums which hide their discussions from the general public. That is the only way to judge what is going on, not listening just to PAS and media spin and/or the preservationsts' own presentations of the way they see it. Public opinion on heritage matters should be about making one's own mind up and then speaking out about you have decided is wrong, and not just going with the flow.

Finally, what on earth would the point be of creating a database for professional use which only consists  of material selected for showing by totally untrained and often severely underinformed members of the public who happen to have bits of artefacts in their pockets? The PAS should have access to all the information retrieved from a site exploited by finders in order to assess the record, not edited highlights. It is self-evidently not a "lie" to state "that the "PAS says they want all recordable finds brought to them"...". Any fool can check the PAS website FAQs:
2 - What types of archaeological finds would you like to record?
We would like to know about everything that you have found - not just metal objects. We record all objects made before about 1650. We may be selective in recording finds of later objects. It is often best to let the Finds Liaison Officer see all your finds, especially if you are unsure what they are: a nondescript lump of copper-alloy may turn out to be a fragment of an archaeologically important Bronze Age ingot.
This text by the way is a fossil, it was on the very first version of the PAS page from the moment they had one. There is no excuse for any metal detectorist not knowing it. Note that, in fact, the PAS say they want to see more than the finds which are 'recordable' but everything that can give information about the place where other finds came from. What they actually do with them ("i am sure members of this Forum know that this is not a true situation when recording with the PAS") is another matter, but it is not a "lie" of the detractors of irresponsible artefact hunting to say this is what they declare they will do. We are not responsible for the differences between what the PAS says it does and what it actually does. Take it up with them.

The Difference Between White van Drivers, Rapists and Metal Detectorists

People who drive white vans down narrow country lanes with no thought for other road users and singing along at the top of their voice as their in-car sound system sends vibrations across the surrounding fields. That's what really gets my goat. I hate it. These people really should think of the consequences of their selfish behaviour. Many of us have our pet hates, some of us write about them. Some of us do so in the vague hope that by raising awareness and getting the subject discussed, things may even one day change.

I wonder how many people writing about white van drivers and blaring car sound systems would expect a flood of hate-mail, personal attacks and threats? Even in lager-lout England, I would not have thought it would be something expected. Yet a friend there just received an insulting Christmastime reply to his request to remove crude  ad personam material from a collector's website which he considered uncalled-for and threatening:
do me a favor and next time you get upset write someone else because I frankly am sick of you and your whiny ass “poor me” complaints. Any problems you face or “think” you face are all brought on by yourself and your constant derogatory comments about hobbyists and collectors.
From the forums, one gets a clear picture of what the vast majority of artefact hunters think of people that ask awkward questions about what they are doing to the archaeological heritage, and that they approve of the sort of intimidatory harrassment the latter get at the hands of the tekkie thugwit brigade. Yet white van drivers would not react like that, why do artefact collectors? Why does the quoted artefact collector think he is entitled to behave in an aggressively personal and threatening manner? Note how the collector (as they all do) dodges responsibility, putting the blame on his victim: "your own fault mate for criticising us detectorists" (that's like a rapist blaming his actions on the way his victim was dressed and behaved). What makes detectorist think they are different from any other group that they feel entitled to react in this instinctively predatory thugwit manner? What makes detectorist think they are so different from any other group that the 'ambassadors of the hobby' can presume they have licence to behave in such a manner with impunity?

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  

Metal Detecting as or Versus Archaeology?

I found this comment while searching online for something else: Dennis Harding, 'Iron Age Hillforts in Britain and Beyond', p. 51. It's the "government ministers" comment that caught my eye:

Professor Harding is right that populist government ministers will know no better until scholars inform them about the difference between selective collecting of portable geegaws and real archaeology. That book was published in 2012, has anything changed at all in that respect in the intervening two years? No, and there have been two series of Britain's Secret Treasures since then too, confusing the issue further. When will British archaeologists find the will and the voice to explain that there is more to archaeology than single decontextualised objects narrativised by some trite story invented for publicity purposes? Or is there no longer anything to explain?

Will Archaeologists Break Forced Silence?

Heritage Action, ever hopeful that 'bonkers isn't forever' write of "Metal detecting: New Year new hope?" (HJ 28/12/2014)
 In parts of the US 90% of Native American archaeological sites have been vandalised. The Government is trying to stop it. In parts of Britain more than 90% of archaeological sites have been metal detected. The government isn’t trying to stop it. You might think they and British archaeologists don’t care, but they do. It’s just that having bottled out of legislating and set up a voluntary system that has largely failed there’s not a lot of appetite for acknowledging the reality. But silence shouldn’t be taken as acquiescence. Most archaeologists do want the activity legally regulated. [...] over the past few years the mood music has definitely been changing. Dare we hope that 2015 will be the year when a lot of archaeologists come clean and openly declare that the Emperor has no clothes and that the activity needs to be legally regulated? 
There has been some discussion among archaeologists of several examples of hoard-hoiking where greed has got the better of ethics, following on from the Crosby Garrett helmet fiasco, the Hollingbourne ('A20') grave trashing, the 'Dunelme hoard' hoik of September and now the Lenborough Hoard  The author quotes an archaeology professor that has come out and said what many are privately thinking about artefact hunting and its effects and asks:
Will 2015 reveal lots of archaeologists and academics willing to echo his words? Or will it take another five or ten years?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

New Video: Lenborough Hoard

A new video: "Saxon Pennies Hoard, Lenborough, Bucks Dec 2014" has been posted up on You Tube by feroxchaser

Video posted on YouTube by feroxchaser.

The MLO forum tells us the finder's name was Alain Loubet (the guy with the white hair). This video shows an appalling level of bad practice, piles of loose soil everywhere, coins scooped out with no pattern, The FLO (in the mauve coat) is there but seems mostly to be talking rather than doing any of the excavation or recording.

At the beginning you see an undisciplined scrum of people inside the area cordoned off (what's the point of that is everyone's inside?), the hoard is quite clearly in pasture, and that it has been pasture a long time is revealed by the opening commentary by the FLO about the layer of stones caused by the "geology" (she means worm sinkage). Someone says they've got a "building", but that seems to be because there are stones on the hole. Frankly that hole is so narrow and dirty, you cannot see anything in it. There is a layer of pottery at the same level as the top of the hoard, dated (the FLO says) to 12th to 14th century. There is mention of a lead container, but can you see one in this film?   Then, the title music of the "Detectorists" series is played, one of the scrum has it as the ringtone on his phone ... Then we see the coins being scooped out of a hollow in the base of the hoik hole and being passed round from hand to hand before the FLO rubs the mud off with her fingers and throws them into a bag (you can hear them clinking). Obviously a whole area around the top of the hoard should have been lowered to its level (exploring and recording the layer with the Medieval pot above it first), the whole area cleaned up for a documentation shot. This is not what a proper methodological retrieval should look like (no scale no north point either):
Edited screenshot from video by feroxchaser

Hoard Hoiking by the handful:
Edited screenshot from video by feroxchaser
"But we are not archaeologists!" the artefact hunters will say indignantly. "Why should we be expected to do things the archaeological way?" Because that is what best practice requires, and this is why the Treasure Act Code of Practice says this sort of situation should be handed over to people who know what they are doing. Quite why the FLO is standing so docilely watching this and not stopping it is quite beyond me. What kind of "outreach" do we see in this video? Jokes about whether the Tesco bag and "that worm" are part of the Treasure. Pathetic. The coins, instead of being exposed and the manner in which they are lying together gently revealed and recorded, are being hoiked out from among the loose soil falling down onto them from the narrow holes sides are being located with a probe and just grubbed out.  This seems from the video to be the nearest we are going to get to a proper record shot of the hoard exposed, a lozenge-shaped spread (so where is that 'lead container?), with all edges apparently disappearing under the heaped mud around.

Edited screenshot from video by feroxchaser

Edited screenshot from video by by feroxchaser showing
what might be layers and two separate deposits

In the side of the hole the interface of at least one layer seems to be visible, whether it was cleaned up and recorded will be seen. More worrying, in plan the 'lozenge' as recorded here seems to be bilobal, as though the deposit is composed of two separate bags of coins (Cf the more careful excavation and recording of the structure of the Beau Street, Bath hoard). Note how some of the coins (green arrow) tip up at the edge of one. How was this recorded and investigated by the finders? Were the coins from each area kept separate?

UPDATE 5/1/14
I am told by someone who gives the impression he or she was there that the excavation of this hoard was completed by the FLO in a disturbing 4.5 hours

Bovine muscular Outreach to Night Detectorists

That’s not in any of the field guides.” 
Archaeologist from Historic Scotland 
Where there is a will, there is a way. When metal detectorist Derek McLennan, 47 found a hoard of more than 100 objects including a sealed bronze pot, gold, silver ingots, decorative brooches and Viking arm rings, and archaeologists decided not to hoik it out in a matter of hours like some, they were faced with the usual dilemma. Once digging at the site had already started, people could come in the night with metal detectors and night-vision equipment and steal the lot for their own collections. In this case, as "an insider at Historic Scotland said" “Usually we’d contact the police to give them notice of where the site is and others do the same [...] The best way to deal with it is to keep the site a secret for as long as possible". Or a security firm could be hired to do the job. In this case (and metal detectorists and FLOs who suggest guarding a site is never an option should note) help was at hand in the form of a massive half a tonne bull which staff at Historic Scotland persuaded a local farmer to place in the same field where the haul of Viking treasure was discovered (Bob Malcolm, 'Bull plays security guard for archaeological hoard', The Scotsman, 26 December 2014). "Historic Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Treasure Trove Unit were all contacted and all declined to comment".

The Looting Epidemic: The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria

“As long as it will be chic and  posh
for you to
have an archaeological 
piece in your living room
that guests can
admire, we’ll be talking about this.
We need
to get this message across that it’s a crime. 
Collecting looted antiquities is a white-collar
. People have died for this. People
buying looted artifacts from Syria are feeding 
insurgencies, the purchase of arms, financing of 
foreign extremists and mercenaries and 
other types of criminality.”

Franklin Lamb visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University has an opinion piece in counterpunch The Looting Epidemic: The Greatest Threat to Cultural Heritage in Syria.
Can the worst patrimonial disaster since World War II be stopped? During the 45 months of the Syrian crisis, war damage inflicted from all sides has created massive damage to our shared global cultural heritage that has been in the custody of the Syrian people for more than ten millennia. Few would dispute the fact that the level of destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. Unauthorized excavations plunder and the traffic in cultural goods in Syria is a serious and escalating problem and threatens the cultural heritage of us all. Due to illicit excavations, many objects have already been lost to science and society.Today, the single greatest threat to our cultural heritage in Syria is looting.
Sadly, this is in general a rather superficial account, some of the information could have been presented in a more nuanced manner. He sees the remedy both in public opinion (see above) but closer regulation of the no-questions-asked antiquities market.
In addition, a new law in Germany could point the way forward. This will require a certified export license for an antiquity in order to secure an import license. The dealers will inevitably argue that it presumes guilt, but it doesn’t, any more than hygiene certificates for food do. And it won’t be perfect – there will still be forged certificates, but it’ll make a big difference according to Sam Hardy a London based antiquities researcher and blogger.
He is less enamoured with the Convention itself that this new legislation would implement:
There are two main agreements that deal with looted and trafficked antiquities. One is the 1970 UNESCO convention, which from an international law perspective is weak and exacts at most a slap on the wrist for violators. A stronger convention is the 1995 UNIDROIT convention. It potentially could enforce more robust international law. Yet, for this very reason far fewer countries have ratified this convention fearing it might target their citizens, auction houses and museums. Moreover, quite frequently the law is different in the source country from which artifacts are looted than in the country to which it’s smuggled or in which it is sold. A defense lawyers dream come true.
Lamb is on the ground in Syria, here's a few other things he's written:

'Palmyrenes: Risking Their Lives To Preserve Our Global Cultural Heritage'  30 March, 2014

'Syrian Students Restore Our Global Heritage, Tesserae by Tesserae….', 15 June, 2014

It’s Not Too Late to Save Syria’s Cultural Heritage
…if we can muster the will, Counter.... October 10-12, 2014 

'Claims that Aleppo’s Synagogues have been destroyed are false' December 18, 2014

Lamb is author of the forthcoming 'Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve', Orontes River Publishing, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic.

'Educating the French' not the way

Source US DoS
Heritage at State ‏is blithely telling us the US has been 'Educating French audiences about The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)' June 16-20, 2014
At the invitation of the Embassy of the United States of America, Federal Judge Diane J. Humetewa gave a series of conferences in Paris on the laws related to the protection and restitution of cultural artifacts from Native American tombs (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Public Law 101-601; 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013). [...] The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 101-601; 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013) describes the rights of Native American lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations with respect to the treatment, repatriation, and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, referred to collectively in the statute as cultural items, with which they can show a relationship of lineal descent or cultural affiliation. (source National Park Service)
I think we can all guess that this is due to the recent sales of Hopi and Navajo objects in Paris and the French refusal to stop the auctions. Instead of presuming to "educate the French" about its incomplete system for cultural heritage protection, in order to effect any controls on Paris auctions of cultural items from their territory, the US needs to more fully implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention to regulate the exit of cultural property under the protection of other laws from the US.

Ancient Culture, Shellfish and Pissing Monkeys

Silly brain rot set in a museum
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The first floor of the American Museum of Natural History still reeked of smoke when the museum’s emergency team swept in to assess the damage from a fire that forced the evacuation of some 4,000 people. The Dec. 12 fire, sparked when heat from a worker’s torch ignited a filter in an exterior ventilation unit, pumped soot and smoke into the museum’s oldest exhibition hall, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians. Then two sprinklers came on, splashing some totem poles and display cases filled with ceremonial masks, tools and other irreplaceable artifacts.
Eh? Is this still 1899, with museums displaying White-supremacy-enhancing trophies, or are we now in the twenty-first century? According to a well-known online encyclopaedia:
Natural history is the research and study of organisms including plants or animals in their environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. [...] the systematic study of any category of natural objects or organisms.
Native Americans are not animals like shellfish and monkeys. But it seems it's urinating monkeys that the museum sees as a great asset in the struggle to get ordinary people into the US capital's museums over the "holiday" (they mean Christmas) period:
Adding to the pressure: The latest film in the “Night at the Museum” movie franchise, which has boosted holiday attendance at the museum, was scheduled to hit theaters on Dec. 19.
Oh, oh well, that means they'd just  have to get the 'natural history exhibits' spick and span, we cannot have the curated cultural trophies looking shabby and covered in soot and water if these are visitors coming, can we? I would think the conservators should be getting over to the WSJ journalists that the "pressure" should rather be to effect the long-term preservation of the items curated in the museum rather than meeting some short-term aim of synchronising activity with a film release. How shallow can cultural institutions get?

Focus on UK metal detecting: "It does not matter how far you dig"

Metal detectorists keep the
intellectual flag flying
In the thread 'Re: Somewhere over the rainbow... Roman lead coffin' about a find hoiked up on a known Roman site from great depth (and without the permission of the landowner being obtained). Begrudgingly one of the finders ("bangbustours" (sic) Tue Nov 12, 2013 11:38 am ) admits "Yes there is an argument to say we dug too deep" but then triumphantly adds "a find is a find and it doesnt matter how far you dig as long as its still beeping when u get to the bottom". Member "Oldartefact" (Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:43 pm)  responds:
I am a complete novice ... but the arguments for digging too deep surely only apply to known cemetaries and ordnance sites... assuming that neither were prior indicated, then I assume its dig away! 
No "responsible detectorist" corrected him pointing out what the arguments about digging deep refer to (or the fact that the artefact hunters were on a known Roman cemetery site). Indeed there are no arguments about digging deep in detecting circles, even self-declared "responsible" ones. Member Nailman adds (Wed Nov 27, 2013 12:26 pm):
English Heritage say that modern farming is threatening archaeology ... story.pdf/ So if the finders hadn't dug down and found the coffin it could have been destroyed by the plough in 2-3 yrs. This is a typical rescue archaeology case, the bread and butter of most archaeology units. The coffin has been saved.
The vision of the top tens of centimetres of Britain's fields being ploughed off annually is a disturbing one. One might ask how long Nailman thinks it will be before the entire land has been ploughed down to sea-level, and then what with rising sea-levels and all that, the UK's metal detecting problem will at last be solved.

Bag Seal Finds Hoiked and Accumulated in Normandy

Post-Medieval 'bag seals' hoiked in Normandy
We are told that those "history enthusiasts' with metal detectorists hoik and accumulate historical artefacts in order to study them and find out about the past. Here's an example of the sort of things they do: 'Bag Seal Finds In Normandy - Is This A Record ?' by geoffb » Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:57 pm
Up until two years ago, I never really rated bag seals and often gave them to other detectorists and friends who were interested in them. Anyway, about two years ago, and having found quite a few, I decided that I would keep them and steadily built up an assortment of them. Today, I decided to get them out of their plastic bag and decided to count them up. I was amazed to find that I had a total of 196. Is this a bit of a record? I have to admit that during the two year period I have found numerous other bag seals that were either, plain, totally worn or badly damaged and these were thrown away. I estimate that the damaged ones that I have jettisoned must be at least 30 which would take my total to over 225. I am quite pleased with this accumulation but would be much happier if they had been "hammered".
I think we (and French heritage professionals) would all be happier if these finds were in some way labelled and catalogued so their findspots and associations are not lost (which obviously in the case of these loose 225 hoiked ones they have).  Here we see the collector's not the archaeologist's or museum curator's mentality. He's gone for "building up an assortment" or "accumulation" and then focussed on the number of undamaged ones ("can I claim the record?"). Of course all this is ignored by those archaeologists whose eyes light up when they see pretty metal goodies proffered on an outstretched palm and think artefact collectors' finds can be used as some kind of ersatz archaeological data.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Friday Retrospect: Return to Proculus

The PAS never answered some perfectly valid questions about why they condemned as a 'fake' what seems to have been a genuine coin of Proculus. The question still remains: PACHI  Friday, 23 November 2012, 'More on the Proculus coins'. The coin sold for a price which suggests that the numismatic market disagreed with the 'experts' from the British Museum.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas

I would like to thank all my readers for their interest in 2014,
and wish them all a Merry Christmas and a
Happy Heritage-SAFE New Year.

On a more sober note, and although the topic of this blog is by its nature more about the potsherds than the people, some of us may wish to pause today to remember the hardships endured daily by many of our fellows in places around the world mentioned in this blog. In particular, I am thinking of those in war-torn eastern Ukraine, Syria and northern Iraq. Just at the beginning of this decade, many of these people celebrated Christmas like you and me. How fragile peace, our ordered lives and priorities are. Whatever our own concerns and problems, we should all be grateful for what blessings we have and give at least a thought for those not so blessed today. Þæs oferéode, ðisses swá mæg.

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