Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Artefact Hunters Damage Hadrian's Wall Again

Illegal treasure hunters have damaged part of Hadrian's Wall, experts claim. BBC 20th Jumne 2018
[..] metal detectorists are blamed for more than 50 holes found around the 1,900-year-old Brunton Turret section, near Hexham, Northumberland. Historic England said those responsible were searching for loot such as Roman coins and military regalia. Other areas of the ancient wall, a World Heritage site, have been targeted. Historic England said it was working with police to try and find those responsible. But it added it was not practical to install security measures like CCTV along the stretch of the wall. The 73-mile (117km) wall stretches between Wallsend in North Tyneside and Bowness on Solway in Cumbria and has about 160 scheduled monuments, which include Roman camps, forts and signal stations. Anyone using a metal detector without authorisation on these sites is committing a criminal offence.
Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, is the one roped in to do the usual bit of fluff-talk "We know that the majority of the metal detecting community complies with the laws and regulations regarding discovery and recovery of objects from the land. "But the small number of people who steal artefacts and damage ancient sites [...]" Mr Collins might like to tell us how we know that. Can he? Or is this just waffle? How does he 'know' how many people do things they are hardly going to be bragging about?
He said the majority of items taken were sold on, some via online auction sites, with others being bought by individual collectors.
Again, how do we know that? No artefact hunter acting illegally in the UK has a collection of their own? That would be going against what we know of illegal artefact hunting in other countries. The upshot of what Mr Collins is saying is if we block those sales, we'll stop the majority of what he calls 'nighthawking'. Is that true? Dealers, what do you say about this?

PAS, You got an Answer for This?

From the BBC's 'metal detectorists damage Hadrian's Wall' article of 20 June 2018 a quote from Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime and policing advice for Historic England:
"We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context."
If we see them, can we 'fully understand' them? How can PAS recording 'magically restore' the information missing because it was not observed and recorded during the extraction of a collectable archaeological artefact (part of the evidence) from the context of deposition? Surely the answer is, it cannot. So, it makes no difference whether the object is removed by a trespassing artefact hunter or an artefact hunter given the nod by the owner of land on which archaeological sites lie, and whether the object ever surfaces in the PAS database, the information is still lost. No? No, PAS? Tell us more the public about it. Do some outreaching about this. It was one of your 2003 'aims' wasn't it? What you were funded to do. Yes.

UK Artefact Hunter Explains Away Artefact Hunting on Hadrian's Wall Protected Site

In response to the BBC report 'Metal Detectorists Damage Hadrian's Wall', a troll with a metal detector who hangs around the RESCUE Facebook page to cause disruption every time artefact hunting comes up suggests it is a conspiracy:
John Maloney Somewhat amazing that "hole + nothing else = detectorist". Especially in a time where everyone carries a camera.....[...] What's to stop an irate archaeologist with a spade setting something up? Like I said... everyone carries a camera these days. Equally amazing the headlines this grabs almost as though it was pre arranged....
But when he is answered, immediately Mr Malony drags ythings down to the usual personal level and football-hooligan taunting that tekkies apparently love.

Surge in illegal metal detecting at Hadrian's Wall

'There has been a spate of ‘nighthawking’ incidents at Roman Wall sites at Corbridge, Housesteads and Steel Rigg over the past three years'. (Historic England)
This is quite interesting as a drop in numbers of incidents at precisely Corbridge was not so long ago used as 'evidence' that the PAS was (somehow, it was not explained how)  responsible for an alleged 'drop' in illegal artefact hunting.

The N-word: British Archaeology's Sheep Chorus

"metal detectorists good, nighthawks bad"
I think British archaeology has rather serious terminological difficulties when discussing artefact hunting and collecting. For example, RESCUE is, I think, in general opposed to at least some aspects of the commerce in archaeological objects and the looting of sites as a source of collectables. Yet even they when tweeting about a news item of damage done to a scheduled site by Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record use the N-word:
'Nighthawk' metal detectorists damage Hadrian's Wall - BBC News
To be fair, they are (I assume) unthinkingly parroting the BBC headline to which they link, but it should be archaeologists informing the media about how to talk about archaeological matters, not taking the line from uninformed journalism. So for both RESCUE and the BBC, it is not some people who use metal detectors to exploit the archaeological record merely as a source of collectables doing something wrong and illegal, but a specific group of people who use metal detectors to exploit the archaeological record merely as a source of collectables. I do not follow the logic of this form of labelling for two reasons.

The first is that if an archaeologist was convicted, for example, of sexual abuse of an employee on an excavation, would it be reported only after adding an adjective ('law breaking archaeologist') to stress that not all archaeologists are sexual predators? Because this is what is happening here.

Secondly, the assumption behind such people-labelling is that 'metal detectorists' never 'nighthawk' and all 'nighthawks' only 'nighthawk' and never 'metal detect'. But a 'nighthawk' could equally well have 'permissions' for several productive sites. Not only does this give them more opportunity to actually practice their hobby of 'metal detecting', but also to find collectable (or saleable) stuff. It also acts as a 'cover'. He can produce papers to show that he has permission to be on several sites, any one of which he could claim is the 'source' of an item the ownership of which has been challenged. Until nobody asks to see a finds release protocol from that specific landowner for that specific item, nobody would be any the wiser. Surely, is that not in fact the safest way to get away with nighthawking? In reality, the guys who dug holes in Hadrian's Wall, may well have also reported items to the PAS in several counties, they may have taken part in legal rallies and queued up at the PAS finds desk, or gone to one of the dealers' tables while there.

The term, used as a differentiator (ie as used by Rescue News) is meaningless as a category, but its function is clear, to separate the 'bad guys' from the mass of 'metal detectorists'. But as I have pointed out, such an attempt may be producing a false and over-simplified picture from a much more nuanced reality. Can RESCUE contemplate that and changing the way they talk about collection-driven artefact hunting which erode the evidential value of archaeological sites and assemblages whether it is done legally or not?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

"But they fill in there 'oles, so wassthe problem M8?"

For so many artefact hunters 'filling in your holes' is the hallmark of responsible detecting. So for them perhaps detecting on a site on Hardian's Wall is OK, the holes were filled in more-or-less tidily (and in the dark!)

Damage done by greedy artefact hunters at
Brunton Turret, passionately interested
in history (Photo copyright English Heritage)

In the case of Unpapered Artefacts Without Documented Collecting History, 'Who Knows?' Caveat Emptor.

 Last month I discussed a seizure by the Italian Carabinieri of antiquities from a Roman property developer who now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works. But the Art Museum is, interestingly, taking this further perhaps on behalf of the beleaguered collector (?) (Cristina Ruiz, 'Top experts dispute Italian police claims about seized ‘antiquities’...' Art Newspaper 19th June 2018):
When we sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity. Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. 
Four of these six (not five) specialists are unnamed, so it is not clear in what their specialism lies, one says he 'cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity', a second decided the horse and a bull head were 'crude copies' and a third questions the value assigned to the seized artefacts, and in the case of the vase on the far right, 'The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought'. A fourth also  had suspicions about the two vases shown as well as the larger terracottas ('but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best'). 
The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred. “The bull and horse heads do look dubious,” he said, adding that “the value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine”. [...] John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: “The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?”
One thing they do not mention, to judge by the way they are propped up with grey boxes, neither the bull head nor the horsey one seem to have been mounted in the collector's original display. Why not?

I think the newspaper is trying to limit the damage done to public opinion about the antiquities market by this sort of seizure, but instead with that 'who knows?', they've done another kind of damage. How can you trust a dealer's opinion if six specialists differ so much in their opinion based on the same evidence? How much of what a dealer claims about an artefact they are trying to sell is substantive information, and how much just guesswork and humbug?

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.