Saturday, 18 January 2020

Archaeology? Anuvver Name for Treasure Hunting, innit?

Picturing, of course, human remains, the Times' Arts Column journalist Richard Morrison (Jan 17th 2020) writes: ' The upheaval of HS2 is manna for treasure-hungry archaeologists'.

And how did archaeology come to be equated with Treasure Hunting? Answers on a postcard please. The UK should just get the metal detectorists to give the HS2 route a going over with their machines and, just like 'Brexit', the Treasures Mitigation will get done in no time. Shame about the skellies.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Artefacts for Wine

AP, 'Artifacts stolen nearly 30 years ago returned to museum' Jan 16, 2020
Native American arrowheads have been returned to the Rhode Island museum they were stolen from nearly 30 years ago. Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security located the 34 white-quartz arrowheads in an eBay advertisement, WPRI-TV reported Tuesday. The couple who attempted to sell the arrowheads say they did not know there were stolen, and claim to have traded a case of wine for the collection on Craigslist in 2017.
and of course have no documentation for that transaction, or for where the previous owner claimed they were from.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Obbink Still Writing on that Sappho

One presumes the new manuscript fragments, allegedly from the Robinson Collection will be included:
Professor Obbink is set to publish a new edition of the collected works of Sappho with the respected German publishing house, Walter de Gruyter. It’s a little hard to tell what stage of production the volume is in.
The question is, will Prof Obbink be at its launch?

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

The 'theft' of the Duke of Wellington

Not normally a topic of this blog, but this article is of interest 'The "theft" of the Duke of Wellington', The Lady. 
In 1961 a retired bus driver stole a Goya from the National Gallery. The heist gripped the public’s imagination and made legal history. His defence? Pensioners were being ripped off .
The case was defended by Jeremy Hutchinson, who was then 100 years old.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Speculation on 2019 Treasure case Numbers

Bloomsbury is being very coy about giving even preliminary, even ballpark, figures for the number of  Treasure finds that they have handled in the past twelve months (1st Jan to 31st Dec 2019). But at least we can get a general idea from the PAS database. I've been through Treasure cases noted in the Database for Oct -Dec 2019. In October, the numbers are in the range 2019T791-977 (180 reported finds in the month), and the four cases noted there in December have no numbers yet (!). In November, the PAS database contains four records that mention Treasure case numbers in 2019. These bear the numbers T1037, T1080, T1094 and... T1124. Therefore for some reason there is a huge jump in the numbering system from the end of October to the end of November (latest known in Oct 977, and a month later latest known is 1124). Why is this? Are Bloomsbury numberers unable to keep up?

From this therefore it looks likely that the number of Treasure cases when it is announced in the autumn will be somewhere around 1300+ records for 2019.

That's a massive amount of Treasure being hoiked. Now, when will we see proper monographic reports of the ones we have had dug up between 1996 and now? Bloomsbury archaeologists are amassing a huge backlog of unreported material.

Treasure Trace: Why does it go Wibble-wobble-blip?

I am still concerned about that UK Treasure Trace, the oft-published graph of the increase in Treasure reported from England and Wales and what it means (here and here). British archaeological Treasure-find jubilation has for long gaily treated the archaeological resource that this Treasure is coming from as, in effect, inexhaustible.   But of course it is not. Once all the Roman-period metalwork hoards in Britain have been dug up, then there will be no more (save invading a foreign country annexing its territory and looting more there too).

As I pointed out earlier, in the period 1997-2007 the graph goes up more or less in line with the estimated rise in numbers of active metal detectorists in England and Wales. The more detectorists there are, the more Treasure is found. There comes a point however where the increase in hoards being found does not correlate with the estimated numbers of detectorists active in the area at the time. It looks as if this started happening 2007-ish. When the PAS had been active just over a decade. Then the number of Treasure finds starts dropping off relative to the number of people thought to be active in the hobby.

It seems to me that, unless somebody can come up with a better explanation, this is because we had by this time reached a point where there are so few Treasure finds left in the accessible parts of the British archaeological record, that it was becoming harder to find a hoard than it was in the earlier days of 'metal detecting' in England and Wales.

I think the graph can show this in another way. While in the period 1996/7 (the new Treasure Act) to 2011 (with a minor wobble earlier), each year could be excitedly announced by archaeologist and collector alike as "more Treasure than last year!" (and examples of such jubilation can easily be found in the media), the situation changes after that.

After 2011, we start to hear the "more than/almost a thousand Treasure finds a year" mantra. This is because about 2011, the curve levels out. There is from this point forward no consistent rise as there had been before. Indeed some years it drops below the previous year's "haul". This to me suggests that the finding of Treasure has by this time become a much more random process than it had been up to about 2011. I am convinced this is because the resources of Treasure are now at critical level, and finding them is now harder.

I think the 2017 blip may be due to a whole lot of new people taking up the hobby about this time (and suggest, though place no emphasis on the idea, that this might be due to a popular British TV series encouraging Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record). A temporary surge of numbers of people will lead to a greater rate of Treasure finds relative to the background. 

We wait to see the 2019 results to see where the trend is going.

I used to ask, "when will this disregard of the damage done by the hobby end, when the archaeological resource is completely used up?" It seems to me that these figures suggest that we are indeed approaching a situation when that is the case. And that gives me no satisfaction at all.

How to Make it Seem UK Artefact Hunting is Not Damaging

We are waiting for the pro-collecting archaeological lobby and collectors themselves to come up with reasons why we should not be seriously concerned about the Treasure Trace Issue discussed in three posts here, here and here.

What is needed? There seem to be three options:

a) declare concerned people (like Paul Barford) insane, mistaken, not worth listening to, just ignore them and they'll probably shut up eventually, especially if they get hassled.

b) Trash the estimate of detectorist numbers

c) publish Treasure figures for 2019 that close the gap on the graph.

Option C seems quite difficult to do if the material is not there (unless Bloomsbury is going to publish an outright lie). These are official figures. If you look at the graph, it would actually require the numbers of hoards to abruptly rise from the last figure (1096) to something in the region of 3200 (blue line here). Is that what is going to happen? Looking at the trend over the last decade, that really looks unlikely, but hey, you never know.

Option A is the one they all adopt, its the easiest, requires no input from anyone. They probably lose no sleep over it. But it does not make the problem go away. The bottom trace is based on official HMG figures, which brings us to:

Option B. As everybody knows this is an estimate, based on evidence that is difficult to obtain and use. It could be wrong. Could be. But the problem is that it is the best we have, the PAS has not conducted any kind of a study to determine the size of the active metal detecting community in England and Wales. This in itself is suspicious.

So by how much would our figures have to be wrong for there not to be a gap when you plot one set of figures on the same graph as the other? The middle trace on the graph here shows what it would have to look like. It starts at the old estimate of 8 and 10000 as before, and rises slowly in step with the increase in Treasure cases. So in that model there would have been just 12000 active detectorists in England and  Wales in 2011, rising to 13000 in 2016 and staying somewhere like that for a few years (maybe, let's see what those 2019 Treasure figures are). Are there currently  just 13-14000 active metal detectorists in England and Wales? Really?

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