Thursday, 6 November 2008

Cold Brayfield Questions that will not go away

The Cold Brayfield (Treasure case 2006/T631) hoard has inadvertently become somewhat of a touchstone of the differences between portable antiquity collectors (interested on getting their hands on the loot) and archaeologists (interested in having the information about context preserved, if not the context – site – itself).

Its finders have unexpectedly found themselves some transatlantic allies, Washington lawyer Peter Tompa (President of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild) and ACCG Executive Director and author Wayne Sayles have leapt to defend them, stopping just short of accusing several of us of totalitarian attitudes before finally blurting out: "Context Lost -- So What?" not recognising the importance the Treasure Act places on preserving information about that context. On the Firth of Forth there is even an archaeologist who seems to mistake David Gill’s blog for mine and there insists these finders should be given the benefit of the doubt, for some reason he canna' believe that they dug the coins out the way they themselves are quoted in the newspapers admitting. Hmmm.

As we have discussed in several posts: here , here, here, here, and here, the hoard was by all accounts dug out from well below plough level by two metal detector users in the darkness. As I have noted, this is in direct contravention of the guidelines of both the Code for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and the guidelines of the Code of Practice to the 1996 Treasure Act. As a result, by the time the FLO got there a "due to the fact that the find had already been removed prior to investigation a stratigraphical relationship could not be established" between these finds and the associated archaeological deposits.

There seems to be some doubt however in local circles when and how this hoard was actually discovered. Norwegian "metal detectorist" Gary Brun pointed us to the website of the Central Searchers, a group that seems in some way to have been involved; correspondence with the website owners revealed a different version of the story. I was told last week by Gillian Evans of the Central Searchers metal detecting group (whose husband had been involved in the recovery) that instead of the "day before" Julian Watters started his two metre by two metre mattock-dug hole, the nocturnal discovery took place a week before Julian Watters visited the site. If that is the case why was Mr Watters given the impression it was at a later time? What happened in Cold Brayfield between the date of discovery according to Mrs Evans, and the date reported to Mr Watters? As described here earlier, any attempt to log on to the forum of that group to try and determine any other details have however been frustrated.

Furthermore, how many coins were actually recovered in the night from this hoard? We know 1456 went to the BM. If however one has Google Earth installed and downloads this file: “Sites in Buckinghamshire” we are told something else. Somebody, presumably a fellow metal detectorist is alleging that the "bloke who found [the] hoard has another 3000 coins". This of course may be just spiteful gossip without any foundation, but certainly this is the sort of allegation that needs investigating by those responsible for dealing with Treasure and the truth of which should have been investigated at the Coroner's inquest. Was, however the coroner informed of this? I hope to be able to obtain a transcript of part of the documentation to find out. So far though it seems my request for information is apparently being passed around the office like a hot potato.

Of course if the British Museum report on the hoard contained a drawing of the pot and its volume stated and the extent of the bronze stains on the inside of the vessel indicated, then it would be clearer how many coins had been originally deposited in the pot - rather a key point one would have thought. To describe the BM report on this find that someone was kind enough to send to me as "sketchy" would be an understatement. The ceramics from the original find and Mr Watters' investigation are dismissed in four lines, there is no reference to any pottery figures. The coins are not fully reported, neither is any distinction made between the two groups (Phillips/Plasom- Watters) of finds. It apparently took the BM two years to write this, and its absence is the reason why Mr Watters has not (he tells me) been able to write up the results of his four-square metre investigation. [I do not think the report I have seen contains anything a FLO with the experience of Mr Watters could not have worked out himself without sending the material to the BM and waiting two years for a reply.]

So my question to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (still) is: "should the finders be eligible for the full reward, or should from an archaeological point of view we not be urging that the Secretary of State exercise his discretion under paragraph 79 (viii and - see below - possibly iv) of the Treasure Act Code of Practice and section 10(7) of the Treasure Act?" If instead of being an archaeologist, I was a "metal detectorist" asking the PAS this question, what answer would I receive? Or is this simply a question that the PAS will not actually answer despite being engaged in "archaeological outreach" to the public, and engaged in promoting "best practice by finders"? I think the public has a right to know.

I recently addressed these questions to the two FLOs involved (twice). All I received in reply was some generally dismissive statement of "the sort of whispers that accompanies this sort of find". Surely the whole point of having a Treasure Unit, and a coroner's inquest is to sort out the true facts behind the "whispers" so we have reliable archaeological information about the context of such finds? If the system is not working and despite everything, all we are getting for the money and effort expended on this is distorted by poor reporting, half-truths and nagging doubts about the contexts and contents, the whole process is a bit pointless.

No comments:

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