Detailed pictures of many of the items are already up on the Staffordshire Hoard website, allowing scholars and the public to view the items. "It's not our intent to write the definitive report. Let the whole world work on it." Such an approach is unprecedented, believes Dr Leahy.Too right it is! So basically then the sole archaeological involvement is just to help treasure hunters get the goodies out of the ground and collect their reward and put some pictures on the Internet for any amateur theorist to make up stories about? No, "an archaeological discovery is not made until the time of its publication" that is a fundamental axiom of the discipline. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is paid for out of the public purse to ensure best practice among "finders". Well, not publishing this hoard in full is not best practice. It is a cop-out. It is a scam. I think the British Museum should issue an offcial statement confirming its intentions.
If the museum(s) acquiring this assemblage are not going to fulfill that obligation, then why not do what portable antiquity dealers have been urging all along, keep a few bits, put the rest on eBay then and send it out in the world to private collectors in the hope that some of them will have the decency to publish their pieces properly? Why not, Mr MacGregor? What is the point of getting all this glittery stuff for archaeological study if you are not going to realise the potential of the material? That is just like excavating a site, gathering up lots of pottery and bone and saying the job is done. The job is not done, the project not finished until a proper report is produced. How on earth can we expect artefact hunters and collectors to listen to us pontificating about "best practice" when we do not exhibit it ourselves?
The Sutton Hoo objects were published in full detail, it took the BM forty years to do it, the publication was too lavish (too heavy) and too expensive. Some of the objects in this "Staffordshire" hoard look to me as if they may well have links with the "Sutton Hoo workshops" (and maybe the latter were not East Anglian products after all?). So matching the patterns of the hatching on the gold foils (documented in the Sutton Hoo reports) may well prove significant. But not if the only access the scholarly world has to these objects is through some photos, however nice, on the Internet.
No, there has to be a proper definitive report published of this "Staffordshire hoard" with proper report of the 2009 excavations, with a description of each item every bit as detailed as that of the Sutton Hoo objects and at least some attempt at pulling together what it all means. Anything less would be a scandal.
And if the UK cannot afford to do the job properly, then perhaps the UK should think about these policies which allow people to go out looking for treasures which we have not got the resources to deal with. This problem can only get worse, not better.
ADDENDUM: I have this (27.09.09) evening received a private message from Roger Bland saying he was disappointed that I discuss this news item, because there are plans to produce a full report, and Kevin Leahy was somehow misquoted by the BBC. Phew. Additional piquancy is however added to this that there is a newsfeed on the PAS website and the BBC article to which I refer has for several hours been at the top of the list - on their own website. Well, anyone interested in the early medieval period will be interested to hear what the publication plans really are for this extraordinary find. Let's hope it is as detailed as the Sutton Hoo one, appears in a fraction of the time, is easier to carry (!) and a lot cheaper.