Thursday, 21 October 2010

Towton Finds Link to Dead Queen, or Just Archaeologist's Wishful Thinking?

"METAL detector enthusiasts have unearthed gold jewellery that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds at a secret site in North Yorkshire", so says Richard Harris ('Treasure found at sites in Escrick and Towton near York', York Press 13th October 2010).
One of the finds, an Iron Age twisted gold bracelet, may have belonged to a relative of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, and an expert says the site where it was discovered along with a brooch, a ring and an armlet may be of “real archaeological significance”. At an inquest held at Selby Magistrates’ Court, North Yorkshire coroner Rob Turnbull declared the bracelet as Treasure [...] The piece could now be worth £40,000 to metal detector enthusiasts Andy Green and Shaun Scott and the owner of the undisclosed spot where it was found. Earlier discoveries made by Andy and Shaun at the same site include a Romano-British bronze brooch, a gold Viking ring and a gold arm torc which, if eventually proved to be from the Bronze Age, could be worth up to £350,000.
The site near Towton appears to be "a multi-phase settlement spanning at least 3,000 years". So this site has already produced significant finds, including a Treasure find and yet is still being gone over by artefact hunters? Should not (National) Treasure find spots be given some sort of protection - akin to scheduling - to prevent their continued exploitation to find yet more cash-raising objects?

The PAS Finds Liaison Officer for North Yorkshire is Liz Andrews-Wilson , so it is a bit odd to read that "professional archaeologist John Buglass, [...] is acting as a consultant to Andy and Shaun". Consultant? What does being a 'consultant" for artefact hunters involve? Well,
Last year, an expert from the British Museum said the torc was not from [the Bronze Age] as it was too shiny and not weathered enough. But Mr Buglass said experts from both Bonhams and Sothebys believed in its authenticity. He said the colour of the torc was wrong because Andy had made the mistake of cleaning it. He said the discovery of the Iron Age bracelet tended to enhance the authenticity of the torc.
This raises the question of whether it was John Buglass who took the torc to Bonhams and Christie's on behalf of the finders? We remember reading that commercial auction house Christie's relies on the publicly funded British Museum for authentification - here it seems they have their own independent opinion - disregarding the Museum.

I really am disturbed by the ease with which these finds are narrativised by British archaeologists in the press. Not all members of the northern Britain were members of the same family. How on earth can one even guess that the torc was ownded by a "relative of Cartimandua" has it got the DNA of her family members on it? What nonsense. This simply suggests to the British public that archaeology is about finding pretty shiny objects made out of "lots of gold - worth X000 quid as bullion alone" and making up might-have-been fairy stories about them. Anyone can make up a good story, you don't need a degree to do that, "archaeology for all". A Bronze Age arm torc and Roman brooch have little to do with each other and certainly not evidence for a "royal" settlement owned by a relative of some half-attested Celtic queen who by historical accident is one of the few names of the period which we know from the whole region.

Will Andy Green be financially penalised for cleaning the torc and not handing it in in its 'as found' condition? That's what the Code of Practice for the Treasure Act indicates may well happen, it is very rarely practiced though. What was the chronology of the finding and reporting of all these finds if there was time for somebody to take them down to Bonhams AND Christie's in the interim?

Vignettes: Three finds do not a Cartimandua make.


Matt B. said...

Wow, I read that press release earlier this week and what you wrote here were exactly my thoughts on the matter.

Paul Barford said...

Well, that makes two of us... now all we have to do is convince the rest that current policy on this collecting fad is really not helping anyone...

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