Friday, 9 September 2011

Digging for Britain, Friday 9th September

I did not see this myself, but Kyri drew my attention to it. The Telegraph has a nice summary of it as a TV highlight:

Digging for Britain: Dr Alice Roberts
Digging for Britain: Dr Alice Roberts (Photo BBC)

CRITIC’S CHOICE: Digging for Britain BBC Two, 9.00pm; not Wales

Iron Age Britain, Celtic Britain, the Normans, they’ve all been tackled by BBC Two in the last six months. And now the ever-cheery Dr Alice Roberts is back to further exhaust the dark corners of our history. Roberts’s mission is to bring us the latest developments in British archaeology. It’s a tough sell. To compensate, Roberts behaves like most presenters of these overstretched factual programmes, striding purposefully around the British countryside, enthusing wildly to the camera. If broken pots, crumbling coins, and rain-soaked digs are your thing, you might just get caught up in the fun.

In tonight’s opening episode, Roberts [...] exposes a worrying flaw in the law designed to keep found objects in the public domain. Only precious metals are protected. The lucky detectorist who unearthed a rare brass helmet at Crosby Garrett in Cumbria was allowed to auction it off for a life-changing sum.

Sometimes the stories behind the excavations are a bit feeble, but Roberts is an appealing guide. Whether she’s beaming over a barely discernable Roman road or grinning at a tiny fragment of bone, you’re mostly prepared to go along with her. TD

Kyri noticed that Dr Roberts used the un-pc designation "treasure hunters". If she did there will be a ranting and a railing and a gnashing of teeth on the tekkie forums as they reach for their pitchforks and torches for a midnight march to the offices of the CBA. Did she really? If so, good for her. Earlier episodes of the series which I saw were very fluffy-bunny lovey-dovey towards artefact hunters, as per the now-obligatory UK media idiom. If anyone can point me to an online recording of this episode other than the BBC player (which cannot be accessed here in Poland) I'd be grateful.


kyri said...

paul i looked at it again as i was emailing and reading posts the first time it was on.hear is what she says word for word.

48th min.
"i think this story is realy important because it makes us look at the moral and political dimensions of TREASURE HUNTING and archaeology and its all about who owns our history.
if you think,as i do that in fact the heritage out there in the landscape belongs to all of us,than it seems terribly unjust that one person should be able to lay claim to a particular object and that object should disappear into the vaults of some wealthy collector.
a change in the law could stop this happening again"

Anonymous said...

Bravo Dr Roberts for calling such people what they are, not what they and Dr Bland would prefer! Digging up objects of value to take home as your own is certainly known as treasure hunting in the whole of the rest of the world beyond the amoral Erehwon carefully constructed by PAS and Pals!

We’ve recently had a similar conversation with the Beeb about this. There’s evidence that they too may now have finally got it. Hoorah!

Paul Barford said...

Brilliant, thanks.

I bet there will be a letter from the PAS to the BBC first thing Monday morning saying if it weren't for their "partners" the Treasure hunters it would still be under the ground where nobody would see it and inviting them to watch their ITV production.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you are right.

And yet they are rational, educated people and it's simply not credible that they don't subscribe to what Kyri quoted from Dr Roberts:

"the heritage out there in the landscape belongs to all of us, than it seems terribly unjust that one person should be able to lay claim to a particular object and that object should disappear into the vaults of some wealthy collector."

We think it's quite unacceptable,and damaging, thinking something but sublimating it for quango-survival-related reasons. But take no notice of us lot, we're amateurs and lack the knowledge or authority to have a viable opinion.

Mo said...

This programme is repeated today Sunday 11 September BBC2 at 6.00pm.

kyri said...

i just read an article in the latest edition of minerva.peter clayton[a member of the treasure valuation commitee of the british museum]says
"it is no wonder that the pas scheme,coupled with trasure reporting and valuations is the envy of the european archaeological nations"he realy sings the praises of the scheme.
i must be honest and say that some of his comments i totaly agree with,metal detectors have made some very important finds what is intresting is that buried in the figures it shows that just over %6 of people asked to waive their rights to a reward did much for the "we only do it as a hobby brigade"%94 of the"history lovers"took the money and ran.well done to the 82 individuals that had the generosity to waive their rights allthough it would be intresting to also know the sums involved in these cases.
ps.digging for britain taken off air because of the golf.

Paul Barford said...

Golly, well, if the man who works for the BM says it in Minerva, it must be true, eh? [that was sarcasm Kyri, isn't that really the only kind of thing you'd expect somebody from the TVC to say in Minerva?]

Although I expect there are people abroad who say such things, that does not mean that "nations" as a whole "envy" something. I bet he cannot point to an actual example of a single European country which so "envies" the PAS that actually has legislation and a funding application going through its parliament to actually set one up, can he? Surely that should be the measure of such "envy", the desire to have one too. American coin collectors envy the English system but do not seem too alacritous about trying to get one set up in the USA do they?

And how many of those "only in it for the history" blokes take the FINDS and run when they are not legally-obliged-to-show-it-Treasure? I'll be talking about an example of that tomorrow probably.

Paul Barford said...

Metal detectors have indeed allowed the hoiking out of the ground very many important finds, thus damaging some very important archaeological contexts along the way. The point is though that only a proportion of those finds ever gets reported, after thirteen years of outreach and throwing 13 million quid at the problem. The Crosby Garrett helmet for example, the day after he found it the young man was on the phone to the FLO begging her to come over and see what he'd found and so he could show her the findspot. Is that how it is? NO. He was on a train with it to Christie's. The PAS only got a whiff of it when it was already in a London saleroom (and I would not mind betting at their instigation). So how many other important finds are hoiked out of the ground into somebody's collection that we NEVER get to know about?

And Kyri, you collect Greek pots, they are not found with metal detectors are they? So how did we manage to fill museums in the days before metal detectors? Quite a few important finds, the odd torc, Celtic shield and helmet etc managed to find their way into the BM without some guy going out and deliberately hunting for them with a machine.

And what is more damaging to the buried record, somebody picking up material eyes-only which has come to the surface as in the old days, or ten thousand artefact hunters roaming the countryside able to detect still deeply buried items as now? I think it is self-evident that if we look at it from the bottom-up (ie the sites and not what is taken from them) the situation today is far more damaging BECAUSE of the uncontrolled use of these machines.

Anonymous said...

Kyri, I happened across this in last month's Economist

“most European countries, says Mr Bland, take a dim view of amateur detectorists.”

Paul Barford said...

and some of us lock them up if they are convicted of using the machines to damage archaeological sites.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the British, we have made it a criminal offence to use a metal detector on 35K archaeological sites, it's only the other 965K that people are legally allowed to detect on and a taxpayer funded quango is delighted to attend mass rallies on.

The implication that European archaeologists are envious of that situation is downright slanderous! ;)

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