Tuesday, 26 June 2012

"Massive Wealth up for Grabs Hidden Under Our Countryside"

The UK's Daily Mirror has a piece at the end of its article about the Jersey Hoard which should have every archaeologist in the country reaching for their bullwhip and the PAS head office for the telephone to the Press Department:

Massive wealth hidden under our countryside

£2,500,000 : During his first-ever go at metal-detecting in 2010 James Hyatt found an extremely valuable gold locket.  The profit was split with the landowner in Hockley, Essex.
£1,000,000 : Terry Herbert stumbled on a trove of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver in 2009 near Burntwood, Staffs. Proceeds from 1,500 pieces – weapons, helmet decorations, coins and crosses including 5kg of gold – were also divided with the landowner.
£1,000,000 : In 2009, David Booth, also on his first try with a metal-detector, found four gold Iron Age necklaces near ­Stirling. Scotland has stricter laws on treasure trove, which belong to the crown, but David still made £462,000.
£750,000 : Dad and son David and Andrew Whelan found Viking gold and silver in Harrogate, North Yorks, in 2007. They went halves with the landowner.
£300,000 : Michael Darke and Keith Lewis unearthed 840 Iron Age gold coins from the first century BC, in Dallinghoo, Suffolk, in 2008.  Half went to the ­landowner, farmer Cliff Green.
What I see missing here in the description of each of those sources of "massive wealth" for the finder  is any mention whatsoever that these folk are searching for archaeological finds. No mention that each of these finds has been hoiked out of an archaeological context. That is quite apart from the fact that despite all the money spent on getting these objects in public custody, not a single one of these sites has been investigated and published to a suitable degree that we can say we understand the full archaeological context of the deposition. Note the attention paid here to how profitable artefact hunting is to the landowner agreeing to allow treasure hunting on his property (this article is a ready-made clipping for the "can I come on yer land pleez" knocking-on-farmers'-doors folder). This is important, because in British law it is the landowner who has the responsibility of stewardship of the archaeological sites on their property. Surely from the point of view of preservation, archaeological outreach should be persuading them to reduce the amount of invasive interference, not encouraging it.  So where on the PAS website (or indeed English Heritage website) will the landowner find such a discussion?

This is rapidly becoming the main message that the press carries about archaeological finds of this type, the question of what it is and what it (really) means is skipped over in favour of telling the viewer/reader just how much richer they could be if they bought a metal detector and learnt how and where to use it and cash in on what they find (plenty of 'how-to' books in the UK on all three now). Another example is the channel TV report "Treasure island" (at 1:51)  with its litany of big-number values. This gives out entirely the wrong (archaeologically) message, but what reaction do we see from the UK archaeological world. Mainly a lot of subdued hand-wringing and eye-rolling that "metal detector sales are likely to go up further" and zero action. Action like calling for the country's biggest archaeological outreach programme to the general public to say something and say something loudly about this and joining in. Perhaps they are afraid of being labelled "trolls" by the PAS for mentioning the subject. Sticks and stones are surely of less importance though than what is right and what is wrong.

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