Saturday, 11 August 2012

Controversy over the Discovery of the Ringlemere Cup

There has been an interesting addition to the  discussion in the people's encyclopedia of the discovery of the Ringlemere Cup , one of the PAS' flagship finds. The edit of the Wikipedia page was made 18:28, 21 July 2012‎ by an individual signified only by the number   as a special contribution. Whoever the author was, he seems to have an axe to grind with the archaeologists involved in the subsequent project. Although it has been there for a while, I imagine this text will be severely edited when spotted, so to save the reader hunting it down in the 'history' page, reproduce it here:
Mr Cliff Bradshaw is a very interested amateur archaeologist. His main area of study is the Saxons 400AD - 600AD. His fascination for this period led him to undertaking studies and the scouring of the local countryside of south-east Kent for Saxon remains. In the course of his explorations as a detectorist he found a number of items including a beautiful silver Saxon strap end, three sceattas, and many brooch fragments fairly close together. The number and proximity of these items led him to believe that they were not simply accidental losses but that this was an inhabited Saxon settlement and that he would find a burial mound nearby. Over the twelve to fifteen months he had access to the field he carefully scanned all aspects of the land and in doing so was able to make out the faint outline of a raised section of field. Without wanting to jump to conclusions he felt sure that this was what he was looking for. He commenced his detecting to the south side of the mound and very quickly found a Saxon gilded brooch at a depth of eight to ten inches. The following day he continued his search on the northern perimeter of his suspected Saxon burial site; he knew from his experience as a detectorist that he would have a better chance of making a discovery on the shallower edge of the mound than he would at the deeper centre. He found the Ringlemere Cup. This was to prove to have important consequences for him as he was now obliged to stop his search for confirmation of Saxon burials.

Mr Bradshaw was certain the cup was not Saxon; he also knew that the Saxons placed a great importance on prehistoric earthworks and used them for their burials. That evening he discovered the similarities his find had with the Rillaton Cup. He was convinced that the gold cup belonged to an earlier age, revered and left alone by the Saxons who had used the site for their burials.

On the first site visit Mr Bradshaw said that this was a Saxon burial, but Mr Keith Parfitt, the local archaeologist replied, ‘This is a Bronze Age Barrow of great importance, we won’t find any Saxons here’. Mr Bradshaw pointed out that the gilded brooch was very likely from a grave and that his studies indicated that the Saxons used these Ancient Barrows for their dead. Again Mr Parfitt replied ‘Not in Kent’. However a report written later by Mr Parfitt appears to give credence to Mr Bradshaw’s thoughts; he wrote that the brooch found by Mr Bradshaw could be derived from a plough damaged grave and that ‘Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, focused on Prehistoric Barrow sites, are becoming increasingly well known’.

From the moment he discovered the mound in November 2001 and against all opposing statements from the archaeologists on site, Mr Bradshaw continued to insist that this was a Saxon Burial Site. Finally in the summer of 2004 he was vindicated when Anglo-Saxon burials were found on the south side of the barrow. This discovery overturned the earlier hypothesis that a single sunken hut indicted that the Saxons had chosen the spot for habitation.

Much controversy has reigned over the location of the find of the Gold Cup. Mr Bradshaw had paced measured from a nearby electricity pole. However, it appears that this did not suit the theories of the local archaeologists and no first hand account from Mr Bradshaw was sought for the publication The Ringlemere Cup edited by S Needham, K Parfitt and G Varnell, British Museum Oct 10 2006. On reviewing the book John Barrett, professor of archaeology at the University of Sheffield found it strange that it lacked a first hand account by the finder.
I think we may fairly speculate that we probably now have that in the current version of the Wikipedia entry.

We may note that this "very interested amateur archaeologist" whose "main area of study is the Saxons 400AD - 600AD" seems not to have published anything on the topic.

I really cannot see why the author of this piece imputes that archaeologist Parfitt denied the possible existence of Early Medieval burial mounds when just down the road is the well-known Finglesham cemetery, nearby is Sittingbourne and  more importantly the site at Mill Hill Deal - actually excavated by Keith Parfitt. 

The Wikipedian eisegete's comments on the  "location of the find of the Gold Cup" (ie it was found on the eroded mound's north edge and not nearer its centre) is based on the original finder's account of having "paced measured (sic) from a nearby electricity pole". It is a shame that the finder - who was out in the field we are told to locate Early Medieval graves - did not have with him more sophisticated means of providing an exact findspot, steel tapes as a minimum, an accurate handheld GPS as an ideal. How can an individual grave good be precisely located in relation to other features perhaps discovered on different occasions by "pacing from a (single) electricity pole?" (answer: quite obviously, it cannot - no way). Without that, I would say, Mr Bradshaw cannot really have any claim to have been doing amateur archaeology, but amateurish hoiking. This is the whole problem with relating metal detector finds made by people out to collect isolated objects to archaeological layers, features and stratificatory processes studied by archaeological investigation. In the way it is usually done in Britain, so-called "metal detecting" is not "doing archaeology".

'The Ringlemere Cup: Precious Cups and the Beginning of the Channel Bronze Age', editors: Stuart Needham, Keith Parfitt and Gillian Varndell (Contributors: Aaron Birchenough, Chris Butler, Caroline Cartwright, Stuart Needham, Susan La Niece, Keith Parfitt, Gillian Varndell), British Museum Research Publication 163 [ISBN 13: 978-086159-163-3].
S. Needham and G. Varndell, 'Seeking a context for the Ringlemere cup', British Museum Magazine (2003)

Hawkes, Sonia Chadwick 2006, 'THE ANGLO-SAXON CEMETERY AT FINGLESHAM, KENT' (Oxford University School of Archaeology: Monograph no. 64), (ISBN: 9780954962715)

Keith Parfitt, Birte Brugmann 1997, 'The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery on Mill Hill, Deal, Kent' (Society for Medieval Archaeology Monographs, Volume 14) ISBN: 978 9 990182 49 1

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