Thursday, 13 September 2012

The UK's Polish Artefact Hunters: Look What We Have Found

On the webpage of the Polish artefact hunters club (Klub PHEC THESAURUS ) is a gallery of "our finds". A sorry parade of dugups which - despite their stated aim of education and doing things according to best practice are without captions saying what the objects are, where they were found, where they are now, and where applicable what their PAS record numbers are.

What are these photos here for? Are they a record for the British visitors to the website: "this is what we've found and this is what it tells us all about your land's history"? Do they say "we are responsible collectors, reporting everything with full details, here they are"? Or do they say to Polish artefact hunters visiting from home: "look what these care-less schmucks in Britain let anyone dig up and take away, aren't you sorry you are not here with us?" - it really does look like this gallery is simply for shameless bragging of this type. 

Now I'm an archaeologist, so not particularly worried about the military buttons and badges added to the private artefact hoards of these foreign collectors temporarily resident in the UK. I can imagine others have a more personal connection to those regiments or places those artefacts came from however (as I am sure Polish observers would be in the case of group of Russian artefact collectors displaying a trophies bits of 1939 Polish uniforms and insignia they'd taken from the remains strewn across 1939 battlefields in the East of Poland).

What however is of more interest to me are the numbers and types of PAS-reportable displayed there. Anyone who has the patience with the PAS database which I lack might try to find out just what shown in the PHEC gallery has been reported to the PAS. I spotted a counterfeit Addedomarus stater in both, and perhaps there are others. Two of their finds are however worth comment. The first is a third-issue Elizabeth I sixpence of 1562 with stellar mintmark in fairly unworn condition. There is no caption saying why it is there, nor no details such as weight. I suppose we are expected to understand that its one of the "finds" of one of their members, a dugup.  (Where is this coin now? Can we see its export licence? There is a reason I ask).

More interesting is a gold coin supposedly found in fields near Luton. It was reported in the local newspapers at the time. Elsewhere PHEC (I've lost track of the link where, sorry) talk about finding fifth century gold coins... Now the coin shown in the gallery is not fifth century, the inscription reads 'DN Gratianus PF Aug with a VICTORIA AUGG reverse, so that's fourth century.  But while you are looking on the PAS database at gold coins of Gratian found in Britain by metal detectorists (won't take long, there are not that many) have a look at how this "Polish" one compares with the others. Look at the bust and look at the script. Well, these were hard times and there may have been such variation in the official coinage, but the Polish one looks to me distinctly "odd". Is it just a badly-made official die, or a modern fake? Or is it - and here's the interesting bit - a barbarian copy of a Milan mint coin of Gratian? If the latter, in which part of Europe are barbarian copies of late Roman gold coins and medallions most commonly found? (Clue: it's not slap-bang in the middle of the Roman province of Britannia). But substantial hoards of precisely such coins are found all round the Baltic, including in Poland's Pomerania. The finders there however are obliged to report them and hand them over and certainly cannot legally sell them on. Food for thought.  

While I am not stressing the point, this coin illustrates the big problem with organizations like this. It facilitates people who come from a country where digging up artefacts in the fields is illegal to dig up artefacts in fields somewhere else. Now those artefacts, if all the proper paperwork is done, can then be taken back to Poland and legally held, or sold, since they did not come from the Polish archaeological record (that sadly is the way Polish law is written at the moment). That at least creates the temptation to take something from one country, pretend to find it in a field in England, get it recorded as a British find (like doing an export licence for it) and Bob's your uncle. It would be an ideal setup for finds laundering. What precautions are being taken by PHECT to prevent this happening, or prevent even the shadow of suspicion falling on the club and Polish metal detectorists in Great Britain?
Polscy Poszukiwacze Odkrywają Brytyjskie Skarby
Tagi: forum thesaurus, phec thesaurus, Rzadka, rzymska złota moneta, celtycka moneta z brązu i złoty sygnet masoński są posród setek znalezisk odkrytych w ostatni weekend przez członków i gości Polskiego Klubu Eksploracji Historycznej "PHEC THESAURUS" na polach w Luton w pobliżu Londynu w Wielkiej Brytanii. Inne znaleziska to starożytne i średniowieczne przedmioty [...]
(NB, this post was drafted back in June when I was endeavouring to get access to their forum)

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