Saturday, 16 February 2013

Unexplored Site of National Importance Looted, is Anyone at all Bothered?

This morning Nigel Swift wrote:
If ever either detectorists or the authorities bring themselves to publicly acknowledge what I’ve been photographing on the Staffordshire Hoard field for the past two weeks (will they?)...
Well, since this is the third week, the question is perhaps "did they?" The answer is no, no they did not. Nothing was done, nothing will be done. This comes as little surprise. On the Thegns of Mercia (sic) blog ("More of the Hoard!", 20 Dec 2012) the news of the discovery of new bits of gold up on the hill was greeted with a similar lack of surprise "the original finder, Mr Terry Herbert confided to me this year that the original excavation in Farmer Fred Johnson’s field at Hammerwich had been far from complete".

Fred Johnson: Responsible in
English law for the protection from looting.
of the Staffordshire Hoard findspot site?
(photo Birmingham Mail)
Farmer Fred Johnson, one of those responsible in English law for protecting the site of the nationally-important Staffordshire Hoard from further looting of any archaeological content is of another opinion. In March 2011 he was recorded as saying:
“I don’t think there’s any possibility of more gold in that field. Anyone who claims otherwise is talking nonsense in my opinion.   ....And even if there was any more gold there, I wouldn’t bother going looking for it myself as I’ve had enough of the whole thing.”
And he's not bothered to fix the fence on the north side of the field either. It seems nobody much can be bothered.

The farmer perhaps may be excused for believing (after all that PAS outreach) that "gold" is the only thing that would be of archaeological interest in that field. The rest of us know that the archaeological evidence vital to understanding the context of deposition of this find will not be golden and glittery, it may be dark stains in the subsoil, preserved biological remains giving a clue to the environment, traces of other contemporary activity in the vicinity. All this can only be understood through being found in context, a context that is highly sensitive to damage through disturbance. People tramping over the site at night with 'depth advantage' metal detectors and spades is going to disrupt that vital  evidence. Evidence that is as yet unexamined due to the pathetically small scale, delayed and ad hoc archaeological response to the issues raised by this site so far. Is anybody bothered? Is any archaeologist out there actively campaigning to change that situation? To inform public opinion? Not one.

Metal detector using Treasure hunter Terry Herbert has reportedly now been banned from searching the farm. He says:
“It’s a real shame Fred won’t let me on the fields anymore because I’m convinced there’s more to be found on the site, but no-one will listen. “Even the archaeologists would not listen to me, even though I found artefacts 100 yards from where they investigated".

Funnily enough there are now holes being dug by unidentified persons (maybe readers of teh birmingham mail) about that distance away from the original findspot. I believe Nigel Swift wrote a week ago to the local PAS officer about the ongoing looting, but has yet to receive a reply. That seems pretty normal for FLOs whenever you ask them a question which goes beyond "found this thing inafield, wot is it?". Past experience suggests that the PAS does not seem to appreciate questions that go much beyond that, whether they are from members of the public like Nigel Swift or archaeologists.

On the other hand, perhaps - despite ionvolving portable antiquities - this is not a matter for the PAS. So whose responsibility is planning for the protecting this heritage from further depletion by artefact thieves now the site has been found? Solely that of the farmer? What is the joined-up-thinking UK policy on that?

Sunday Mercury, ' Staffordshire Hoard farmer denies there is more gold in his field Birmingham Mail, 27 Mar 2011.

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