Sunday, 3 February 2013

Vox clamantis in deserto

Vox clamantis in deserto Friday 25th September 2009 writing about the Staffordshire Hoard findspot and its context. Tell me I was wrong:
This weekend the police have reportedly "sealed off" the field. Perhaps next weekend they will too. They cannot keep a police presence there for ever. The media have stressed that "all the hoard" was removed. I've seen the videos of "the archaeologists in action", I have my doubts. This site WILL be visited by trespassing metal detector users, at night. More archaeological finds will be taken - but where will they end up? Should not the whole area around this site immediately be scheduled, and the subject of a much more detailed archaeological project costing at least as much as will be spent buying the treasure from its finder and landowner?

There is a reason why in the past (seventh/ eighth century AD) this hoard was buried here, surely the whole justification for the Treasure Act is to determine this and not just to get another showcase full of glittering "portable antiquities" before the collectors do. It certainly is not to be excluded that if there was a reason to bring this group of material here and deposit it in the ground at this spot, that same reason could have been the focus of other activity (including of course the deposition of other deposits of a related character).

Whatever else is in the fields around the findspot, illegal (or even legal) artefact hunting of the surrounding region in the weeks, months and years ahead will destroy much of the evidence that could be used to put this glittering heap of (very nice) geegaws into their context in the landscape of Dark Age Britain. So let us put a "seven figure number" into doing an archaeological project to rescue the information before the treasure hunters get at it - but also find out what has come from the fields around the findspot in the past and has not yet been reported by other metal detectorists searching the same farm
I do not imagine for a moment that I am the only person who said this at the time, and has said it since. Three long years have passed, and how much has been achieved? Some additional trenches (100 sq. metres in total we are told) have been dug, a metal detecting survey was done, but only three months ago - and nothing. So has somebody been knocking on doors and getting the names and addresses of tekkies with permissions in adjacent fields? Has the site been scheduled? Has it been properly fenced and patrolled? WHAT actually has been done to turn the seven figure sum the metal detectorist got into an archaeological (rather than just geegaw-recovery) success rather than a geegaw recovery as part of an archaeological disaster?

And to all those shoulder-shrugging British archaeological jobsworths who tut and shake their heads saying "that Barford's out of touch, where are we going to get the money from? Ignore him" are themselves missing the point. Surely, if we have policies, we need first to establish what their effects are likely to be, and the costs of mitigating them, to ascertain that we have the wherewithall to follow things through properly. If they do not exist, then we do not adopt an unrealistic and unworkable policy (and then are forced to pretend its working and that it really does not matter if its not, because its "the Gold That Counts" and anyone who says otherwise is a heretic).  

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