Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Preserving the PASt"

Over on a metal detecting forum near you, we see the truth behind the artefact hunters' claims to be instrumental in "preserving the past". Forum member "batz52" ("female Roman bust [sic]", Mon Jul 01, 2013 9:45 pm) shows the eroded metal core of what had once been a Roman coin:
Found this today on one of my permissions during a quick hunt, any ideas? it was only one inch down on very dry soil found with my garret ace 250. 
When several suggestions has been made, he or she added:
yes mate it IS a tough one as you say because of the crud covering the figure on the reverse and also because it's very hard to make out any of the letters due to it being so worn.
The collector is sadly mistaken, this coin is not difficult to read because it was worn in ancient times, but because the ancient corrosion layers have been mistreated by the amateur(ish) finder, who has either dunked it for a prolonged period in a caustic reagent, thus stripping off all the original surface preserved within the corrosion layers, or has put in a coinzapper's electrolytic coinstripper with the same effect. This object, as an artefact and as a potential piece of archaeological information (let alone as a numismatic collectable) has not been "preserved for posterity" but well and truly destroyed.

How many objects hoiked out of the archaeological record in Britain are curated in private collections up and down the country in precisely the same (or worse) condition due to the tender attentions of such amateurish carefree-cowboy methods of 'cleaning'? The PAS once upon a time produced a conservation guide which is on their website, it has not been updated for over a decade, and one wonders whether as an organization they are doing anything at all about improving the conditions of care of millions of portable antiquities held in private hands up and down the country? Anything?

Note the collector's interest in "who" the picture on the front of this object represents. This reflects either a stamp-collecting mentality (filling in the gaps in a series: "got one of them, one of them, next one's missing") or a Kings and Battles approach to history rather than a processual one or one more sophisticated. The collectors' interest in the past and alleged contribution to our knowledge of past processes and societies is, at best, a highly naive and largely sterile one.

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