Thursday, 24 October 2013

Focus on Metal Detecting: Leave it Alone


PAS made no comment: Irregular hole dug straight down on top
of the target- in a feature well below plough level (Daily Mail)

Archaeological destroyers by their deep hole
in archaeological stratigraphy in search of 'target' -
archaeological destruction at its worst (Daily Mail)
David Hutchings' "Digging Up The Past" metal detectorists' club has been doing over a Roman site on farmland near Atherstone in the west of Leicestershire. They've been hoiking out Roman coins but then hit a Roman lead coffin. They dug down "four feet" to get to it. Through the ploughsoil, through any archaeological traces in the subsoil over the grave fill, through any features within the grave fill, to reach the beeping metal object buried deep in the untouched archaeological stratigraphy beneath the ploughsoil. Totally destroying anything on the way in their irregular deep and narrow hole. They were doing it in the dark too:
As the light began to fade, Chris, 30, who works as a surveyor, was helped by another member of the team, Steve Waterall, who is a professional grave digger.
Now they've decided to have a go at digging it up, and have called the archaeologists in "to help remove the coffin and analyse the find". 
Leicestershire County Council was told about the find and, although its archaeologists visited, said it could not exhume the coffin as it did not use taxpayers' cash to fund excavations on private land.Instead, Chris's mother offered to pay. He hired Warwickshire Archaeology, which excavated the grave yesterday, after the official paperwork arrived. [....]  A spokesman for the authority's archaeology service said: "The county council does not finance excavations – that is the responsibility of the landowner or a developer.
Such is the climate in "everything goes" Britain, that  Mr Hutchings and a group of volunteers:
had been keeping a nightly vigil at the site because they were "scared of looters coming in and taking the grave away".[...] "It is sitting in the middle of a field at the moment. It is a bit vulnerable. So we will stay throughout the night keeping watch on it until it is removed."
It is interesting isn't it that if you raise the topic from a certain point of view you get told that "nighthawking is well-down, and it's all due to the PAS, the Nighthawking Report shows it" and when the detectorists want to dig up a skellie suddenly it is such a huge problem they have to camp out in the fields in October to keep all those grave-robbing nighthawks away.. can't have it both ways, nighthawking is, or is not a problem in Leicestershire?
The coffin was discovered by Chris Wright, 30, a surveyor
He said: 'I cannot describe how it feels to find something like this. You spend hours walking around fields, sometimes with little reward and then you find something this. 'It is incredible, it makes all the hours worthwhile, it makes you feel so good.  We had been at it all day and then got a signal - it was quite deep so I "ummed and ahhed" about whether to just ignore it and move on,'he said. But luckily Mr Wright let curiosity get the better of him and began to dig. 
It would have been better for the archaeology, for our knowledge of the site and the context of this isolated find, if he'd resisted the temptation. In this way he's just destroyed a chunk of history. Meanwhile somebody in the PAS said something about the find, but it seems this did nothing to dampen the taste of these amateurs for a bit of gratuitous 'feelgood' grave robbing:
Leicestershire County Council's finds liaison officer, Wendy Scott, said they had to treat the find with respect and dignity. She said: "We have to remember this is human remains - it is a child's body - and the best procedure is to leave it alone and rest in the position it is in or rebury it.
And the PAS head office in far-off Bloomsbury have issued a statement tonight to say that... oh, um. No, no they did not. Hardly even quoted in any newspapers. Fifteen million pounds on instilling "best practice" that is that's being flushed down the drain. But we have Britain's Secret Treasures, haven't we? Apparently promoting just this sort of "discovery" by members of the public.


BBC News, ''Roman child's coffin' found in Leicestershire', 24 October 2013

Sarah Griffiths, 'Unearthed: The 1,700-year-old Roman child's coffin found in Leicestershire that could be an early Christian burial' Daily Mail 25 October 2013 (" An expert [Hutchings !] believes the lead coffin would have cost the equivalent of about £200,000, showing it belonged to a wealthy Roman family It was found four feet underground in a Leicestershire field by a metal detecting club, around two miles away from the site of a Roman settlement and fort")

Chris Philpotts, 'Mystery of lead coffin', Tamworth Herald Friday, October 25, 2013 ("one of only four ever found in the UK" [tekkie-fallacy]).

The archaeologists' reaction:
Tom Mack, '1,700-year-old Roman coffin unearthed in field near Hinckley', Leicester Mercury October 25, 2013 

1 comment:

Stewart Herring said...

And they had to get the local priest in to mumble over it.

 
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