Friday, 28 February 2014

Focus on UK Detecting: Dealing with Ignorant Hoiking in the UK

It is an interesting phenomenon of our times that Joe Public thinks that, without any reading up on the matter and finding out what the situation is, they can easily "outsmart the experts". You have those that question whether the Giza pyramids were built by Fourth dynasty rulers instead of interstellar aliens or some undiscovered lost civilization of Mu, or some hills in Bosnia are artificial structures, the Da Vinci Code is true, "the stupid C14 experts" got the C14 dating of the Turin Shroud wrong, or whatever. These people see a conspiracy in what archaeologists are telling people about the past, we've got it wrong, we are bluffing and deceiving people. None of the people making these claims, it is clear from the way they present their arguments (I use the term loosely), has ever gone to the trouble to go more deeply into why the academic argument goes in another direction. For them, reading and research can be replaced by dismissing them unseen as likely the arguments of "ivory tower" weirdos whereas common sense suffices to "show" they are "wrong" ("stands to reason, don't it?").  Yesterday on one of the blogs, UK metal detectorist Andy Baines published the remarks of  an anonymous commentator ('JC') who was holding forth about "where Barford is wrong" 

Barford bangs on about context and the minute detail of what could have possibly been with the find. Take for example the recent hoard found by the A20. Perhaps, just perhaps, a detailed excavation by a forensic archaeologist 'could' have revealed a context that the items were buried in a hessian sack because detailed analysis of the soil under an electron microscope and isotope analysis revealed this - Who CARES???. Yes that sound harsh but to the public, this doesn't matter at all. If the items were on display in the BM would the fact the items were buried in a hessian sack be that important or even feature on the all important signage? NO. So the detail is not that important at all... unless you are an archaeologist heel (sic) bent on your own interest for minute detail.
Wow. Let's take the most obvious fact first. Hessian is a cloth produced of jute, several species in the genus Corchorus - mostly Corchorus olitorius, which is a tropical plant, native to India. If remains of a jute fabric were present in the late sixth/seventh century AD "Near-Maidstone A20" feature, then it would not exactly be a "minute detail", unless I am mistaken (and stand to be corrected), it would be the first time such a thing has been recorded from NW Europe. Unfortunately here the opportunity was lost as the finds were hoiked by untrained Treasure hunters, and by the time we see them in Greg's bedroom, they'd been scrubbed. This comment illustrates very well indeed exactly the core of the problem. If people are hoiking out what they do not understand (this guy JC obviously knows next to nothing about ancient fibre use), then they do not know what to observe, record and preserve. This is why the investigation of untouched stratigraphy and associated objects should not be undertaken by uninformed individuals, like those who think garnet insets are "roobies" and a "Coroner" is a conservator. 

Secondly, "in a hessian sack" is not exactly what an archaeologist means by the word "context". Nevertheless, taking "JC's" argument at face value, it actually IS important information whether these objects were laid out on the body of a female inhumation in a barrow cemetery in acid sandy soil or loose in a bag hidden round the back of a barrow by an old route leading down to the Medway.  

This is not an insignificant "minute detail", but a fundamentally important piece of information not only about the context of deposition of these objects, but about the use of the landscape at the time of deposition of these objects. 

This comment is appended to a UK detectorist's response to my observation of the fact that there is very clear evidence from the manner of interaction one may observe in the public domain and social media that artefact hunting attracts people who (in the words of a former Labour Minister of Culture David Lammy) are "challenged by formal learning" ('Focus on UK Metal Detecting: It's not just snobbism', Thursday, 27 February 2014). Metal detectorists have reacted predictably to my observations and their interpretation, one of them (the one who published JC's comment) suggests this was Paul Barford's "most cruel and bullying post to date" (rather over-using the term bullying I feel). In his outrage, he misses the point entirely which concerns the logistics of "outreach" to this milieu. Moreover, in one of the few comments following that text that actually attempts to make a point, "JC" gives a prime demonstration of exactly what I am talking about.

I assume "JC" is a detectorist. In an unfocussed text of just 44 lines on a variety of topics, he conclusively shows that sixteen years of PAS outreach costing untold millions has failed to make much of an impact in fulfilling its aims laid out a decade and a half of "liaison" and "partnership" ago:
- To raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them. 
- To increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
There is no "awareness" here, and certainly no evidence that "JC" has benefitted from any "links". Why is this? The PAS has been pumping out information (and oodles of goodwill), but "JC", though no doubt "passinitly intrestid in the 'istry" is totally unaware of just what this "context" is, and why it is important. For him, sixteen years of expensive outreach on, instead of being knowledge well-internalised, it is a "mere "minute detail" only of importance to obsessives. 

Now, I am not the one paid to tell "JC" what is what. That is the job of fifty odd people specifically employed to do that (though some of them seem to limit their interactions with some sectors of their audience and do not seem from what their "partners" say to be giving out the sort of information one might expect in the circumstances). Nevertheless, the PAS exists to do a job, and I am not going to do it for them. 

It seems to me that the PAS are currently utterly failing to make use of the opportunities to utilise social media to spread information and counter misinformation (like responding to idiot posts like this on detecting blogs). So people like "JC" write nonsense, it is read by other detectorists who, if they are too lazy to check it out, will go away thinking "context is just a minute detail" and not important, and that archaeologists who talk of a loss of context, "well, there arguments are wearing a bit thin, innit?" (Where is the Kent FLO in this thread?). 

This is precisely where the question of the degree and manner of manifestation of the intellectual  curiosity, and the ability to obtain, handle, analyse, relate and absorb facts by the detecting community is of fundamental importance to the manner in which they can be treated by anyone wishing to make some kind of "partners" of them. If forty percent (say) of UK metal detectorists are, not to put too fine a point on it, as thick as planks, that's forty percent (4000 individuals) who are going to go out and uncomprehendingly cause irreparable damage to the archaeological record, and no amount of "outreach" is going to prevent that because they are beyond "out"-reach. But is it forty percent, or more or less? What is the scale and nature of this problem? Can the PAS give an answer? Dare they? 

Focus on Metal Detecting: The First Voices of Concern from Responsible Metal Detectorists

Only on page three of a whole series ("Re: Saxon Hoard found") of empty-headed chortling and excited "Well done/saved M8" one-liners do we find this ("slinky" Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:53 pm).
While I am a little uneasy about how the hoard was dug up, (can't begin to explain the importance of preserving the context of archaeological items) and think that as soon as you suspected you had a hoard digging should of stopped and your FLO should of been contacted or failing that your county archaeologist, I must say its a stunning find of a lifetime!! Massive congratulations to you [thumbs-up smiley]  [thumbs-up smiley] Ps- please don't take my above comments personally, I truly am chuffed for you! (And a tad jealous!!) I just want others in this situation to know what to do if they find themselves in a similar position... [redface smiley].
 Stratman (Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:38 am) hopes the archaeologists do their job properly when cleaning up the mess left by the "Medway History Finders"
I hope the archies wash and sieve the soil to recover all the pieces of garnet so the items can be restored to their former glory. There will begin so much study and conjecture as to who this very high status individual was.Which of course was totally compromised the moment the tekkies got in there hoiking stuff out blind from a hole five inches across "at the depth of me elbow" and stomping around in the bottom of the ragged and loose-sided hole.

The People Luv us: the "A20 Popularity contest"

A couple of days ago, I made reference to a discussion in the comments under an article about a scandalous bit of Treasure hunting that was going in the typical tekkie direction - superficial thinking, loutish aggression and name-calling ('Focus on Metal Detecting: Tekkie Nonsense Writhing on Conservation', Wednesday, 26 February 2014). I noted that one of the crowning arguments used by one of the participants that his comments had received more "likes" than the person who was disagreeing with him (what I suspect was happening was all his fellow club-mates were "liking" his comments in solidarity and support). This of course is no real argument at all under those circumstances.

Nevertheless the tekkie feeling of entitlement might be chipped a little if they took a look at those "likes" now (late evening 28th Feb 2014). Although the discussion has petered out, the comments thread is now being read by people who have an opinion about what they read, and - on the top page at least - it is pretty unanimously against the tekkie ranters and their aggressive stance (I am sure the moment I mention this, the Medway mob and their m8s will be over there clicking away and deleting cookies and clicking again to change those figures).  In itself, this is not much, but has some significance to one of the arguments tekkies often advance about their hobby. Yesterday on one of the blogs, Andy Baines published the remarks of  an anonymous commentator who was holding forth about "where Barford is wrong" 
frustratingly for Barford, the public love metal detecting and the results of metal detecting. They want to go to a museum and see shiny stuff and as the true 'stakeholders' as Barford and Swift like to point out, we give them what they want from thier (sic)'stake'.
This is an unjustified patronising approach to the entire British public, likening them all to the lowest common denominator which seems well represented in tekkie circles.  I think there are those among the broader public (normal people) who are perfectly willing to listen to the point of view that uncontrolled hoiking, no matter how"shiny" the "stuff", is incompatible with the aims of conservation of the historical resource. These are among those clicking away at the loutish comments under the Kent Mercury article, suggesting that tekkie attitudes do not enjoy the same popularity among the population as a whole. I suspect that the tide is changing (see here too), and erosive and selfish artefact hunting cannot continue to expect overall UK public support for no effort. Perhaps the enthusiastic PAS press releases being foisted onto the same public and its uncritical press are beginning to lose their charm when not backed up by anything more substantial.


Mystery of the colour changing Nataraja

On the Poetry In Stone blog, an interesting question is raised. Were Kapoor's Chola bronzes given an artificial patina, and if so, where and why? (Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 14- Mystery of the color changing Nataraja, 27th February).  The story is illustrated by photographs of the colour change. After the theft, the   Sripuranthan Nataraja was a coppery colour, it had been kept indoors and curated to prevent oxidation. The item Kapoor wanted to sell could not look like it had been recently ripped off in a temple, so had to have a patina applied. The object in the National Gallery of Australia now has a greenish patina while the matching Sivagami (also obtained by Kapoor) for some reason remains a metallic colour. Where was this patina applied, by whom and for what purpose?

Diggers Season 3

Diggers Season 3 is out in the US (National Geographic Channel).
"DIGGERS", features the zany treasure hunting adventures of Tim Saylor and George Wyant, extreme metal detecting experts and founders of

One Piece of Good News

There is good news on the pro-detecting publicity front. The "Meridienne Exhibition Team" were going to organise a "Metal Detecting Show 2014", but have announced:
Unfortunately the decision has been taken to cancel the The Metal Detecting Show that was due to take place on the 31st May and 1st June 2014. We’ve had to make this difficult decision as there was insufficient support from the key organisations we needed to make this show happen. As such we cannot go forward with this event any further and it has been cancelled. This is very unfortunate as from the research we did initially we believed that this exhibition would have been welcomed by exhibitors and visitors alike. It has now become clear that the show would not be of sufficient size and scope to achieve our usual level of presentation and therefore would not meet the expectation of our visitors.
Could it be that enthusiasm for propagating artefact hunting is waning among "key organizations" (and what would they be)?  Apparently (according to Tony Hunt, Wed Feb 26, 2014 9:13 pm, who stresses "this will be a first for Metal detecting"), metal detecting clubs were being informed that they could "apply to have free concessionary space [...] to mount a display of their finds and obviously advertise what their club is about":
The larger Detecting shops like Joan Allans and Regtons and manufacturers like First Texas have already take space along with many others such as my own Detectorbits. Hopefully the British Museum will be in attendance along with a number of Finds liason officers. Coin dealers etc are also being invited to attend. There will be lots of activities going on inside and around the outside fields.
Two days later, the event was cancelled.

Consequence of Discussion of the A20 Grave-trashing Fiasco?

I just received this from the Chairman of Medway History Finders artefact hunting club and thought I'd share it (comment on Focus on UK metal Detecting: Holedigger Pete Looking for a Real Man)
Hi Paul, hope your having a good mate? [sic, I was actually having tea] Iv [sic] now having a club meeting and have asked a [sic] archie to come along and give us a talk on how to deal with a hoard. To tell all the members what to do and not what to do.This way we can't fall out with people like yourself. This has been good and bad for the club, but with a bit of luck what im doing now should sort out any problem we have all the best Pete. 
What would have been better still would be for the FLO to have explained it as part of her outreach before the club went out and for the archaeologist to ask them to keep off known sites , especially those with "mounds" and other upstanding earthworks.

Three FLOs on the Blog at Once

Must be a record. Three FLOs on the PACHI blog at once. Welcome. Please, take a good look around, it's not all about metal detecting. Something here for almost everybody.

A20 Grave Trashing: "You Done Well" and Kent County Council Policy

Kent County Council's Finds Liaison Officer has reportedly been telling some of the County's metal detectorists that they "done well" hoiking out an Anglo-Saxo grave group from a site. That appears not to be what the County Council's website (Your County - Putting Kent First) is telling people.

What to do if you make a find [...] If you do find something that you think may be of archaeological or historic interest, then the following steps will help ensure that it is treated properly and that people are informed, who may be able to help.
1. Try not to disturb a suspected archaeological site; certainly do not attempt to dig it up! Much of the most important information about archaeological sites and finds comes from the context that they are found in - how they lie in the ground, what other features may be close by and the condition they are in when discovered. Removing finds from the ground without this information being properly recorded can significantly reduce our ability to understand them properly
2. Many sites and finds are very fragile. Taking them from the ground without proper care can damage or destroy them.
like textile remains and organic remains in graves I suppose it means.

Here's where to go to "Report damage to a site" (oh, look it includes "Ms You-done-well", fat lot of good that is then). It also says "We have additional information for people using metal detectors" but there is no link to such a text. Perhaps it's for "partners' eyes only"? I think it raises questions about the quality of Kent's (probably pretty expensive) heritage protection if a document setting out county policy  says one thing but individual members of staff are reported by their "partners" to take it upon themselves to say something quite the opposite.

Focus on Metal Detecting: A20 grave trashers unrepentant?

Ambassador for the hobby, "Holedigger pete" expresses his hobby's feeling of entitlement (26-02-2014 16:50:45):
Christina, because of people like you [who express concern when they see careless and wanton destruction of archaeological evidence,] people who detect and arch's [heritage professionals] will never get on[.] i find you a bore, go and find someone else to pick on as i don't care what you or people like you say this problem has been going on years learn to live with it.
That assumes that the repetition of the sort of thing we saw by the A20 does not lead to an outcry and pressure to deal with the problem this erosive minority create by other means. Note the feeling of entitlement and playing the victim that we see among rhino hunters too ("find somebody else to pick on").

Becchina 'Ariadne' Sarcophagus Lid Surfaces in US Warehouse

Tom Mashberg has a story about a life-size, 1,700-pound Roman sculpture - a sarcophagus lid of a Roman noblewoman - in a Queens (NY) warehouse which US authorities plan to confiscate today on behalf of Italy which says there is evidence the marble statue of a reclining, half-clad woman valued at $4 million was  probably looted from Italy in the 1970s or early 1980s ('Authorities to Seize a Roman Statue in Queens That They Say Was Stolen ', New York Times 27th Feb 2014). US officials have had their eye on the statue since last year when it surfaced for sale in a Manhattan gallery. A complaint was filed on Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn by the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York based on an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security. 
Officials said they did not know when the statue entered the United States or where precisely it came from in Italy. But they said they believe it to be one of the antiquities obtained illegally by Gianfranco Becchina, a longtime Italian art dealer who was convicted in 2011 of trafficking in thousands of plundered Roman artifacts. Photographs of the statue were among thousands of pictures of looted antiquities found in Mr. Becchina’s Swiss gallery in 2002, the officials said. 
The object had reportedly previously been exhibited on behalf of "a client” (which lawyers speaking for the gallery declined to identify “on grounds of confidentiality”) by the well known dealers Phoenix Ancient Art, who had not played a role in shipping, importing or storing the item. Records indicate that:
the sculpture, which represents the mythological figure Ariadne, was bought by Mr. Becchina in Italy and then shipped to his gallery in Switzerland in 1981. The item was exhibited for three months in late 1982 and early 1983 at a Swiss museum. Federal officials said they were not sure where the item was between 1983 and 2013. “We’re still investigating, and can’t confirm who currently owns or has an interest in the property,” said Karin Orenstein, the assistant United States attorney handling the case.

A PAS Cover-up?

I'm putting this title up to show which way I am going with a certain matter. I'll write the post after I receive (or don't receive) a reply to my latest request for information  from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (which is a yes-no question, and I've now asked it three times). Why is the PAS unwilling to answer a simple question about what was known about the site before that fateful "club dig"? What is it they are trying so hard to keep quiet and why? It is a simple enough question, and surely if responsible metal detecting is what the PAS say it is, there is no reason why the answer to that question should be in any way sinister... but still, the answer is withheld. What could be the significance of that?

I'd be interested in hearing from readers (in confidence) of any cases where the PAS, instead of taking a  firm stand over best practice of their "partners", has not only turned a blind eye to bad practice, but has actually gone so far as to cover-up for metal detectorists. There was a blatant example of this a few years ago documented on this blog, I'd like to hear of more examples.

This is NOT what the PAS was set up to do, and to provide basic information and inform public debate and opinion on portable antiquities issues IS what the PAS was set up to do.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Just what was Targeted?

A "small hill", not in Kent
By the finder's own account:
"...The day turned out great with sunshine the whole day. The usually finds were coming up, for instance bits of lead and some buttons and a bad Roman. I then moved onto a large mound / small hill that was flattened at the top and after about 10 minutes got a weak signal that turned out to be the first of some amazing finds...".
Mound?  Local knowledge in the social media about the findspot of this Anglo-Saxon grave group suggests:
"...  apparently its at the base of an upstanding scheduled Barrow..."
Well, not quite. According to DEFRA's 'Magic' website, neither the barrow which an online HER-based resource places on the same site as this discovery, nor the site are actually scheduled, but looking at what the site was already known to contain and how vulnerable it is, one wonders just why not. Britain is not exactly known for the care it takes of its important archaeological heritage unless it's made of gold or silver. Some debate is required here, will we see it? PAS? Anyone?

The Facebook thread to which I refer (and will discuss later) has some interesting comments from some British archaeologists who at long last have recovered their voice and seem to have had enough of the wanton erosion and disturbance of the archaeological heritage for personal entertainment and profit. They seem to resent Britain's wholly inadequate response. In other European countries, digging a hole into an archaeological site will earn you jail time, in Bonkers Britain you get a pat on the head and "you done right lad, thank you" from the establishment.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Bonker's Britain's Top Museum Said "we Done Right"?

The trashing of what looks like the remains of an Anglo-Saxon grave in east Kent was apparently "praised" by the understanding folk of the BM's PAS. Amazing. Here's what they are saying, first in the press, where everyone can see it. First a quote from metal detecting's long serving (25 years practice) ambassador, on the Kent Mercury website, "Holedigger pete" wrote (23-02-2014 19:42:57):
Christine,  [...]  everything was done by the book [...] the arch's said we done (sic) the right thing, [...] we [...] have been praised by the way we delt (sic) with the find on the day
More explicitly, "Holedigger pete" wrote in the same place (22-02-2014 17:19:40):
[...]  everything was done by the book [...] The BM and our FLO said we done (sic) the best thing by taking out what we could
Really? The BM actually said that? If they did they've lost all ambition to ever see any best practice among their partners. Time to call a halt to this, methinks. Other forum members are looking on and drawing conclusions for themselves, Peter Pearce (Re: Saxon Hoard found Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:53 pm) wrote: 
Staggering, what a find and what a stroke of luck that you were advised to keep searching that area. The god's were smiling on you for certain.
The gods, or the BM? There is a difference. A stroke of luck that they actually advised the  club to "keep on hoiking", great fun was had by all trampling around in a dirty big hole in the most sensitive part of the feature, trashing it totally, but what a lot of luvvery stuff ("roobies, look at the culah!"). The finder "Whatunearth" (Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:40 am) after describing what he did Sunday afternoon added:
I finally managed to get in contact with the FLO the next day and having explained the situation to her, she agreed that it was for the best.
Hmmm? Best practice epitomised Ms Jackson? I do hope that as part of the outreach paid for out of the public purse you sent him a link to the Codes of Practice where it says that. Could I have it too, this new revised code? The most telling statement about the involvement and reported approval of the PAS comes from a slightly later text on a public detecting forum ("Holedigger Pete", the club chairman Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:10 pm): 
when the hoard was found, we rang our FLO Jennifer Jackson on the day and could not get hold of her. The next day Jennifer rang Greg and said she could not do nothing till Friday or the following week Greg informed about this and i was not happy. I tried to contact Jennifer but her phone was turned off[.] due to the find being close to a main road i contacted the 3 top people at the BM and sent them pictures these are the people who got things moving. They told me the site could not be left till Friday and they would get a team together for the next day and that the police would be informed about the area to keep an eye on it. Yes i had thought about this happening one day and what to do, on the day i done what i thought was right to take out as much as we could without any damage to the area i could not sleep at night knowing nighthawkers could rob the site. The BM told me i did the right thing and i stand by what i did. [Last edited by Holedigger Pete on Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:20 pm, edited 1 time in total].
Did they indeed? Has he got that in writing? The BM (apparently on Sunday - but there are some doubts about the timing of all this stemming from the above account compared with others) had pulled out all the stops to organise an immediate response team the next day, but the tekkies (instead of taking turns to sit up there a few hours each to guard the site until the next day so it can be examined intact by the archaeologists) deep-hoik the rest of it out and the next day (?") phone the FLO to say what they've done and both the FLO (and according to this account) the BM "told me I did the right thing"? By what right would the BM do that? 

If the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme actually said that, I think there are 62 million taxpayers (not to mention archaeologists and lawmakers) who have a right to hear why. If the detectorists quoted above are not telling it like it was, then equally there are 62 million taxpayers (not to mention archaeologists and lawmakers) who have a right to hear what the PAS actually did say to these people and how they actually do envisage best practice in cases like this.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Macedonian police arrest 8 for big museum theft

A number of items of gold and silver jewellery dating from the 4th century A.D., were taken from storage areas in the Museum of Macedonia in central Skopje between November 2011 and October 2013. The theft was discovered in October. 
Police in Macedonia have arrested the head of the country’s biggest museum, a former senior heritage official and six others over the theft of 162 ancient pieces of jewelry from the museum’s collections. The prosecutor’s office in the capital, Skopje, said the eight suspects would face charges including illegal possession of cultural artefacts, abuse of power and negligence. [...] Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski told The Associated Press that some artifacts were found in the suspects’ homes, but it was unclear whether these were among the 162 stolen items. 
It is not clear which of the arrested are to be charged with theft, and which negligence. Neither is it stated that the stolen items have been recovered, perhaps they are already in the hands of foreign collectors.

Associated Press, 'Macedonian police arrest 8 for big museum theft', Washington Post Thursday, February 27 2014.

Vignette: Wikipedia.

Two more objects surface from Medici and Becchina archives in London auction houses

cute, but Becchina
University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has reviewed the catalogues for three upcoming London auctions of antiquities (Bonhams on April 1; at Christie's on April 2; and again at Bonhams on April 3) and he has identified two objects as having figured in photos of objects in the archives of two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. These archives were confiscated by Italian and Greek police and have been used to identify objects handled by these two dealers which had been looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006. Obviously the continued surfacing of objects that have passed through these dealerships is of interest and concern.

1) Lot 173 in Christie's Sale 1548: Greek Core-Formed Glass Oinochoe "from the Eastern Mediterranean", circa 2nd-1st century B.C. Tsirogiannis has determined that the object figures in the Medici archive, but the declared collecting history is vague in the extreme: "Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198".

 2) Lot 22 in Bonhams April 3 sale (#21926): Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis, circa 3rd century B.C. Tsirogiannis has determined that the object figures in the Becchina archive, the declared collecting history is not much better: "American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s". Tsirogiannis indicates documentation which suggests that Ariadne Galleries bought the items from Becchina.
"Why do Christie's and Bonhams still fail to supply the full and correct collecting history of the objects, especially when they advertise their due diligence before the auctions?" Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "Why are these objects depicted in the Medici and the Becchina archives?"
Catherine Sezgin, 'Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis matches two objects up for auction in London with objects identified in the Medici and Becchina archives', ARCA Art News blog March 27, 2014.

Finders-Keepers in the USA

On the tail of the story about a California couple who found $10 million in gold coins in their garden, and is selling the loot there is an interesting summary in Time of some of the relevant US legislation which will affect relic hunters too (Katy Steinmetz, 'The Law of Finders-Keepers and What Happens When You Find Buried Treasure', Time,

The US "Diplomat" and Research Institute Director and his Fart Jokes

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland on a visit to Ukraine revealed, using a four letter word, the degree of her respect for the European Union. Former US State Department employee, the Distinguished Arthur Houghton III, exhibits a similar degree of verbal sophistication in his comments on Peter Tompa's blog. Angling to get an invitation from the Academy of Sciences of a large central European state to expound his views on "Who Owns the Past: Morality, Law and the Public Interest", he is not exactly complimentary about the person he was relying on getting that invitation:
 "Peter, I am sure you've seen the gas bag's most recent screed. Maybe less a gas bag than a whoopee pillow (sic). He asked, I offered, he's run off in the other direction, not only at the mouth. Poor fellow. Decided not to take it seriously. Too bad for the whoopee pillow.
While the rest of America has flatulence where one normally positions a cushion, it seems that as far as Mr Houghton is concerned, these anatomic realities do not apply. Three days on from my invitation  (February 24, 2014 at 6:22 AM) it seems that it is not I who is the one "running off". Mr Houghton has not responded in any way indicating his willingness to come here onto my own territory to attempt make me "huff and puff" with his words on the morality, legality and public interest of dugup antiquity collecting. Perhaps he has thought better of his original hasty idea to confront  all by himself European ideas of what is right and proper to do with dugup antiquities. I did, however, offer to invite Tompa's new pal, UK metal detectorist John Howland to accompany him to give Polish observers a fuller picture of foreign collectors, but there was silence on that proposal too.

Vignette: Mad Hatter, supplier of requisites for subtle humor to US Diplomatic service since 1956.

PAS- Curt, Unhelpful and Covering-up?

What goes on here behind closed doors?
I've just had an answer (from a address) to my query sent the other day about the A20 Medway Trashed Grave site from the spade-wielding Jennifer Jackson, PAS Finds Liaison Officer, Kent. I'd written to ask her about whether there were any previous finds from the field being searched by the "Medway History Finders", in other words, whether they were targeting a known site. Guess what reply I got? It was curt:
I am afraid that we are not able to comment on the ongoing Treasure case.
Not able? I was not asking about the "Treasure case". Other things were found in that field. I did not even ask her if she really said that the Medway club had "done the right thing" by deep-hoiking everything within reach and whether that is the position of the British Museum. Should I?

In a second mail, I appended a thought which the PAS Liaison Officer dismissed in silence:
In the interests of furthering "best practice", the PAS surely should produce guidelines leaving no excuse for something like this to happen. "Responsible detecting" should include a more explicit requirement to secure finds in situ than the current vague wording of the CoP.
If she was my "liaison officer".... At times like this, I can see why some metal detectorists turn their back on the Scheme for its unhelpfulness and impoliteness. Perhaps it needs pointing out that liaison between "partners" goes two ways, the FLO represents the interests of archaeologists to finders, but also should be interacting with archaeologists and taking active part in all sectors of the heritage debate.

UPDATE 27.02.14
Despite the Kent online HER being knackered I managed to access some information concerning earlier finds from this site in the records, I am not saying more to avoid being accused of giving away the location, but I am now watching this one with added interest.The PAS database has quite a few finds from this parish including not a few of similar date to those we saw being hoiked by Medway History Finders. What is the relationship between them? Why is the PAS unwilling to answer a simple question about what was known about the site before that fateful "club dig"?


Focus on UK Metal Detecting: It's not just snobbism

UK metal detectorist Steve Broom is a rare bird, he's in senior management, so unlike the majority of his fellows, has the nous to be able to analyse an argument properly and articulate his own opinion. He's all for working together to understand a common past, a laudable aim I support entirely. His take on the "Maidstone A20 Trashed Grave Scandal" (comment 26 February 2014 13:12) is entirely, therefore, predictable:
What's important here is that people learn from this... You are right, the hole and pictures don't look good. Lets get over that and start talking about how it could have been done differently so that when the next significant find is made the detecting community can put this learning into practice and prove that it truly has been handled "responsibly".
I am glad of those scare quotes. As I have pointed out repeatedly, I think his approach (which is that of the Archaeological Establishment and all the rest - embodied in the PAS) is based on false premises. It somehow imagines that we are dealing with a bunch of blokes who are essentially like ourselves. But are they? The evidence we see from their own interactions among each other and with us suggests a different picture ('Normal People and Intelligent Discussion', Tuesday, 4 February 2014). The approach that we can "talk about it" assumes that there is a possibility to talk about this openly and frankly. Experience shows that, with all the best will in the world, it quite simply is not (just take a look at this comments thread for just one example). Without that, there is no possibility of the detecting community learning something from an exchange of views and thus no way to "put this learning into practice".

It seems to me that constant urging to "start" using a "liaison/partnership" model is totally missing the point. In the UK, we have already had sixteen years (more in Kent) doing precisely that. The PAS has (should have been) been banging its head against a brick wall "talking about how it can be done differently" all that time to all those thousands of finders they claim to have been talking to.

The trouble is that it seems, from everything one observes, that in actual fact the capacity for the average UK detectorist to understand any of this rocket-science type stuff is pretty limited. It stands to reason that "the UK detecting community" cannot put any "learning into practice" if it is basically, for certain reasons having an origin outside the hobby, unable to learn anything at all. I would point out that this perhaps should be phrased the other way round, I do not believe that it is detecting that causes these problems, I would rather say there is a tendency for detecting in the UK to attract a certain group of people.  PAS characterised them in social terms by postcode data, Minister Lammy saw them as including a lot of people "challenged by formal education". 

I am forever being criticised for sharing my observation that many of the people you come across on the UK detecting forums etc. are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, and many cannot even operate Basic English. My critics think it is an irrelevance and it is mean-spirited of me to note this. I do however, because for me it is is a fundamental fact which is the biggest stumbling block in the current "they can be educated/they can learn" model which is applied across the board in the UK. Many of the people the PAS are dealing with, or want to deal with, demonstrably cannot be educated, cannot learn. They're adults, have been right through school, but somehow we see time and time again in what they write and say, came out with basic skills missing. Low standards of literacy on such a scale in a certain group mean something, they do not happen by accident.

This is a problem which the PAS will not tell you about. But I bet it causes them all sorts of problems in their outreach. But shhhhhhh.... So if many of the "partners" cannot learn, they will not, so where does that put us? Shrug shoulders and turn away? Or advocate considering another approach? How long can we ignore the question, and pretend the problem simply does not exist?

Vignette:  Some people, with problems of their own, prefer confrontation to self-reflection.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The A20 Grave Trashing: Questions about the Timing of Events

There is a noticeable discrepancy between the two stories of the A20 grave find which raises a number of questions to which we will most likely never receive answers. This is quite typical of finds made by artefact hunters and reported. The finder "Whatunearth" (Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:40 am) describes what he did. there were TWO holes:  Sunday afternoon added:
the first hole was actually no different than a normal hole that anyone would have dug. Ok the entrance was widened to allow for the coil to go in just to get some extra depth after the first pin was found, other than that the other hair pin and the two large square ended brooches were dug out using my hand at the bottom of the hole no wider than 5 inches at around 20 inches give or take. [that's the two that came out broken - PMB]
The site organizers were informed at this stage and after many attempted calls and no answers to as many people as they know, the decision was made to widen the hole. This was due to the fact, a crowd was gathering around the hole and also we were very close to a main road.  We widened and found the circular brooch and some small bits [that'd be the rest of the grave assemblage - PMB]. Then we recovered the hole. [...]  I finally managed to get in contact with the FLO the next day and having explained the situation to her, she agreed that it was for the best. 
But in the same thread on the same forum, the Chairman of the detecting club ("Holedigger pete") has a different version (Re: Saxon Hoard found Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:10 pm): 
I am Pete Chairman of the club and was on site when the hoard was found, we rang our FLO Jennifer Jackson on the day and could not get hold of her. The next day Jennifer rang Greg and said she could not do nothing till Friday or the following week Greg informed about this and i was not happy. I tried to contact Jennifer but her phone was turned off, due to the find being close to a main road i contacted the 3 top people at the BM and sent them pictures these are the people who got things moving. They told me the site could not be left till Friday and they would get a team together for the next day and that the police would be informed about the area to keep an eye on it.[...] on the day i done what i thought was right to take out as much as we could without any damage to the area i could not sleep at night knowing nighthawkers could rob the site. The BM told me i did the right thing and i stand by what i did. The FLO's should have inplace a team to deal with finds like this 7 days a week and we should have phone numbers for this. (Last edited by Holedigger Pete on Wed Feb 19, 2014 4:20 pm, edited 1 time in total).
According to this version, part of the assemblage discovered on the one day (in the "first hole") and the decision to deep-hoik the rest would have been taken AFTER the communication with the FLO the next day after learning that an excavation could not be organized at the drop of a detectorist's bobble hat. Who were the "three top people at the BM" who were contacted (and when was this?) and how would it have been possible for them to "get a team together for the next day" at such short notice? Who were to be in this team? When was the team contacted? Why, after being assured by the "three top people in the BM" that a team was coming the next day did the Medway History Finders simply not take turns to guard the site overnight until the next day?

Is there a proper protocol recording the results of an interview with the finders and other participants of this free-for-all, wherever and whenever it was? Should there not be?

Focus on Metal Detecting: Pirate Ray Hits the Nail on the Head

Referring to the controversy over the Medway History Finders' scandalous treatment of an associated group of Anglo-Saxon finds, detectorist (I assume from the screen name) "PirateRay" (22-02-2014 15:28:10) wrote:
Fantastic finds. Just shows how much of our history there is still left to be found and recorded. Marshian's concern over the context may be valid but these days most metal- detectorist clubs are responsible and are aware of the other issues. Its the unregistered and those not in clubs that can be a bigger and damaging problem.
And that is the key, isn't it, proper registration of projects like this. Pirate Ray is just a bit confused, because at the moment this kind of thing goes on in a totally disorganized fashion, unregulated by unregistered individuals digging willy-nilly and creating all these problems when an archaeological response is unexpectedly required.

Zahi Hawass acquitted of illicit gain charges

Zahi Hawass acquitted of illicit gain charges Al-Masry Al-Youm
Ibrahim al-Heneidy, chairman of the Illicit Gain Authority, has acquitted Zahi Hawass, the former minister of antiquities, of the charges that were filed against him to that effect. Hawass’s lawyer said reports of the Justice Ministry experts said all income sources of his client proved to be legitimate. He also said the Money Laundering Department received clearance from abroad that Hawass has no bank accounts in foreign countries. Investigation found out that Hawass’s sources of income were from the 43 books he wrote and the lectures he delivered abroad. A number of Ministry of Antiquities employees had filed three complaints against Hawass, accusing him of stealing antiquities and selling them abroad. “The complaints filed against me were all spiteful,” Hawass said.

The US "Chabad library" case drags on, and on, and on...

I've no idea what this is all about, some cultural property legal lunacy from the US wanting to dictate terms to the rest of the world again. Nicholas O'Donnell, 'U.S. Again Asks Court to Ignore Russian Defiance of Chabad Judgment, and for Advance Notice to Hinder Plaintiffs’ Exercise of their Rights', Art Law Report February 25th, 2014. 

Focus on Metal Detecting: Tekkie Nonsense Writhing on Conservation

Metal detectorists reveal lack of
understanding of  the notion of conservation
It is quite a depressing task ploughing through the comments by Britain's (I'd guess mostly Kent's) metal detectorist showing what it is they have learnt (I use the term loosely) from sixteen years' multimillion pound outreach by the PAS. Take what Scirious (an NCMD representative) wrote (25-02-2014 10:38:46):
Mr. Barford[,] Your argument about taking items from the soil 'out of context' is wearing very thin and is generally not supported by many archaeologists nationally. What you and your cronies would seem to prefer is the rather negative option of not finding the items in the first place, leaving them where they are, just in case at some time in the future an archaeological dig will take place on that particular piece of land. We both know that this isn't possible. The few hundred professional achaeologists do not have the resources nor the time to check every farmer's field in the country.
That's no doubt what the rhino hunters and whalers say. All those horns and all that whale meat that would simply be hidden and lost out in the wild.  It seems to me that the whole aim of spending sixteen million quid on a portable antiquities scheme explaining things to finders is NOT that we have a general public that has not the faintest idea of archaeological conservation. The aims of setting it up were quite different, and that the PAS has failed abysmally in getting the information across to its "partners" comes out very well here. The "Medway History Finders" are clearly proud of having hoiked some nice glittery stuff (with "roobies on it, look at the kulah") at the expense of totally destroying the context (feature) in which they lay. According to this view, "not many archaeologists nationally" are at all concerned these days about items being taken out of context. Sixteen years of the PAS has shown that to be a "thin" argument and irrelevant concern for today's manner of "doing archaeology".

Another archaeologist had tried to make similar points on seeing the unholy mess created by the "Medway History Finders" in the photos. In reply, James Petts (23-02-2014 20:51:10)  ventures to write:
Christina. Your comments clearly show how ignorant your are about the honest detectorists out here and how they have contributed to the history of our country and the finds that no doubt you see in local museums in kent and the BM.[...] You also seem to forget that without the guys going out in all weather detecting every weekend the above finds would never have been found in the first place. Before you 'tarnish' all of us with the same brush please get your facts right.
Suddenly the hobby become "work", and for the public benefit, like fishing, drag racing, pigeon fancying, pheasant shooting, model trains, dressage training and campanology. Elsewhere James Petts also wrote (23-02-2014 21:49:38):
[...] If it had been for people like you it would still be in the ground rotting away and being damaged by farming machinery. At least it will end up in a museum rather than being sold on the black market which is what happens when night hawkes find stuff  Why don't you go off and do something worth while rather than writhing s**t like that
Christina had already noted that the survival of these items 1500 years rather suggested they were not "rotting in the ground" as the trite but unproven tekkie trope has it, neither twenty inches down below the plough level in old grassland would they be being "damaged by farming machinery". I rather think it is Mr Petts who is "writhing" in flagrant disregard of the facts, and revealing he has not the foggiest about conservation. Another like thinker (I use the term loosely) is the above-mentioned "Scirious" who wrote (24-02-2014 13:46:01):
Christina, you clearly have absolutely no clue [...] If these items hadn't been found by the detectorists then they probably would have remained hidden as they have for more than a thousand years.
yes, hidden and SAFE in the ground from the likes of the clueless people of the Medway club hoiking them out blindly. Another one who sees hoiking as public service "work" is Edward Penny (writing 23-02-2014 21:32:36):
This find has come to light due to the efforts of unqualified 'hobbyists' working tirelessly most weekends for sometimes more that 10 hours a day. Their combined knowledge and determination is due to them wanting to find our countries undiscovered history. Their efforts go widely unnoticed, but [...] needs to be acknowledged. Undoubtedly archaeology has bought us a lot, but it's been around a long time. When you consider that metal detecting hasn't even been around for a quarter of the time that archaeology has, it has claims to a vast amount of spectacular discoveries in modern times. How many archaeologists spend every weekend digging for the love of undiscovered history? Whereas the metal 'detectorists' work the week with their normal day jobs then spend the weekend doing what they do because they are genuinely interested and want to increase the knowledge we all love to share. Archaeology may have the upper hand when it comes to 'class', with their position being regarded as 'professional', but the so called 'hobbyists' are rich in knowledge and passion for what they do. Their feelings about the history of our land are much greater than any Tony Robinson.
It's amazing the guy does not fall flat on his face with that massive chip on his shoulder. It seems Mr Penny reckons archaeology is some kind of competition to find "the best stuff". Now, not all metal detectorists work in the week, nor do all  "do what they do because they want to increase the knowledge we all love to share". Many of them share only a very small amount of the knowledge from their hoiking - and many actually destroy archaeological information in their quest. We see it very clearly here, where the hoikers destroyed any feature the objects were in and any textile remains and beads and other small pieces of information, were just discarded by the hoikers intent on by hook and crook getting out all the shiny bits. It really never ceases to amaze that artefact hunters, targeted by sixteen million quids' worth of outreach, cannot even get their heads round the notion that archaeology is a bit more than a TV show presented by Tony Robinson.

The idea that archaeology is some kind of popularity contest is followed up by "Apulmax" (23-02-2014 22:02:55), again replying to somebody who'd expressed concern about the free-for-all seen in the Kent Mercury photos:
[...] These guys have saved our history by NOT letting it rot in the ground. Your feedback clearly shows you are a minority and have nothing better to do than voice YOUR opinion which is clearly wrong and unjustified

"Holedigger pete" (24-02-2014 17:35:28) replied to the same person in exactly the same vein:
[...]  i v been on archaeological digs and iv been doing detecting 25 years not a thing was destroyed or any damage caused. I see i have more thumbs up than you do so need not say no more.
All his mates have been vigorously "liking" their mate's comments and "unliking" anything that contradicts their feeling of entitlement. Since normal people have better things to do than read (still less "like") tekkie nonsenses, the result is predictable - but I would say it reflects the cliquishness of UK metal detecting than any true public opinion. Then James Pett again (24-02-2014 20:32:32, and again replying to the same concerns), brings out the next tired tekkie justification, after repeating what he'd said earlier about "without metal detectors these amazing finds would never have been found!", he goes on:
We are not talking about detectorists going on already discovered sites are we. This story is about the discovery of these amazing artifacts (sic) that will now be enjoyed by everyone.
Please don't get us mixed up with night hawkes and scheduled sites robbers because we are neither!
Now, my information is that this site IS actually known, that there were antiquarian investigations there and apparently (though since we do not know where it is I cannot check that) the site is actually in the lee of a scheduled site. That aside, in accusing critics of stereotypical thinking, these apologists fall into the same trap. Nobody was accusing the Medway History Finders of doing anything illegal. The issue is one of best practice and responsibility. Nothing more. I doubt many of them can absorb that idea. In reply to the same person, the semi-literate Fudgeeeey (passinitly intrestid in 'istry no doubt)  repeated what his fellow detectorists had suggested that the tekkies had "found these and saved them from being lost for ever", adding in the spirit of true liaison and co-operation (25-02-2014 17:02:46):
you archaeologist make me sick. I run one of the largest metal detecting groups on facebook and i can tell you we are not cowboys. Take a look at yourselves i would . You do more damage to site than any detectorist does.
Hmmm. Is that what the PAS and BM told you? Or did you work that one out for yourself? That sounds like saying that biologists that dissect dead animals do more damage to "animals" than those who merely kill one species and cut their horns off.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

"People stealing souvenirs from Isle of Man’s ancient forest"

Alan Vincent, 'People stealing souvenirs from Isle of Man’s ancient forest', Isle of Man Today, 25/02/14.

The recent bad weather Britain has been experiencing has led to storms which have stripped shingle and sand from beaches, which in Cranstal, Bride, on the Isle of Man earlier this month uncovered an area of prehistoric forest:
Manx National Heritage has appealed to the public not to disturb the prehistoric forest [...] after reports of people taking pieces of it [...] Curator of field archaeology at Manx National Heritage, Andrew Johnson, said: ‘I received an email saying people had been seen removing pieces from the site.[...] 'It is regretable, we’re not saying it’s illegal or a crime, but what we are trying to do is get a small number of local specialists, who have expressed an interest, to assist in examining the site over the coming weeks. ‘It’s primary evidence that we could make use of in any scientific investigation of these remains. ‘All I can ask is that if people can resist the temptation to help themselves, it will help us to understand the site much better [...] ‘There’s a whole range of analysis providing deposits aren’t disturbed. ‘I completely understand the public interest but it makes it harder to take this great opportunity if things are disturbed.’
It's not illegal you see. Like when artefact collectors with metal detectors are "helping themselves" and removing pieces (souvenirs of the past) from sites inland, ruining them as a source of untouched primary evidence that we could make use of in any proper  investigation of these remains which will help us to understand the site much better.

What will be the results of politely asking members of the public to exercise self-restraint will be (a) on Manx beaches and (b) on 'productive' archaeological sites inland?  Of course if we were to have a team of people in the UK specialising in portable antiquities issues, and actively explaining the value of archaeological material in its contexts to artefact hunters (with a modest budget of maybe over a million pounds a year), we might see some effects among the latter. The trouble is, we don't.  We just have the PAS and its ever-expanding database of loose decontextualised objects.

Treasure USA: California Couple Finds $10M in Gold Coins Buried in Yard

A Californian couple found a cache of 1,427 mint-condition gold coins dating from 1847 to 1894 buried buried in six tin cans in the shadow of an old tree. Although the face value of the coins only adds up to about $27,000,at today's market prices the haul could be worth up to ten million according to David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service of Santa Ana, which recently authenticated them.
[The finders] have lived for several years on the rural property where the coins were found. They have no idea who put them there, he said. The pair are choosing to remain anonymous, Kagin said, in part to avoid a renewed gold rush to their property by modern-day prospectors armed with metal detectors. Image:

Associated Press, 'California Couple Finds $10M in Gold Coins Buried in Yard', February 25th 2014.

UPDATE 3.3.14
It turns out the finders in fact may not be able to legally sell these coins, as they may have been stolen from the San Francisco mint, and if so therefore are government property (Tom Stienstra, 'SF heist at turn of century may explain buried gold', San Francisco Gate March 3, 2014). If these coins are linked with that theft, it would shed new light on an old crime:
New information, which adds credibility that the heist was an inside job at the Mint, became available late Monday afternoon from research by historian Jack Trout: An 1866 Liberty $20 gold piece — which did not include the words “In God We Trust” — was part of the haul, a coin that alone is worth more than $1 million. “This was someone’s private coin, created by the mint manager or someone with access to the inner workings of the Old Granite Lady (San Francisco Mint),” Trout said [...] I don’t believe that coin ever left The Mint until the robbery. For it to show up as part of the treasure find links it directly to that inside job at the turn of the century at the San Francisco Mint.”

Verdict due in Rome on Getty's Victorious Youth

The verdict was due in Rome today on the Getty's appeal of the seizure order for the ancient bronze statue 'Victorious Youth'. It has now been deferred until tomorrow.   

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "The "A20" Medway-Finders-Trashed Anglo-Saxon Grave" - Did they Have to Dig it Up?

The "Medway History Finders" say they had to trash  an archaeological feature containing seventh century personal ornaments "because of where the find was made very close to the main road we had to dig the hole to stop nighthawks robbing the place". What nighthawks? Why the nighthawks on the road, you see.

What is the risk? Let us imagine (for the sake of argument) that a car goes past the site on the A20 once every three seconds. When did the club dig start and finish on 16th February?  We don't know, let's say it started at nine, and finished at six as it gets dark. Nine hours. That would be something like 10800 cars could have driven past in that time. How many of them contained observant nighthawks? Well, the estimate that there are 10000 metal detectorists in the UK means that one in six thousand people are metal detectorists, a minority in other words. We are continually told that the number of nighthawks is a "small minority' within that metal detecting community. If there were 12000 cars driving past, that means statistically only two other metal detectorists were travelling that road at the time the rally was on. But the trashed grave was only dug in the afternoon. A metal detectorist driving past the gap in the trees through which the cluster of figures on a distant hilltop might be seen might be looking at a given moment to the right of the car, to the left, or the front, or looking at his delightful female travelling companion as she laughs at another of his jolly tekkie jokes. So, what are the chances that the event was seen by a single metal detectorist, let along one of the "few" (we are told) dishonest ones?

We must remember that people driving along the A20 should have their eyes on the road, not gawping at groups of figures on a distant hilltop glimpsed through the trees. A group of people in a field could be bird-watchers, vermin-catchers, botanists, druids. Bombing along the A20 at 60mph, even if you saw some blokes on a distant hilltop and recognised they were metal detectorists, how could you pinpoint that particular spot in the dark afterwards, especially in a hill covered with other patches of disturbed earth? Pretty impossible actually when you think about it.

Even if... What could the metal detectorists do to safeguard the site for the night? They could camp out on the site, take it in turns to spend the night in the field. In their cars if need be. On the Monday a site guard could be hired from a security firm, so it would only be one night. This was the option adopted by the guys that dug up the child's lead coffin a few weeks back

Access to the hole could be blocked. The farmer could be asked to park his tractor in the field overnight with a bit of heavy agricultural machinery over the spot. Failing that, a concerned metal detectorist with a car capable of getting there could drive into the field (it looks quite dry under-wheel) and park his car over the infilled hole (along the slope!). He'd not even have to stay in it. This would draw attention to the spot, but there's not a lot a nighthawk could do about it, metal detecting under a family saloon is somewhat a difficult task even in daylight.

Alternatively they could render finding the spot difficult. They could quickly turn over a few areas of soil in immediately adjacent areas shallowly and scatter some modern non-ferrous objects around in them (the green waste petition tells us that aluminium foil and can sherds are a nuisance), a nighthawk would spend a few hours trying to find the 'right' hole in the dark.

I am sure there are in fact several dozen things artefact hunters could do to render the findspot secure from illicit tampering. Surely a mastery of the armoury of methods is part of responsible metal detecting. Trashing a site by hoiking everything out is neither best practice nor responsible detecting.  Search agreements should contain such a clause referring to this necessity to avoid loss of valuable finds and information, and both parties (landowner and searcher) should declare readiness to engage in (and tolerate) such action as may be necessary to protect a find left in situ.

Indeed, why have the PAS and Treasure Unit (perhaps together with the Scottish Treasure Trove people) not issued guidelines about this already? How may Treasures have been dug out by metal detectorists infected with the Gold Rush and enjoying themselves immensely at the expense of the archaeological record, weakly justifying themselves by painting a "what if" image of rampaging nighthawks just poised to grab what they leave behind?

Vignette: Safeguarding findspot from overnight interference, not rocket science.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Digging up "The A20 Medway-Finders-Trashed Anglo-Saxon Grave"

Informative video: Anglo Saxon Hoard (The Sweetman Hoard) Medway History Finders. This fifty minute video is overlong, and could have benefited from editing. There is a  lot of jiggy camera-work in the first part of the film, with a distorting lens, mostly used pointing to the ground. The idea seems to be to prevent us seeing the horizon and thus identifying the site. What we can see is that in the first part of the film, the detectorists are on their Sunday 'club dig' in a large (stubble) field from which there is no road visible. Here they apparently could not be seen from the road, if they'd stayed here, there would be no need for what happened later, there would be no need for the subsequent panic that they might have been spotted by a "nighthawk". They are apparently on a Roman site and hoiking out Roman artefacts, then up comes a James I gold Unite (Second coinage, 1604-19; fourth bust - somebody's calling it 'Charles') in bad condition, everybody gets excited. Note also the comments (5:02) by a "Christine" about a grave.

YouTube, posted by Medway History Finders

Then the cameraman struggles up a hill, the flanks of which seem riddled with unfilled holes of some kind to see the rumoured "hoard". Over to the right is a stand of Scots Pine, beyond which a motorway is visible. The members gather (slack-jawed it says) to watch Greg "uncover a Saxon hoard". 

Screenshot from Medway History Finders
YouTube video in public domain  for purposes of review criticism and discussion

Of course there is a good reason to be happy that its a hoard (ie potentially a Treasure find - so there's a reward). As one bloke says to the finder "You'll get a new machine out of this", and another pipes, "new machine? He can get 'is own field!" This is why it was reported, the finders think it's a hoard (as the title of the film proclaims).

There's a big hole at this stage and Greg is beaming away, stomping around in its bottom. He later says the finds (the two square headed brooches, one pin, the rim of the annular brooch) were "broken by the plough". They look pretty fresh breaks to me. Then there are shots of this "hoard"- clearly a dismembered grave group.

The theme of the fifty-minute video now shifts  at 10 minutes in to the excavation, filmed by a metal detectorist (especially keen to turn on the camera whenever a metal detector is employed). There are Kent County Council archaeologists and Jennifer Jackson the FLO on site and a lady with blue painted fingernails and a cutesy hat. The photography shows the horizon, but the features visible in the background don't look like those along any bit of the A20 near Maidstone I can see on Google Earth (and I spent quite a bit of time scanning the entire route looking for them). I think we are being misled about where this find is. There is unfortunately an extremely irritating running commentary by a loud Estuary-English numpty who obviously has little idea what he's looking at. There is a lot of attention paid in the film to scrabbling around in the detectorists' spoil and trample, with a lot of metal detecting waving featured. Then the detectorists' hoiking hole is laboriously emptied, it turns out to be pretty extensive (23:25), sort of about half-a-grave-size:

Screenshot from Medway History Finders
YouTube video in public domain  for purposes of review criticism and discussion

A glass mosaic bead (the FLO says it's Anglo-Saxon) was found right in the middle of the backfill of the hole. Where are the rest that would have been strung between the two lugs on the back of the pair of disc-headed pins?

At 25 mins we see the soil around the edge of the detectorists' hoik-hole being energetically spade dug (by the FLO) with no sieving - despite the fact that the detectorist Greg said he'd found the broken pin only "six inches" down, in other words in the same level of soil now being summarily chucked (perhaps the FLO does not really believe it, the finder presents another version elsewhere in the video). It has obviously been raining, there is no shelter over the trench. There is precious little attention paid in the film to the process of going from the tekkie-hoik-hole to a full blown mini-archaeological trench.

This is a poor piece of archaeology, in soils like we see here a trench 5x5 m is the minimum that should have been dug here to seek the ephemeral traces of a grave. Instead it was a much smaller trench that was dug. The film shows some messy scrabbling around in the hole, the trench is clearly far too small to get any proper observation. This is all too frequently the case when archaeologists respond to a metal-detector-induced 'emergency', where there are no resources to do a proper job. Even tools seem to be in short supply, the FLO is using a spade where a shovel would be more appropriate.

Screenshot from Medway History Finders
YouTube video in public domain  for purposes of review criticism and discussion

The film of the fieldwork breaks off when the team are desperately searching for a piece of metal in the section, found by metal detecting waving. It seems odd that they'd be doing this in the ploughsoil considering we saw a huge amount of it being shovelled away with no careful scrutiny of its contents earlier. What is going on? Was it part of some pro-detecting publicity stunt, to give Mr Loudmouf and his mates hovering around something to do? Anyway, look in the section at the point they are searching, isn't that an infilled mertal detecting hoik hole? Somebody's been over that pasture before.

Then the film shifts to Finder Greg's bedroom (why the bedroom was chosen as the scenery is not explained), where we see the finds have already been cleaned apparently by the finder.

Basically this video shows a catalogue of utter disasters. The tekkies wandered off the lower slopes (not visible it would seem from the "A20" or whatever road really goes) onto a hilltop they say is visible from the A20 (or whatever road it is). This is how they justify ripping out an enormous hole half a metre deep, trashing anything left of the feature these things came from.  They had not come prepared to secure their find in any other way. They just hoiked the lot out, with no regard for the niceties of observation and recording. The finds were cleaned off by the metal detectorist and kept in his bedroom.

Then along come the archaeologists. Not prepared, no shelter, tiny garden sieves which soon clog, apparently not enough tools or time. It looks like they dug what they could in one day, no trace of a portacabin site office/guard hut (or portable toilets). Shoestring operation. They apparently found nothing much. The FLO is on site rubbing shoulders with the site-trashing artefact hunters, all smiles instead of giving them a serious bollocking for their thoughtless and selfish actions. If the FLO had done her job properly, those metal detectorists would not now be showing the world proudly what they'd done, she'd have made them realise that what we see here is NOT "best practice". Instead "Holedigger pete" claims (22-02-2014 17:19:40) "The BM and our FLO said we done the best thing by taking out what we could". That's not outreach Ms Jackson, its complicity.

UPDATE 26.2.14
I have now located the findspot on Google earth without any help, just on what the detectorist's video shows. I'm not saying where it is, but I bet a load of nighthawks also have worked it out.  

UPDATE 27.2.14

Hmm. The Medway History Finders have just made their film "private". It seems they realise it shows too much that really does not put what they did in any good light. That seems to me like running away from taking responsibility for their actions. The film where the guy's in a hoodie in the finder's bedroom is still up ('Hoiked Finds Seen in Greg's Bedroom', Thursday, 20 February 2014).

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