Tuesday, 25 February 2014

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).



11 comments:

Andrew Mayfield said...

Hi Paul, I've enjoyed reading your blogs on this case. I'm the community archaeologist for Kent and the co-director of the dig with the Kent FLO. We did come prepared for the dig, with plenty of kit, including a total station to tie all the work in. We were prepared for a dig lasting a few days (and had a burial licence in place), but as it was our trench over the finders hole revealed no evidence for a grave cut. All soil from the trench was checked and detected for further finds and all the material will go to the British Museum next week. Updates on the case will be posted in due course at www.facebook.com/archaeologyinkent

Andrew.

Paul Barford said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. I can only go on what the video shows.

I am wondering however whether a total station and waving metal detectors around saves the situation when the hole is too small and dug too quickly to achieve anything on a soil like that. We both know you need to open a wider area and sometimes let the exposed surface 'weather' a bit to see features dug and rapidly backfilled like a grave.

I hope when the updates are published, you'll come clean on where the site is, and what you really think (from an archaeological point of view) about these oiks hoiking the whole lot out and totally ruining any chance of identifying the nature of the find. I bet you don't though.

It is quite telling, isn't it, that it was precisely in Kent that the first attempts to work "with" these people was made, it's Kent that was always cited as a good example of co-operation and indeed a study of AS finds was one of the things used to "prove" that. Yet after a decade and a half and sixteen million quid, we get this sort of hoiked-it-out-and-got-it-in-my-bedroom crap and are told that it is a "jolly good thing" and we should be grateful to the hoikers. I really see no fruits of a decade and a half (or more) liaison here.

In my opinion, this is just utterly bonkers. This is not by any means "community archaeology" and it's not what should be happening.





Gary Herbert said...

Mr Barford, I think you should stop aiming your one sided views against metal detectorists, you clearly have no clue what your talking about, how about you start a blog on dodgy archaeologists? as you seem to think there better than everyone else, I beg to differ.
UNITED KINGDOM - An archaeologist who stole three 17th-century vases discovered during the development of SouthGate shopping centre in Bath was caught out four years later after trying to sell the items on eBay.

James Vessey, 35, was employed by the Museum of London Archaeology during an excavation in 2008.

The team uncovered three Bellarmine vessels dating back to between 1650 and 1700, which were traditionally used to protect against witchcraft, but the items disappeared before they could be delivered to the museum for analysis.

They resurfaced last year when another archaeologist spotted one of the vases for sale on eBay and contacted the museum's project officer Bruno Barber.

Police then executed a warrant at Vessey's narrowboat home in Oxfordshire.

Bath Magistrates Court was told that Vessey, who admitted theft, had a history of stealing historical artefacts from archaeological digs which he was working on, and in 2001 had been jailed for 15 months.

Andrea Edwards, prosecuting, read a statement from Mr Barber outlining the impact of the theft of the Bellarmine vessels. He said not only had the crime cast suspicion over other archaeologists, but had led to the loss of potentially significant historical evidence.

The court heard Vessey was no longer working as an archaeologist and had been dealing with the illness and death of both his parents at the points in his life when he had committed his crimes.

He was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 270 hours of unpaid community work, as well as to compensate the man who had bought the vase from him on eBay.

Gary Herbert said...

Mr Barford and others!!
None of you clearly have any clue what your talking about.. you just want to vent some uninformed anger at people doing what is a legal and interesting hobby, the finds that are made , in general are reported to the PAS and may I remind you that 91% of the finds that the BM has received in the last 12 months have come from metal detectorists, archaeologists account for 4%, if we didn't find this stuff it would either be lost to the plough or chemicals on the fields
why don't you find someone else to pick on,, and just to level the playing field a bit why not start a blog on this!!
UNITED KINGDOM - An archaeologist who stole three 17th-century vases discovered during the development of SouthGate shopping centre in Bath was caught out four years later after trying to sell the items on eBay.

James Vessey, 35, was employed by the Museum of London Archaeology during an excavation in 2008.

The team uncovered three Bellarmine vessels dating back to between 1650 and 1700, which were traditionally used to protect against witchcraft, but the items disappeared before they could be delivered to the museum for analysis.

They resurfaced last year when another archaeologist spotted one of the vases for sale on eBay and contacted the museum's project officer Bruno Barber.

Police then executed a warrant at Vessey's narrowboat home in Oxfordshire.

Bath Magistrates Court was told that Vessey, who admitted theft, had a history of stealing historical artefacts from archaeological digs which he was working on, and in 2001 had been jailed for 15 months.

Andrea Edwards, prosecuting, read a statement from Mr Barber outlining the impact of the theft of the Bellarmine vessels. He said not only had the crime cast suspicion over other archaeologists, but had led to the loss of potentially significant historical evidence.

The court heard Vessey was no longer working as an archaeologist and had been dealing with the illness and death of both his parents at the points in his life when he had committed his crimes.

He was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 270 hours of unpaid community work, as well as to compensate the man who had bought the vase from him on eBay.

Paul Barford said...

On the contrary Mr Herbert, I know exactly what I am talking about and can spell it a good sight better.

Two wrongs do NOT make a right, I've discussed the Vessey case before: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2013/05/bath-archaeological-thief-caught-after.html

I tell you what, YOU start another tekkie anti-archaeological blog, look at Texas tekkie Dick Stout's "Stout Standards" (sic) for some ideas.

Paul Barford said...

http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2013/05/bath-archaeological-thief-caught-after.html?showComment=1370015888748#c966693930626384587

inbflatminor said...

The videos you have on your site belong to me and are copyright protected, which you do NOT have permission from me to display them on your site. Please remove them with immediate effect to prevent legal action taken against you. I will also be informing your website host of the same and ask them to take your site offline until you remove all of my content forthwith.

inbflatminor said...

The video footage you have on your site belong to me and are copyright protected. You do NOT have permission from to display them on your site. Please remove them with immediate effect to prevent legal action taken against you. I will also be informing your website host of the same and ask them to take your site offline until you remove all of my content forthwith.

Paul Barford said...

We've been through all this before, the "video" is not on my blog, there is a link to it. The video is where it was originally put on You Tube and the person who placed it there enabled embedding, which as has been pointed out is placing it in the public domain, at which point it is available in the usual manner for review, criticism and comment.

"inbeflatminor" is not a proper name, therefore not a legal entity. As the acknowledgement says, the video was posted by "Medway History Finders", if they were using it in a manner not in accordance with your wishes, I suggest you take it up with them. Threaten them with legal action.

The screenshots were chosen, produced and edited by me.

The person who took that jiggy film was guilty of some crap camerawork. He needs to practice more. It lacked wider angled shots placing the find in its local context. The sound quality was bad, you could not hear what people were saying and the loud voice-over with its inane questions was highly irritating. The editing was appalling, some of the scenes were in the wrong sequence. It was very difficult understanding what was going on.

karl-james langford said...

Well done for keeping the flag flying one day day this horrific hobby of destroying our archaeology by metal detecting will stop.

Karl-James Langford PGDipAH
Professional archaeologist
with Archaeology Cymru

Paul Barford said...

Gary Herbert has sent two comments, both of which I am disallowing as they (a) add nothing to the discussion (b) are merely ad hominem attacks and name -calling and (c) the spelling is atrocious.

I have a policy here (principle 9) of not allowing my guests to attack each other through the comments section of this blog. Respect that.

By all means contest what Mr Langford said but if you want to do it here, do so by reasoned argument and without calling him, or anyone else, names. And sort out how to spell the words you intend to use, makes you look less of a fool.



 
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