Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Digging up "The A20 Medway-Finders-Trashed Anglo-Saxon Grave" (Version 2)

Since somebody from Medway History Finders seems intent on getting the original post taken down to prevent people reading this account and seeing the evidence for themselves (how's that for transparency?), I've decided to duplicate this post. It is the same as the one above, except I've modified the pictures still further. 

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.
The YouTube video the detectorists don't want you to see,
originally 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 the
YouTube video the detectorists don't want you to see, originally posted by Medway History Finders.
It shows a hill, some trees and some grass with the shadow of the cameraman,
and a text which tells of how the tekkies stood to "watch with mouths open"
as one of their fellows hoiked some |Anglo-Saxon grave goods.

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 the
YouTube video the detectorists don't want you to see, originally posted by Medway History Finders.
It shows two archaeologists trying to make sense of the unholy mess
made in the artefact hunters' frenzied grabfest,
an emptied deep-hoik hole the size of a tabletop
dug down onto and into the underlying natural,
several people standing around.  The size
of the hole and volume of material removed is of especial note.

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 the
YouTube video the detectorists don't want you to see,
originally posted by Medway History Finders.
It shows two archaeologists now trying to understand
in the base of their own trench what was left (not very much)
by the artefact hunters' frenzied grabfest, you
can see that the hoik hole extended down onto and into
the underlying natural. Nothing survives after that.

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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