Thursday, 24 July 2014

Questions About Didcot Mirror Fundraising

 "Discovered by a metal detectorist in the Didcot area prior to 2007, it is a rarity"

People are still trying to raise the £33000 quid to pay off an artefact hunter and his partner, the owner of its findspot, to put it in a museum in the UK. The Oxfordshire museum to be precise. It is said to be "extremely rare" ("there are only 18 complete and decorated mirrors are known from the later Iron Age" in Britain). Heritage Trust say: 'Say No to this British Iron Age mirror being lost to the nation'. I say "why?". Why? Minister Vaizey is reported as saying, “The Didcot Mirror is a beautiful object dating from the Iron Age and would be a tremendous addition to any one of ... " well, actually any museum in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere willing to buy it and exhibit it as an example of British culture. Like the Brits exhibit thousands of Greek vases, Egyptian reliefs, Chinese jades and Indian holy images and goodness-knows-what else, suggesting that the people of those countries (a) should be jolly pleased their culture is deemed worthy of display in a prestige gallery in London or Northampon and (b) if they want to see them, then they can get a visa, book a hotel and flight and come over to see them. Why actually, can the Didcot mirror not "leave the country" in a globalised world? What is so special about the Didcot mirror (one of eighteen known) and so special about it staying in Oxfordshire or the UK?

If this object is a National Treasure (of outstanding aesthetic importance, and of outstanding significance to the study of Iron Age Britain, the development of decorative styles in the period, and the evolution of Iron Age mirrors), then what are we doing let metal detectorists hoik them out of the ground willy nilly and conspire with the landowners of the land containing the archaeological site it came from to flog it off to the highest bidder? Either these things are national treasures which need protecting from hoikers and floggers or they are not - in which case we can happily wave them bye-bye. Either Britain protects the archaeological heritage from damaging exploitation  or it does not - but then don't expect the British public to fork out tens of thousands of pounds from their own pockets to put right the damage done by lax policies.As for the archaeo-whinging
"Mirrors from southern England, like this specimen are highly  significant for our understanding of the later Iron Age, and offer important insights  into the social changes which occurred in the century before the  Roman conquest in AD 43".
Do they? In what way will having it in a British museum do that which the other eighteen cannot?  In what way will an adequate record (like the millions of hoiked objects recorded in the PAS) perhaps with a nice electrotype expertly made with a silicone mould not suffice? Most artefacts enter ephemeral artefact collections with far less than that.

The decision on the export licence application for the Mirror will be deferred for a period extended until 14 September in order to pay the finder and sponsoring landowner their £33,000. I say, let it go abroad, to somebody whose already found the money to look after it - something the British seem reluctant to do. Maybe when enough hoiked metalwork is sold off on the open market people will begin to take notice of what is happening to Britain's buried archaeology at the hands of treasure hunters.

The Mirror and the Minister
Minister blocks export of national treasure
Bid to find UK buyer for Iron Age mirror 

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