Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What "Wasted Opportunity"? (3)

This is the third part of an examination of the postulate found on the blog of Canadian collector who calls himself "John Hooker FSA", and contained in a guest post written by a metal detectorist who calls himself "Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni" (sic). It  concerns "a story of a wasted opportunity" and is supposed to be a critique on British archaeology and is typical of the chip-on-the-shoulder anti-establishment moans we hear from many collectors and amateur antiquarians and those who portray themselves as such.

Mr Crawford writes of one "Jim" who "has spent most of his life metal detecting the fields around Bidford on Avon, Warwickshire" and in and after 2009 scanned the soil dumps from overburden removal of an investigation of a known site in the car park of a local pub which had been taken to a nearby farm. He reports he found "many late Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds".
"Jim scanned the discarded soil, recorded all the Roman coins, Roman brooches, Anglo-Saxon Sceats and important brooches. The last time I spoke to Jim, he had recorded at least sixty early Anglo-Saxon coins, including many new varieties according to the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge". [these would have been recorded in the Department of Coins and Medals' Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds].* "I only posses one photograph from back then: two large Anglo-Saxon saucer brooches that he found [...]".
The first thing that we need to do is see how many Roman coins, Roman brooches, sceats and important Anglo-Saxon brooches are recorded from Bidford-Upon-Avon in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database in the decade after the 1st January 2009 which should include the bulk of "Jim's" finds from this topsoil dump.  The grand total is 23 from the whole parish, ten coins, two brooches, none Anglo-Saxon. Giving the finder fifteen years to locate and report all those objects brings the total of brooch fragments to 13 (only three Early Medieval) and Roman coins to 30 - not all of these however need have come from this site and "Jim's" searching. I think the hard evidence suggests pretty clearly that instead of the massive "lost opportunity" claimed, we have here another lapse into fantasy by the artefact hunter lobby.

 Mr Hooker FSA suggests that instead of responsible reporting with the PAS, we should look for evidence of Jim counteracting the "wasted opportunity" to gain great advances in our knowledge of the past in the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds create by the Department of Coins and Medals of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. Well, let's do that. Searching the database for 'just about everything' pre-1066 from Bidford-Upon-Avon does not bring up "about sixty" results. We get 23. Twenty-three is not sixty - more tekkie fantasy, it seems.

Moreover, not all can be from this find. Seven have record dates of 1987 and 1988. Even if every single other post-1990 record in the EMC was of an object reported by "Jim" from this topsoil dump, he only reported here a maximum of 16 (26%) of the "at least sixty Anglo-Saxon" coins it is reported he found. That is more or less the sort of ratio we expect of non-reporting by English and Welsh artefact hunters in general, here for every four items apparently found, only one gets recorded. Note that this is an example held up by the antiquarian fellow and his metal detecting pals as a "good example". My expectation is that the ones they do not want to talk about present a far worse situation.

It really is not  "prejudices and outdated education" which sees this as abysmal. There has been an expensive outreach scheme trying to deal with this problem for eighteen years, and costing millions of pounds and resulting in the overall loss of information on millions of lost artefacts, dug up wantonly and spirited away in defiance of this scheme. British archaeologists tried "thinking outside the box", which is why the PAS was set up in the first place. Now it is I who urge fellow archaeologists .
"Don't blindly believe everything you are told; question everything [which the supporters of artefact hunting and collecting tell you]. Only then can we move forward from [this dreadful situation].

Finally, I wonder whether "Jim" and the landowner who has a contract with him took legal advice on the question of the ownership status of the objects he took. Are these artefacts the property of the landowner on whose property they are now on, or are they lost property of the landowner of the pub carpark site?   If Baz Thugwit puts an advert in the paper, "old sofa for sale, five quid or nearest offer, buyer collects" and Jim Nottatheef buys it and helps Baz carry it out of his living room to the waiting  white van, and when he gets it home Jim finds a wallet with 400 quid in it which has become wedged in the side, is it Baz's to keep? Actually no. Not by law it is not. In the same way the developer contracted archaeologists to remove soil from the carpark site but unless the contract specifies otherwise, did not make them his agents to dispose of valuable items within that soil. I would say the legal status of the objects whiuch Jim has (and which the PAS and Fitzwilliam have apparently handled) is somewhat "iffy".

* This addition made presumably by John Hooker FSA. 

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