Monday, 14 December 2015

Illiterate Alert: Historiography an Alien Concept for Collectors

Long on the insults, short on the knowledge, a British metal detectorist is heard to gloat on a website near you:
There’s going to be a wailing and gnashing of teeth in certain [...] quarters following a detector-found mixed hoard. Note the words ‘metal detectorist’ and not amateur archaeologist, or even, professional archaeologist. Detectorist James Mather’s hoard find in Watlington, Oxfordshire, is set to rewrite the medieval history books with his spectacular find of 186 Anglo-Saxon coin, seven pieces of jewellery, and fifteen ingots. Why? Experts are saying that the find shows that Alfred the Great – one of England’s most revered historical figures – ‘airbrushed’ a rival king from history. The little known Mercian king, Ceolwulf II, mostly forgotten by history and known only as the “Unwise,” helped Alfred to historical prominence not to mention a battle victory or two, but who Alfred later dropped faster than one of his hot, burnt cakes (US readers check put the Burnt Cakes story).
Yes, do read some books metal detecting blog readers.  I think if you did you might find some that discuss the redaction of the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in fact going back to something like the 1860s) which discuss precisely this aspect - it is called Quellenforschung and historians are actually quite good at it and really don't need guffawing metal detectorists to provide a coin with "a picture on it" to tell us what they already know. But to find out what they (we) know, metal detectorists (allegedly "passinitly intrestid in th' 'istry") would have to read about it in more than a comic book in Simple English "How Alfred Burnt the Cakes".

Hole and soil block - what is CONTEXT?
What this reveals however is that once again, that creaky old PAS now in its "Learning, Volunteers and Audiences" guise is doing sweet nothing to disseminate learning to its volunteers and audiences. Instead of fobbing off the great unwashed public with some dumbdown "gosh the experts did not know that, how exciting" fluff, their press releases should be providing proper information about what we know about the period and in what specific way this hoard provides archaeological, not pictorial, information.

In which case, I would argue that confirming a 'Kings and Battles history' is not the only issue here. It is the social context of this deposit which we need to know about (and tell the paying public why). What archaeological information was obtained from the little one-metre square hole about the site, settlement, landscape and social context of the deposition of these objects? In what were they deposited? What lies around them, and how do we know?

Mr Mather?

UPDATE 14th Dec 2015
Golly, you have to be particularly thick to write a blog post castigating somebody for calling your mates illiterates, but to do so in a way that shows you yourself have not really understood what you've read. Nevertheless, some coin dealers too seem to have literacy issues of this depth: 
A characteristically sneering blog utterance [...] predicts wailing and gnashing of teeth among collectors and detectorists ignorant of historiography
Duh. See above. What was that about better to keep quiet and be thought stupid than open your mouth showing the depths of the mental vacancy to everyone? Ancient coin collecting everyone, hobby which in the US accommodates no end of foolish men.

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