Thursday, 25 May 2017

Shooting Fish in a Barrel: Treasure Hunting for Profit on the First Frome Hoard Site

The Second Frome Hoard, voted Britain's Top Treasure in a dumbdown publicity stunt by the Portable Antiquities Scheme was discovered in April 2010 by a man using a device engineered to find buried metal artefacts in a field near Frome known to have produced other Roman material. In other words another Treasure find that was dragged up out of its undisturbed archaeological context by an artefact hunter targeting a known site. Is this really a manner of treating the archaeological record that British archaeology should be promoting by dumbdown publicity stunts? 

Treasure hunter Dave Crisp was searching here because three days previously, he had previously found 62 late Roman silver coins dating to around and after the 380s* there (the First Frome Hoard Treasure case tracking number: 2010T278) as a result, presumably, of searching for more coins deriving from the scattered hoard represented by the group of 111 coins which had been found on the same farm in 1867. In other words, when the Treasure reward of the First From Hoard was paid, Treasure hunter Crisp received money for 'finding' a hoard that was already known about. Should Treasure rewards (ransoms) be paid for people targeting known findspots like this? It's rather like shooting fish in a barrel. 

On getting a signal from the deeply-buried mass of metal which turned out to be the second hoard - dating to  AD 253 to 305 - the Treasure hunter dug down 35 cm below plough level to reveal a pot still in its archaeological context (the Second Frome Hoard).  This necessitated an under-resourced salvage archaeological investigation - a three day keyhole dig ('led by Graham and assisted by Hinds, Booth, Crisp and members of the landowner's family') which failed to reveal anything of the landscape context of that find - and its relationship to the other one nearby. The coins themselves took six weeks of a BM conservator's time to do the preliminary cleaning so that they could be studied (hidden costs) but at this stage no attempt was made to perform a full conservation, which would have cost an additional £35,000. In the event, when the museum  received a National Heritage Memorial Fund grant for the ransoming of the hoard (at £320,250), an additional  £105,000 was paid out for the conservation work - that means a sum equivalent to a third of its full commercial value. The costs of sorting, cataloguing, photography and publication of the items concerned have never been counted, but will come probably to a similar figure. 

The Second Frome Hoard is lauded as an example of 'best practice' because archaeologists came along and excavated this otherwise unthreatened complex of material, let us see the archaeological documentation that Treasure hunter Crisp made of the pattern of finds comprising the First Frome Hoard. 

* It says in the 'database' report that 'A full catalogue is available on request'. Why has this material still not been published properly seven years on?

Vignette: Treasure hunting, shooting fish in a barrel

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