Friday, 30 November 2018

Universal Museums and a Changing Climate

Tom Flynn ‏ @Artnose 45 min. temu
One positive outcome from the recent flurry of museum repatriation stories is that they might encourage people to think more critically about how our universal museums evolved and to question their sustainability in a rapidly changing world.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Who Did You Say You Bought That Antiquity From? Why?

CSIS Transnational Threats (, formerly he Global Organized Crime Project) state that Islamic State and Al-Qaeda militants still in Syria (between 70,550-70,550), Afghanistan (64,060 - 27,000), Pakistan (39,540 - 17,900), Iraq (15,000 - 10,000), Nigeria (6,900 - 3,450), and Somalia (7,240 - 3,095).

Read the report: 'The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat: Current and Future Challenges from the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Other Groups' Washington.

Now, where did you say that vanload of antiquities were from, Mr Brenchley?

TEFAF Challenged, Will They Step up and Accept?

Egypt trolls TEFAF (in letter obtained by American Cmte for Cultural Policy), asks the participating antiquities dealers to prove legality by asking to review collecting histories for Egyptian artefacts if the artifacts were legally acquired it should be an easy request to fulfill. Katie A. Paul ‏@AnthroPaulicy notes, 'It seems that TEFAF isn't a fan of the bad press around looted artifacts. On Nov 5 it announced a new vetting policy - one that leaves dealers an auction houses out of the equation'  "The change followed a review of legal issues relating to vetting, particularly good governance and assessment of liability, which led to advice that vetting panels should comprise experts with as little commercial interest in the art market as possible".

Dodgy and careless dealers are at a bit of a disadvantage because Egyptian antiquities (though found outside the modern country) are pretty distinctive, making them easy to identify even if dealers and collectors have thrown away every piece of the paper trail to anonymise them. The next step would be for TEFAF, put in a corner by demands like this from source countries, not to allow dealers to peddle antiquities at the event that do not have a full dossier of legitimising paper trail. Keep up the pressure.

Hat tip, Katie Paul

DW Documentary: Fakes in the art world - The mystery conman

An important documentary that every collector of antiquities should watch. This explains how lack of provenance can often mean 'fake' and that many art dealers know that before they offload it to auction. What is not explained is how this forger (one probably cannot say master forger when you look at some of the pieces once they are under suspicion) actually managed to get them on the market, while getting the profit from their sale making it worth the not-inconsiderable effort (and research) that has obviously gone into designing new pieces, paying for the material ('melting down ancient coins'? Bought as a bulk lot from someone like Dealer Dave maybe), casting and workmanship, then the 'distressing' and finally some pretty convincing patination. It suggests to me that there might be a close financial relationship between the maker and the middlemen who supply them to the dealers, rather than the usual stereotype of a starving artist in a garret paid a pittance for works a dealer then shifts at an inflated price. Also what actually is the evidence that he is 'Spanish'? But if the film is right, this has been going on quite a long time and has caught out a number of well-known figures mentioned in this blog. Good.

Im am not too happy about the loose way the word 'archaeologist' is used here.

" Fake art sits unnoticed in galleries around the world. A talented fraudster has been playing the art market and ripping off collectors for years. Who is the mystery conman? Discover more in THE MYSTERY CONMAN - THE MURKY BUSINESS OF COUNTERFEIT ANTIQUES. Museum curators and art collectors want to sweep the topic of counterfeiting under the carpet. But archaeologist Stefan Lehmann is on the hunt for the elusive figure whose counterfeit antiques are in some of the world's biggest collections. Around 40 fakes have been discovered and Lehmann believes this is just the tip of the iceberg. Alongside antique dealer Christoph Leon, Lehmann follows the forgery trail through Europe and to the US."

FLO as the Last Resort

A member of a metal detecting forum near you has a problem, he or she needs help identifying an artefact they've found (mini armour suit ?Post by DingDong » Sun Nov 25, 2018)
New to the hobby have managed to identify most bits so far but last dig got 3 bits i couldn't here is the 1st one, any help appreciated before i decide to clean it. When I dug this out back and front were in position but cleaning the dirt off showed they were no longer joined [...] any one got a clue please [?].
The reply? (littleboot » Mon Nov 26, 2018 2:27 pm)
I don't know myself but the patina looks nice and it has a pre-vicky look to it. If you don't get a positive ID this time then you can always FLO it.

The Leominster Haul Court Case

Four metal detectorists have denied illegally dealing in tainted cultural objects after reportedly uncovering a haul (sic) of Anglo-Saxon and Viking treasure in a village to the north of Leominster'' (Anon, 'Four in court accused of dealing "tainted cultural objects'' Hereford Times 28th November 2018)
Today the four men appeared at Worcester Crown Court where they spoke only to confirm their names during a 25 minute hearing [Three of them] pleaded not guilty to dealing in tainted cultural objects [while a detectorist from] Rumney, Cardiff, was not asked to enter a plea after requesting the prosecution to review his case on the basis he handed the coins to police before he was charged. If found guilty they could face a maximum prison sentence of seven years as well as a fine under the Dealing in Cultural Objects Offences Act 2003. [...]  Judge Jim Tindal told the quartet that their trial will last for four weeks and begin on September 30 next year. [...] The group were given unconditional bail and a pre-trial review will take place on March 15 at Worcester Crown Court.  
According to Judge Jim Tindal, trying ít, 'clearly this is a complicated case' and he suggests that the ten months between now and the end of September is a time the four men should 'spend with your lawyers to discuss the case' (I rather think that is what one does with lawyers in such circumstances). West Mercia Police are also stressing the complexity of their investigation. This article does not contain much more that was in the Police press release of 31st October  and so we learn nothing of the background and what is actually alleged to have happened.

 It is a shame the PAS was apparently not asked to comment as a 'go to' source of informnation on portable antiquities issues (does this journalist even know we have one?), as this could have been a good chance for them to explain to the reading public just what the law in England and Wales does and does not say, and why it is so complicated to bring charges in cases like these. Also it would be nice to see a term in use since the law was established fifteen years ago not appear any more in scare quotes. It is a shame the British public is not already well aware of the usage of the term tainted artefacts, and that they apparently are not is again a failure of the PAS.

Hat tip, Durham FLO Ben Westwood @FLODurhamFLO

Citizen Archaeology: 'Another Atlantis Found'

Citizen archaeologist gonna make discoveries: Laura Geggel, 'Atlantis Found (Again)! And Exasperated Scientists (Again) Raise Their Eyebrows', Live science November 28, 2018
Merlin Burrows pinpointed, two years ago, what may be Atlantis in Spain, Bruce Blackburn, the CEO of Merlin Burrows, told Live Science. The company, based in North Yorkshire, England, uses historical records and satellite data to find archaeological sites. [...] Merlin Burrows and Ingenio Films have made a 2-hour documentary called "Atlantica" about the finding, and Blackburn said he expects the companies to make more documentaries. "What we really want to do is we want to franchise the find," Blackburn said. "We want to make an awful lot of money out of it. And with that money, we want to support the archaeological community."
That sounds familiar, they have a film, too:

[UPDATE: The film has gone now,  but it was very reminiscent of the one of the rival Genesis project Atlantis seekers, same kind of music, same film clips of derring-do, same emphasis on 'we have the technology' and the same claims that if only they can ghet the money together they'll be very happy to finance some archaeologist to work with them [prompting the question whether they imagine an archaeologist will sell his soul to get his hands on the profferred cash in return for supporting them?]. All very odd].

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Karma: Artefact Hunting in UK Caught up in Winds of Change

Bank of England's scenarios under a "disorderly" Brexit:
Britain's GDP drops 8%• House prices plunge 30%• Commercial property falls 48%• Pound slides 25%, beneath $1• Unemployment rises to 7.5%• Inflation accelerates to 6.5%

I think we may legitimately add: Heritage spending slashed and PAS collapses.

At the moment, the only thing that legitimises Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales is the existence of the PAS (which is why tsome want to introduce one in other places such as Ireland). If the PAS collapses, some 27000 grabby metal detectorists are left without a leg to stand on. That is karma, because their texts on UK forums suggest that 90% of them voted to leave the EU.

But of course who needs 'expert opinions' on the efects of Brexiting? Clive (65) from Chigwell is sure everything will be OK, once Brussels stops telling him what to do.

The Legacy of the Portable Antiquities Collecting Fad

Harrappan (?) pot (Hansons)
What is "responsible collecting" of portable antiquities? The BBC has a story today which indicates what it is not (BBC 'Derby man's car boot toothbrush holder is ancient pot' 28th November 2018 )
 A pot bought for £4 at a car boot sale and used as a toothbrush holder has turned out to be 4,000 years old. Karl Martin said he picked up the jar, featuring an antelope, at the market in Willington, Derbyshire, five years ago. The 49-year-old said he now "feels a bit guilty" for keeping the "genuine ancient antiquity" in his bathroom. Auctioneer James Brenchley said the Indus Valley Harappan civilisation jar, which sold for £80 at auction, was made in 1900 BC.
Mr Martin, from Derby, works for Hansons Auctioneers, said:
"I was helping to unload a van and noticed some pottery which was similar to my toothbrush pot. "The painting style looked the same and it had similar crudely-painted animal figures. [...] It's amazing, really. How it ended up at a south Derbyshire car boot sale, I'll never know."
I think we can guess, this material started flooding European markets in recent decades, as one dealer rather too candidly admits (the webpage has gone, it seems, but is still cached):
A great deal of pottery and many terracotta figurines, (and also countless numbers of fake terracota figurines!) , have come out of Balochistan provence and North West Pakistan near the Afghanistan border since the recent conflict there. Whether this material is truly of Indus Civilization "outpost" origin or is from autonomous civilizations is still something which is undecided. Similar material came out of this arera in the early and mid 1980s during the Soviet Afghanistan period of turmoil.
There is every likelihood that if it's real, Mr Martin's pot was a conflict antiquity, and if so, it's got more than toothpaste marks on it, it'll have blood on it. That was why the previous buyer had no paperwork for it. It was as dodgy as you can get. So when he got rid of it, nobody would take it and it ended up in a car boot sale being flogged off for the price of a beer or two. But Mr Brenchley got rid of it for him, despite there being any evidence that it had been exported from Pakkistan or Afghanistan legally - and with the very strong probability that it had not. He also seems from the account above to have previously shifted a van-load of similar material (was it connected with this?) There are several British dealers selling pots and figurines very similar to this on eBay. To my eye, quite a lot of them are fake, which is possible evidence that the heavily-looted region has been almost looted out.

We are going to get a lot more of this as collectors die, material will be either discarded by heirs or will be passed on without any papers (often because the collector kept none). A lot of them will be looted, a lot fake, but the whole lot is tainted. What should happen to it?

Naughty Treasure Finders

Treasure finds going up
There is now a new page on the Treasure section of the PAS/Treasure website listing the abatements of Treasure rewards recommended by the TVC since 2007. There were 20 in a total of 3418 found 2007 and 2015 (the last year for which figures seem available).* Reasons are given for these abatements. 12 were for detecting on land and taking finds and not subsequently reporting them where there was no 'search and take' permission from the landowner (trespass and theft) in one case the land concerned was a SAM, four rewards were abated because of cases where the authorities became aware of finds that were simply not reported, two for situations where it was found out that a misleading location had been given. Two were for ovrcleaning an object or inexpert restoration (damage to property). In no case is any mention made of any legal sanctions being applied to the person declared guilty of these offences. There are no cases of Treasure abatement  being applied to landowners, it is only Treasure hunters that are mentioned. Neither are there any cases mentioned where the finders refused to stop digging and call in archaeologists, that led to loss of archaeological information.

* with about 1000 being found now annually, the total will be about 6500 in the period after 2007.

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (V): The so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet

Archaeology and commerce
 (Seattle Times)
The revelation by a FeudingFLO from Durham that the PAS has been obscuring findspots of items from a cemetery excavated this year in Scremby in East Lindsy brings to mind another case of the same kind. A few years ago there was huge publicity about a campaign to save for a public collection the heavily reconstructed helmet being offered for sale by Christie's that the auctioneers insisted had been found by an unnamed detectorist (whose identity still remains unknown) on a farm in May 2010 in a little place far from any former Roman cavalry fort at Crosby Garrett. The object was at once dubbed 'the Crosby Garrett Helmet', the name by which it was publicly known from the beginning (Christie's (London) 7 October 2010, lot 176). Yet When eventually the PAS was shown the place the finders said it had come from and the place was excavated, as many questions remain as before. It is interestng to note that, even though we now know the precise pit in which the finders reported they'd dug the object from (and this too is public knowledge), the PAS record is extraordinarily vague about the findspot ( County or Unitary authority: Cumbria (County)/ District: Eden (District) / To be known as: North Cumbria) . Is the fact that illegal metal detecting took place on adjacent Little Asby Common in some way related to this? Or is it not a fact that almost anywhere you can get to that has earthworks and nobody living right next to it is probne to looting of this type? No, there has to be a reason that the PAS are refusing to say that this object actually was found at Crosby Garrett, what is it?

Men in court over Leominster Anglo-Saxon treasure charges

Reportedly, four men will appear in court today, charged with dealing in tainted cultural artefacts that were discovered by metal detectorists. This relates to a collection (hoard?) of Anglo-Saxon and Viking artefacts (gold and silver coins, a gold ring, gold arm bracelet, crystal sphere, and silver ingots) found in 2015 in a village near Leominster, Herefordshire, in 2015. According to West Mercia police, the men that will appear in court are George Powell, 37, of Coulson Close, Pill, Newport; Layton Davies, 50, of Cardiff Road, Pontypridd; Paul Well, 59, of Newport Road, Cardiff; and Simon Wicks, 56, of Hawks Road, Hailsham, East Sussex.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (IV): Scremby in the Early Middle Ages [Updated] [Updated]

Artefacts removed from graves
 'somewhere in Lincolnshire'
Photo: Danny Lawson/PA
The BBC is carrying an article about a new Anglo-Saxon cemetery (BBC, 'Lincolnshire Anglo-Saxon cemetery burials unearthed',  27 November 2018).
About 20 graves dating to the fifth and sixth centuries [...]  were found in the Lincolnshire Wolds. The cemetery was discovered after a metal detectorist uncovered artefacts at the site in Scremby, near Skegness. [...]  Hugh Willmott, a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield who led the dig, said: "These women wore necklaces made from sometimes hundreds of amber, glass and rock crystal beads, used personal items such as tweezers, carried fabric bags held open by elephant ivory rings, and wore exquisitely decorated brooches to fasten their clothing. "Two women even received silver finger rings and a style of silver buckle commonly associated with Jutish communities in Kent
The photo accompanying the article shows a burial in a very shallow, presumably plough-truncated, grave. So, if it was fond after a tekkie reported his finds, one might legitimately expect to be able to examine those reported finds in the Portable Antiquities Scheme's Database and find out how that site appears there. What I found is interesting. The parish name is Ashby by Skremby (note: two - by names) in East Lindsay 12 km from Skegness. There are 39 finds from Ashby by Scremby but only three are Early medieval, they are: PUBLIC-572D46 ('Middle Anglo-Saxon' pin  Date circa 720-850 found before May 2017),  PUBLIC-E6EC11 ('Middle Anglo-Saxon' pin  Date circa 720-850, found before March 2017) and LIN-B7A328  (possible late Saxon or early Medieval copper-alloy mount of mid-11th century date found before April 2016).  It's impossible to find out from the public database whether they were found together or scattered across the whole parish (which rather makes it impossible to say anything at all about 'local history' if you lived there...).

So from the database, the only Early Medieval finds from the parish would indicate something was happening there between the early eighth and early ninth centuries before the area became part of the so-called Danelaw (in the 880s), but 'two pins do not an anything make'. Perhaps Dr Wilmot was looking for something like the site he excavated two years ago at Little Carlton. But certainly the data in the database from reported metal detecting finds does not give any signal that there is a rich cemetery there, and even if one or two of these reported finds had been sixth century brooches and an amber bead,  it is quite obvious that a few random objects gives nothing like the sort of information that properly excavating even twenty features on that site will yield. I hope when it's written up, we learn the context of discovery, that is just what it was about those metal detector finds that led to this excavation. Was any significant Middle Anglo-Saxon activity detected during excavation on the site?

So, basically, the few reported items on the PAS database give a very partial and indeed totally distorted view of the early medieval archaeology of that parish. If excavation shows that the third hand recording of random items reported by collectors searching in unknown patterns can miss a site like this (apparently under active plough erosion), how many sites of equal interest and significance are slipping through the net?

UPDATE 27th Nov 2018

The Guardian has some other information ( Haroon Siddique, ' Burial sites from 5th and 6th centuries yield unexpected treasures(sic)', Guardian Tue 27 Nov 2018)
The dig of the cemetery, containing 20 burials, was carried out over the summer by international volunteers, Sheffield University students and members of the RAF. Its existence came to light last year when a local metal detectorist discovered a number of Anglo-Saxon artefacts, including copper gilded brooches, iron shield bosses and spear heads.
These objects found at Scremby before the excvavation are not however in the PAS database, unless they have been 'anonymised' by being assigned to a different parish than the one the BBC reports the cemetery is in. The Guardian article is marred by a photo of the archaeologist disrespectfully posing with a skull as if its some kind of trophy.

UPDATE UPDATE 28th Nov 2018

The Feuding FLO Benjamin Westwood from Durham seems determined to prove his dismissive thesis that this blog is "fake News". It seems now to have become an obsession . So when the rest of us are asleep, he puts out this tweet in answer to a tweeted link of mine to this text:

"This is incorrect. They are in the PAS database (see below), when a search is correctly executed. For example: "

Durham seems to have become recently a hotbed of accusations of "incorrect", indeed at times hysterical ones.  Mr Westwood supplied a screenshot showing that he's apparently searched for "Anglo-Saxon" and "girdlehangers" and he'd found some in East Lindsay to which he triumphantly gives a link, girldlehangeras and sleeve clasps. But if you follow that link through (how could one not?), you'll find it goes to record LIN-D1172C and down at the bottom we learn (apart from 'no references so far', when mention is made of some typology of Hines in the entry, cite your sources!), that the findspot is: 'County or Unitary authority: Lincolnshire (County)/ District: East Lindsey (District) / To be known as: Alford area'. Well, it is therefore not 'incorrect' of me to say above that these objects found at Scremby before the excvavation 'are not however in the PAS database, unless they have been 'anonymised' by being assigned to a different parish than the one the BBC reports the cemetery is in', because that is precisely what Mr Westwood in Durham with his privileged acess to the database data says that the Lincolnshire FLO has been doing. That would mean, in other words, that the public 'data' in the database have for some reason been deliberately misreported to hide their real origins. 

There is no sign of those 'shield bosses and spearheds' mentioned by the Guardian, the only Anglo-Saxon iron object from the whole of East Lindsey thrown up by the databases advanced search is apparently a knife from 'near Louth'.

The distance from Scremby and Alford is nine kilometres.  A circle with a radius of 9km has an area of 254.47km² . Saying something from 'Area X' could have been found anywhere at all in at least 254 square kilometres in that general region is not assigning an object a findspot. It is not informing the public (who pay for this vague nonsense) what has been found in their own 'small homeland' - which was supposed to be the purpose of the PAS database when it was set up. It treats the public as contempt-worthy hoi polloi who (unlike the arkie elite) do not 'need' to know what is happening to the heritage in their region - and who cannot be trusted with that information. Surely, however, the PAS database is as much - if not more - about findspot (and thus context) as it is about antiquitist typologies. That is one of the things that differentiates the archaeological approach to artefacts from that of the mere collector, and doing archaeologial outreach and showing that is - for goodness sake - precisely what the PAS was set up to do and stuill proclaims as one of its aims.

Does obfuscating the findspots of these objects mean that the three Anglo-Saxon finds discussed above that the database says are from Scremby cannot be assumed automatically by a member of the public using this database to actually be from Ashby and Scremby but somewhere in the general vicinity, for example from Alford? How can they tell the difference? How can they tell when the FLO or one of a number of various public recorders is concealing something from them? And should they be being confused and deceived like this in the first place in a public database (one they pay for)?  If this is what is going on, this seems to add totally unneccessary confusion and distrust. I hope when Hugh Willmott publishes this cemetery, he will provide a detailed map showing just where the cemetery he excavated is in the cultural landscape, and not just a dot on a map which in scale is a circle eighteen kilometres in diameter. Anything less would be 'incorrect' to use the terminology of Durham's Feuding FLO.  And the question is, if the excavating archaeologicst does that, why can the surface data archaeologists of the database not do the same? Bonkers. 

Mapped search for Anglo-Saxon finds in East Lindsey using PAS database 'advanced search': How many of these dots mean anything at all if we now know that a FLO's privileged access to a public database shows that finds from Scremby are listed as Alford area? This is ridiculous.

I cannot see how one searches for the other finds from this site on this 'database' that have been anonymised by being entered there as from 'Alford area', there is a 'district' of Alford among the dropdown boxes, but there are '0' EM finds listed under it, and if you search for it under a parish name, it seems you apparently only get artefacts from the civil parish itself, so (unless the FeudingFLO can tell us an un-user-friendly  'wrinkle' that I do not know of) this seems to be yet another area where the 'advanced search engine' is unable to show us the other finds from the same findspot. 

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Polish Key, what's in a Name? (Archaeological Values of the PAS Database III)

PAS, Anti-Polish revisionists
 or just careless?
Looking at the potential out-of-place artefacts in the PAS database, I searched for 'Poland'. I'll deal with the coin finds later together with the Bulgarian ones, but I came up with something else in the 'Keys(locking)' category... oh boy.

Let's start with a fact. Since the mid to late 1960s, there have been numerous excavations in British medieval towns, from the 1970s and 1980s we have available all sorts of publications of the finds from these sites (and also in adjacent areas of the continent, for example here). Keys are not particularly uncommon finds in urban deposits in particular, and there they will be closely and securely stratified. Although I stopped doing finds specialist work when I came to Poland, I am pretty sure there's a wealth of published information in the English-language literature on Medieval keys. Lots. Sixty years of discoveries and publications, nothing to sneeze at.

So how come when you look  at this lump of stuff on the Internet that is often hailed as the biggest (and therefore 'best') online public database of archaeological finds, you can find a gem like this (PUBLIC-231258):
"Two keys with tubular loops on the bow are published in Ward Perkins 1940 (reprinted 1967, London Museum Medieval Catalogue): no.13 p140 (Aldgate) and no.14 p.141 (London), both Type VI, illustrated on plate XXIX. Ward Perkins suggests that the loop is for suspension as 'is well illustrated on the brass of Archbishop Jacobus de Sonno at Gnezen, Poland 1480; and the late date of this example, coupled with the elaborate form of bow which it often accompanies, indicate that this feature probably belongs to the 15th century.' Similar examples are on the database as WMID-4299E1, DUR-1F4252 and DENO-12B187"
Then compare that with the record of WMID-4299E1, the  "Two keys..." text is there, apparently exactly the same, but underneath are quoted 16 parallels, all from the PAS database. Then take a look at DUR-1F4252 where again we have been presented with what seems to be the identical "Two keys" text and then juist one parallel from the PAS database... It's not going to be a surprise then, that DENO-12B187...has... yes, you guessed it, the exact same "Two keys..." text and 15 of the 16 parallels from the PAS database.  Note that only one of those four entries actually uses the "references cited" field to give (something like) the full reference to the cited work, but two of them confusingly assert "no references cited so far". Eh? The lack of consistency is notworthy - that's why the records were supposed to be verified.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the 'research' that has gone into at least some of these database entries by four PAS recorders is only of the 'scissors and paste' type, and the cross referencing between entries on the same database suggests where that research was done.

Sixty years of small find publishing from Medieval sites all over the UK have therefore been totally ignored in favour of a quick glance at Ward Perkins' war-time catalogue of a single museum collection as it existed seventy years ago and its reference to an exotic piece of iconographic evidence half a continent away. (Even the Museum of London itself has a lot more keys now than it did in the 1930s, and not a few of them have, I think, already been published.) I think back in the 1970s and 1980s when I was doing finds work, Ward Perkins was still just about acceptable as a reference (though hopefully not the only one), today, I was rather hoping British finds studies would have moved on from that by now. This is even more disturbing if you think that it is the PAS database itself that some archaeologists are going to consult as one of their sources ofup-to-date information on artefacts and their typology (see here too). Otherwise, what's the point of having it?

I am of course equally interested in this Polish connection. Let's take a look at the phrase: 'well illustrated on the brass of Archbishop Jacobus de Sonno at Gnezen, Poland 1480...'. What an odd way to put it. It comes over as downright revisionist, especially when you know that the online database has no national borders. I am sitting in Poland reading it and wondering if the people that compiled it have any understanding or cultural sensitivity.

The four texts we are looking at were written by PAS staff between 2010 and 2016. Just two weeks ago, Poland celebrated 100 years of independence, so I would like to know why a Bishop in a Polish cathedral city is referred to as "Jacobus de Sonno" when he has a perfectly suitable name in modern talk. Here the PAS recorders have all obviously just copied and pasted something from a seventy-year old book, apparently without understanding (but probably under the impression that citing something exotic-sounding makes them appear 'erudite'),

First things first. The British finds experts of the PAS seem to think they are quoting a real name in Medieval Latin. In the documents referring to the Archbishop that died in 1480, both manuscript and printed, we find it was Jacobus de Sienno. So the name given by Ward Perkins and copied by the PAS is for some reason corrupt. 

Secondly there is a problem with this monument (part of it - a bit without a key - is shown here).  It is relocated and not now in the side chapel where that archbishop was buried. The problem is that tomb had two different monuments, a floor slab above the actual internment and this brass. While I understand the stone floor slab (now destroyed) can be dated to the archbishop's lifetime, the brass is of unknown date and purpose. This is quibbling, but it cannot be assumed that all monuments of this type must date to the precise time of death - as indeed other tombs in this very same church show very well. 

Anyhow, in modern talk, the churchman is normally referred to as Jakub of Sienno (skipping the issue of how Polish 'Jakub' in fact translates into English 'James' when it is the Saint of that name). Sienno is a small town in the south of Mazovian voivodship. I do not think it was ever called 'Sonno' (though have not the will to find out how the open ghetto there until it was liquidated in October 1942 was called in official German documents during the Occupation - I'd prefer not to contemplate that).  

But thirdly, and even more annoying, is how contemporary archaeologists are referring to the cathedral city, the seat of the first Polish rulers. 'Gnezen' is the German name. At the time of the publication of Ward Perkins' work, the city had (after 123 years of Poland not existing on the maps) been in independent Poland since October 1918, when it was called Gniezno. The name was changed back to the German one under the brutal Nazi occupation of Poland 1939-1945 when it was part of Reichsgau Wartheland. Presumably therefore Ward Perkins was following Nazi nomeclature in 1940. But today's writers using English? The town became Gniezno again when it was liberated by the Red Armon 21 January 1945 and remains Gniezno now. That's what it should be called by English writers. Terms such as Breslau, Stettin and Danzig (used for Wroclaw, Szczecin and Gdańsk) have here an emotive weight - in the same way as the term Auschwitz is used in a certain context for a location next to Oświęcim (and Birkenau instead of Brzezinka). 

So the FLOs should have pointed out that "seventy years ago, Ward Perkins stated that this form of key is well illustrated on the brass of Archbishop Jakub of Sienno in Gniezno, Poland who died in 1480...' . It is a shame that they cannot follow this with a more enlightening 'and now more modern research in excavated layers in urban deposists at.... has shown that...'

If you look at what the PAS themselves say, Ward Perkins' seventy-year old catalogue is used in  some 666 database entries. Thank goodness that Wheeler's 1930 catalogue in the same series was only used four times

The kind of archaeology that tends to be done with PAS 'data', that is lots of dot-distribution maps of emblemic arrtefacts all too frequently interpreted in ethnic terms is precisely the mode that was (only just) still fashionable when Ward Perkins was proof-reading his Medieval Catalogue and Nazi troops were occupying 'Gnezen'. The rest of the world has moved on from there, but in some aspects, PAS seems stuck in a timewarp. 

Saturday, 24 November 2018

British Archaeological Professionals on Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (II) [UPDATED]

Durham University academic
and a heritage blogger
It seems there is something odd going on in Durham, first the FLO in that northern city calls this blog "fake news" and now a Durham University academic* is saying more or less the same. As somebody who puts a lot of work into presenting my thoughts on the material I present here and checking the facts behind them, I really resent that and I'd like to present what happened when I asked the latter to explain why she comes out in public with such ex cathedra statements, apparently in support of the local FLO.

A few days ago, an administrator of RESCUE's Facebook page spotted an article I had written on my blog and posted  a link to it over there. I do not know what reaction he expected, perhaps that some members might want to discuss the general issue it raised I guess. Members of that group however had a different approach. First, for some reason best known to herself, heritage consultant Alice Cattermole  suggests to the administrator of the RESCUE facebook page that instead of discussing the topic that the text actually raises  "Perhaps we (sic, he runs it) could stop posting links to this blog here? [...] Why are we giving this pointless rant the oxygen of publicity?"

What for Ms Cattermole is merely a 'pointless rant' of no interest to her, whether she likes it or not, concerns a pretty fundamental issue. The issue David Knell had raised earlier and which I discuss in my blog post is 'to what extent is the information on the PAS database website actually (not potentially) reliable as a source of archaeological data'? This seems pretty important to discuss if the whole reason for supporting current policies is that we can idealistically treat Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record as some form of 'citizen archaeology' that produces important archaeological data. What is the truth behind the idealism and wishful thinking? Ms Cattermole's response to posing such a question is apparently 
to nerely suggest that mention of texts that raise that awkward issue should be excluded from an archaeological trust's facebook page. 

There is something rather odd about such a response from somebody that had not much more than a year earlier written an important review for the CIfA precisely on 
the standard of reporting on archaeological artefacts in England, though for some reason this document does not refer to the PAS - which is quite interesting in itself (!). It is however perhaps significant that among her other publications, there are at least two of them co-authored with an 'E. Bales', presumably the author of the PAS database record that David Knell picked up and queried. Perhaps there are more personal reasons why Ms Cattermole reacted in that way to a link to my blog post about a record made in Norfolk by Ms Bales, my concern ws in the record itself and what it tells us and not about the personalia involved in its creation. It is odd that, when it comes to discussing records incorporated into the PAS database, the issue of standards is often subordinated to quantity, resulting in the PAS' own concerns to demonstrate their importance by thrusting forward a 'WottaLottaStuff we Got' image. In this connection, it is noteworthy that Ms Cattermole writes:
If the author had any concept of the vast number of objects recorded and identified not just by the PAS (the original identifier wasn’t even employed by PAS) in Norfolk by this one individual working tirelessly day, night and often weekends perhaps they might be a little less critical. 
Of course (and it is the point that David Knell was making, as was I), it in a case of preservation by documentation of artefacts hoiked by collectiors from the archaeological record and soon to be sequestered in numerous scattered, often undocumented, ephemeral peronal artefact collections, arather than merely quantity, it is record quality that is also (or should be) in the forefront. 

This is the point where the Durham academic jumps in with her thoughts on the issue:
Catrin Jenkins   Totally agree stop linking to this vitriolic and inaccurate blog
(a comment 'liked' by metal detectorist Andy Holbrook, PAS FLO Benjamin Westwood, and Alice Cattermole) 
Coming after Ms Cattermole's postulate, this of course shifts the discussion even further from considering the consistency of reliability of the third-hand data presented as potential archaeological data in the multi-million pound PAS public database. The discussion is shifted (deliberately?) from the issue of the standards that are the focus of my post, to the legitimacy of discussing them at all on a blog like mine.

It is interesting to note that the member profile indicates that Ms Jenkins has only just joined the Rescue Facebook page as a member. More notably, it also shows that so far her main activity there has been 'liking' comments by people criticising what I wrote about PAS data quality, in a distant blog to which somebody else posted a link. Most of the 'likes' were for what the Durham FLO had said. Apparently, she liked none of the points I made, a fact that she makes clearer later that day.

Just after she passed her professional judgement on my blogging, I asked her in what way she deemed my blog posts in general 'inaccurate' (the word she used). I then expanded on why I think the kneejerk labelling of her ad personam response was not only inappropriate but also disturbing:

Paul Barford But then simply dismissing my concerns as "vitriolic and innaccurate" it seems to me you are missing the whole point, which is that there are indeed serious issues with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record that really do need discussing and that the whole mainstream narrative has tended to avoid addressing these questions in any substantive way (RESCUE being a notable exception). 

My blog is wholly public and the public do indeed find it and read about how UK archaeologists have dropped the ball, and why there are grounds for suggesting many of them are neglecting their duty (in the interests of the public and the discipline as whole) to keep them (the public, stakeholders on whose money and support archaeology counts) informed about portable antiquities collecting issues. Coming up to two million hits soon. 

If it is an "inaccurate" picture I am presenting, then I'd say you lot jolly well should get down to showing (in substantive terms) where I and my fellow bloggers are wrong. Just calling me a "chimpanzee" as somebody did above and saying archaeologists should 'ignore' what I am saying there is not the way to go about that. If I am wrong, show it. If I am right, join me in raising these issues and seeking a resolution that actually deals with the destruction of the archaeological record by its unregulated and increasingly widespread collection-driven exploitation. Can you do that?
To that, Durham University's Catrin Jenkins merely repeats herself:
Maybe if you weren't so vitriolic and inaccurate[,] professional archaeologists might pay you some heed......
So, that's the excuse... When writing of artefact hunters and collectors, the antiquities trade and collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record, I do not use the same flattering backslapping tone as many mainstream archaeologists in Britain who prefer to represent and even see collecting as 'citizen archaeology', by their interested-in-the-past 'partners'. Personally, I do not feel any need to do that, I think that from an archaeological conservation point of view, this position is  arrant nonsense and I will call a spade as spade whether or not the symmetrists like that. Discussion of policies and methodology (and standards of our documentation) is not a popularity contest, but should be based on establishing and examining facts and on their basis formulting opinions.

As a consequence, I am more concerned about the second part of the repetetive phrase she used in her two earlier comments, so - frustrated by her previous inability to substantiate what she'd said - I asked again:
Paul Barford and Catrin, I challenge you again to state more precisely where what I write is inaccurate, and any more inaccurate than the glib PAS spin that I query.
 Oh golly. It seems like many kneejerk critics, she's actually unable to justify what she said. After a pause, she retorted with this:
Catrin Jenkins 24 Nov 2018  Go away Barford and find another person to troll with your fake news, cyber bullying and Facebook stalking, your posts send me to sleep and make no sense anyway. Rescue is really not the place to post this and i won't further engage with you
An administrator of the Rescue Facebook page apparently disagreed with the member's point that RESCUE is an inappropriate place to host discussions of the effects of current policy on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. It is the administrator who'd put up a link to what I wrote - though looking at the reaction of group members and their behaviour might be regretting it  (but yes, I agree, comment - from Ms Jenkins too - would be much better under the post on this blog rather than removed to an ephemeral facebook comment thread).

I leave it up to readers to decide for themselves whether it is me who was being flamed by Ms Jenkins for having a link to a post on this blog posted to a distant Facebook group page where she's a member, or whether I am flaming ('trolling') her by asking the Durham academic to back up her facile accusatory words with facts.

If Ms Jenkins publicly judges this blog to be 'inaccurate', then she should say in what way she applies that label. So far in the exchange between us, she has failed to demonstrate that what I said about that PAS database record was 'fake news', when she accuses me of running an 'inaccurate' archaeoblog, it is not 'cyberbullying' to ask her to actually explain why she says that. It seems, anyway that she has a rather thin-skinned idea of what 'cyberbullying' actually is and how it relates to her involvement in discussion of controversial issues - where she apparently feels free to throw out accusations addressed to a total stranger yet seems to somehow expect immunity from that person responding. It is also worth noting that it was Ms Jenkins who initiated interaction with me with a public insult, not me initiating it by seeking out in any way contact with her views. I really cannot imagine what Ms Jenkins has in mind when she facilely accuses me of 'Facebook stalking' - I really do think I and my readers are owed an explanation of that one. I will chivalrously refrain from suggesting why somebody who comes out with accusations like that on first meeting a total stranger 'can make no sense' of the issues I discuss in Portable Heritage Collecting and Heritage Issues as she admits she has difficulties doing. That Ms Jenkins suggests that she 'won't further engage' with me, means that she thinks that she's already engaged with the points being made. I suggest she has not.

Ms Jenkins suggests I should 'go away' (presumably she means from the archaeological Facebook group that she herself has only just recently joined !), and she and her ilk are trying their hardest through such behaviour to silence enquiry into and alternative views on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in Britain. Perhaps, f they keep it up long enough, wearing us down, people like me will be discouraged by the consistent application of such deflection tactics from asking the questions we do, and urging that we rethink some of the things that people like her apparently hold to be inviolable truth. That does not mean that the problems that actually do exist  will 'go away'.

* UPDATE 25th November 2018
I cannot account for the effect working in Durham seems to have on some arkies. Now I see that alongside the 'cyberbullying' because I responded to my accuser , I see the FLO from that fair city is now falsely accusing me of "doxxing" ("female archaeologists"). Inexplicable, I have asked him to explain what he thinks the word means, but he seems unable to.

Anyway, here is a warning. Dear Reader, should you visit an open archaeological group on Facebook (you know, the place where you choose to put your face and name online for the purpose of contacting other people and telling them a bit about yourself), be very careful not to let the mouse wander to the sidebar. Be warned that there very could well be an 'other members' link there which will reveal the people you are talking to have faces (its 'Face'book after all) and some of them a place of work. Some of them, recently joined, will be right near the top. It's a trap, once you've read it you cannot unread it and you are stuck with the knowledge who it is who has just publicly attacked your writing style, views and ability to process and present the information you use in your own online activity. You will have become, in the eyes of some, a 'Facebook stalker' and a 'doxxer'. Ridiculous though it may sound, that is apparently how some heritage professionals think in Durham.

Staffordshire Hoard Helmet Reconstruction, can we see the Evidence?

Fur collar pulled up
to hide the gap
It now turns out that a lot (they say 'one third') of the 4000 bits of the Staffordshire Hoard comprise non-ferrous fittings stripped from a helmet, apparently the same one.  The hoard's conservators have reconstructed what they think it looked like and two replicas have been made to the pattern they provided and it is being proudly displayed to the press. I really think it looks highly impractical to use as a helmet. The cheekpieces are very small, not very functional their small area means that they would be unable to spread the force of a blow to them from the side smashing the side of the wearer's face, and in addition, their inwardly projecting thick edges would do the wearer a lot of damage if there was a blow to them. The gap between it and the neckguard is a huge weakness, and where do the wearer's ears go? There is no sign of the manner that the helmet was kept on (like a chinstrap) and the modern reconstruction has no attempt to make any internal webbing to separate the wearer's head from the bare metal. So it is not clear how the photos of the man wearing it were taken, the crown is very high. Let us hope the detailed evidence for reconstructing each of the components in this way and not any other is properly presented pretty soon before we get used to the way it looks. Reminds me of the difference between the first reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet and the way it now is envisaged.

rather a stupid shape

interior edges of cheek pieces protrude, no internal structure

PAS Don't Discover a Mistake Pointed Out Online Four Years Ago - How Will They Deal With This One?

More innaccuracies in PAS database
Just a few days ago, PAS caught up with a mistake that they made in record NMS-7EF821 eleven years ago. For eleven years the PAS database has been showing innaccurate information to the public that pay for it. David Knell eventually picked them up on it in a post he made a week ago on his blog ('How reliable is the PAS database? (Part 2)' Ancient Heritage Friday, 16 November 2018 . Only after I too wrote something on its basis (PACHI Thursday, 22 November 2018 'PAS Discover a Mistake - Look How They Deal With It') did some anonymous amender actually get round to half-heartedly making an addition to the original ("Recent online comments have made it quite clear that this identification is incorrect and ..."). And there things stand at the moment. I reported a further omission to the record through the "members of the public please report our errors to us" button at the foot of the page two days ago, but nothing has happened... 

Now, considering that the PAS do not read this blog on principle, one might assume that the "online comments" to which this was a reaction were not this blog. But it's a mystery what they were using as a source because neither would it have been the original article of David Knell. We can say this with some certainty because as anyone can see, that text is clearly labelled "part two". That would suggest to the thinking person that there must be a "part one" - and indeed there is an inline reference to it in Knell's text. So its just a mouseclick away.... a monkey could find it. The text is called 'How reliable is the PAS database?' and it can be found on the Ancient Heritage blog under the date Wednesday, 4 June 2014. this one was written four yeasrs ago. Four years and not a single one of the PAS ('really interestid in th' 'istry) partners and supporters has ever come across it and alerted the PAS to its contents. I see that blogs called "Ancient Heritage" are not on the reading list of 27000 UK metal detectorists. And that's a shame as one of them could have told the PAS they'd got it disturbingly wrong again. 

Let's have a look at the concerns David Knell starts off with mentions of something I had been writing about earlier that had raised my concerns, but which in fact has been passed over in silence in the intervening years by both coin collectors/dealers/lobbyists as well as archaeologists, the 'British-found Alexandrian Tetras Question' (check it out, it's an important issue). Here's David Knell on it:
recent examinations (here and here) of the database used by the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to record archaeological artefacts found by members of the public in England and Wales, Paul Barford, a British archaeologist based in Warsaw, noted that several of the coins he spotted in his search had a questionable origin. Since the artefacts do not derive from scientific excavations, perhaps a degree of unreliabilty is to be expected but some results are quite alarming. Some objects are clearly not derived from the archaeological record of England and Wales at all but are likely to be modern imports from another country altogether. While a proportion of these were perhaps lost by a modern collector or discarded by heirs unaware of their value (I know of an ancient Egyptian ushabti that now lies buried somewhere in a local landfill), some of them are likely to have been deliberately 'planted' as a joke or their findspot fabricated to enhance their resale price on eBay (a PAS record suggesting a British find raises financial value considerably). It is not difficult to see how the PAS database could also be used to launder foreign artefacts lacking a licit provenance.
 and we can see the value placed on the supposed 'British' finds of the tetras by a special interest group. David spotted the same phenomenon in a class of artefacts that he himself is especially knowledgable, pottery lamps (he gets annoyed when I call them 'oil lamps'), which is a rather esoteric field. Look at what he reported he'd found four years ago on the PAS database. 
One of the Roman lamps was recorded as a "chance find during metal detecting" in Essex. That chance find would be more credible if the lamp was not a Syro-Palestinian type (Kennedy Type 5) found almost exclusively in the Levant and not brought into Britain as popular tourist souvenirs until modern times.
Another lamp, also described as "Roman", is recorded as having been found in Kent and only "identified from photograph". In fact, the lamp is not Roman at all; it was made during the Hellenistic period (more precisely the 3rd century BC) in the Eastern Mediterranean. While nothing is impossible, it is extremely unlikely that it ever formed part of Britain's ancient archaeology.
The Essex lamp [ ESS-83CBC4was recorded by Caroline McDonald as long as 13 years ago and nobody spotted it, the Kent one [KENT-D01334] was recorder by Laura McLane also in Essex and also 13 years ago. Was it the same 'finder' bringing objects into COLEM to 'launder' them? And if so, what a shame it is, isn't it that without privileged access, one cannot check what else that finder or those finders also brought to those two FLOs to include on the database as reportedly local finds.... I'd be interested to know what checks were made to verify this at the time and what plans the PAS now have to verify those other finds brought in by those specific people and their associates thirteen years ago and since, and will we ever learn if any records are 'purged' as a result (transparency PAS).

Kennedy type 5 lamps are dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The reference is Kennedy, Ch. A. 1963, 'Development of the lamp in Palestine', Berytus 14, 1961-63,2, p. 67-115.

I think it is worth repeating part of what else David Knell wrote in that post four yeears ago as it has lost none of its relevance and, disturbingly, remains an issue totally ignored and unaddressed by the PAS and its supporters:

At any rate, that's just a quick glance at the limited number of Roman lamps recorded. I have no idea how many, if any, of the metal finds (buckles, fibulae, keys, coins, etc.) were actually modern imports from the Balkans and elsewhere. From what I've seen so far, my confidence in all of them really being found in Britain is not high. The PAS system is often touted as a perfect panacea to unrecorded looting - and a model for other countries to follow. To be fair, I suspect it was only ever envisaged as a pragmatic compromise, a form of 'damage limitation' to appease the metal detecting lobby, and it also works well for genuinely chance finds. It could be argued that without it the situation would be worse and no finds recorded at all. But sadly, the PAS is inherently open to abuse. What serious scholar can rely on the PAS to compile studies when so many of its records are likely to be polluted with false claims? Is the scholar expected to take pot luck, perhaps basing the study on the sheer number of finds in one location and desperately hoping that some laundering dealer didn't pretend to have found a dozen Bulgarian brooches in a small area? Or realistically, in many cases where accurate data is a must, is the whole system too flawed to be reliable enough for practical use?

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