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 found 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. 


Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

The archaeologist is not "disrespectfully posing with a skull as if it's some kind of trophy." That phrase wrongly implies that they put it on a stick or placed their elbows on it, or something like that.

What the archaeologist is in fact doing, is holding up a skull for the camera while examining it in a perfectly somber manner. As any photo of this kind, it is of course staged. But that does not make it "disrespectful posing".

Paul Barford said...

I disagree, this is gratuitous use of human remains and is in no way 'educational' (that there are bones in an inhumation cemetery is news to nobody). There are ethical codes and guidelines for dealing with human remains in archaeology - here for example: http://archaeologyuk.org/apabe/pdf/APABE_ToHREfCBG_FINAL_WEB.pdf http://archaeologicalethics.org/journal-article/ethics-and-the-archaeology-of-human-remains/ and also professional treatment of human remains during exhumations.

The discoverer here is depicted as displaying one of his trophies, and I think this is wrong, whether or not he is "somber" or smiling.

The Girl With No Regrets said...

It is very possible that the finds from this site have not yet been entered onto the PAS database yet. The majority of the finds were taken to the University of Lincoln's conservation department to be cleaned and conserved by the conservation students. I had two objects from this site to work on last year and have another two this year, one of them being the ivory bag ring that can be seen in one of the most used photographs from this excavation. I am also writing my dissertation on another group of objects found at the site.

I have looked on the PAS and the sleeve clasps that I worked on last year are not yet listed so as I say, it is entirely possible that they haven't yet been uploaded.

Paul Barford said...

But that is exactly the point I am making. So somebody is keeping close to their chest the information about what that member of the public with a metal detector initially found and reported. So what we see on the PAS cannot be seen as a reliable record of that.

Unknown said...

I have 105 years ago indian coin..how much i will get

Unknown said...

I have a 105 years ago indian coin..how much will i get ..

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