Monday, 21 January 2019

Surface Sites are Archaeology too

These two citizen archaeologists look like a couple of right charlies, no camo and did they forget their metal detectors?

Investigating surface sites, because archaeologists do

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Man arrested in northern Greece over ancient coins

A 30-year-old citizen of Northern Greece was arrested and will appear before a local prosecutor this week. The man, from the northern Greek region of Pieria is charged with attempting to illegally sell ancient coins over the internet. His home was raided and police found and seized two bronze artefacts and 19 coins, 16 of the coins are dated between the 4th century BC and Roman times (Man arrested in northern Greece over ancient coins Ekathimerini 19th Jan 2019), so next time you buy coins from somebody, first find out who they bought them from.

Artefact Hunting not About 'History', Portable Antiquity Prostitution is a Growing Business. Artefacts Going Abroad (II)

American metal detectorists during a 12 day tour in
Norfolk in 2017. Picture: Norfolk Metal Detecting Tours
Two weeks ago the Mail was telling us about 45-year old Chris Langston's Metal Detecting Holidays in Shropshire dismembering the archaeological record so the organizers can pocket the money - and the searchers bits of the British archaeological heritage. Now we learn of another one who can hardly claim that artefact hunting is not about making money and has little to do with an altruistic interest in 'history'. This next example of disgraceful heritage prostitution is is from Norfolk, apparently the 'number one destination for US detectorists coming to the UK to join organised group trips led by specialist local guides'    (Simon Parkin, 'Norfolk’s hidden treasures luring American metal detector tourists', Evening News 18th January 2019). the artefacts are scattered between many ephemeral personal collections: 

Friday, 18 January 2019

New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters

Raising public awareness (Ivan Dikov, 'New Board Game Pits Archaeologists against Treasure Hunters in Archaeological Sites All across Bulgaria' Archaeology in Bulgaria December 14, 2018): 
A new board entitled “Archaeologists vs. Treasure Hunters", which pits the two groups against one another on a map featuring some of Bulgaria’s most remarkable archaeological sites, has been developed and released by a group of archaeologists. Treasure hunting targetting archaeological sites [...] takes its horrendous toll on the country’s enormous cultural and historical heritage on a daily basis. [...] Bulgarian archaeologists are often pitted against treasure hunters in real life, trying to save whatever can be saved before or after the latter’s destructive raids against Bulgaria’s tens of thousands of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites. Unfortunately, the public tolerance for the treasure hunting crimes in Bulgaria remains rather high, law enforcement fails to crack down on them sufficiently and is often suspected of collaborating with the respective organized crime groups, and many people in the countryside see treasure hunting as a form of decent full or part time employment.
So, a bit like Britain really, where its the archaeologists who are promoting high public acceptance of artefact hunting, there is very little effort to stop those obtaining of selling antiquities (both from local and foreign sources) and the authorities turn a blind eye to the majority of the activity, and the potential for business connections between some of the dealers operating in the UK with foreign organized crime. The game has been developed and released by Archaeologia Bulgarica, an NGO promoting Bulgaria’s archaeology and cultural heritage chaired by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski - former Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

Dr Lamia al-Gailan

From Charles Jones on the Iraqcrisis list:
I'm saddened to report that Dr Lamia al-Gailani has died. She was a participant in this list from the very beginning. She was an occasional contributor but a frequent source of information which she passed along at considerable risk to herself and her contacts in Iraq and therefor asked for anonymity. She was a tireless worker for the people and culture of Iraq. She will be greatly missed.

Twenty years of PAS Liaison Has Got Us Here....

Keeping it to themselves
Over among the 'responsible detectorists' (go and have a look at them) we can see they have a conundrum. one guy does not know what to do:
Dave Reynolds from Llanelli, Wales 15 January at 19:36
I have received an Email from my FLO who would like me to take some of finds into her office. They would like to know find spots which I do have, with a view to explore the area. They are doing a dig not that far from where they were found which is fine. I know that a Roman hoard was found in the area. My question is would you show them or not? Their director is very interested in what I have. I am really unsure what to do. Could I lose the site to them if I show what I have (it's all Roman Coinage and a couple of fibula) [...] Now what would you do? We are taking about 100+ roman bronze a couple of silver and 3 broaches
In general, fellow metal detector users were not at all keen that he should do the responsible thing and show the objects.
Andrew Fudge If it's not treasure then it's your call. You don't need to show them anything. I would ask why    
Paul Wolds Nope. Happened to a Freind [sic] of mine. He showed flo finds, got chatting, told her where the find spot was. She had gone and hassled the farmer to allow archies and herself to go dig it all up. My Freind [sic]  lost the permission and put the farmer on edge about others now wandering his Land on a night.     
Paul Smith Be very wary. I had an almost identical situation to yours and decided to divulge my area to the FLO. Worst mistake ever! Totally hassled the farmer, who in turn blamed me for causing all the unwanted interest on his land. List the permission not long after that. Never again though.

Watching You Watching Me

Hi, guest -  our tracking software shows that its not really going too well for you, is it? You really should not tell lies about other people that you cannot back up.

Let me give you a statistic that I am not sure you can see on our search engine. The number of published posts here 10556. That's ten and a half thousand posts on various portable antiquities collecting and heritage issues. Think about it, young man.

Am I, really, the one who needs to be ashamed for making this material and my views on it available to a wider public? Or is it you who consider that bullying a fellow archaeologist to the point that he resigns to prevent discussion who should be ashamed? The very idea! Shame on you. Who do you think you are and where do you think mobbing will get portable antiquities collecting?

Shared Heritage, Aero Mexico -"DNA Discount"

There's politics and then there's shared heritage...

Not wanting to spoil a good story of rednecks making a spectacle of themselves, the notion of 'Mexican DNA' seems a bit dodgy to me... maybe someone can explain the science to us.


Lifting the Veil

An interesting Facebook profile photo of a metal detectorist:

Dave Reynolds zaktualizował swoje zdjęcie profilowe.
The problem is however that artefact hunting with a metal detector will not find the buildings, their layout and form. The nails might be collected (if they are not discriminated out or discarded). There is therefore a confusion between artefact hunting and archaeology.

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (1)

Wiener schnitzel
Last week, Raimund Karl inserted into a Facebook discussion on the increasing scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales a link to a survey he had done of Austrian archaeological reports that proved something-or-other. He stated there:
[...] if you are truly interested in some more data, based on the examination of c. 1.400 excavation reports, created based on a standardised methodology, on damage being caused to archaeology by 'collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record', here is one:  An empirical examination of archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting'). A case study from Austria. Archäologische Denkmalpflege 2, 2019, 1-34.  It includes lots of examples of collection-driven archaeological exploitation of the archaeological record. five of those are definitely, another seven possibly, attributable to the activities of metal detectorists.

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (2): Prof. Karl's Stated Aims

"better, much better. Tremendous.
In fact... I think we 
can say...  nobody has ever had
such  good results.... 
better than me"

Donald Trump

Explaining in Austria
This text follows on from the first part of my discussion of a recent article: Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (1) and reviewing a recent text by Bangor Professor Raimund Karl. In this one, I want to discuss the way the author sees collecting. But first: 

What is an Archaeological Site?
The way the text is constructed impels us to turn to a fundamental issue (or rather the same one as 'what is archaeology' in part one, but in a different form). Karl's text presents archaeological research as excavation, and excavated evidence as the only type that matters (indeed almost as if its the only type that exists). It seems the underlying premise is that if he can prove little damage is caused by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to stratification in situ, Karl can show that the practice is, in his opinion shown to not be as damaging as other archaeologists make out. As far down as p 28 we get this potted research aim:
The main aim of this study was to conduct an empirical examination of archaeological evidence for damage caused to previously ‘undisturbed’ archaeological contexts by the unprofessional extraction of archaeological finds ex situ, also commonly referred to as ‘looting’; particularly in recent times. 
So, according to this......,

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (3) Results of a 'Study' and their Interpretation

Relic of past greatness
This text is the third in a series looking at a recent paper by Raimund Karl  ('An empirical examination of archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting'). A case study from Austria'. Archäologische Denkmalpflege 2, 2019, 1-34) and is the third and final part of my discussion of it. (see parts 1 and 2 here and here, also see the points made about 'a hole is not a hole, is not a hole' when it comes to artefact hunting, and also 'Archaeologists, Attitudes to Conservation and the Elephant Hunter Argument'

The Research Method and its Results
The 34 pages of this text are bulked out by various stuff, some of it not really needed. Karl's methods are set out on pp 5-9 and seem relatively self-explanatory, though raise serious questions not discussed (below). There are bar charts and histograms and it all makes an impression of Teutonic thoroughness and attention to detail. Except, there are a number of things missing here for this study to actually make sense - even, in fact, in the narrow framework the author had spent the previous four pages (hastily?) constructing......

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (IX): Go on, Guess [UPDATED]

More PAS public dumbdown instead of informing public about portable antiquities issues, but also taunting them, by putting the picture on its side and then trying to appear clever (I know what this is bet you dont!):

The fact it is obviously a modern token (slot on the reverse) and the dialphone numbers and Hebrew script really did not fool anyone, and you wonder what is the point of fooling around like this? What kind of archaeological outreach is that? Zero, actually since the thing is c. 1965.

 But OK, viewers were asked to reflect on 'the main conundrum with this little piece being how it came to be deposited in a field in rural Northern England. Any guesses?'. I'd say the most probable reason why this is in a field is that in the fifty years or so since its striking, it was in somebody's exonumismatic collection, which somehow got broken up and this item got into the field (kids playing 'shop' with late Uncle Benny's coins, house burgled, thief dropped bag in the dark, holed coins used as ersatz roofing felt washers on a cowshed?? Who knows? Anyone can make up a story). But surely PAS is set up for a purpose other than provide artefactological guessing games for the proles.

The point this obviously out-of-place object raises is how may other 'out of place' items in PAS database have similar origins? How can we tell in the case of items that would occur in UK fields anyway? This again is reason to question the reliability of any of the 'data' in the PAS database when it is taken 'as is'.

UPDATE Two hours later
That's sweet:
"Thank you Paul for taking part in the PAS guessing game, your answer is of course correct, it is an Israeli phone token.  Let me also take the opportunity to thank you for your feedback allowing us to consider how the PAS can in future improve their public outreach and spend public money, something we are constantly trying to achieve.Thank you for your interest in the Portable Antiquities Scheme. But for now, let me just leave you and your readers with this message:

Well, that's probably what it says below the "Go Away Barford" Twitter forcefield shielding most FLOs from PACHI observation, bless them. So, what is it about these guessing games, 'on this day' , 'here's a pretty thing' and 'finds advent calendars' that substitute for archaeological outreach that is so sensitive?

I've got a question for Ben Jones. You posted something in the public domain, and when somebody engages with it in the public domain with more than some dumbass joke ('aliens!") - which it seems you can cope with - and actually raises a substantive issue on its basis, you blocked them. Why? Why can't you cope with a non-joke? Does blocking me make that issue and the questions about it disappear? Or if there is no issue, instead of hiding, why not demonstrate that there is no issue? Do't you think that the repetition of this sort of behaviour from the FLOs blocking discussion of awkward issues will one day actually be more widely noticed and considered to be typical FLO behaviour? And when it is, where does that get you? Are you actually capable in the archaeological use of social media of more than guessing games and entertaining piccies of brass Hindu gods and other such curios? Are FLOs there merely to entertain the proles on public money, or do they fulfil a more archaeologically useful purpose - like actually being there to teach archaeology to the public? Israeli telephone counters do none of that.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

'Citizen Archaeology' and Human History

Christopher Jones published one of his powerpoint slides on Twitter

Christopher Jones
It is worth considering how much of that human history so-called 'citizen archaeologists' document with their metal detectors.

Fake Antiquities Flood Market, so What?

There are a large number of fake antiquities out there, some easy to spot, others less so, and probably a whole lot that without extremely sophisticated technical analysis nobody will ever know. But if a fake vase, coin, cunie, lamp, 'Dead Sea' scroll or whatever has been sold as authentic, and its new owner sees no reason to question it and cherishes it as such, sells it to the next guy that also cannot see anything wrong with it... what rim has been committed? The buyers bought what they saw and liked, paid the price they felt like paying to experience having it. What's the big deal?  Is not 'art' about experiences, sensual reception?

Decolonising Papyri Collections

John Rylands Library - Deansgate
Dr Roberta Mazza outlines the ethical issues associated with handling ancient papyri in modern collections (Decolonising Manchester's papyri collection ) she says that the study of collections of this material involves unsettling stories of modern colonialism and cultural heritage misappropriation. In particular this concerns the movement of material from the Middle East to European collections at the beginning of the last century with little if any awareness of the damage inflicted on the archaeological and cultural heritages of the nations of origin.
For this reason, it is nowadays of great importance to view papyrology from a wider historical perspective of modern colonialism and to practice it with much more attention to what I call the ethics of manuscripts. It is of vital importance not only to study but also to make the public aware of the biographies of manuscripts, the way they were legally and illegally excavated and eventually exchanged on the antiquities market. As its custodian, the University has a great responsibility towards the papyrus collection, which belongs to different communities and should be preserved for the future. The contemporary illegal circulation of papyri and other Egyptian antiquities on the market has roots in a longer history that we are part of and is a theme of contentious debate and crucial importance, especially after the Arab Spring led to an increasing number of objects appearing on offer at auctions and online. There are many challenges, and Manchester is making a key contribution to the establishment of good practices not only in terms of conservation and the deciphering of manuscripts, but also in finding more ethical ways of bringing this important cultural heritage to the widest possible audience, in the city and beyond.


'Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord...' [Proverbs 12:22],

[post under construction, pending legal advice]

Can part of Palmyra's lost heritage be saved?

At  Palmyra  modern technologies are being used to restore the ancient site and its treasures
(Giuseppe Mancini, 'Can part of Palmyra's lost heritage be saved?' al-monitor January 15, 2019)
The ancient city had been put on UNESCO's list of endangered sites in 2013, two years after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage was launched the following year, with European Union funding. The project digitized inventories and archives and raised awareness about looting and trafficking. In 2016, after the first occupation of Palmyra by IS, UNESCO, European governments and cultural institutes worldwide initiated a campaign to restore its monuments. Some restoration projects are bearing fruit. For example, in 2016 Italian experts restored two badly mutilated funerary statues, gluing broken pieces together and replacing missing fragments using 3-D printing and nylon powders. Before being restituted to the National Museum of Damascus, they were displayed at the exhibition space at the Colosseum in Rome along with a reconstruction of the bas-relief from the Temple of Bel decorated with the Zodiac. IS dynamited the original. The Damascus museum joined in the collective effort, restoring the 15-ton iconic limestone lion that protected the entrance to the temple of Al-lat. Digital reconstructions are another approach in reviving Palmyra, as “Millennial Cities: A Virtual Journey from Palmyra to Mosul,” a current exhibition in Paris at the Institut du Monde Arabe, demonstrates. Some experts prefer more tangible approaches. For instance, in 2016 Maamoun Abdul Karim, former director of Syrian antiquities, proposed physically reconstructing destroyed buildings through anastylosis, using surviving remains. 

Two Interesting Objects in the Met

"Seated harp player". Marble (29.21 cm).
 Late Early Cycladic I – Early Cycladic II,
 2800/2700 B.C.  . The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York.
Elizabeth Marlowe (' Elizabeth Marlowe, 'The Met’s antiquated views of antiquities need updating' The Art Newspaper 15th January 2019) spotted a couple of objects in the metropolitan Museum of Art that aroused her interest:
the Met’s minimalist labels offer basic descriptions, biographical facts about the subject or clichés about lost Greek originals. There is rarely any discussion of how the objects were found, how they came to the museum or how opinions about them have changed over time—let alone any whiff of controversy or debate. This is a loss, as these are often the most revealing stories these objects can tell. A bronze griffin head displayed at the museum just beyond the ticket counter was found in a riverbed at Olympia in Greece in 1914, only to disappear from the archaeological museum there years later. It resurfaced on the art market in 1948, when it was bought by a Met trustee who eventually donated it to the museum. In the same gallery is an unusual marble statuette of a seated harp player, said by several researchers outside the museum to be a forgery. The museum’s labels make no mention of these stories, or offer only partial truths; the griffin head, for example, is described simply as being “from Olympia”. Indeed, the gap between the information offered in the labels and the often provocative history of the antiquities is so great that a group called Saving Antiquities for Everyone offers its own tours of the Greek and Roman galleries, drawing attention to the details the Met leaves out.

'The Met's response is revealing
[...] “ The Bronze Head of a Griffin was a gift in 1972 from Walter Baker and has never been the subject of a dispute.
Ah so that's OK then, its OK to keep it because they can't touch you for it (?). And the harpist (which I assume is the one figured above):
 The Met has also deployed modern technology to investigate the marble statuette of a harpist, which has revealed decisive evidence — the remains of pigment not immediately visible to the naked eye — that the object is ancient [...]”.
I do hope that's a misrepresentation of the lab report's reasoning,. as the reported explanation is Orientalism par excellence (that a brown-skinned native faker would allegedly be too stupid to think of applying paint and then removing it as a sign of antiquity - fakers vary in quality of the work they turn out and the cleverness of the distressing methods they apply). better would be documentation that allows its proper 'grounding'.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Damage to the Archaeological Record Caused by Collection-Driven Exploitation of Archaeological Sites (A Typology of Hoik Holes)

Metal detecting hole

Having just read a Bangor professor's account of traces of Collection-driven artefact hunting on published Austrian sites, and knowing (as he has admitted), he does not take part in it himself, he and his readers might benefit from an account of how it is generally done and its effects on the archaeological record. There are basically seven types of hole dug in this process, and I'll present them briefly below:

The Met’s antiquated views of antiquities need updating

The new Greek and Roman curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum should rejuvenate its displays with honest, better stories (Elizabeth Marlowe, ' Elizabeth Marlowe, 'The Met’s antiquated views of antiquities need updating' The Art Newspaper 15th January 2019)
Change must begin with new attitudes of openness and transparency. [...] It is also time to rethink the assumption that classical collections must continue to grow. In recent years, international cultural property laws, new professional standards and shifting public opinion have made the legal and ethical acquisition of Greek and Roman art nearly impossible. And that is a good thing. Rather than spending millions on the splashiest big-ticket item on the market, the Met would better serve the public by dusting off some of the thousands of relatively humble objects in its basements, where around 80% of the collection is kept. Silver drinking cups and precious marble coffins may tell us what life was like for the ancient 1%, but ceramic household items and limestone funerary reliefs better illuminate how ordinary Greeks and Romans lived. [...] Fresh perspectives on how classical art is presented would be equally welcome. In many respects, the Met’s galleries seem designed to affirm outdated notions of the classical world as the wellspring of Western ideals of Truth and Beauty. 
In other words, the dealers' representation of portable antiquities as 'ancient art' should be challenged. The trashing of archaeological evidence to produce a commodity should not be dressed-up in the garments of serving a 'higher' virtue ('the love of art').

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Archaeologists, Attitudes to Conservation and the Elephant Hunter Argument

Portable Antiquities Scheme Database
Diplodicus Snarl, the famous Styrian big game hunter has just published an article in the Moldavian periodical 'Ökologische habitatspflege' (Snarl 2018, An empirical examination of ecological damage caused by non-professional extraction of elephant ivory ex situ ('poaching'). A case study from the Republic of Equatorial Guinea'). He argues that ivory is a very useful material, and left on the living animal often never gets even seen by the man on the street and ends up being lost when the animal dies and disintegrates on the decomposing carcass under the tropical sun. He dismisses the conflict of interest between the conservationists who see ivory hunting as causing significant ecological damage (Snarl, 2018 p. 2) and the group of people who argue for the harvesting of as much of this material as possible by amateur hunters so it can be used and not 'go to waste' (Snarl 2018, passim) He says:
'The major disagreement between the two groups thus mainly lies in the cost-benefit analysis: is it better for preservationists to prevent damage to the undisturbed ecosystem is [sic] situ, so that it isn’t disturbed, even if that means that much will be lost completely, because it will never be seen at all? Or is it better for us to extract and use as much ivory and get as much use as possible from what is extracted 'ex situ', whether it has been professionally obtained or not, even if that means that some elephants will be destroyed by non-professional ivory extraction?' (Snarl 2018, p. 2).
Archaeological site after 'collection-
driven exploitation'
I think this is a similar argument to the one applied to archaeology, isn't it?  There have been those that have suggested that there is a similar 'cost-benefit' conflict when it comes to the preservation of the archaeological record as a resource for future use. This goes on the lines of something like: "is it better for archaeology to prevent damage to the undisturbed archaeology is situ, so that it is not disturbed prior to its professional excavation, even if that means that much will be lost completely, because it will never be excavated at all?....". But then is that not what elephant conservation is about? Individual elephants will die a natural death, so will be lost anyway. In the same way we conserve remains of the past (and that goes for historical buildings and other types of cultural property) for a future, without necessarily knowing what that future will be or having any control over it, but trusting that in that future there will be those that care enough to do something about its eventual deterioration and destruction, just as we do. That is what conservation is about - optimism about the future of our concepts of heritage values rather than nihilist pessimism. What these people are saying is the equivalent of: "we might as well scrape all the gold off the stucco in Venice and strip the lead from the roofs there now as the city is sinking and the buildings will be underwater and collapse within a century or so anyway, and Italy will probably be inhabited by uncaring philistines who will not value it as much as we do and have less idea than we do about how to look after it - so we should use them up now as we do not know, cannot know, which ones will be saved". This is the arrogance of presentism.

These supporters of collection-driven exploitation go on:
"...or is it better for archaeology to record as m[any] data as possible about what is excavated and thus destroyed in situ, whether it has been professionally excavated or not, even if that means that some ‘ undisturbed ’ contexts will be destroyed by unprofessional finds extraction?" (Karl 2018, 2).
What 'data' are these? Concerning what? 
This raises a whole load of questions. First of all, what is meant by [archaeological] data here? An ivory tusk from Botswana is evidence of the former presence of an elephant in Botswana, as much as a Roman coin from Bognor is evidence of presence of Romans there, and we can even say roughly (TPQ) when. We can even have loose reports of 'lots of Roman coins' from all over the Bognor region dug out of the archaeological record. But these are not data on the sites and contexts they were hoiked from. They illustrate the historical record to which they can be related (narrativised) because we recognise their shape, can name them, and they have pictures and writing on them They document recent collecting and reporting activities by random individuals engaged in a minority hobby. Not much else. Artefacts are not data in themselves.

Secondly is archaeological evidence an objective existing entity, or is archaeological evidence co-created by the observer? Obviously the latter. If the observer knows what to look for, what it means - understands site formation processes and taphonolmy and how to document it. If not we get the equivalent of ancient aliens, or Inigo Jones' square Stonehenge. It should be obvious that a metal detectorist that cannot even string more that a handful of words into a coherent sentence in his native language or (apparently) read more than eight consecutive sentences without getting lost, has about as much chance of correctly reading and describing the archaeological record of a Roman deposit in a field near Bognor as my cat (the intelligent one - the other one could not even find the field).

Here is the problem for glib soundbite notions of 'citizen archaeology' - coterminous with 'digging up old things'. Through learning and the use of a recognised methodology, we standardise our excavation and recording methods in the way we do so that their reliability because we can see how the knowledge they embody was constructed, where its strong and weak points are (this will be apparent to anyone working on documentation from old excavations as I am doing at the moment). Amateur archaeology is amateur archaeology because it employs archaeological methodology. If archaeological methodologies are not applied, it is not archaeology.

In the same way, and following on from that, bad archaeological evidence is not better than no evidence. Bad evidence is bad evidence, a rotten apple is not better than no apple and should not be packed in a box going to the shop with fresh ones to make up numbers. It has to be discarded. In the same way archaeological material inexpertly 'excavated' and improperly recorded are data that must be discarded or at least treated as wholly suspect and unreliable in any analysis.

Metal detectorists mostly produce loose collectables, not data that tell you anything about the taphonomy of the deposit in which they were preserved, and from which they were taken. Furthermore, by removal of that object, those objects, the original structure of those deposits is changed by the artefact hunter. But anybody later doing a surface survey, of that site will never know that in the first week of July 1982, Bob, Baz and Jez spent a couple of days in tents 'doing over' the site (the boxload of diagnostic artefacts long ago ended up in a skip with a load of other stuff - Jez sold the hammies he found in '86) and eight years later Jayn and Terry 'found a few bits' - one brooch is in Barchester Museum, but only has a four-figure NGR and three other guys also tried their hand several years later, but decided it was not worth their while as they could see by what was now coming up that the site had been 'hammered' by previous visitors, the names of whom the farmer has forgotten. Doing a surface survey of the site, one might tell the field had been 'done over', but not where had been searched, what was taken, and where the surface of the field is relatively untouched by such activity. In that way, any distribution of material across that field is totally distorted, and as a source of information, the distribution pattern of material on that site has been destroyed as surely as if the site had been randomly bulldozed.

Reading what they write (and I've read a lot of it), it seems to me that the archaeologists who support collectors seem to me to be seeing the whole issue from three narrow viewpoints:
1) archaeology as discovery and not a conservation issue,
2) Archaeology as primarily about objects/artefacts, and
3) Archaeology as about individual spots, trenches that are dug, rather than landscapes (that's not the same as dot-distribution maps) and surface survey. Surface sites seem in general outside their field of view* 
The sites are destroyed, nobody profits
The archaeological context is not a coin in a box, and as archaeologists who believe in a future for archaeology, our responsibilities surely go further than dig up everything so the current generation can use it all up now. The cost benefit analysis of trying to use Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record as a form of ersatz archaeology is that the cheap costs of getting 'stuff for an arkie to write about' (ivories) are relatively low, but the material is obtained at the cost of destruction of a part of the archaeological record (the killing of an elephant) and in fact on more caereful analysis, those random loose decontextualised bits and pieces that enter the database are really not of as much benefit to anyone as they are often made out to be.

* Unless its demanding a 'metal detector survey of the topsoil' to 'get those objects out' before digging [digging to find more old objects?]

"The tone of the criticism of this paper has been highly unprofessional"

Sam Hardy's paper ('Quantitative Analysis of Open Source Data on Metal Detecting for Cultural Property', Cogent Social Sciences 3, 2017)) whether or not one agrees with everything he writes, raises some important issues connected with current policies on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. Instead of a discussion of those issues, its publication was accompanied by the rapid appearance of the criticisms of the Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang (Deckers et al 2018), a separate paper by Raimund Karl (2018) and the reaction of treasure-hunter John Howland (2018). Yet it has been so far more or less ignored by 'mainstream scholarship' in the UK (and Europe generally). It is gratifying therefore to see a comment by Neil Brodie who wrote:
I personally think the tone of the criticism of this paper has been highly unprofessional. Makes me think it must be on to something.
As indeed it is. Though I rather think that an argument could also be made for the suggestion that in the case of Bangor and Bournemouth the overproduction of bile might be due to a medical condition, but in the case of some of the Ixelles/Helsinki Gang there is too much grant money reliant on supporting the 'PAS-Proposition' to allow it to be challenged. 

Deckers, PS, Dobat, A, Ferguson, N, Heeren, S, Lewis, M and Thomas, S 2018, 'The Complexities of Metal Detecting Policy and Practice.: A Response to Samuel Hardy, ‘Quantitative Analysis of Open-Source Data on Metal Detecting for Cultural Property’ (Cogent Social Sciences 3, 2017)' Open Archaeology, bind 2018, nr. 4.).
Raimund Karl, 'Estimating' numbers?A response to a paper by Samuel A. Hardy', Archäologische Denkmalpflege Mittwoch, 14. März 2018.
John Howland,  There are two ways of lying. One, by not telling the truth and the other, making up statistics, detecting and collecting blog 1st July 2018
Vignette: No use shutting your eyes, the issues will not go away.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

UK Bottle Diggers, a Dying Breed

Bottle digging deep holes unbelievable ,

Do they talk about trench shoring in Bottle-digging handbooks? One for the PAS to tell members of the public about I would have thought. Appalling disregard among 'history hunters'.

Huge Shortfall in Ability to Cope with Major Increase in Numbers of Detector Using Artefact Hunters in England

The private collection of decontextualised archaeological artefacts is becoming increasingly popular in the British Isles due to the positive publicity it is getting (and lack of proper public information about its effects) on the watch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Treasure hunter John Howland on his "Detecting and Collecting”, blog a go-to place for a detectorists' point of view, is jubilant that a recent DCMS study showed that 1.5 per cent of adults in England had taken part in metal detecting in the last year, without realising the scale of irresponsible artefact hunting that reveals. The figures speak for themselves 1.5% of the current adult population of England is 674 700  people. Nearly seven hundred thousand people (!). The PAS has a capacity to deal with the finds made by just several thousand people. The shortfall is several hundred thousand. That means that if those sorts of numbers of detector users are pocketing archaeological mataerial with no public accountability, without reporting it there are potentially several hundred thousand irresponsible detectorists out there raiding the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit, and compartively only a much smaller quantity that can have a claim to be 'responsible' in some small way.

Surely, even the most diehard supporter of collecting must admit that this situation cannot go on, either we need to invest much more in the PAS 'mitigating' system to increase its capacity by an order of magnitude commensurate with the scale of the removal of artefacts from the archaeological record by artefact hunters - or we need to place curbs on the activity itself to reduce the clandestine destruction. 

Who Are These People? US Government Shut Down and Within Days Archaeological Looting Begins There

In the US, Trump's government shutdown is bringing sectors of the state to its knees, MAGA Republicans are jubilant, sectors of the American public can now use public land as irresponsibly as some of them want, leaving damage and pollution wherever they go.  It seems selfish US metal detector users are indulging their baser passions too. There are rumours that a number of Civil War battlefield sites are being looted during the shutdown due to lack of monitoring.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Bangor has a go on Facebook [UPDATED]

From NGÖ Jahresschrift  2014*
When he's not burying plastic Father Christmases in an Austrian back garden and trying to get the state prosecutor and courts to react to his stunt, Raimund Karl of Bangor seems to want to prove that liberalising laws about 'metal detecting' would be no bad thing (the Father Christmas stunt was part of that). That's not a view that wins him much favour with me, in particular due to the methods he uses to promote his views. Anyway, over on facebook a couple of days ago, one James Hodgson rather superciliously asked me to 'provide a source for these artefacts being 'hoiked' out of the ground in increasing numbers' in England and Wales. I pointed out first that we await a proper report addressing this issue but until then, the most recent published attempt was the text by Sam Hardy, which certainly seems to suggest that the numbers of artefact hunters with metal detectors in England and Wales is reaching disturbingly high numbers. That in turn triggered Karl to draw attention to his own nasty blog text from March last year:
This paper [Hardy's] contains serious methodological and arithmetic errors, of in fact shocking proportions, amounting in one rather significant case to almost a full order of magnitude. See here ( for a discussion of some of the more outrageous mistakes made by the author (who incidentally claims to have based it on a methodology first used in the context of metal detecting by me and one of my PhD students, while obviously not having understood even the most basic tenets of the method we used, nor its purpose and applicability).
Shocking, eh. I drafted a reply for Facebook. In march when I'd read this text through a couple of times, I was going to write a reply here, but in the end I couldn't be bothered. Perhaps I should have done. When discussions get to this level of he-said-she-said tedium, they become  dialogue of the deaf, and serve only to obscure the main fact: We do have a problem with current policies on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. And part of the problem is that we are refusing to admit it. Karl is one of those in denial - in fact like the Ixelles Six he seems to see everything as hunkydory in PAS-land. That is not a view I share. Since he was responding to what I had said to Mr Hodgson I felt like replying. In the end I did not post it, but this is what I wrote as a response:
Professor Karl’s post here, I think should be seen in the context of the fixation he (and others) have with proving that ‘restrictive’ approaches to artefact hunting and collecting “do not work” (and so therefore we would all need a liberal system and a PAS-clone system for picking up the pieces) Hardy has come in for a lot of flak (not all of it methodologically sound) from several academic quarters for the work he has done that shows that these liberal ‘systems’ are very damaging (a view I share).

Since the methodology of Hardy’s paper is set out In detail, and Prof. Karl argues at some length where what is what, the reader can plough through it and decide for themselves who is right where.

For what it is worth, I read it all when he published it in March last year and will just say I think Karl overstates his case, is unnecessarily offensive in his phrasing and not right in his overall assessment. But as I say, readers can decide for themselves.
For my part, despite all he says there, I still think the archaeological heritage of England and Wales (and archaeology itself) would be better served by the introduction of a permit system than what we have now.  
What the reader should notice is that while Hardy sets out the numbers he has deduced, and the basis on which he does so (precisely so they can be assessed) all that Karl does here is attack them, without providing any figures of his own to replace them. This is pretty typical of the pro-collecting lobby on the whole.

The point made so 
triumphantly by Karl (‘that little nugget’) about metal detecting in the USA is however correct, which Hardy admits here in a correction to the original article  (a text Karl has 'somehow' omitted to mention) . I do not think however that it actually affects the general argument of Hardy’s paper and in particular about the situation in England and Wales.

I also still feel it is irrelevant who first thought of the idea of mining information from the social media to see behind the scenes of ‘metal detecting’, Karl claims it was him in 2016. In fact, Nigel Swift and I were using these kind of data for this purpose a decade earlier. I suspect that Karl just uses the suggestion of Hardy’s 'borrowing' his idea as grounds for the subsequent nastiness (and for the record the paper by Moeller and him and its 'method' are discussed on this blog at some length).

But what this curious example of blog wars demonstrates is something else. Why – in the case of the UK - are we having this discussion like this at all? Where is the official survey by HM government, the CBA, CIfA, commissioned report from OA, or anywhere else? Why is this being slogged out as an academic punchup between Hardy and Karl ? How many metal detectorists are there in the UK, what are they taking and how much of it, and how does that relate to the coin-heavy records that are being made by the PAS?
When are we going to see some soundly-based definitive official figures instead of all this? Surely that should be the main fruit of twenty years liaison in the UK.

I'll just point out for its general entertainment value, that in the March text to which he links, one of the key points in the opposition of 'liberal/restrictive laws' is that Austria has a 'restrictive' legislation Cf what he was arguing in the comments under this post last week, and getting quite stroppy about. 

* Wanna know who Netzwerk Geschichte Österreich are? Look here. Members of the ECMD. 

UPDATE  11th Jan 2019

Hardy reminds us of a later article Hardy, S.A. Metal-Detecting for Cultural Objects until ‘There Is Nothing Left’: The Potential and Limits of Digital Data, Netnographic Data and Market Data for Open-Source AnalysisArts 20187, 40. that expands on his use of the 'netnographic' data.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Scale of the Artefact Hunting Recording Crisis in Wales

Physical geography of Wales
A few days ago I published on my blog a short text called 'Unreported 'Metal Detecting' Reaches Crisis Proportions in England and Wales'. The erosion of the archaeological record this implies is quite an important topic, but - as is usual - the text itself is not being discussed over on Facebook, here somebody posted a link. But the picture I used in the post on my blog is. That's apparently very important for some. You see, the map of population density in England that  relates to just one part of the text does not (for some reason - probably that Wales is not England) show Wales. For some,  that was somehow reason to dismiss the reasoning it contained. One contributor said 'to engage with people about the situation it is hardly helpful to alienate them'. Wales is being 'alienated', they say, by not picturing it on a map of England. In my opinion, Wales should not feel 'alienated' by me, they have a whole blog to themselves (Na i PAS ar gyfer Cymru: No to a Welsh PAS). Anyway, let us take a look at what evidence we have from Wales and see if there are grounds for saying that it is both England and Wales that we can identify a recording crisis when it comes to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record (and a lot of damaged sites and the concomitant numbers of those 'floating' artefacts decontextualised by collecting - Daubney 2017).  Or is Wales in some way different from the rest of the British Isles?

How many Artefact Hunters in Wales?
The population of Wales is 3.2 million, how many of them are active artefact hunters and collectors? In 2011, I guessed that the answer might be 500. I now think this was a low estimate even for then.  Some clubs have over a hundred active members (Gwent Detecting Club for example 150). Clubs come and go, but there are ten others listed here. The Detecting Wales discussion forum recently had (Hardy 2017) around 3,356 members* these would have included both England-based detectorists crossing the border to search as well as Welsh nationals. Specifically discussing artefact hunting in Wales, Lodwick (2008) is mainly concerned to talk about the successes of PAS in Wales, he does not actually address the issue of how many detectorists the PAS is reaching and not reaching. The first figures that have been advanced and based on what empirical data we have are those of Sam Hardy's careful research. Hardy (2017, 8.2. Secure underestimates) has estimated the number as around  1,797 Welsh detectorists ('a far larger detecting community[...] than has previously been identified'). Though it seems clear that in addition to these, English detectorists are crossing the border and taking home artefacts from the archaeological record of Wales that are not getting into the Welsh PAS system.

These numbers seem to have been increasing in recent years. We can see this in the case of the number of Treasure items that are being found. Reporting is mandatory, so if we assume artefact hunters with metal detectors are for the most part following the law (which is the position of all who support this hobby) the rise in numbers since 1999/2000 (the beginning of PAS in Wales) - oscillating between 10-15 thousand, and today (2017 - reportedly 40 cases with the comment that the numbers are still increasing) . If the ratio of 'Detectorists finding Treasure in a year: 'Detectorists finding Treasure in a year' remains more or less the same, rising Treasure find numbers can only mean rising numbers of Treasure hunters out there in the fields. In the ten years 2000-2010 the rate more or less doubled and the same (or maybe greater) rate of growth of the hobby looks like it is happening in the current decade.

How many objects are they finding? 
The research that lies behind the Heritage Action counter suggested a national average of just over thirty objects per year were being dug out of the archaeological record by the statistical detectorist that should be recorded so that archaeological information is not lost.
There is no reason why this average should not apply to the fertile farmlands of South Wales (Gwent-Glamorgan) or parts of the northern and eastern regions. This is where the majority (about two thirds) of the country's population lives anyway. So to make things fair, let us apply that value to half the detectorists in Wales of Hardy's figures (899 detectorists = 27180 objects) and let us reduce to  a paltry in comparison figure of 15 (for the sake of argument) the annual  collections of the rest in less abundant areas of the country (900 detectorists = 13478 objects). According to these figures, the total should be therefore somewhere around 40,660 objects.

How many are being reported?
Much smaller numbers. While in the previous years, the PAS records for Wales were mixed in with those from England in the Annual reports, in 2015 a separate report for Wales was published (I have not yet located online copies of the reports for 2016, 2017 or 2018, but the results will presumably not differ hugely)

Finds reporting in 2015
If we look at the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure  Annual Report for Wales 2015, (which also offers no estimate of numbers of 'detectorists' in Wales by which we can measure the extent of outreach), we find that in that year PAS recorded (p. 2) just 1126 objects (with the usual pat-head information "90% reported by metal detectorists"). This is rather odd as of these 31% (p.12) were lithic items (not detectable by metal detectors - see also Lodowick 2008, 108). On p.5 we learn that PAS normally manages to record c.1500 objects a year. In 20165, the breakdown (p. 10) is lithics 457 objects, Coins and tokens, 709 (48%!) and just 313 other metal artefacts (21%!). In addition:
Over one quarter (27.2%) of the finds recorded via PAS Cymru in 2015 were discovered in England. These were found by metal detectorists living in Wales, finding artefacts in England, but choosing to report their finds in Wales.
The system was overtaxed in 2015:
While artefacts were recorded across Wales, it is apparent that the figures predominantly reflect areas of best current recording coverage, where the PAS Cymru Co-ordinator and volunteer Steve Sell are able to attend meetings monthly. Finds from Swansea (324), Bridgend (108) and Vale of Glamorgan (222) were therefore particularly well represented. Reasonable numbers of recorded finds from west Wales: 135 from Pembrokeshire, 52 from Carmarthenshire and 46 from Ceredigion. These attest to some coverage and recording function being achieved here. The lack of finds recorded from across north-west and north-east Wales is not a true picture of what is found each year, but a symptom of current limited and stretched staffing and coverage in these areas.
So basically the evidence we have suggests that some 1800 artefact hunters with metal detectors (and an unknown number of eyes-only lithics collectors) are exploiting the archaeological record of Wales as a 'mine' for historical collectables. The figures we have suggest very strongly that each year over 40000 recordable items disappear from the record into their pockets,  and of these some 1500 annually reach the public record through the PAS. In other words, this means that one in thirty of the disappeared finds get recorded.

Even if Hardy's figures were a vast over estimate, and ours too, the results are still disturbing. Just as a thought-experiment, halving Hardy's estimate of the number of detectorists in a country with a population of 3.2 million to just 900 artefact hunters and assuming they find on average just one recordable item a month  would give us 10,800 objects found, which would still mean nine in ten items removed from the archaeological record would be being lost through current UK policies on and models of Collection Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. But I would stress that there is absolutely no evidence to lower the figures even that far.

*Two years on, it is now  3728

Daubney, Adam. 2017. Floating culture: The unrecorded antiquities of England and Wales. International Journal of Heritage Studies 23: 785–99.

Lodwick, M. (2008). ‘Metal-Detecting and Archaeology in Wales’, in S. Thomas & P. G. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology: the relationships between archaeologists and metal detector users (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), 107-18.

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