Monday, 7 October 2019

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (X): Out-of-Place Osirises

Two objects recorded by the PAS, both "metal detected finds on ploughland". The first by Rob Webley on a Weekend Wanderers rally in August 2004 (Notes: This record was made at a rally and may thus fall below our usual standards of recording. Further, windy weather precluded the use of scales at this particular eventRecord ID: HAMP-420491
Object type: FIGURINE, Broad period: UNKNOWN, County: Hampshire. A cast copper-alloy figurine with front face moulded and head moulded in the round. The figurine is thin with a median ridge running longitudinally down the rear face, extending below the feet where it is perhaps broken. The figure wears a large headdress. He is bearded, with the beard extending down to the upper chest. Ears and the nose are moulded and eyes and mouth delineated. The figure's arms are bent at the elbows and the hands are opposite each other on the chest. An object, possibly an implement or instrument, is held in each hand. The feet are conjoined and extend outwards giving a maximum width of 24.2mm. The figure is Egyptian in appearance and has been identified as Osiris by British Museum staff. A dating of c. 500 BC was also given. How this item came to be in a Hampshire field is a mystery! The full moulding of the head and the continuation of the rib suggest that the figurine was meant to be displayed standing up. Companies are known to have been selling identical statues of Osiris in the late 1990s (see e.g. 'Coins and Antiquities' magazine, November 1998, 37), L.: c. 76 - c. 89mm.
Findspot: Crondall (Civil Parish) Grid reference source: From a paper map, Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 10 metre square. (eh? How?)

Osiris from 'Hampshire' (left) and 'Somerset' (right)
The second object was recorded by Anne Booth 13th August 2009 Record ID:  SOM-18AD04
Object type: FIGURINE, Broad period: IRON AGE, County: Somerset. A complete copper alloy Egyptian statue of Osiris. He wears the double-feathered Atef crown with uraeus and holds the crook and flail in mummiform fashion (sic). On the back are two attachment loops, one in the centre of the figure's shoulders and one just above the base (which has been bent upwards), with a further loop to the left of the base. These together with a tab below the base are probably to allow it to be mounted on a wooden base. John Taylor from the department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum believes it to be genuine. He suggests that 'there are many very close parallels for this type of image of Osiris, as they were made in thousands as votive offerings during the Late Period and Ptolemaic Period (seventh to first centuries BC)'(pers. comm.). He sees many very similar figurines as they were extremely popular with collectors during the late 18th and 19th centuries and this probably explains why the object was found in this country [...]
Findspot:  Spatial data recorded. This findspot is known as 'Upper Cheddon', grid reference and parish protected. Grid reference source: From a paper map Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

There are a couple of things which might be discussed here, like how those National Grid References were established, the total lack of standardisation of the descriptions, and the fact that the ridge at the back was not recognised by either recorder as related to the casting of these thin items (they were mass-produced in multiple moulds), and one recorder assigns it to (an) Iron Age, the other is not sure where to place it in the PAS chronological scheme. These are all factors that make the database less consistent and less searchable.

Obviously, my interest in these items is as 'out-of-place' artefacts. Mr Webley uses an exclamation mark and looks at an antiquities dealer's current offerings, Ms Booth more calmly explains it as a collectors' loss. As of course they both clearly are.

The 'appreciation of the past' through collecting archaeological artefacts is not just a habit restricted to the late 18th and 19th centuries. As the modern catalogue quoted by Webley (other examples online) and the very existence of the hobby of "metal detecting" (practised by perhaps 27000 people today) show, this is increasingly popular today. Huge numbers of small portable antiquities - not only of metal - are today in private hands, and many of them will fail to pass on to other collectors as Daubney's "floating culture". Many will end up in landfills and other dumps, and some will turn up again in the countryside. Like the Alexandrian tetradrachms discussed earlier (or a Syrian lamp). In the case of obviously out-of-place objects like these two, they can be detected and dismissed,but then what about Greek and Roman coins that are collectors' losses? How can they be separated out from those that were in use and lost /deposited in antiquity? What about non-descript Roman or Medieval items, fittings etc that are similar in style and form over large areas of the Old World? Buckles and pins metal-detected in Bulgaria and bought up on eBay to 'seed' a commercial rally site in Britain for example (was this the origin of the Crondall one, found on a rally)? How can they not be included on the PAS database if not spotted by an FLO looking more critically at what 'finders' bring to them, as in the case of a Danubian fibula found (or 'found') on another Weekend Wanderers rally, this time in Surrey?

More to the point, look at John Taylor's comment quoted above.
He sees many very similar figurines.
So why does he see 'many' of them (and who brings them, collectors, gardeners and dog walkers?) and yet in twenty years, only two turn up in the PAS database?

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