Saturday, 11 July 2020

Mary and Jesus Detecting, Piously Roman

eBay seller craig20050 (14583) has quite a few metal detected finds for sale, 113 to be precise. Some are displayed on the pages of finds catalogues with prices in them - such catalogues would be good to make available to farmers looking over the finds made by metal detectorists on their land, before they say, "yeah, take the lot for a fiver". A rather thought-provoking find is this  Un Researched Roman Bronze coin Empress ? Mary and Jesus detecting (its a Theodora Pietas Romana, 337-340 AD).   PAS tells us that their proteges are all passionately interested in history, and not in the money at all. yet it is so easy just a mouse click or two away to find so many blokes like this that go out remove stuff from sites, don't even bother to look them up properly, and just flog them off. That's not a passion for history, there is no intellectual curiosity (or capacity) revealed here for actually learning about history, just a bloke out to make some money. If these are his own finds, does a man living in Pontefract, Yorkshire have a permit for searching the Thames foreshore in London with a metal detector?

"Name Found on Inscribed Ingot!"

Welsh pig

ChesterArchSoc @ChesterArchSoc · 6 g.
Ingot found near Wrexham. 'If researchers are able to confirm that Marcus Trebellius Maximus’ name is indeed inscribed on the lead bar, then it will be the sole relic bearing his name ever unearthed in the United Kingdom, reports the Star.'
Sooooo? They found a name, a name that matches the name that was in the documents, and .....?

Archaeologist: "A Pragmatic Approach to Artefact Hunting Works and has Benefited the Heritage of the Country Greatly

It's bucketing down in Warsaw at the moment so the forest walk is less inviting, but am having an interesting discussion with one of the few FLOs that has confidence in their ability to actually talk to concerned individuals like me. It started when he used the R word ("responsible artefact hunting" - for me that is an oxymoron) but Twitter is not a good place to continue any kind of a discussion. So here's an experiment. At one stage Peter Reavill (on his personal account) said:
Peter Reavill @PeterReavill ·8 min
These are my personal views Paul and I do not speak for the scheme as a whole. I do know that a pragmatic approach works and has benefited the heritage of the country greatly. [...] 
The 'pragmatic approach' (a phrase coined by Roger Bland)  means 'letting artefact hunters get on with it, as long as they show us some of what they find'. Twitter is no place to answer the question that comes to my mind properly, so I invite Mr Reavill to think about what he means and reply in a comment here. I think Mr Reavill has after his 17 years FLOing a fair idea of how to phrase his own personal answer to that question, as an archaeologist like myself.
"has benefited the heritage of the country greatly" [Leaving aside 'country'], serious question, can you (personally) as an archaeologist define 'benefit', 'heritage' and 'greatly' relative to the archaeological record, and not in the language of collectors or loose artefacts?
Will he? FLOs like to pretend they do not read this blog. I will leave aside the question of "heritage of the country" because I believe (as I must  as the author of a blog on the implications of the global antiquities trade) that heritage is not just a national(ist) issue, but I'd like to hear what the FLO-archaeologist has to say about just what metal detectorists contribute to archaeology.

[Rather insultingly], Mr Reavill requested:
"The caveat is that you use this response in the way it is intended rather than to fuel your agenda"
Hmmm. My agenda here is getting the issues talked about openly, and I invite him as a guest writer to share his views with readers of this ('biased' he says) blog. I suspect he's afraid I might say I disagree with him. OK, the deal is this, I will only comment on the things in his reply that I agree with. OK? Less scary?

Mr Reavill, if you answer, since we are talking about European archaeology in the 2020s, in fairness I will warn you that I do not like dot-distribution maps and culture-historical atavism. Also this is not about tekkies merely following the Treasure Act, I am more interested in this PAS thing that is there "to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public [and] to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them". What can you tell me about that in the context of the question posed above? 

Friday, 10 July 2020

Iranian Antiquities Smuggled to Austria Returned

Teheran Times, 'Ancient relics smuggled to Austria back home' July 10, 2020.

A batch of Iranian ancient relics that had been smuggled to Austria, was found in a safety-deposit box of a bank in Austria in April last year. The bank set about renovating the building which meant emptying the safe-deposit boxes inside the bank. They notified the holders of the safe-deposit boxes that the bank, but in the cases when nobody came forward they were opened by the bank. It was then that it was discovered that one of the holders kept some antiquities of gold and silver in his/her box. Note the terminology:
“The images [that we have been received from the confiscated objects] show a metal rhyton in the Achaemenid style, which its counterparts are found in the National Museum of Iran and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and a bronze headpiece of the Sassanid King (Shapur II), the original of which is made of silver being kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York….,” he explained. 
The objects were handed over to a representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Vienna on Thursday. 

Two things. Iran is one of those areas of antiquities collecting where there are enormous numbers of  fakes and misattributed artefacts on the market (particularly 'Luristan'). We can't see these objects up close, but from a distance the patina across a large part of the batch is pretty uniform. The rhyton is said to be "in Achaemenid style" and the bronze [bust] of which the original is in the Met. suggests that the recipients know that many of the items in the batch are fake .

Secondly, we are starting to learn that in the antiquities grey market, after smuggling, artefacts are frequently stockpiled hidden away (often eight to ten years - or more) to |"surface" when the paper trail is more likely to have grown cold. In this case, it seems that the dealer had died and was unable to retrieve the hidden artefacts in the time allowed. How many more such caches are there in European bank vaults?

Commercial Metal Detecting Rallies Get the Boris go-Ahead

Now that Britain has created an effective mobile phone tracking system as advanced as the ones developed in the EU to safeguard the public, the NCMD has just published this:
Covid 19 Update 9th July 2020
Larger digs are now allowed in England Digs for up to 30 people were permitted from the 4th July. Today the DCMS have confirmed that businesses and charitable trusts (amongst others) may run events for more than 30 people. [...] However please note that this still means that anyone running digs who are not a registered business may still restricted by law to 30 people (including support staff). We will seek legal advice for club events and issue guidance when we have it. However please note we do not represent commercial dig organisers and they should seek their own legal counsel if they are unsure of the law. We strongly urge every event organiser to comply fully with these rules and procedures. New regulations allow for on the spot fines and/ or prosecution if they are found to be in breach of the regulations. [...] Finally, we urge you to please protect our hobby’s reputation and be responsible in organising events, and avoid attending illegal digs at this time
 So, instead of uselessly patrolling in fluorescent yellow-painted cars in order to catch the chronically colour-blind nighthawk in action, police rural crime units can visit rallies and award spot fines to any irresponsible behaviour noted. Dodgy rallies should be easier to find than nighthawks, bigger. Note the NCMD suggesting avoiding illegal metal detecting "at this time"

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Ooo, "How Lucky we Are!"

Prof Carenza Lewis @CarenzaLewis · 11 g.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded 1.5 MILLION finds - an amazing achievement - just think how much knowledge about the past is now available for us all in those 1,500,000 objects. Well done, every single person involved. The UK is lucky to have @findsorguk
How lucky? The population of England and Wales is 56 million - that means that over the period of 23+ years (at a net cost of millions of pounds), only one in 33 members of the public has ever shown anything to the Scheme. How deeply has its message of 'Best Practice' in fact penetrated British society?

The people who are "lucky" are the fifty or so archaeologists that the PAS has secured employment for down the years.

In any case, how much "knowledge about the past" is actually contained in a heap of loose objects on something called a database, and how does one define "knowledge about the past"? Ebay's millions of loose British portable antiquities also provide "knowledge" about old things too, don't they? And that showcase of antiquities costs the public nothing. 

What detailed use has Prof Lewis been making of the information about finds made by the members of the public in their gardens and fields around their houses in her ongoing work on  Currently Occupied Rural Settlements in Eastern England? As far as I can see, she has not been making extensive use of this material in her community archaeology projects - and if these 'data' cannot be used in this kind of research (think about it a minute), then what use are they?

When the PAS is scrapped to save money (post-Covid and post-Brexit), it will be seen how deeply the lessons it was created to teach finders about an ill-defined 'best practice' have in fact sunk in. Then we will assess how "lucky" it was that Britain elected to deal with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in the way it did 1997-2020, and how much of a "success" that was, seen in the long-term perspective.

"A lovely find": It's got pictures and writing on it - and wottalott've them we got! [UPDATED]

"A piece of history in your hand"
 versus archaeological evidence
Hooray, hooray..
Dr John Naylor @DrJohnNaylor
This is an amazing achievement, 1.5 million finds recorded by @findsorguk. A lovely find for the milestone too, a 13th-century #medieval papal bulla which acted as a seal of authenticity on papal documents. This one from #Shropshire is for Pope Innocent IV.
But that is "1,500,005 objects within 959,943 records", but where are the missing 6,755,161 records since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme? In the light of this, in what way is this an "amazing achievement" when it seems nearly seven million recordable artefacts have been simply pocketed without a trace since the beginning of the PAS? Is that not, instead "shocking"?

Update 9th July 2020

Metal detectorist, unconcerned about the scale of destruction caused by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record.
richard wills@rickwills40 W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues
It's absolutely marvellous , well done Pas . A real figure from actual facts . Can't say anything about the " missing " made up number .
The actual facts are that despite 23 years' "liaison" with artefact hunters, PAS is in no position to provide any fact-based estimate of their own to challenge ours. In that case, ours is the best available until they do.

The fact also is that Mr Wills uses as his Twitter avatar photos of the obverse and reverse of the same snapped hammered coin metal detector find, yet refuses to admit whether or not it has been recorded by the PAS. There are many artefact hunters in Britain that are content to cash in on the legitimation that the PAS (and its "responsible metal detectorists") provides for their exploitative hobby, but in fact themselves do not produce more than a handful, if that, of their own collection for recording.

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