Sunday, 23 April 2017

'Treasure 20', British Museum Dumbdown and Perverted Misrepresentation of Archaeological Research

Laura Silverman in her 'lifestyle' presentation of Treasure hunting and the Treasure 20 campaign begins with 'a horror story in history (sic) circles about how we almost lost the treasure at Sutton Hoo'. which she then uses as justification for Mike Lewis enthusing how wonderful the Treasure Act is for saving 'many important archaeological objects' which 'were not protected by law', putting 'our heritage at risk'. This is the problem when you look at archaeology as merely about digging up 'treasures'. The Treasure Act only refers to artefacts made of precious metal (gold or silver) or prehistoric metal objects found in hoards. Any artefacts of bronze not in a hoard, or not prehistoric, any wooden objects (like those at Must Farm), wooden tablets with writing on them, pretty cavalry helmets, stone sculptures of gods and devils, fall through the net. This selective law based on the material an item is made3 of rather than its archaeological or cultural significance law is a travesty, a totally inadequate basis for defining cultural property. That's why collectors love it so much. It is worth asking ourselves which of the iconic items in the British Museum, found in Britain, would have been claimed for the nation under such a law. the Rosetta stone no, the Parthenon and Bassae marbles, no. The Folkton drums, Icklingham lead tanks, no. And som on - if the True Cross was dug up in a garden outside Glastonbury ift could quite legally be put on EBay by the finder. No Mr Lewis, the law you are praising is Bonkers-Britain crap and needs changing. Everybody is well aware of it, and nobody lifts a finger to do anything about it. Your dumbdown Treasure 20 campaign ('viewers vote' like some pathetic lowbrow reality show in a karaeoke 'who needs the experts' tekkie lovefest) does absolutely nothing to advance that public debate. It is shameful that someone in your position acts as if he does not see that.

In any case, reducing every piece of archaeological evidence (artefact) to the lowest possible common denominator of 'treasures' (and not treasures - like the Sutton Hoo ship nails) in this case obscures an important difference between Basil Brown and the the team of archaeologists who excavated the site and gormless grabby hoikers with metal detectors. That is Mrs Pretty was looking for knowledge, not 'treasure'. That may be difficult for 'lifstyle' journalist to grasp, but it is the job of archaeological outreach organizations to put them right. It seems from the resulting article written in collaboration with the British Museum that this task is well beyond the capabilities of the current team making up the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

STOP Institutional Promotion of Destructive Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaological Record

In response to the fatuous Treasure 20 initiative of the British Museum, perhaps a body advocating real-archaeology (the one that's not a grabby treasure hunt) could draw attention to five million portable antiquities which have NOT found their way onto the PAS database since it was set up twenty years ago and many of which are probably now in skips and landfill. FIVE million Portable Antiquities Losses due to current policies which allow artefact hunting and make responsible reporting voluntary.

I think equally the same responsible UK real archaeology bodies should be calling on the British Museum to call a halt to the Treasure 20 campaign, which only promotes treasure-hunting and nothing else. 


Metal Detecting 'Partnership'

Dave's a 'little treasure'Metal Detecting 'Partnership'
Artefact hunters hoiking stuff from the archaeological record for personal collection are the epitome of self-centred behaviour. Sam Hardy highlights something noteworthy in a bit of that Telegraph Treasure 20 article:
  5 godzin temu5 godzin temuWięcej"The coins were valued at £320,000. Crisp celebrated by buying his wife a box of chocolates and showering her in £200." True love.

Dismay in the Ranks: 'Archaeological Looting Can Enhance your Lifestyle - Have a go!'

A British archaeologist breaks ranks, describing a recent text in the media as:

one of the most crass, ill informed and damaging articles in national press I've ever read encouraging metal detecting
Another is inclined to agree with her:
Mike Nevell‏ @Archaeology_UoS 2 hrs ago. In reply to @lornarichardson  
 I can't see any redeeming features in this article or the event. Why would the BM do this? Undermines the PAS totally.
PAS started undermining their own mission from day two, I think.

I do not know which article so incensed Ms Richardson (because she thinks she has nothing to say of interest to me so to save me wasting time reading what she says there, she has kindly blocked me from accessing her tweets). Nevertheless I think it is a fair bet that she is referring to: Laura Silverman, 'What it's like to uncover buried treasure with a metal detector – and how to do it yourself' Telegraph [in the 'Lifestyle' section] 23 April 2017. This gaily announces:
To celebrate 20 years of the Treasure Act, the Telegraph is launching Treasure 20 in association with the British Museum. The competition will highlight the 20 best treasure finds discovered over the past 20 years, picked by experts and Telegraph representatives. [...]  Readers will then be able to vote online for their favourite.
Which - pray tell us British Museum - will result in what, precisely? The BM most likely are totally unable to explain what this is about in any sensible way, but of what they did contribute to this irresponsible 'loot-enhancing-lifestyle-lauding' text, I was interested to see this bit:
Lewis says there are up to 10,000 regular metal detectorists.
You've pinched MY (old) figures Mr Lewis. Sam Hardy says there are many more. I think he's right. And who remembers how much trouble we had dragging out of the PAS any kind of an estimate for the number of artefact hunters in England and Wales in the past? One of the PAS staff seems a bit confused by the dumbdown outreach they are forced to undertake:
Dr Marsden believes “an absolutely enormous amount” of treasure is left in the ground. “Metal detectorists are like rescue archaeologists,” says Dr Marsden.
No, Treasure hunters are Treasure hunters, archaeologists are archaeologists, archaeology is not 'just' about digging up old things and if Dr Marsden really does think that is all it is, in my opinion he needs to think about getting another job.

The British Museum should be urged by British archaeological and heritage conservation bodies to to drop this ill-considered 'Treasure 20' campaign, which only promotes treasure-hunting and nothing else (it is not even 'encouraging reporting, because reporting Treasure is obligatory). Scandalous. 

Treasure 20: 'What it's like to uncover buried treasure with a metal detector – and how to do it yourself'

Following the Code by Detecting on Pasture?
And here's some 'advice' how to trash an archaeological site on your own courtesy of the British Museum's 'Treasure 20' and their approved treasure seeker Dave Crisp:

Artefact Hunting: How to get started

  • Buy or borrow a metal detector. The Garrett Ace 150 (£149.95) is popular with beginners. Experienced enthusiasts swear by the XP Deus (from £715). Both from
  • Take a small spade for digging, and a bag and piece of cloth for potential finds.
  • Pick a field. There is no magic location. The same field can turn up nothing one day and a hoard the next.
  • Get written permission from the landowner. You can download a form from the National Council of Metal Detecting website (
  • Follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal D-detecting ( It is important that all finds, not only treasure, are recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
  • Be methodical. Swing the detector slowly, keeping the level with the ground.
  • Stay alert. I have found a Neolithic axe head, fossils and pottery in the grass just by looking.
  • Be patient. The joy of metal detecting is in the surprise. For your local metal- detecting club, see
Metal Detecting: All You Need to Know To Get Started by Dave Crisp (Greenlight Publishing, £12)

You see, that is "all" you need to know to go about dismantling an archaeological assemblage in order to fill your pocket with collectable artefacts. there is (of course) NOTHING more to know about deposit taphononomy, deposition conditions, soil changes, surveying and plotting techniques. ANYBODY can be a 'citizen archaeologist' by simply buying a machine and going out there wiv there spade.

Mr Crisp, you have a lot to answer for. British Museum too.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Binning a Large Part of the Nation's Archaeological Heritage

In a rambling unfocussed post on his blog ('Cufflinks, Superstitions and the Death of the Tanner' 23 April 2017) veteran artefact hunter John Winter is candid about just how much artefact hunting actually is 'artefact rescue' as is so often claimed by its unreflexive supporters:
In all my years of swinging the coil, I have amassed quite a few odds and ends. They will be worth very little – if anything – to my descendants. When I eventually shrug off my mortal coil they’ll just see them as a nuisance and hire a skip for disposal. 
They'd be 'worth' a whole lot more to us all if they were properly documented. Is that not part of the 'best practice' the PAS should be imparting to these folk? Since 'metal detecting' has been going on since the 1970s and demographically it always was a hobby predominantly associated with males already of about retirement age, one wonders just how many of the hundreds of thousands of unrecorded artefacts that they hoiked in their day have already ended up in skips and landfills, wasting all the information destroyed in their selfish removal?



What the No-Questions-Asked Commerce in Portable Antiquities Does to the Archaeological Record

All over the classical world, sites like Caere (Modern day Cerveteri) are looted repeatedly to supply dealers with portable antiquities to profit from by selling them to collectors. In the no-questions-asked trade in artefacts there is no distinction between dodgy dealers and the others. They are all mixed up in the 'dirty art' trade. Those that oppose heritage protection measures should be ashamed of themselves. (photo  Redazione, 'Tombaroli ancora in azione a Cerveteri' OrticaWeb, 6 April 2017).

Hat tip Lynda Albertson

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