Saturday, 27 September 2008

Mixed media

The British media really do not know what to make of artefact hunting and collecting. This is not surprising since British archaeologists don’t seem to have much of a stomach to take a lead on this matter and there is a government supported Portable Antiquities Scheme sending out utterly ambiguous messages. Instead of informing public opinion, most journalists take an easy way out. A good example is the approach of the media to the tale of Hampshire metal detector using artefact hunter Peter Beasley who we learn from the second article quoted here has been searching for archaeological collectables in the area since 1976.

An article (Brickie digs his new job [sic]) in lowbrow tabloid “The Sun” of 25th August 2003 tells its readers:

Brickie* Peter Beasley has quit his job to become a full-time treasure hunter after finding ancient artefacts worth Ł500,000. His share after payouts to colleagues and landowners has been Ł150,000 over seven years. Using a metal detector, Peter has unearthed gold Roman coins, medieval rings, knights’ weapons
and a Roman pen. Married Peter, 62, of Waterlooville, Hants, said: “It is exhausting so you can only do it for four or five hours a day".
The newspaper invites sympathy for the poor treasure hunter, who would exhaust himself walking to the bank with the money he gets from exploiting “productive” sites for archaeological collectables to sell. But what a tempting story about a money-making scheme eh? A year later the “brickie treasure hunter” has somehow become an “amateur archeologist”
Archaeologist discovers Saxon burial site in field: An ancient burial site of international archaeological importance has been found in a field near Clanfield. [...] It has been estimated that there could be 3,000 graves in the 15-acre site.
This is perhaps not surprising as the field lies not very far from the Chalton Anglo-Saxon complex a major excavation of the early 1970s (and indeed the same family owns both sites.
The discovery began when he found a shield boss which was approximately 1,400 years old. He was convinced there was more to find in the vicinity and went on to find spears, the skeleton of a young woman from the 5th or 6th century and, nearby, a warrior from about the same Saxon or Jute period. [...] The location of the site has not been revealed as both the landowner and Mr Beasley are concerned about its security.
Then on Friday there was a further development in the saga. In the “Portsmouth News” of 25 September 2008 (Treasure-hunter is banned from Saxon site after find, By Jeff Travis) we read:
A treasure-hunter who hoped to make his fortune after stumbling across an ancient graveyard is distraught after being banned from the site. Peter Beasley, a retired bricklayer, thought he had struck gold when he uncovered part of a Saxon shield, spears and a skeleton while out roaming with his metal detector near Clanfield. The 67-year-old believes the 15-acre site is worth millions, hiding precious jewellery, ancient weapons and up to 3,000 graves from the seventh century. But his stake to the treasure has been dealt a bitter blow. The landowner has told him he is no longer welcome on the site – even though Mr Beasley claims an agreement was made to split the finds 50/50.[…] Mr Beasley said: 'I think it's disgusting. I have been going there eight years.
A fifty-fifty split of the proceeds of selling off Anglo-Saxon personal ornaments and weapons on internet auction sites and to dealers? Cash from Anglo-Saxon personal posessions ripped from people’s graves? From the dismantling of an archaeological site apparently of [inter]national importance? Well, thank goodness the landowner had second thoughts.
“The landowners, Mr and Mrs Budden, […] said they had no intentions to dig up any of the treasure as it had been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest”.
Even so, they are fed up with metal detector users looking for treasure trespassing on their land because they know this cemetery with potentially rich pickings lies on it. Of course these clandestine and illegal artefact hunters have no trouble finding buyers for their loot in the current no-questions asked market.

So what is Mr Beasley’s quoted reaction to that? According to the Portsmouth News, he says it wasn't just about the money.
'It should be excavated,' he said. 'It's a fantastic site and it's a disservice to the country not to explore it.'
Ah, so its David Lammy’s ill-advised “heritage hero” accolade of metal detectorists as a whole come back to haunt us. By taking all these artefacts out of their archaeological context in the ground and scattering them through numerous ephemeral personal artefact collections, artefact hunters like Mr Beasley claim they are doing a “service to the country”. Yeah, right.
* Brick layer


Photo: Peter Beasley, from “Portsmouth News” of 25 September 2008 ,

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Peter Beasley is my grandfather, he has been metal detecting for many years and I know this is an old post but I still do not see the point in slating a man you do not know.
I spend an awful lot of time with my grandad and every time he gets home from metal detecting he shows me what he has found; whether that be a scrappy piece of metal, buckle or something fantastic. He is just in awe that a scrappy piece of metal or a gold coin could sit under the ground for hundreds of years, possibly more. The history behind each piece he finds and the journey it may have come on.
Children these days are not as interested in history as they used to be, my grandad even does talks in schools showing the children what he has found. He nearly wants to spread the knowledge of local antiquity. Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the money? I think not.
Even when he has found some items, and the money he has made has actually been split between several people (including the farmers themselves) so the sums of money are no where near as great. He has nothing to show for this money either as he is a very generous man, presents here and there, maybe a small piece of work on the house but mostly helping my nan out as often as possible to feed the family each week and pay the bills (who I may add is now 71 and is still working, so early the archaeological income is not very great).
People like yourselves who slate people they do not know are just bitter and have nothing nice to say, so chose to write incredibly rude reports/posts about men who have worked extremely hard to get to where they are now.

 
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