Friday 31 October 2008

English Detecting Smoke and Mirrors

As a result of the discussion of the "Three Foot Deep" hoard here and elsewhere, a series of photos is now going the rounds of the blogs and forums which purports to show the "real" story of how English metal detectorists Barrie Plasom and Dave Phillips dug out the 1400 Late Roman bronze coins from a Roman site on the Bedfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border. The implication is that either at the Coroner's inquest the true details of the discovery were not given by the finders, or the reporter misheard and wrote a load of rubbish.

The photos are being promoted by Norwegian metal detectorist and metal detector promotion film-maker Gary Brun. They show a nice neat hole being dug by a young gentleman who actually is Julian Watters of Verulamium Museum, the Finds Liaison Officer for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire (we remember the hoard in question is in Buckinghamshire). The hole is nowhere near "three feet deep", and no pot or coins are visible. Certainly if I was excavating a site of plough-scattered coin hoard which is supposed to go down a metre, I would not be opening such a small trench ! Something here does not tally.

The photos have come from the website of Central Searchers, an enigmatic metal detecting club. They are not accompanied by any text, all it says is "Buckingham Hoard Excavation" (Buckingham of course is not on the Bucks/ Bedfs county border).

I tried to register on the Central Searchers forum to see if there was there any backround information there why Mr Brun might think that this "Buckingham Hoard" was the same as the December 2006 one discussed at the coroner's inquest. Sadly, Central Searchers obviously have something to hide (they apparently do not support either official Codes of Practice for metal detecting nor do they include a link to the PAS on their website) and they deleted my account immediately. I think there is much more to the smoke and mirrors that are beginning to surround this story than might be apparent. Watch this space.

This case is interesting as it shows the realities which lie behind the actual operation of the English Treasure process so facilely proposed by the pro-collecting lobby as a "model to be imitated" in other countries. Here the secrecy and lack of openness once again hinder any kind of appreciation of what lies behind the bland labels of treasure hunters as the "unsung heroes of the British heritage".


David Gill said...

For a response from Julian Watters, see Looting Matters.

David Gill said...

For the loss of context see Looting Matters ("A stratigraphical relationship could not be established").

Paul Barford said...

For another view of the concerns raised by several bloggers in the conservation lobby of what was reported from the coroner’s inquest, see here „the archaeologist got it all wrong” .

In reply, a “bridge building” professional archaeologist actually says “Best thing to do is ignore it... I feel its just a bit of exaggeration“. Yeah right. It seems to me that in their attempt to “build bridges” the pro-collecting lobby in British archaeology is intent on ignoring any issues concerning actually discussing the principles of “best practice” with British artefact hunters and collectors – let alone any others. Mr Connolly (BAJR Host), there IS a Code of Practice to the Treasure Act, maybe we as archaeologists should be trying our level best to ensure that “metal detectorists” know what is in it, know why it is there, and do their level best to abide by it. Its no good just patronizingly patting them all on the head each time when signals appear that in many Treasure cases they are being flagrantly disregarded.

“There, there, boys, its just those nasty goose-steppers* being nasty again, remember lads ‘sticks and stones’, now run along and play and don’t forget to bring me some nice shiny goodies”.

In my opinion, in failing to bring these matters to public attention – even though that is what Art. 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention requires of them, complacent pro-collecting archaeologists are to a great degree also participant in the “smoke and mirrors” surrounding so-called “metal detecting” in Britain. There are a number of archaeological bodies in the UK which could (should) be taking a lead in this and are not. Why?

*It would be interesting to hear David Connolly’s reaction to the blog post by Wayne Sayles “Goose stepping” here: (Friday, October 31, 2008, 9:35 AM).

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