Wednesday 29 October 2008

English Detectorists Say They Dug a Metre into Roman Site in the Dark

It is believed the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit” says the newspaper article about another Roman coin hoard, this one dug up on a Roman site near Newport Pagnell. We don’t really know because according to the newspaper report of what was said at the Treasure inquest in Milton Keynes, the two metal detectorists Barrie Plasom and Dave Phillips rapidly hoiked it out in the dark before telling anyone about it.

They continued to dig a hole three feet deep and found more than 1,400 bronze coins and pieces of pottery. "It was about 5.30pm at this time of year so it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing," added Mr Phillips. "We laid on our bellies and kept pulling out coins.
Three feet (nearly a metre) deep, that has to be some sort of record I guess for Britain [normally holes of this size are associated with looting of tells in Iraq and graves in Peru etc]. What is interesting is these seem to be the finders' own words.
The Treasure Code of Practice has something to say about this kind of thing (para. 33, 34, 36 etc, but above all 79[viii]), not that anyone in Britain takes any notice of that sort of thing of course.

Whatever these two may by their own account have dug through on an evening in early December 2006 to get these finds out of the ground, it does seem that this is another of those Roman settlement finds which show the lie of the claim so frequently made by collectors and dealers that “hoards are always found well away from archaeological sites”. It would seem that this one sadly slap-bang in the middle of one. Sadly though one may suspect that not very many notes on what was dug through were taken during this mad coin grabfest in the winter dusk. In fact the metal detectorists did not even seem to have had much of an idea where on the map the findspot was since the newspaper account of the inquest suggests they did not even know in what county they had been digging, they initially mistook which side of the Bedfordshire/ Buckinghamshire border they had been... but, in England, the administrative boundaries are marked on proper large scale maps (the sort responsible fieldworkers use to plot their finds).
Everything points to this being the Cold Brayfield hoard (2006/T631). Mr Plasom has already had other valuable finds from this vicinity in the past.

Laura Hannam, 'Treasure hunters set to coin it with Roman haul', Milton Keynes News 29 October 2008. Vignette from here


Anonymous said...

Now does the post above fit with this??
It was excavated correctly.

Paul Barford said...

Mr Brun: This shows a "Buckingham" hoard which Gill Evans of Central Searchers (whose husband Richard she says helped Mr Phillips "recover" the original Cold Brayfield hoard in December 2006) tells me was taken a week after the nocturnal fossicking described by the finders at the Coroner's inquest and is, she told me in an email answering my query about these photos on the Central Searchers website, a different findspot. She says bluntly there is "nothing about the Cold Brayfield hoard find" on their website.

So I repeat my question to you which I asked (off list) when you posted this comment yesterday, how do you - based in Norway - come to the conclusion that this photo shows the actual site of the discovery of the Cold Brayfield hoard at the time of the initial discovery?

This photo shows Julian Watters of Verulamium Museum digging not Mr Phillips and Mr Plasom. Did you not recognise him? According to local detectorist Mrs Evans, whose website you link to, this was taken a week after the events described.

The account I commented on actually cites the finders' own words. What they say is certainly worthy of commenting on and discussing. If it really happened the way the account seems to suggest then "best practice" was not followed. And I see nothing whatsoever wrong in pointing that out. Instead of, by their own account, grubbing out as much as they could IN THE DARK, they should have backfilled the hole and called the PAS as soon as they realised a hoard was in question. This is what the Treasure Act Code of Practice lays down - for if you look more carefully you will see that THAT is what I was discussing. The CoP furthermore states that if this "best practice" is not followed, the reward may be reduced. If these guys are going to get the full reward despite what the public have been told aboiut the way this piece of the national heritage was recovered, I sincerly hope that the PAS publish a statement why and setting out the true facts of the case. From what I read in the newspaper, I cannot be alone in having doubts whether merely reporting the find is enough to qualify. Read the Code of Practice (the paragraphs I quote in my blog post). Let us see some proper discussion of the archaeological implications of the Treasure Act twelve years after it and its Code of Practuice came into force in England. Wales and Northern Ireland. Not just "what a lot of nice goodies we have found", but what information has been obtained about the archaeological context of items dug out (as here) from undisturbed archaeological contexts below ploughsoil.

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