Wednesday, 16 September 2009

"Not a stellar example", in fact not really an "example" at all

Cameron Day, of Cerberus ancient dugup coin emporium based in Australia in reply to my comments on the fact that the Near Shrewsbury ten thousand coin hoard was found while trespassing soothes on the Ancient Artifacts discussion list:

Its not a stellar example of how metal detecting and the PAS should ideally work but let us not hang the guy that found them.
He thinks the story can still be "spun" to get the PAS message over. Most collectors of portable antiquities are firm in their insistence on private property rights, so to have somebody just wander onto somebody's land uninvited and start digging should be understandable as illegal artefact hunting to even the most hardened no-questions-asked coin dealer. I wonder if Mr Day would buy these coins from "the guy that found them"? This is what the PAS has in mind when it talks about buyers ensuring the venor has the title to sell. Well this finder did not try to flog the coins to Mr Day, instead he went along to the PAS with them.

Mr Day goes on to say "that these coins probably wouldnt have been found otherwise". Whoa whoa, have he ever heard of the notion of conservation? Why actually do we have to have these coins found and dug up now, when they were safe in their pot below plough level? Especially dug up in the way they were?

But the misunderstandings get worse. The Australian coin dealer who we know is not averse to selling job lots of ancient coin dugups from Spain and Syria and other places presumes to lecture:

PAS has little money to search themselves so rely on folk, even misguided folk to report their finds - which this one did! The positives are there for all to see [...]

Hmmm. The PAS is obviously not doing a very good job informing people about its role if misconceptions about this are near global, from Goleta in California to Australia! The PAS was set up to mitigate the loss of information due to unrecorded finds being dug up by members of the public like metal detectorists and going into private collections and onto the market. It is a total misunderstanding of the situation to present artefact hunters as "doing the job of the PAS" by finding things.

Cerberus notes: "Now we have a remarkable opportunity to study an intact hoard of coins. One can only hope that PAS publishes the results of the hoard [...]". Not like the group of mixed dugups he has on sale, eh?

But actually this raises a pertinent question about the Treasure Act. I wonder about the publication of these hoards. How many of the 700 or so treasure finds are actually brought to full publication beyond a note in the PAs newsletter or annual Treasure Report? I have in mind what the heap-of-coins-on-a-table numismatists all say they want, descriptions and photos of each coin, die links and die axes, all that stuff. I know there was a series "Coin Hoards from Roman Britain" (CHRB) but the number of volumes (twelve only published beteeen 1979 [?] and 2009 with only three of them published after the inception of the PAS) seems hardly adequate to have kept up with the coin hoard finds of the last decade. So where is all this new detailed numismatic information we are getting from the reporting of these hoards and their purchase from metal detectorists going? But then how much does such full publication cost, who does the work? Where are the results available for archaeological/ historical/ numismatic study? That surely is part of what the British public is paying for.

Once one of these hoards has been studied and published and then released to the finder, what happens to the provenance information of the individual coins which then enter the market? This question was raised earlier on this year on the Forum numismatic discussion group on the occasion of the publication of CHRB XII.

It seems to me that the PAS has never issued any guidelines for collectors on this matter. Perhaps it should. Or do they regard the provenance of individual artefacts circulating on the market as unimportant once they've got an entry of some of them on their database?

Dave Welsh asked the same question (admittedly addressed to me) on the Ancient Artifacts Forum this morning, but before answering, I decided to pass the questions on to Roger Bland at the PAS, let us see what their reaction is to the ACCG dealer naysayer's questions. After all, to issue guidance on such matters is what they are there for.

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