Friday 25 September 2009

So how long will the police watch the field?

This morning, sitting here in Warsaw, it took me twenty minutes using online sources and my old friend Google Earth and no 'inside information' to work out the field (well, actually at the moment one of two) where the so-called "Staffordshire hoard" (maybe now we can give it its real name) was found.*

I bet that I am not the only one. I do not think it's a very exclusive club this weekend. In fact the site (and therefore the excavation) could have been visible from a busy main road. This weekend the police have reportedly "sealed off" the field. Perhaps next weekend they will too. They cannot keep a police presence there for ever. The media have stressed that "all the hoard" was removed. I've seen the videos of "the archaeologists in action", I have my doubts.

This site WILL be visited by trespassing metal detector users, at night. More archaeological finds will be taken - but where will they end up? Should not the whole area around this site be immediately scheduled, and the subject of a much more detailed archaeological project costing at least as much as will be spent buying the treasure from its finder and landowner? There is a reason why in the past (seventh/ eighth century AD) this hoard was buried here, surely the whole justification for the Treasure Act is to determine this and not just to get another showcase full of glittering "portable antiquities" before the collectors do. It certainly is not to be excluded that if there was a reason to bring this group of material here and deposit it in the ground at this spot, that same reason could have been the focus of other activity (including of course the deposition of other deposits of a related character). Whatever else is in the fields around the findspot, illegal (or even legal) artefact hunting of the surrounding region in the weeks, months and years ahead will destroy much of the evidence that could be used to put this glittering heap of (very nice) geegaws into their context in the landscape of Dark Age Britain. So let us put a "seven figure number" into doing an archaeological project to rescue the information before the treasure hunters get at it - but also find out what has come from the fields around the findspot in the past and has not yet been reported by other metal detectorists searching the same farm.

Alexander Chancellor: 'The Staffordshire hoard is spectacular. But now the countryside will be overrun with metal detectorists', Guardian 25 September 2009

*Unless of course there is a complex of misinformation being put out.

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