Tuesday 20 April 2010

Nicht der Schatzsucher zerstörte den archäologischen Kontext, sagt Bland, sondern die Landwirtschaft.

Roger Bland, partner of Britain's many artefact hunters and collectors is reported in Die Zeit as saying "Nicht der Schatzsucher zerstörte den archäologischen Kontext [...] sondern die Landwirtschaft". It is not treasure hunters that are destroying archaeological context but agriculture. To prove his point to the credulous German journalist Reiner Luyken (Schatzjagd auf dem Acker Die Zeit, 15.04.2010 Nr. 16) he pulled out a photo of "einer römischen Goldvase" - in fact one may guess the Ringlemere Gold Cup
Ein Hobbyausgräber fand sie in einem Acker in der Grafschaft Kent. Sie sieht aus, als sei sie aus dem zehnten Stock eines Hochhauses gefallen. »Wissen Sie, was die größte Gefahr für Antiquitäten ist? Der Pflug und in der Landwirtschaft verwendete Chemikalien.« Landmaschinen dringen tief in den Boden ein, starke Traktoren schleppen sie immer schneller durch die Erde. An der Goldvase kann man deutlich die Stelle erkennen, an der ein Ackergerät sie aufgerissen und durch das Erdreich geschleift hat, bevor sie liegen blieb. Niemand kann mehr sagen, in welche Bodenschicht sie eingebettet war. Das alte Argument, die Zeugnisse der Vergangenheit seien nirgends besser aufgehoben und konserviert als im Boden, verliert an Schlagkraft.
Arguing that we need a new epicurean conservation policy for Britain's buried archaeological record (i.e., dig it all up forthwith) really seems less like archaeological outreach than propaganda for collecting.

Odd isn't it that the journalist did not ask about the lack of plough damage on the Staffordshire Moorlands Patera which he was also shown. Indeed odd isn't it that having now (we are told) 500 000 objects in the PAS database it is the same dogeared photo of the same old Ringlemere cup that keeps getting trotted out. Is it because it is shiny, or is it because actually the PAS really have no better examples? I drew attention here to an Anglo-Saxon gold pendant which was on sale on eBay a while ago, not damaged by the plough. There are many objects on eBay and in the PAS database which are likewise not damaged by the plough. Hundreds of thousands in fact. And Roger Bland keeps flashing his photo of the Ringlemere Cup and saying that archaeological context is not important because there is none for most of the collectables that come on the market (Niemand kann mehr sagen, in welche Bodenschicht sie eingebettet war). No wonder he got the ACG "Friends of Numismatics" Award, for saying things like that.

Coming back to the archaeology. Is the Ringlemere cup really plough-damaged? It is difficult to see this in fact. One side of it has been bashed by a sharp-ended object about 3cm across and the side has caved in. But then if one imagines a tractor pulling a plough through the soil in which this object is firmly embedded, and the beaker is filled with soil, then why has the metal not torn? Where is the score mark where the ploughshare disengaged from the object? Where are the scoremarks as it was dragged through the soil underground? Is it not the case that this damage was caused when or before the object was deposited by bashing it with a digging tool or palstave? That would explain why the other side of the object too is distorted as though the vessel was hit while lying on a flat surface. Indeed the British Museum webpage admits this: "the assumption that the badly crushed cup had been dislodged from a grave by modern ploughing remains to be proved". It is a shame that the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme cannot restrict his comments to foreign journalists to the archaeological facts and not participate in some propaganda campaign for an artefact collectors' free-for-all.


Anonymous said...

It's all pretty unseemly if you ask me, the head of PAS using the same rough and ready justificatory mantra that metal detectorists do, saying what they are doing is rescuing stuff from the wicked plough. Where's the conclusive body of research that says random extraction of non-ferrous metallic elements from the archaeological record everywhere is a viable, necessary, universal, urgent or needed exercise? I'm surprised he didn't just say what the detectorists say, "Better out than in, M8!" - there's just as much scholarship in that!

And I do wonder what business is it of Mr Bland to claim metal detecting is the saviour of archaeology when he's paid merely to save archaeology from metal detecting? The founders of the Scheme would have had kittens if they'd known that after a few years he'd go native. What authority does he claim for this departure from his mandate?

Paul Barford said...

And of course its the shiny non-ferrous stuff these people claim to be "saving". Most British artefact hunters leave most of the iron artefacts in the soil as they are not interested in them. Look at the proportion is the PAS database compared with what a properly investigated site will produce.

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