Monday, 25 July 2011

Artefact Collectors' "Treasure Chest Exhibition"

There is news of the organization of a forthcoming: TREASURE CHEST EXHIBITION – Exhibition of Metal Detecting Discoveries to be held in Chester Town Hall on Saturday 6th August 2011 (10am to 4pm), admission free. Apparently "Metal detecting enthusiasts" (ie artefact hunters and collectors) from across the Northwest, members of various clubs:
will be setting up stalls to show off some of their most precious and most interesting finds [...] Popular TV historian and author Mark Olly will be present, decked out in his regalia, answering questions from enthusiasts [...] The clubs will have lots of coins and artefacts on display, but each club will also have a special case, dedicated to this year’s theme – ‘Lead Items Through The Ages’ [...] There will be plenty of exciting finds for visitors to examine, and for younger visitors, there will be touch trays full of interesting coins and artefacts [...] There will also be trade stands offering tips, advice and some great bargains.
Oh, and in addition:
Visitors can also take along any unidentified or interesting finds themselves, as the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officers Peter Reavill, Dot Broughton (sic) and Vanessa Oakden will also be on hand to give advice, identify and record items.
Well, we don't want members of the public asking the artefact hunters (many of them expert at the task themselves) to identify the finds, do we?

Frankly, I wonder why they are going along at all. They only add legitimacy to the activity of going out onto archaeological sites and digging up and taking away archaeological finds for collection and sale. I mean a member of the general public might even get the impression that official archaeology treats artefact collectors as some kind of "partners" in the despoiling of the archaeological landscape, and that filling some ephemeral domestic 'treasure chest' with "precious and interesting finds" is in some way doing archaeology, or helping archaeology. Just to supplement the picture Northern TV archaeologist Olly (former presenter of a TV series called: "Lost Treasures") dressed "like a hybrid of vampire hunter Van Helsing and a character from a Michael Moorcock-inspired Gothic fantasy" to show what fun "real archaeologists" can be.

I doubt any real archaeology will be being presented at all, just cases of "you can do this too" decontextualised archaeological objects ("this is intresting, jus' fink who held this in there 'ands all those years ago, here's a leaflet mate, they've gotta speshal offer all this month, free battries for a year").

Most artefact hunters in the north do not belong to clubs, and northern artefact hunters fall short of national "norms" in most PAS annual reports when it comes to reporting finds and the accuracy of reporting their findspots. Of course, nothing about any of this will be said by the PAS in Chester Town Hall will it?

There is probably quite a lot that will not be being said, like how erosive artefact hunting is to the archaeological record, and the vast discrepancy which exists between what is being found and dug up and taken away, and what gets reported, especially in the Northwest. Probably nothing will be being said about the sales and illegal export of freshly dug archaeological material to foreign collectors and the involvement of the same dealers sometimes in the sale in the UK of items illegally exported from foreign countries, such as the Balkans and Baltic States. I do not expect there to be even a single poster on the subject there. Likewise there will probably not be anything being said about how members of the public can spot and report suspected illegal artefact hunting and trade in illegally acquired antiquities and the low conviction rate. Indeed the PAS would have the public believe its hardly going on at all, and its not really a part of "the hobby" anyway.

I wonder whether the PAS will have a replica of the Crosby Garrett helmet there? Just to show the public what sort of things artefact hunters can collect, and sell. Just to show that anyone can have a piece of the past in their living room or conservatory. Oh no, no they cannot can they? Because nobody took accurate enough measurements for even the construction of an accurate replica of the object, did they? And the present owner is refusing to answer the efforts at contacting him made by Carlisle Museum, isn't he (or she)?

So what kind of "outreach" are PAS officers going to do? What kind of an impression are they going to make if they do not dress up as Hobbits (or maybe in keeping with the occasion they will)? Where is this all leading? What long term targets do the PAS have (other than getting more and more finds in its database)?

Photo: Everybody knows: all archaeologists have beards, dress unconventionally, wear funny hats and carry swords.

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