Monday, 10 October 2011

Detecting Under the Microscope 3: "Detecting Finds Up For Grabs"

Dan Pett of the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been "looking at some of the recent interesting finds" on the PAS database and twitters that he found there a:
Possibly unique denarius of Clodius Albinus from Nottinghamshire
Whoopee, eh? And there it is, a grainy photo of a grotty coin (described by the archaeologists as "very fine" - that's not archie terminology, sounds more like coin dealer talk, the very idea)
Roman Coin: Complete silver denarius of Clodius Albinus (AD 193-7). Minerva standing left, holding branch and shield; spear rests on arm, on reverse. Minted in Rome, AD 193. Coin Reference: RIC volume IV, part 1, page 45, number 7 (variant type). This obverse legend is not recorded for this type. Notes: Previously unrecorded reverse type variant. This is a find of note and has been designated: For inclusion in British Numismatic Journal ‘Coin Register’ [...]Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder [...]
A resized image of Roman Coin: Denarius of Clodius Albinus
Obverse description: Bare head right Obverse inscription: D CLOD SE[PT ALBIN CAES]
Reverse description: Minerva standing left, holding branch and shield; spear rests on arm Reverse inscription: MINER [PACIF COS II]
Spatial data Region: East Midlands County: Nottinghamshire District: Newark And Sherwood To be known as: Barnby in the Willows
Method of discovery: Metal detector [...]
Date(s) of discovery: Tuesday 1st May 2007 - Thursday 30th September 2010
Found by: This information is restricted [...]
So somewhere in or near Barnby in the Willows, some time between May 2007 and October 2010 some "metal detectorist" handed in a coin (among some other stuff from this site?) to get a BM specialist to confirm its identity. Cynic that I am, I decided to turn to eBay and see if we could find a trace of what might have happened to a find "returned to finder".

It did not take long to find this coin being sold by a metal detectorist calling himself dvalic8 (Feedback score 739) based in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. Its not the same coin, but seems to be the same type:
310350635153 Unknown Roman Denarius. Clodius Albinus?? Metal Detecting Find./ Metal Detecting Find/Unknown Roman Silver Denarius/ Maybe Clodius Albinus??/ No real idea though./ Condition is as in photos./ Please see my other detecting finds up for grabs.

"Up for grabs" is what all and any of the collectable items still lying in Britain's archaeological record all over the country are in the light of a total absence of any proper legislation protecting that archaeological record from random and deliberate despoilation. "Up for grabs" they are for whoever buys a metal detector and for fun or profit then wanders across a farmer's land trashing that record to hoik the stuff out.

Now, Mr Dvalic8 is no coiney, so he gives no RIC number. I most certainly am no coiney and thus have no RIC at home, but it seems to me at first sight that the coin is the same as the description of the one that is said to be "unique". Obverse: D CLOD SEPT ALBIN CAES (" This obverse legend is not recorded for this type"). Reverse: Minerva standing left, holding branch and shield; spear rests on arm Reverse inscription: MINERV PACIF COS II [..] ("Previously unrecorded reverse type variant"). Is this the same issue of coin as the one the Portable Antiquities Scheme have just recorded as "unique"? If so, where is its PAS number? (there is a Cambridgeshire FLO). Where was Dvalic's coin found? Where will it end up? Where will there be any record that it existed when the eBay auction details are deleted? Even if this is not another example of this "unique" coin, there was no way for the ("No real idea though") seller to know that before he decided to merely flog it off on eBay if he did not report it first.

The official PAS-propagated mantra is that "metal detectorists" do it out of an "interest in [learning about] the past" and that they "do not do it for the money". Yeah, right. So what has Mr D. ("No real idea though") Valic8 "learnt" about the past, Clodius Albinus or the numismatic history of his reign? What has he "learnt" about the site he took it from? What have we learnt about it from the dismemberment of part of the archaeological record here? It seems to me from what and how he writes about his finds on eBay that Mr "No real idea though" actually does not have much of a grasp on these things, but what he does know is that he can flog off the things he finds for a few quid. If the coin is indeed a fellow to the "unique" one to be published as a great discovery in the ‘Coin Register’ of the British Numismatic Journal, a collector somewhere (probably in Wisconsin or Florida) is going to get their hands on a rare coin for a few quid (and I am sure Dvalic8 simply forgot to mention the need to get a UK export licence for this coin in his sales offer). The PAS number presumably will be included in the sale with the other documentation (like a copy of the formal agreement with the landowner giving him title to sell).

This is the way the archaeological heritage of England and Wales is being treated by artefact hunters with metal detectors. No doubt collectors of freshly dugup ancient bric-a-brac are delighted that Britain has such a could-not-care-less attitude to the buried heritage, but what about those who are (genuinely) "passionately interested in the past", are they equally delighted to see site after site trashed unmethodically in the search for collectable and saleable geegaws to keep the market for such commodities happy?

[It is interesting to note that the majority of the things this seller has sold are 'private' auctions, so cannot be seen by accessing his feedback. I note romanremains among his customers. At the moment Dvalic8's just got two coins "up for grabs" - the other a worn silver of Nero]

Photos included in the public interest for the purpose of criticism: at the top from the PAS database, the bottom ones screenshots edited by me from eBay.

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