Wednesday 2 May 2012

Detecting Under the Microscope: Problems with Provenances

Self-styled "Barford Slayer" Welsh metal detectorist "Avalon" went out metal detecting and, looking for his five minutes of fame, on his way home took a few "bits" of personally plundered past he was carrying about with him for a public show-and-tell:   
When I got back, I dashed down to Cheltenham Town hall where they are filming the  Antiques Road show today, and took a few bits with me. Met Hilary Kay and Clive Stewart-Lockhart who were quite impressed with my finds, but they told me they couldn’t film them for the series because they have now been told not to promote metal detecting on the show. Someone must be turning the screws, on our hobby. The best thing to do is take an object along and say it belonged to your Great grandfather who was a Captain of a sailing vessel.
Well, I am sure that such an event would not be the first time a metal detectorist has given a false provenance to win a bit of public praise, the PAS carry out very few checks on the accounts of finders. Although the PAS has copied the Antiques Roadshow principle with their "finds days", they have no such scruples, it is heartening to hear that the BBC  has a responsible attitude and is not promoting artefact hunting on their programme. Nobody is "turning the screws", the programme's producers apparently recognise that there is a right way to treat a fragile and finite resource, and a wrong way. Encouraging more and more people to 'have a go' at digging it up and see what they can find is in most sensible people's books the wrong way to go about using it sustainably.

Over in Wales at least, some of these accumulators of dugup artefacts are after the money. At the "Roadshow" the would-be "Barford Slayer" learnt that:
a bronze alter object I posted on D[etecting] W[ales] recently is probably Chinese and dated between 100-1200 BC. Now that was £34.00 well spent on Ebay. Now when is the next Chinese auction being held, as they are paying big bucks for their heritage.
So, it would seem from this that at least one Welsh detectorist is posting up for admiration on a detecting forum an item which in fact was dug up abroad and bought on eBay. How many more "finds" being exhibited by this milieu were in fact found where detectorists say they were? It is interesting that the collector here sees a profit in selling "their heritage" back to the Chinese - and it would be interesting to know by what means and when that object left China to end up in a British metal detectorist's personal collection. Did the ebay seller include the export licence?

Vignette: Antiques Roadshow

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