Sunday 22 July 2012

Britain's Secret Treasures Final Episode: The Culmination of the Week's Show-and-Tell

In the last episode of "Britain's Got Treasure", after almost an hour of skipping through history with light regard for providing anything of any real substance, we came then to a break. It was probably intended to build up suspense before announcing Britain's Treasure Number One. They had run a "submit your own Treasures" competition. Viewers were to send in pictures (only) of what they'd themselves found and was not reported. The presenters claimed on air at the end of episode 6 that the 'competition' produced over 1000 of these. While some were junk compared to what the programme had shown, Victorian false teeth and clay pipe fragments, many of them will probably end up bulking out the PAS database. Among the items flashed onto the screen in this segment of the programme however (with the finders' names - where is PAS' "data-protection" standards there?) were a Great Square-headed brooch from (a cemetery in?) Lincolnshire, another early Medieval disc brooch and a few other things that flashed by so quickly I could not note them down.

We are shown a sequence with the team of experts picking through the entries - we are asked to believe that this was filmed on Thursday afternoon when the competition ended. It is a bit unfortunate for this charade that one of the people supposedly in the panel on that day was in fact at the other side of the country tweeting his presence at a Welsh conference:

At the Treftadaeth (heritage) conference in Cardiff about to hear from the Minister who is giving the keynote address     19th July
(wonder what he said about the PAS in Wales?)

Helen Geake was sent out after the selection (so Friday or Saturday that would have been, in order to edit the film into Sunday's programme) to meet Barry Wood the finder in the field where he found his Treasure - under a beautiful blue sky... the problem is that on the day that filming was supposed to have been done, that is not what the weather was. A Heritage Action member who lives there (kindly contacted for me by Nigel Swift) reports the following conditions:
Friday 20th started grim but got better not much sun and lots of cloud, Saturday 21st much nicer, no rain but still a fair amount of cloud cover until late on...
It was actually raining further west on Friday. Which might explain why the harvest has not started yet in that part of the world, it should have by now. So when was Helen Geake filmed wandering the fields under those blue skies? Quite why the presenters felt the need to set up a competition that they could not actually bring off in time to edit into the last programme in the series beats me, but it really detracts from the seriousness of the programme. 

The chosen object was a metal model book with WRITING on it (Pax tibi, Marce, Evangelista meus) which Roger Bland (in his second speaking role) astutely and immediately spotted was on the Gospel held by the lion on the gable of Venice's St Mark cathedral. So this find is "important" as showing some important medieval pilgrimage route "must have" run through the middle of this Derbyshire barleyfield, from Venice to.... who knows. Of course, this could not be anything so mundane as a discarded Grand Tour souvenir could it?

Anyway, obviously setting up a loot-competition is one way to boost database figures.  If three days TV show-and-tell reveals that as many as 1000 people among them watching it have recent undeclared "treasures" at home (and that's just the ones tempted to take part in the competition), how many finds are being made by artefact hunters which are simply not being reported?

So, this brings us to the final object. We already knew it was the Happisburgh handaxe NMS-ECAA52, found at the water's edge by a dog-walker (Michael Chambers) eroding out of clay deposits on the beach. What was really good was that a replica was taken out in the field (not endangering the original, as in many of the other cases shown earlier in the programme) and was actually buried to show what the finder had spotted. That made a really good point. A flint knapper knapped some flint for the cameraman and suggested that a handaxe was like a "prehistoric Swiss Army Knife". The presenters asked "what sort of creature (sic) used it in what sort of land?" and did a computer reconstruction of Doggerland. That was fine, until they started waffling about this find tells us "why we are here today" (eh?) and "changes what we thought we knew about ourselves" (eh?) That's because this flint dates from 100 000 years further back than the previous oldest such find. They did not say it, but I was waiting to hear that this was "the First Englishman" (a la Piltdown Man which earlier caught the BM out). But why on earth they did not say anything at all about "how we know" (what date it is) - in other words the excavation that had taken place there, remains a mystery.

There was a brief summing up which basically boiled down to "who knows what you will find in the future? Goodbye" as the presenters stopped wandering forlornly in the BM's courtyard and Great Court and went and had a nice cup of tea.

UPDATE 24.07.12
This is appalling. The object that was chosen as the winner of the viewers' competition not only was not found this year, but in 1997 but was already in the PAS database, and had been since Wednesday 15th November 2000: HAMP527. So much for their claim that they'd received "1000 entries" if they have to choose an old object from their own database to pretend it is a previously unreported find. Quite why the PAS (and Director of the CBA) felt they had to engage in this deceit is beyond me.

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