Thursday 19 July 2012

Britain's Secret Treasures Episode 4

I really was not at all convinced there would be any point in blogging my notes on this one, I was sure it was going to be more of the same old stuff and I am bored with this. But then I noticed something very odd, and I think rather significant (though I think only Nigel Swift will understand fully why). So let's try to keep this short.

The 26th "most important" find are a series of Becket pilgrim badges ( PAS-B1BD65 ) pulled from the deposits in the bed of the River Stour in canterbury, billed as "murder, mystery and mud". The bloody murder - about which the segement is based - was Thomas Becket, the mud, well obvious. The mystery - goodness knows, beats me. Once again the "things thrown in the river" leitmotif, and as a result Anne-Marie Ochota kisses a reproduction badge and throws it into the river, mirroring Portillo in the previous episode. [BTW, how are the ownership rights of these deposits and the objects they contain worked out? Are not the bed and banks of the river here in the city in the ownership of all the properties running down to it?]

Number 25 (phew, half-way through this litany of pseudoarchaeology) everybody's favourite Dave Crisp and the Frome Hoard ( SOM-5B9453 ). Now the voluble Mr Crisp (a retired chef) was - they say "wandering across a field" when he found something very interesting. A socking big hoard in a pot. Nothing was said about it being excavated, just its the biggest hoard and its worth 320 000 quid. Oh and the groanworthy 'topical' analogy, its "an early form of corporate banking".

For number 24 ( BERK-E24C84 ) Brian Blessed hams it up embarrassingly presenting a bust of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (they say) found in a field and then used as an ornament in the car (I think that's what she said) by its finders who then took it to a PAS finds day. Cue some shots of re-enactors playing Roman soldiers, and some beard twirling.

Incongruously twice after that, the presenters exhort viewers to send in Treasures they have found - in a programme broadcast six hours after the deadline passed. That's what they call British organization.

Then a Civil War period (1640s) hoard of household silver from Newton Stowey ( SOM-849CA3 number 23) is likened to the summer 2011 London riots "when they looted flatscreen TVs [...] the hoard shows that Britain is no stranger to internal turmoil". That comparison seems to me to be about the most inanely facile comment that has appeared so far on the programme, but there are two more cringeworthy episodes for them to top it. This hoard was, they tell us, found by a man who was "helping somebody search for a lost bracelet" - the reward was 38 000 quid.

Part two starts off with electrical engineer Gordon Heritage who with in September 2000 his mate Mike Rutland "in a field" (actually the full story seems to be a bit more complicated than that, check it out on the forums) stumbled across the biggest Bronze Age gold hoard ( PAS-833958 number 22). The reward here is given as 290 000 quid.

The 21st "most important British archaeological discovery made by a member of the public" is an inscribed spindlewhorl ( LIN-D92A22) and owes its place there to its connection to magic (leitmotif) because its got runes on it, and that it is unique and "demonstrates the instinct for love and protecting the family" (or summat like that). I was pleased to see old friend John Hines (not changed a bit) who read the inscription. John of course will know that the object is not "unique".

Too bad that the next find was too poorly presented to work out what really was going on. The Tisbury Hoard ( WILT-E8DA70 ) is supposed to be an example of a ritual (leitmotif) site which started to be used as such in the bronze Age and continued in use as such "a thousand years" (eh? The earliest finds are an EBA flat axe, and there are several MBA objects) into the Roman period. This is a bit odd, since the PAS record makes no mention of Roman objects from the same assemblage.  This hoard is also an oddity in that it is the first item in the list for which the programme does not give the finder's name. He's a "metal detectorist who wants to remain anonymous". Why? But, like the rest, he'll get his cash reward when the Treasure process is finished. It would be good to see these claims backed up by some hard published evidence.

Number 19 is a Roman beaker with the handle in the form of the draught animal of Bacchus, a leopard, NMGW-9A9D16 of leaded bronze with silver spots (and it is suggested in the programme, amber eyes, but the immensely skimpy description of the PAS record makes no reference to this). It was found somehow by a Garry Knapp. It was probably made in Italy, and the programme suggests brought to Briatannia by a "general" - oh, yes, cue for ANOTHER shot of Roman soldier re-enactors, fortunately the last in this episode.

OK, who spotted the odd feature of this set of presentations? Only number 20 is specifically mentioned as having been found with a certain tool. In the presentation of numbers 25 (!), 23, 22 (!), 21 and 19, somehow this whole question that these finds were made by metal detectorists is deliberately skipped around. It is no coincidence I think that these include those for which the more substantial rewards were paid. This seems a clear break from the previous episodes where metal detectors were seen in use (and yes, you can identify the makers, a Deus was spotted and scoffed-at). The authors of this programme have apparently decided to try and fend off criticism of metal detecting - as we knew they would. After all, the PAS and the British Museum count artefact hunters as their "partners". But is not providing the full information misleading the public?

And what will the tekkies think if the program's makers continue to play down the contribution of metal detector waving artefact hunters to the heritage? They cherish Minister Lammy's label of 'unsung heroes of the British heritage'. Is this phrase not going to be used in the series?

Vignette: Hero Dave Crisp and some coins in a box.

Britain's Secret treasures, ITV 1 16th-22nd July 2012

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