Friday 20 July 2012

"Britain's Secret Treasures" Episode 5

Not a very memorable episode, seven objects half an hour, everybody running out of steam. Nowhere does the proposal to include as many as fifty "top objects" in the programme fall as flat as in this rushed episode. They have now partially rejected their earlier coyness about metal detectors (different writer?) and we have three mentioned (one with his machine, one Scottish, and another anonymous one). They've also stopped exhorting people to submit their own Treasure after the deadline. There was a slip-up at the beginning when the presenters referred to the thousands of objects being dug up by members of the public in Britain each year "and they have all been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme". Well, the point is rather that not ALL of them have - more misleading the public.

Britain's number 18 most important archaeological discovery is the Silverdale Hoard LANCUM-65C1B4 (no mention of metal detecting, still less on what seems from Google Earth to be permanent pasture in a place called Silver Dale). The hoard and why it is "important" (no mention whatsoever of the AIRDECONUT coin) gets skipped over in favour of a discussion of the (southern) boundary of the Danelaw over a hundred kilometres to the south (trip to the Parker Library to see a document which the find is to "illustrate")  which leads into an over-long 'Blood of the Vikings'/Stormfront type interpretation of DNA tests. Quite what the point or connection with any of that to the Silverdale Hoard is was left unclear. They surmise that its burial was a consequence of Edward the Elder's campaigns. It seems once again the emphasis is on objects providing illustrations to History (with a capital H), rather than being the source of information for a separate but parallel discipline.

Number 17, is a 13th century seal matrix of a Staffordshire religious house [Stone Priory] metal detected in Cobham in Surrey (SUR-B74173). The programme features mostly the mistreatment of the object (pressed into greasy orange plasticene by a vicar) rather than a discussion of how it got to the findspot. Is this an item that was held in a previous antiquity collection after the Reformation and then discarded? What else came from this field?

Then there was an annoying sequence - presented by Anita Rani - about the Carlton (Bassetlaw) Knight figure SWYOR-D37EE5 (cue for shot of Medieval re-enactor, question, is this not a Dark Age re-enactor filmed from a different angle to make him look "Norman"?). The PAS record makes it a "chess piece", and this is the whole premise on which the presentation is shot, except Michael Lewis comes on and says it is "not" and Rani thrusts the figure (now out of focus) into the camera's "eye" and asks the viewers "what do you think?". [On what evidence from that superficial presentation they are to form their judgement is not stated, neither is any information provided bout what was found in the field with it, still less about what nature and status of the site the rest of the finds assemblage represents.] A telling comment from Dr Lewis: the object is on the 'top-fifty' list because "objects of this period are rarely found by members of the public". The PAS date it to c. 1150-1250. Does he mean metal detectorists tend to concentrate on Roman sites and later Medieval sites?

Then there is the 350 000 quid "Winchester Hoard"(PAS-845331 ). No mention is made of a publication for this "one of the most important discoveries of Iron Age gold objects made in the last 50 years" (discovered twelve years ago) and the PAS record is excessively skimpy. In the programme passing reference was made to this being "possibly a gift" from Julius Caesar or Augustus without any further details, no mention of this is made on the PAS page except that it dates from " Circa 100 BC" which obviously does not match the periods of diplomatic activity of either of these characters! Once again an attempt made to use the finds to illustrate "History", rather than any kind of presentation of the evidence from the objects themselves - or their context of deposition. But then they were rushing to fit in the commercial break.

After the adverts, number 14 was also highly rushed, just a flash of the gold and a "mysterious" silver statue. The "Ashwell" (Baldock) Hoard is blithely related to conflicts between "pagan and Christian". It was found ten years ago, and yet the PAS record contains only a "preliminary account" [to boot incomplete, even though its workflow status is "published"].  Neither programme nor PAS record mention the subsequent work on the site.

Then something Anglo-Saxon called the "Northwest Essex Ring", ESS-E396B1 actually from Uttlesford, near saffron Walden found November last year. The PAS record is incomplete (no mention of discovery method etc.) and has fuzzy photos. The pseudo-historical explanation of this one is a cracker. The iconography is supposed to be Woden (probably it's got it written in runes right across his forehead) holding a cross. Now, the story goes, "we know of only one bloke who worshipped both Christian and pagan gods, and that was Redwald" (King of East Angles about the beginning of the seventh century). That's right from the pages of Bede, writing a hundred years later up in a Northumbrian monastery. Now as "we all know, Redwald was buried at Sutton Hoo" (Was he? There has been a lot of debate about that) - AND in the Sutton Hoo Mound 1 grave THERE WERE NO RINGS (and "there should have been"). So! Obvious innit? This was the ring that Redwald lost. Poor Redwald had all that gold and all those court jewellers and he could not replace that ring and had to be buried (did he die heartbroken because of the loss?) without one. The programme does not explain how "Redwald lost his ring" in a place which was in the kingdom of the East Saxons at the time... Neither does it take into account that the kingdom of the East Saxons was ruled by kings (sons of Saebert) who also rejected Christianity (that's according to the same Bede, perhaps the BM has not read that far into the book). Also is it not the case that if The Boss accepts or rejects a certain ideology he is followed by not a few people that see possible opportunities in being seen to be doing the same as The Boss? So what evidence is there that this ring was worn and lost by any "king" at all? Because it is big? (Note: this would be about the same date as the Prittlewell grave). Once again, we see the object being fitted to the documentary evidence. Anyway, we all look forward to a proper publication of this object and its context of deposition.

Number 12 top British find is from Scotland (the only item in the series, they have no jars of Jewish coins, French forged tokens of 1711, or false noses up there, nothing of any interest). This is the 2009 Blair Drummond Hoard ("nearly [half] a million pounds") found by a metal detectorist "seven steps from his car" in a field in an area where he knew there was "Iron Age activity" (what does that mean?). Despite being more or less the same age as the Winchester hoard and some of the gold objects having the same continental character, no mention is made of the link in the programme. Just some interesting flashy gold worth a lot of money. No mention either is made of the subsequent excavations showing the hoard had been hoiked out of a roundhouse.

The eleventh most important archaeological find is a superficial look at the "Near Lewes (sic) Hoard" SUSS-C5D042 which is mainly there so somebody in a brightly coloured anorak can abseil down some cliffs onto a Cornish beach to "get some tin" which is duly smelted. Then they show the crumpled remains of a Bronze Age boat which had a bit of Cornish shale stuck between the planks, and that's it, that's the Near Lewes Hoard ticked off the list. the fact its got amber beads in it is not mentioned, that came from a bit further away than the tin (unless it was continental tin of course) but there's no abseiling in that.

Now, so far there has not been a single explicit mention in the whole series of best practice in metal detecting or anything else. This is what - before the programme aired - the people involved in its creation solemnly promised those expressing concern we would see. Well, time is running out, one more episode (an hour in which to fit the "top ten" objects, PLUS the best "viewers' own finds"), will our patience be rewarded? Or do the producers think it was enough to solve the problem of dealing with the issue by trying to hide the number of  these finds made by artefact hunters with metal detectors from viewers? Will the programme lead to any serious debate of the issues even among British heritage professionals, asking what went wrong? Or perhaps British heritage professionals think this programme is the bee's knees and just what archaeological outreach to the British public should consist of? Who knows?
Vignette: Vladimir Putin perhaps gave the king of Winchester the hoard? If it's 100BC sure as anything neither Julius Caesar nor Augustus did. 

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

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.