Monday 3 December 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Another Treasure Report Reported ("Idiots some of the detectorists, they'd drive you mad")

Maeve Kennedy, the Guardian's art reporter has had to report another Portable Antiquities Scheme  annual report. Following the PAS guidelines in the press release, she went for the narrativisation and human interest again, rather than the conservation issues ('We came, we saw, we detected: relics from Caesar era among amateur finds', Guardian Monday 3 December).

So there is the usual tabloid-type junk about "British Museum pays tribute to hordes of metal detectorists and their hoards of ancient relics, helmets, coins and weapons" of course. The numbers are worrying: "almost 100,000 finds of archaeological objects, and 970 treasure finds [...] almost all found by metal detectorists". , . The article has all the elements:
a) mention of a famous historical person - Julius Caesar,
b) royalty: Richard III,
c) the experts are amazed trope: "Neil MacGregor, [...] said so many hoards have now been reported that a study is being launched on why the UK has so many".
d) the biggest and best: "a trove of 159 gold coins [...] the second largest find of its kind"
e) the narrativisation: "coins among the very last minted in Ravenna, Milan and Rome itself with the Barbarians almost at the gates of the cities".
"Each coin would have bought a fine military cloak, or fed a soldier for three months".
f) Then the "lucky discovery that almost never was" tale, the Bedale Hoard.

Here, in her version of the story, Maeve Kennedy perhaps steps furthest into the unknown territory beyond the PAS prepared screed. She interviewed the finders, chosen by the show's organizers from among the many to be 'colourful characters' placed on exhibit in London to entertain the invited guests: 
It was the blackened wire which Stuart Campbell first spotted, as he tramped off a "vile, verminous, vicious day at work", and since it was almost beside an electricity pylon, he concluded grumpily that he had found some old electrical cable. When more bits of metal turned up he called in his friend Steve Caswell, who works at the same animal feed mill, and gives equally good grump. They are both men of few and blunt words, and have therefore formed an exclusive metal detecting club of two members. "Idiots some of the detectorists, they'd drive you mad," snarled Campbell. They filled in the hole, carefully replaced the clods of grass in case any of the "idiots" came by, and called in archaeologists, [...] Their value has yet to be determined, but will be shared between them and the landowner, and the York Museum hopes to acquire them. "I felt a bit grim actually," Campbell said,"I wondered if we should just have left everything in the ground". 
Should, or shouldn't? Assuming the latter is what was meant, let us see how much acquiring that for the local museum will be costing the nation, then add to that the actual costs of the conservation, archivisation and full study and publication of this one too on top of the other 970, then we'll have an answer to the question whether all this uncontrolled artefact hoiking is something which is sustainable in the long term. While talking to the journalist, the Northern finders sprang an unwelcome surprise on the show's organizers:
They've been out again since the find in May, but have only found "stuff", they said. "Well, and that medieval ring," Campbell recalled. "And that gold bracelet on Sunday", Caswell reminded him. "Oh, and this," he said, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket, and fishing out a little Anglo-Saxon silver coin. "That's quite good," Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins at the BM [...]  said, peering at it. "675 to 750 AD, Northumberland, one of the earliest English regnal coins, not bad at all."
Loose in a wallet in a back pocket, after 1200 corroding away in the ground? That speaks volumes about what the PAS "partnership" leads to.

The Telegraph went for the dead king motif:
Boar mount 'belonging to Richard III' detected

while the Mail could not decide if they were writing about a king or a 'modern-looking' helmet:
Iron Age helmet among rare finds unearthed by Britain's amateur treasure hunters (and doesn't it look modern?)

While this guy has worked out what to do with the BM press release. It makes about as much sense as this:
Boar mount that might have under III relics of amateur treasure hunters since Richard announces Museum

Here's another one of similar ilk:
British Museum pays reverence to hordes of steel detectorists and their hoards ("Pay reverence" - in their dreams).

Vignette: Deaf Yorkshiremen


Cultural Property Observer said...

What ever happened to your upcoming book on the subject?

Paul Barford said...

That's what we'd like to know....
In press as they say. There were some legal grublies to sort out. It's coming out as two books now. The dirt on metal detectorists in one, the more theoretical issues (including the whole section on the Treasure Act) in another. Works better that way. Patience is a virtue I am told.

I'm now working on and off on one about the antiquities market. Maybe all those "publishing coineys" can recommend a good academic publisher with exemplary copy editors and tolerant managing editors?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thank you for the update. Sadly, it's apparently harder to find academic publishers these days for coiney and non-coiney alike. The trend is self-publishing or some publishing on demand set up. Not ideal by traditional standards certainly. Perhaps we can agree nothing quite like a good old book.

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