Tuesday 18 December 2012

Staffordshire Hoard Botch-up Revealed

Readers may remember being told by the British media (quoting authorities) back in 2009 that there was "nothing left to find" in the field that produced the so-called "Staffordshire Hoard", that the archaeologists had done their work so thoroughly that there was no point in searching the site for more. Wrong. The BBC ('Staffordshire Hoard: Gold fragments found in Hammerwich' ) is reporting that the site continues to reveal artefacts to searchers with metal detectors. I reported that such 15 searchers were searching this allegedly "barren" site a few weeks ago. The follow-up to that story is the announcement that about 90 more pieces of gold and silver believed to belong to the Staffordshire Hoard have been found by archaeologists.
Some of the new pieces are fragments that fit with parts of the original hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver. They include a possible helmet cheek piece, a cross shaped mount and an eagle shaped mount.  Many items weigh less than a gram, the council said. [...] A team of archaeologists and metal detectorists from the Stoke-on-Trent Museum [Archaeological] Society and Archaeology Warwickshire recovered the material at the field after it had been ploughed last month. [...]  "We think these items were buried at a deeper level which is why we didn't find them first time around," said county council archaeologist Steve Dean. "We always wanted to come back and look for other items - pottery, other metalwork - so we always had the intention of coming back once the field had been ploughed." "We will be keeping an eye on the field and we would, with the farmers permission, like to go back in a couple of years when he ploughs again to see if it turns up anything else," he added. [...] South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh will rule at an inquest on 4 January if the new metalwork pieces are part of the Staffordshire Hoard and should be declared treasure.
and if they are, once again cash will have to be raised to pay off the original finder - Mr Herbert and the landowner.*

Personally I think it is a scandal that these items are still in the soil. If the original archaeological team had done its work more thoroughly (ie if they'd had the resources to do a proper job), there would be no gold in the soil at all. After the initial metal detecting sweep, a mechanical excavator could have removed the top 20 cm of soil to allow another sweep to get the objects deeper-lying in the ploughsoil. Now whatever the archaeologists may say, I reckon it is a 100% certainty that nighthawks have been on this site. In 2009, in 2010, in 2011 and in the first two thirds of 2012. Working hurriedly and in the dark, they will have missed the smaller bits- leaving behind precisely many items which weigh less than a gram... The recovery of the archaeological evidence from this site was an ad hoc, poorly-resourced and botched affair from the beginning, in my opinion, it continues to be so.

Similar account here: Maev Kennedy, 'Staffordshire hoard site yields further 90 fragments', Guardian, Tuesday 18 December 2012 [comments currently thankfully Metal-Detector-free]

* Actually nobody has to pay a penny. The way the Treasure system works, if no museum puts in a bid, the finds return to the finder, archaeologists, who donate them to the museum.

Vignette: Some of the elements of the Staffordshire Hoard missed by the archaeologists when they "investigated" the site in 2009 and then fortuitously missed by any illegal artefact hunters ("nighthawks") visiting the site in the intervening three years (from the BBC news item).  

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