Sunday, 12 May 2013

UK metal Detecting: The Importance of a Name...

UK tekkies are easily impressed it seems, they prefer to treat as 'authoritative' a handful of comfortable statements made by somebody else, this presumably saves them having to think things out for themselves. We currently have a very good example of this in the treatment in the milieu several days ago of the two opposing propositions.
1) "Dugup ancient coins are archaeological finds".
2) "Dugup ancient coins are NOT archaeological finds" (the Schuster/ Bundesfinanzhof Proposition).
UK metal detectorist blogger John Howland decided five days ago to step into the debate and give the tekkie point of view on this. Of course he'd not actually sit down on the sand of Bournemouth beach (he'd get his backside wet) and think things through. No need, he found something in the internet to help him. I quote: "This from Peter Tompa’s highly influential (sic) Cultural Property Observer Blog…". What Tompa says is that dugup coins sold by his dealer mates to foreign collectors are NOT archaeological finds (proposition 2) and therefore do not have to be treated as such. Tompa also records that "archaeo-blogger Paul Barford is in denial about the implications of Court’s ruling" (actually, it is the coineys' interpretation of it which I contest). Howland notes with evident approval that Tompa disagrees with me "Of course, Barford disagrees…surprise, surprise!" before noting that "Peter Tompa’s biography is impressive", as if that made a difference to the logic of the statement. But it's enough for a UK tekkie obviously. So "Dugup ancient coins are NOT archaeological finds", Mr Howland? I know that IKEA spoons dug from the freshly turned over sand of Bournemouth beach are not archaeological finds, but Mesembrian Diobols and Frisian sceattas? Frankly, it would take a little more than Peter Tompa's say-so to convince most of us, but it's good enough for a UK tekkie.

So basically UK tekkie opinion is that treating ancient coins (and I'd presume then Early Medieval hammered coins too) as archaeological finds is a mistake. I've not seen any discussion of this issue on detecting forums (and thus none of them have felt compelled to take issue with Mr Howland and have it out with him on one of their forums). So the German academics who've spent decades preparing the series of volumes of Fundmunzen have been taking money on false pretences? That's what the "proposition two" interpretation of the now-notorious Bundesfinanzhof senate verdict (of Judge Schuster et al.) would mean if it were interpreted in the way the US coin collectors and the UK tekkie wish. 

More to the point, the public-funded "partner" of all those UK tekkies would, disgracefully, be doing the same. The Portable Antiquities database today has 556,400 records, and if you do a search for coins, you find that today 278159 records are composed of coins which the Schuster Proposition (proposition two) says ARE NOT ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS. That's a percentage of 49.992% of the "archaeological finds" recorded by the PAS at a sum of over fifteen million quid cannot be defined as archaeological finds using the criteria preferred by Peter Tompa and his new follower John Howland. Applying that definition to the artefacts brought in too the PAS would have saved the public purse over seven and a half million quid, enough for a few hospital beds and quite a bit of inner city community policing.  Just what do the PAS think they are up to, applying such a definition of "archaeological find" without consulting Judge Schuster in the Bundesfinanzhof? Mr Tompa and his fellows seem to think that this decision should be treated as binding for everyone, archaeologists included. According to these criteria, the PAS have only a paltry 278,241 records of ('real') archaeological finds to show for fifteen years' work by over a hundred specialists and over fifteen million quid spent. Not much, is it? That is, IF one applies the definition approved by Mr Howland.

Or perhaps the PAS would like to enter this discussion? After all, is not outreach to the public on precisely this sort of topic exactly what the PAS was set up to do?  While I do not think anyone would expect the PAS to feel constrained to put Judge Schuster and his pals in the picture, certainly their obligation is to reach out to UK artefact hunters like John Howland who is disseminating approval of one definition of "archaeological finds" which seems at total odds with what PAS are busy doing.

 Vignette: 'Beep Beep Boyz (and gals)' often have trouble thinking things through... 

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