Thursday 14 November 2013

"Britain's Got Treasure" Episode 5

This episode five of Britain's Secret Treasures goes fully back to the dumb-down populist format of the first series, kings and queens and the magick. There's four objects, that's two members of the British royal family and a usurper. Another random selection of celebrities are involved, they are all appearing in the programme, the script says to "find out" about various things and the shallow archaeo-pap narrativisation of this week's geegaws is supposedly going to help them.

So it is that historian Suzannah Lipscomb is filmed in Brentford, Essex where an Elizabethan pendant was discovered five years ago by carpenter George Sparks on the grounds of Ingatestone Hall. Historians believe the pendant "may have even belonged to Queen Elizabeth I herself" (because the monarch stopped there briefly once during a progress in 1561). Of course why the "historians" think this is not exactly explained, but who cares eh? Why spoil a good story with actual scholarship from the Portable Antiquities Scheme? Mary-Ann Ochota presents an iron-age mirror unearthed by an anonymous finder in a field in Pegsdon, Bedfordshire, in 2007, taking care to ensure that the reflection of sunlight from the replica shines in her eyes repeatedly as she talks about it. Other items (a silver brooch, pottery sherds and human bone) found near to where it was discovered indicate the area was originally a burial site. "So as well as being used for personal grooming the mirror would have held other meaning and been used in religious ceremonies" - like the pottery sherds no doubt.

Politician John Prescott presented "the story behind the finding of a huge haul of Roman coins" in South Wales. Lord Prescott pretends he has gone to Cardiff to "find out" where "politics, the communications, the propaganda" started and he hopes the coins are going to help him. Of course he could just read a book I suppose.
The story started when treasure hunter Colin Roberts was searching a field near the M4 in 1998, and made one of the most significant finds in Welsh history (sic) - more than 3,800 Roman coins. The treasure was valued at £40,000.
"It took me hours to dig the coins out" the finder blithely says on camera, oblivious to the fact that the Code of Practice requires him to call the archaeologists in to do that bit, not do-it-yourself hoard-hoiking.  Nobody on the programme did as much as hint that the procedure should have been anything different, so much for outreach, eh? Anyway that's all the backdrop to showing a small piece of metal with pictures on it:
Among the haul was a coin of particular significance as it featured one coin with three heads. Two of the heads were of the two ruling Emperors of the time, but the third was of the Roman Governor of Britain, Carausius. [...] Lord Prescott likens the difficult relationship between Carausius and Allectus to that of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during Labour's years in power. He said: “I spent a lot of political time between two characters and this was Tony Blair and of course Gordon - both powerful men... There's a lot of parallels with it.”
Although in the programme the word "unique" was used, the jugate coin type CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI is pretty well known, though not terribly common. But Allectus is not on the coin, its Maximianus, Diocletian and Carausius. It seems to me that what the usurper was trying to do with the image they are discussing was far more akin to another famous jugate image, of Marx, Engels and Lenin (and more to the point when Stalin added himself). So really the whole "Gordon Brown" story is irrelevant to the actual object concerned, a distraction.

I wonder, how much more trivial can this get? Uh-oh.... Bettany was filmed in Clay Next the Sea in North Norfolk (where my Mum's family come from) making weird facial expressions as she talks about "last year’s discovery of a silver hawking vervel [which had] belonged to Henry Stuart, the Prince of Wales". The "point" of this story was, apparently:

Finally And just think about this, if that falcon hunt had finished a day later or a day earlier then Henry would have ended up in a different place at a different time and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have contracted typhoid in which case we’d have had a Henry IX rather than a Charles I and our country and all of our lives would have been completely different.”
So, what does the archaeology tell us about on what date that vervel was lost? Was the vervel attached to a hawk actively being used by the prince when it was lost? Why are viewers subjected to speculative "might have been" rubbish? Where's the archaeological outreach? 

I note that the BM and its supporters have been particularly  active this week tweeting "watch tonight's episode of Britain's Got Treasure" (or something like that). Perhaps viewer figures of this vacant celebrity show-and-tell are falling (as they deserve to) and they are afraid they'll not get a third series.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It took me hours to dig the coins out" the finder blithely says on camera, oblivious to the fact that the Code of Practice requires him to call the archaeologists in to do that bit"

Yes but he isn't professionally obliged to be ethical under the IfA Code or paid to ensure people aren't given the wrong message. The PAS archaeologists involved with the programme ARE. I think his behaviour is of minor import in comparison to theirs.

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