Thursday 28 November 2013

"Britain's Got Treasure", Episode Seven - The Making of Scotland

In this - thank goodness - penultimate episode 7 of the second series of "Britain’s Secret Treasures" the focus now shifts to Treasure Trove Scotland. This time there were just two celebrity presenters and they mentioned the "metal detector-word" a bit more frequently. (Is this due to the different legal status of the finds up there maybe?) The human interest story starts off "In 2007, landscape gardener David Booth bought himself a metal detector for his birthday. Incredibly, the first time he used it he found four 2000-year-old gold torcs. It was the greatest hoard of gold ever found in Scotland and was valued at £1m" says the ITN blurb. What I heard (I thought, somebody might clarify) is that the award was £462000 and for some reason the finder "got all of it", that's what they said. Then there was a "900-year old" silver Medieval seal matrix the same guy found (of course some dumb-downing had to be done - so viewers were told by Bettany Hughes it was "like a medieval credit card" - um, no....). What was interesting is that it had a Roman intaglio in it which led to some very facile stuff about what it means for Scottish history. Pity they did not mention that (if they got the date right) this happens quite a lot in contemporary Europe.

Things really got going when Michael Portillo presented some mid eighteenth century toy lead soldiers from Fort George near Inverness that allegedly "highlight relationships between Scottish Highlanders and British soldiers". Somehow, the narrativisation takes us to the battle of Culloden and Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Afterwards the British took control of the Highlands and built Fort George. The years following Culloden were difficult for the Highlanders living alongside the British soldiers but over time relationships developed. Experts believe the toys were made by the British soldiers for local Highlander children.
Now, quite how the "experts" came to that conclusion and how much reliance can be placed on the trite story is not explained. Presumably the programe makers do not anticipate having in their audience anyone who might ask such a question. Instead of a presentation of the argument/inference, there is a persuasive costume re-enactment with some "nice British soldiers" making lead soldiers in an open mould just as some very clean little boy apprehensively approaches them and smiles gratefully as the soldier chucks a hot piece of lead at him.

It now emerges this programme is all about Scottish identity. I've pointed out the Kossinnist roots of other things the PAS and its supporters do with archaeological artefacts, here they go the whole hog, Vorgeschichte - eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft in all its dubious glory."Topical" reference is made to the upcoming referendum about Scottish independence, breaking the Union. The archaeological artefacts are dragged into the argument, explaining how the United Kingdom is "not such a bad thing", after all - the narrativisation goes - just a few decades after Cullodden, the archaeologists insist their stories show that "the Scots" were quite happy to be in it. So it is that the next find too is roped-into the feelgood narrative:
A second treasure found in the same area is also evidence of improving relationships between the Highlanders’ and British soldiers. Treasure hunter Jack Mackay found a belt buckle from a soldier’s uniform in the fields around the fort last year. The buckle was dated as being from 50 years after Culloden when Britain was at war with France and Napoleon. On the badge is the name of a regiment called the Fort William volunteers made up of local Scottish men. So just half a century after being defeated by the British Army, the Scottish Highlanders were volunteering to fight for them suggesting they had finally accepted a unified Britain.[...] Michael said: “It’s a new world now as I gaze out on a tranquil Scotland where in 2014 the people will vote on whether to maintain the union. These objects illustrate a crucial stage in the long running relationship between England and Scotland and they also demonstrate how old enmity can melt away to be recast as friendly rivalry.”
So can we take it that there is absolutely no reference to these soldiers in any written source? I mean it's only the finding of this shoulder belt plate that tells us about them is it? Somehow that information seems not to have reached the viewer.

There were two 2nd century silver coin hoards and a prehistoric log boat also discussed. Michael Burks comes dangerously close to questioning how it is archaeologists make up their stories, but quietly accepts the bluff as they paddle him off in a replica logboat that they are the "experts", so everything they say must be true.

What delightful pseudo-archaeological nonsense will they be dragging out for the entertainment of the slack-jawed viewers in the final episode?  Will there be any dot-distribution maps?

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