Monday 27 January 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Finding Anglo-Saxons, Rob a Grave

Helen Geake may not be so keen as she initially was to allow discussion of her thoughts on the use of the Early Medieval finds in the PAS database, but not so Toby Martin. Toby has had a look at the database with the aim of studying "Anglo-Saxons on the PAS: 2013 in Review (Part I)", These Fragments, January 27, 2014. Of the 45,000 items logged on the publicly available database over the course of 2013, he found 319 were of the early Anglo-Saxon period (defined as most of the 5th and 6th centuries, so that is just one chunk of the wider Early Medieval period looked at by Geake). This is of interest:
The vast majority of items recorded by the PAS from this period is not just brooches, but worn items of all varieties.  There’s a good reason for this – most of this material comes from disturbed graves. What we’re mostly looking at here are ploughed-out mortuary assemblages minus nearly all the ironwork and ceramics, obviously not recovered by metal detectorists looking for decorative metalwork.
That's quite an interesting observation, because Helen Geake in her Cambridge seminar apparently (pers. comm. in litt.) said that the reason the PAS data dated to the broader Early Medieval period differed from the  excavated material is because there is a "higher proportion of accidental losses, which are incredibly difficult to recover any other way". So one interpretation is that certain Early Medieval finds consist of accidental losses accidentally found by lucky searchers, the other that certain Early Medieval finds come from selective gathering from disturbed stratified contexts. Of course not insignificant is that there are published gazetteers of Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites (some are also indicated 'X-marks the spot' on old OS maps). To what extent are these finds coming from burial grounds targeted as potential productive sites by artefact hunters eager to do a bit of grave-robbing?

I missed an earlier post on Toby Martin's blog about "Bias in the PAS Database: The Case of Annular Brooches

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