Tuesday 23 December 2014

Lenborough Hoard: Hoiked on Sunday, then Casually Tipped onto a Table

This photo was published by "Metal Detectives" on the Buckinghamshire County Museums Facebook page Tuesday evening. It shows the Manor Farm, Lenborough hoard hoiked out on Sunday being sorted with ungloved hands on an inadequately small table covered in old newspapers and scattered with extraneous objects. This it turns out was the evening after the hoik in the farmer's kitchen:

We see the coins being divided into piles to count them. This is basically exactly the same manner of dealing with numismatic items as is used by the "heap-of-loose-coins-on-my-table" coineys of the ACCG and other such groups. Some of the piles are right on the edge of this tiny table.

Note how a whole heap have been tipped out onto the table from the original polybags in which they left the field (you can see the size of them in the background). Had the deposit been carefully excavated and divided into smaller units to determine if there was any structure to it, the coins of each individual excavation unit would have been sorted and documented individually (to determine whether there was any significance in the distribution of the issues and varieties throughout the deposit as a whole) before being physically amalgamated. You'd also see some documentation lying on the table as they precisely record the contents of each unit. It seems the project director (who is?) has decided they are not going to bother with any of that. From the moment of excavation, it is one decontextualised hoiked group, and any issues of whether there is (was) any structure in the deposit (context of deposit) seems to have been ignored from the outset. The problem is this one was hoiked by and is being dealt with by British archaeologists. This is appalling as an example of British archaeological methodology in the second decade of the twenty-first century. This is Bushe-Fox archaeology.

What, seeing this, are the public to make of it? Does it seem that the 'value of archaeological finds in their context' is being promoted here?  The archaeological context, whether in a pit, timber building, workshop, votive site or burial, is wholly unknown, it was hoiked out blindly and hastily from the top-down and scooped from the middle out from a signal from a Treasure hunter's bleeping detector. No attempt was made to recover the deposit (or deposits) in any archaeologically methodological manner by careful exposure and stripping, recovering and documenting its spatial or stratigraphic context. 

I wrote an email, using the contact details on the PAS website, to the FLO (Ros Tyrrell) yesterday with a link to my post (with an invitation to comment to correct any eventual errors of fact due to using the accounts of metal detectorists witnesses as the basis of my text) and a few civil questions. Sadly it bounced. A second attempt also. I am waiting to see if I can be 'third time lucky' by copying the text to the admin of the museum itself.  If anyone has contact with the elusive FLO or the Museum, maybe they'd like to alert them to this discussion and invite them to contribute.

I doubt that we'll get any other archaeologists joining in. In Britain, they are either of the 'that's-the-spirit-let's-all-be-cuddly-wuddly-friends-and-hoik-out-all-this-luvverly-stuff-together" school, and those that are not tend to get shouted down by the detectorists and other supporters of the above approach. Basically there is no major social media venue where archaeologists can openly discuss the issues surrounding artefact hunting and the cognitive damage that is caused without it getting disrupted by numerous artefact collecting oiks or having it shut down.

[UPDATE the third attempt to reach the FLO elicited an 'out of office' message - apparently she'll be back on 6th January] 

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