Monday 29 December 2014

Metal Detecting Bad Practice Again: Dorset Roman Coin Hoard Hoiked

Roman Coin Hoard Found in Dorset. There are two really thought-provoking videos (here and here) of the re-exploration of an earlier hoard findspot which really call into question just what it is artefact hunters think "best practice" is. The status of this Treasure case is not stated, has there been an inquest yet? Was the hoard disclaimed? In the comments there is a reference to the FLO telling the finder that there are no more coins and that there will be no further work done on the findspot, has he come back to boost his Treasure reward? The first film starts out with an introduction by the teenage video maker (Liam aka 'Argent detector'), who plugs Garrett detectors (are they paying him for this?).

The next part of the video shows Gary Smith  ("who is also known as Coin Hunter UK" [is that an ebay nick?]), first telling those of us who cannot see "I'm actually driving in my car...." ripping stuff this.  He continues in Estuary English:
"Recently I had 295 Roman coins, it's erm, sca'ered in a field, it's - what could be done,...  c'llect 'em all up, no po', no nuffin else....fair enough, brilliant, ... hoard... amazin'...., buzz of a lifetime. Naaw, a year and half la'er, I'm goin' back ou', to this same hoard spot where we had the sca'er, and we've got a mini-digga [giggle] we're going to be hopefully tryi' to find any deeper coins there or a pot or anyfin' that remains deepa".   
But if you thought the mechanical excavator was to remove topsoil (which seems not to have been detected first) to do a careful exploration of the site, you'd be mistaken. The guy is digging into and probably through the base of the ploughsoil blindly into what is below with a spade, without methodically cleaning the base of the trench first and the video shows he's leaving a hell of a mess. This is not exploration of what is left of the hoard and identification of its context of deposition, it is deep artefact hoiking pure and simple. Did his FLO (Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen) know what he was planning and did she advise on this? Metal detector Boy appears again and plugs Garrett again. ("that's awesome, it looks like he's been and gone and found another coin"). Then there's pottery  "I've never had no po''ery" Garry says. Then he proudly shows the destruction he has wrought in the bottom of the trench, "holes everywhere, that's nasty" he admits. [I am informed by a reader that what he probably said and mispronounced was a boast: "that is deep"].

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
There is no evidence that he was plotting the position and depth of any of the new finds, some of which are coming from depths below the ploughed layers. At the end of day one (when the 'mini-digga' proved not to hoik quickly enough and they brought in a bigga-digga) the man had removed another 150 coins out of the ground dating from 260 -296 AD (Gallianus, Claudius II, Victorinus, and Allectus).

They were obviously expecting "a pot", but none was found with the metal detector (umm... duh), "although Garry did fin' po'ery fragments. One piece even 'ad coins stuck to it, which proves that the coins must've been in some kind of pottery vessil t'start wiv, an' not jest a leather pouch like the FLO suggestid". They stubbornly stuck by the expectation of a pot (a la Frome Hoard maybe?) throughout the whole project and when the did not find one, come up with an explanation - inflexibly ignoring the possibility that there had been no pot containing the coins.

Sadly, Metal detector Boy had to go to school the next day and his Mum and Dad (Nick and Julie) are in the second video filming the rest of the bad practice hoik. It has to be said, the kid has a much better idea how to make a video than his parents, who mostly record a lot of vacant dialogue and cackling.

Posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist 13th Dec 2014.

At the beginning of the second video, we see "fifteen or twenty [coins] which were left on the surface last night". Much is made of the "deterioration" of the coins but note none of the ones visible in the video show any plough damage. Another 150 coins were found in the first part of the day.

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
A bit later in the video, Mr CoinHunter says "we are basically down to subsoil now" when in the section you can see that they were down to subsoil twenty centimetres higher. It seems metal detectorists in general have a problem reading soil layers - which rather casts doubt on the abilities of these amateur archaeologists (as some would have it) to do anything like archaeology at all. Not exactly rocket science is it?

Bad practice: Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
 This comes out really clearly when you watch the segment of the second video from here to here. The removal of 'layers' is obviously not done by hand. They've used the ('bigga')  mechanical excavator here, and it has scraped across the claggy base of the hole. CoinHunter walks across swinging his screeching machine, notice what happens when the machine passes over the area of darker colour and other texture. It bleeps there and not the orangey-brown material. Conclusion? Let's see how long it takes them to spot what they are walking right across (and then decide to document the soil change in horizontal section and plot the coins from inside it). At the beginning the penny fails to drop, he perceives only "loads of signals" and not the feature which contains what is left of the hoard!

Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
the yellow line added by me to show where the 'hits' are.
 Eventually though they get it, though not until after they'd taken it down a couple of times more (by machine).  Then they notice the colour differences.
"Look how deep I am, which metal detector can find coins this deep? "
Edited screenshot of film posted on You Tube by Argent Detectorist
Then we see there is a second feature in the (SE?) corner of the trench. What is disturbing about this is that because they are just hoiking coins and assuming they have all come from a putative "smashed pot". They assume at this stage that they've not found because it has been smashed (thus confirming to their minds that they are still in ploughsoil when in fact they've been digging archaeological deposites (with a JCB and pointy spades) for the last couple of hours. They are thus mixing artefacts from the same depth together in their finds trays. This means that they are mixing coins from outside the hoard (including that other dark-filled feature) with those in what clearly is the base of the hoard still in situ in an archaeological deposit which they are filming themselves in the process of destroying.

Then there is a break, the film and excavation develop into chaos. We do not see how they treated the hoard findspot or the feature it was in ("we got down to a depth where there was no more coins"), the next shot shows a dump of earth on the spot. They must have dealt with the feature pretty summarily.- given that the previous shots were late morning, and before the light failed they explored two more trenches either side, mixing the coins from them with the first lot. No doubt their report will reveal what it was.

At the end of the film, the guy is still schematically fantasising about the mythical "pot" - if there had been a pot, whether or not it was hit by the plough (and if so, where are the bits?), the base would still be in the pit in which the hoard was deposited (hypothetically in it). There obviously was no pot. The FLO was right, not that these numpties with their crude spades and mechanical diggers seem to have been capable of identifying and documenting the traces of whatever container the hoard had been deposited in.

The net haul "six hundred to seven hundred Roman coins" - but whether or not they all came from the same hoard will now never be known.  The end-of-day finds shot shows a lot of large pieces of settlement pottery (this is clearly not one vessel). So again we have a hoard buried on an archaeological site, and once again we find metal detectorists targeting a known site.

All those coins will need cleaning before they can be recorded. Who will pay for that? Indeed what is the legal position with cleaning items whose ownership has not yet been determined by inquest? Suppose the person to whom ownership is assigned has other opinions over the methods of cleaning that should have been used?

We are assured that "the Full story of This Roman Coin Hoard will be in an Upcoming Treasure Hunting Magazine". I bet it will not actually be the full story, as it seems so much will have been missed by such heart-breakingly inadequate methods. The PAS has wasted huge amounts of public money trying to explain to people like this the "value of archaeological finds in their contexts". I am sure these people see the "value of archaeological finds", though it seems highly doubtful whether they understood anything else from nearly two decades of archaeological outreach and treatment as "partners".

Now, will the Dorset FLO backed by PAS Central office be issuing a statement condemning this destruction of a chunk of the archaeological record shown here on film? Don't hold your breath folks. More likely they'll be saying "oooo, wotta lotta stuff you got, Gaz!! Thanks!".

This hoard was hoiked in Holt.


Unknown said...


Paul Barford said...

my what?

better than being an illiterate abusive homophobic moron, I guess.

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