Sunday, 11 January 2015

PAS Hand-Wringing and Feeble Dumbdown Excuses: "There was no way" to DO THE JOB PROPERLY

"We hope to tell people the whole
story eventually: what it was doing in
Buckinghamshire, whether it was minted at
the Buckinghamshire
[sic] mint – there's lots
to finds
[sic] out. It's tantalising
Ros Tyrrell

Finds Liaison Officer Ros Tyrrell tells Culture24 "the full story" of the Lenborough Hoard Hoik. She'd gone along to a rally on an earthwork site which the Weekend Wanderers it now turns out had hoiked finds from before. She was not equipped with anything that would allow her to do a proper excavation of an important find like a hoard. The organizer came over to her to report a find, and she actually says at the beginning of the interview:
 it was clear that it was going to be more complicated 'cos there were a couple of bits of lead early on, which suggested there was more in there than we could see. I got the finder to enlarge the hole, because it was very small [...] it was clear there were more than just a few [...] 
So there we are. A complicated archaeological situation, obviously too much to deal with in a matter of a few hours, by herself, surrounded by a crowd of excitable schoolkids and having no proper equipment and means to properly record the find. It is pretty obvious what the next step should be. But, nope. The PAS specialist charged with the task of instilling 'best practice' among 'finders' took quite the opposite decision from the one which she should.
 I had to do the lifting because there was nobody else to do it, basically.[...]  but we got it sorted out fairly quickly. [...] Archaeological people have criticised me for digging it there and then but there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight. Would there have been anybody to come and help? It was just too public, so it had to be lifted and sorted out as best we could. 
In what way was "there no way"? This does not make sense. First of all, the hoard findspot was just 200 metres from the farm buildings.  Also if you look on Google Earth (and even allowing for the fact that the hedges would be without leaves) you can see that the findspot is not visible from the Gawcott-Buckingham road, at its nearest point, it is shielded from view by houses and gardens, further to the west where the hedges are low, the findspot is down below the brow of the hill.  It is not a particularly "public" situation. That there are no other archaeologists in Buckinghamshire and surrounding regions, I simply refuse to believe.

The Google Street View camera is pointed straight at
the hoard findspot just a few hundred meters away. Do you see it?
As for there being "no way" to secure the site, it's very much a matter of where there is a will, there is a way. I have suggested a couple of ways that site could have been secured. It is not stated which of thenm the FLO considered and why she rejected them.
 If you look at the YouTube footage it makes it look like we're 'tee-hee, yum yum, giggle giggle', shovelling the stuff out in a hurry and scooping the coins out in handfuls. It really wasn't like that. It took us all day – we only just got it in before the light went, we worked hard and slowly on it. 
Yes, indeed, the video shows what it shows, if the FLO had organized a proper investigation, there could have been filming showing 'best practice' in action incorportated in the research design, what we have is a film which suggests that under the FLO's direction there was a total shambles. Not very educational. Not only has the archaeology been needlessly trashed here, but another opportunity for decent and considered 'outreach' to finders was missed.
There are bad guys out there who give the hobby a bad name. 
and there are activities of some FLOs who don't exactly do the image of PAS outreach any favours either.  As for telling the British public the fuller story they pay Ms Tyrrell's salary to get, she must be joking, when she must be aware (surely?) that this kind of hoiking destroys information, there is no way she can tell the "full" story since she herself removed some of the evidence which 'grounds' it. All we can do is from the pile of coins make some educated guesses. But that, Ms Tyrrell, is not archaeology, it is storytelling. But it makes a nice dumbdown story for Baz public to make a source of information about a segment of the past into a "tantalising mystery" by rejecting any means of making a proper recovery of contextual data and its documentation.

Ben Miller, 'A tantalising mystery: The story behind the huge Anglo-Saxon coin hoard found in Buckinghamshire', Culture 24, 11 January 2015.

Here ('FLO at Lenborough: “there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”...') is Heritage action replying to "there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”
We beg to differ. A lot. Large vehicles can be parked over find spots. Security firms can be hired to work nights, including at Xmas. People who are going to be holding their hand out for hundreds of thousands of life-changing pounds from the public could provide or pay for the necessary security. Couldn’t they. What sort of entitlement-obsessed person wouldn’t? It’s time PAS dropped its damaging insistence that staff say nothing to upset detectorists.
 Underneath the text are some telling adverts, a local security firm, someone who'll come and supply electricity for floodlights, a remarkable low-bed trailer. They make the point that it seems nobody really gave much thought at all to the question of securing that site, but are now inventing lame excuses to explain away what they did. 


Andy Baines said...

Are you getting some kind of kick out of vilifying Ms Tyrell? She did the best she could in the situation she was presented with. The hoard was successfully extracted from the ground and will now be examined and recorded through the correct channels.

I would say job done and cheap. The public get to see this incredible find as shown by the huge media coverage, everyone is happy. Well everyone apart from a select few!


Paul Barford said...

1) I disagree that this was "the best she could". What she did quite clearly was not the "best" for the hoard, it was not "best" for getting "best practice" from any finder watching the event or watching the video. It was not "the best" for the unthreatened earthwork site which she decided to summarily remove the hoard from.

2) As I continually have to point out and people like you simply cannot grasp, there is a difference between "conservation" and "filling yer pockets". The PAS was set up to mitigate any damage caused to sites through "finding" of all kinds. It was NOT created to get out random bits of archaeological material in a damaging way. You seem to have lost sight of the purpose of having a PAS.

In fact, I suspect "travelling around the country trashing archaeological deposits" is not in Ms T's job description.

3) Doing it "cheap" and badly is not an aim anyone should be striving for when the result is damage to an irreplaceable and unique piece of a finite resource. As HA suggest, the finder(s) and landowner will benefit financially from this trashing, then let them invest in securing the site so we all get value for that money - value in the sense of the added information we'd have had from having the job done properly. Only then does the money spent on rewarding the finders, examining and recording of the loose coins, their conservation and proper storage make sense.

I think their other suggestion, slapping a huge reduction on the value of the treasure ransom in the case of "reckless removal" (what it says in the Treasure Act Code of Practice) is a good idea and will show the lost value of "archaeological finds in their context" in a tangible form. What would be cheap would be for the farmer and finder to split 200 thousand for a botched job.

3)The moment the video surfaced, I contacted Ros Tyrrell inviting her to put the record straight. She ignored that, and has continued to ignore it. the only statement she has issued is this interview where she says blithely "there was no way" to get best practice. That was just a piss-poor attempt to brush aside the issues. The public deserve better than "I could not do it".

I am surprised that a self-styled "responsible detectorist" is not up in arms about how such treatment of teh archaeological resource does not damage the reputation of "responsible detecting", for that is NOT what we see in this episode. the site was under grass long-time, the detecting was being carried out on a known site, the detecting was being carried out below plough-depth, the finders did not step back and allow a proper project to be set up. Every rule that could be broken was. Except nota bene what Tyrrell says: "The finder could have kept quiet about it, although it would have been difficult to put it in your pocket and sneak away with it – it would have made your trousers a funny shape". It would also have been theft and an offence against the Treasure Act.

Should Ms Tyrrell wish to put the record straight, she is always welcome to send a comment to my blog. My impression is that, like metal detecting 'partners' she has decided to turn her back on the discussion and hope the issues go away if we do not talk about them.

, the Code of respo

Anonymous said...

"She did the best she could in the situation she was presented with"

Ironically, I think that statement betrays a full understanding of the problem.

There was only one "situation she was presented with" that was relevant. She was surrounded by metal detectorists rather than amateur archaeologists or others.

Come on Mr Baines, the "situation" was "pressure from people around her", why not admit it and we can all start to lobby for laws that control them in future, for everyone's benefit.

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