Thursday 27 September 2018

Archaeologists Struggle to Understand Swiss Looted Grave

It is good to see European metal detectorists taking stuff from archaeological assemblages described as 'looters' by the National Geographic (Andrew Curry, '3,500-Year-Old Hand is Europe’s Earliest Metal Body Part' National Geographic  27th Sept 2018). Perhaps they learnt something from the social media discussion of 'Nazi War Diggers'. Swiss treasure hunters using metal detectors searching a site on a  plateau near the tiny village of Prêles above Lake Biel in the western canton (province) of Bern, found an odd bronze hand, a bronze dagger and rib bone. They turned the finds in to authorities.   
The 3,500-year-old object is a hand, slightly smaller than life-sized, made of more than a pound of bronze. It has a cuff of gold foil glued to the wrist, and a socket inside that would have allowed it to be mounted on a stick or pole [...] after the erstwhile looters pointed out where they found the object, Schaer and her team spent seven weeks excavating what turned out to be a badly-damaged grave [...] In the burial, researchers found the bones of a middle-aged man, along with a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral probably worn as a hair tie, and fragments of gold foil matching those that adorn the bronze hand.  They also recovered one of the sculpture’s broken fingers in the man’s grave, a good indication that the hand was originally buried with the man. [...]  The sculpture’s socket suggests it could have adorned a statue, been mounted on a stick and wielded like a scepter, or even worn as a prosthetic as part of a ritual. The answer may remain elusive. Because it was removed from the grave by the looters without documentation, it’s impossible to know how it was originally arranged with the man’s body. “Finds like this remind us how many gaps there still are in our knowledge about the past,” Hochuli says. “It gives us a glimpse into the spiritual world of this society – and it’s a lot more complex than we often think.”
Sadly, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record has taken its toll of the knowledge this site could have given. Metal detector users dig blindly, cannot record what lies outside the small keyhole hoik holes they dig, and many artefact hunters (even if they were as interested in adding to the historical record as they claim)  lack the skills and experience to properly observe and document the context of deposition of the objects they hoik.  Some of them can barely write a coherent sentence, let alone a report of what they did on a site.

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