Friday, 5 July 2019

Yahoo, Hooray? Ten Years Ago, The Staffordshire Hoard Fiasco Began

The Google Street View of the site
The demise of British archaeology has never looked more complete. All over the place in Britain we hear that the '10th Anniversary of the Staffordshire Hoard discovery celebrated' (, 5th July 2019). It was on the 5th July that a superstitious house-bound invalid on disability benefits was sufficiently able-bodied a decade ago to find the first gold items while artefact hunting in a field near Lichfield. He spent the best part of the following week hoiking many more (where are the records made then?) before reporting it to the arkies, who were suitably impressed by the glittery haul. 'Gobsmacked' became archaeological parlance. 
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG) [will] [...] celebrate the anniversary by holding a Staffordshire Hoard Garnets and Gold Festival throughout July, with several exciting events including re-enactments, demonstrations, birds of prey presentations and talks. 
Keyhole sondage failing to
sample major site
Meanwhile, despite a token police all-night guard of the field, which seems to have lasted all of two days as far as I can see, trespassing metal detectorists visited the site on a number of occasions (as documented several times by Heritage Action - though nobody from the archaeological establishment took this up in any publications) and presumably took away unknown numbers of items from the incompletely-examined site, before a larger survey found bits of the hoard that the September 2009 keyhole exacavation had so tragically missed. I would not mind betting that the field and area around are still clandestinely visited by hopeful tekkies, undeterred by the false claim that the archaeologists had 'emptied' the field of its archaeological content. No chance. As was stressed in an article that was (unusually, for Britain) critical of current policies on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the UK's archaeological record and the archaeological profession's inadequate response to the issues raised, British archaeology's response to this find was and is pathetic. Even when the metal detectorist said he'd found other stuff 100m away indicating the presence of other potentially important material evidence, nobody listened (except, I'll wager, the 'nighthawks').

Yeavering, ephemeral traces
of scattered buildings 
A decade on there was a display of the main results of the archaeological work on the (objects from) the Hoard, two replicas of The Staffordshire Hoard Helmet from which approximately a third of the fragments in the Staffordshire Hoard come from. The replicas however are clearly quite wrong, and we await detailed publication of the evidence that led to such a reconstruction and not one more functional and plausible. Another Staffordshire Hoard fail in my view.

So far, interest has been focused - typical post-PAS style - on the loose objects:
There are around 4,000 fragments and artefacts within the Staffordshire Hoard and they were crafted between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries AD and buried between 650-675 AD. They combine to a total of 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. Although fragmented and damaged when found, there is nothing comparable in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe. [...]  Significant items include a selection of Christian objects – the great cross, the pectoral cross, and the Biblical inscription – which are some of the earliest Anglo-Saxon church objects ever discovered.  
Whoopee, eh? Who'd have thunk it? Christians in Anglo-Saxon times! Those dubious excitements aside, meanwhile, we know nothing much at all about the site these loose objects were deposited on and the landscape it was deposited in. The archaeologists explain that away conveniently:
The excavators found no other Anglo-Saxon features where the Staffordshire Hoard had been buried. There were no buildings, no burials, and no signs of a battle. This suggests that the hoard was hidden in a wild area, far from any human settlement.
Alternatively, just off the excavated area could have been a whole Yeavering-type centre (where topoil finds also were rare).
"Nobody really knows why the hoard is there. It could have either been a deliberate burial on a boundary perhaps after someone died or buried quickly by someone who had stolen it who was making an escape on Watling Street. "That's really the only thing that was there at that time. The land there would have been woodland and heathland.
Really? On Tuesday, 26 October 2010, I suggested that there is another possible reason why this hilltop (to the left of the centre of the photo at the head of this article, looking along Watling Street from near where it crosses a stream) was used for this deposit:
I think there is every chance there was a royal vill in the valley below where Roman road crosses the stream 6 km from Lichfield and unless the team from Birmingham has investigated this properly the fragile traces of that too will be "hammered" into oblivion by our "mates" with the metal detectors before long. Apart from some scrabbling around in the immediate environs of the find itself, just what kind of followup to these hundreds of Treasure finds made each year is there? What kind of protection is extended to the places where nationally important treasures have been found to make sure they are not further damaged?
and what kind of archaeological investigation is done to put the findspots of material like thins in context? After all, if these are nationally important finds, they come from sites that have produced nationally important material evidence, so - logically (since archaeology is about contexts not loose objects) -  those sites should be properly investigated and documented as well as being protected from random Collection-driven Explotation. No? 

Is that something archaeologists are shouting from the rooftops on the occasion of this tenth anniversary of a discovery (from a site where that discovery has barely begun)?

Pathetic show, arkies of the UK! Time to get on with some real archaeological outreach, perhaps.

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