Sunday 31 May 2020

Outdoor Recreation in Brexit Britain

Formby Beach, Liverpool
by Colin Lane@snapperlan
The metal detectorists are encouraged to go out and loot the remains of the past as a form of outdoor recreation as lockdown is eased, that shows about as much environmental awareness as another form of British outdoor recreation, littering. Shocking scenes as beer bottles, laughing gas canisters and rubbish are abandoned this weekend on British beaches.

What is the matter with the Brits?

Lockdown Looting Facilitated by UK Culture Department

On a metal detecting forum near you and seen from all over Europe (not just Poland) we all learn that in the UK the NCMD has been lobbying the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport DCMS for a Dominic Cummings exception to current lockdown rules for artefact hunters too, to allow a quick return of exploitative commercial rallies. So far, in a forum posting made a few hours ago they've only managed to puff up the government's announcement of Thu 28 May 2020 that groups of up to six people would allowed to meet in England from Monday 1st June as their own achievement. All the Baz Thugwits of the forums (who don't read the papers it seems) are delirious.

 It is worth noting this is happening while the UK papers are reporting that there are currently 54,000 new cases a week (for comparison, the total number of cases from the beginning of March in Poland, 40 million people, today is is 23,571). Johnson's move seems rash, but the metal detectorists don't care. They think only of getting out there and grabbing as much of the past as will fit in their pockets.

The conservation group Heritage Action  (PAS’s commitment to archaeology is about to be tested in public! 31/05/2020) note the DCMS's response
"I [sic] will further investigate the situation as it relates to commercial rallies [the DCMS actually used the term!] and get back to you as soon as possible. As lockdown measures are eased we will continue to update you, and the guidance, so that your members are able to safely enjoy [ripping up and pocketing the nation's archaeological heritage]"
the DCMS used a euphemism instead of that last bit, but the meaning is clear.

Heritage Action note that:
Given that most detectorists and most archaeologists (including PAS) disapprove of commercial detecting rallies on the grounds they are particularly damaging, not to mention morally dubious, it is to be hoped the answer is a resounding NO. Interestingly, just about the only “further investigation” the DCMS will be undertaking is to ask PAS what they think. We can but hope that PAS has the testicular fortitude to tell them!
I think we can safely assume that the shrinking violets of Bloomsbury (some of whom seem to be in the thrall of collectors anyway) are going to say with trembling lower lips and shoulders sagging in helpless resignation, "yy-ess, yes, go ahead, but pleeeease show us what-yer-got". This is how England preserves its archaeological record, in artefact hunters' pockets.

"History" written by Coins and Metal Detectors, a Cautionary Example from Wiltshire Reviewed

 "evidence thus produced can contribute
normously to the knowledge of a site"

Richard Henry @richardhenryflo · 23 maj
I recently published an article with one of my former @findsorguk volunteers @SalisburyMuseum where they tested metal detecting methodologies and also rewrote our understanding of the Roman small town of Sorviodunum (Salisbury)
So these karaoke recorder volunteers of the PAStexplorers project (as suspected but never explicitly admitted by the PAS) included artefact hunters? A bit of a conflict of interest, no?
Then there is a reference to a piece of work on the outskirts of Salisbury:

Alix Smith and Richard Henry  2020 'A controlled metal-detecting survey: Revising the Roman numismatic perspective of Sorviodunum' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, vol. 113 (2020), pp. 190–201 (Henry is the local FLO, Smith lives on the site and she is presumably one of the two detectorists mentioned - and the acknowledgements tell us that the other one was Jonathan Brooks who did not contribute).
In 2017, an opportunity arose to carry out a systematic metal-detecting survey in the environs of the Roman town of Sorviodunum. Whilst controlled excavations and geophysical investigations have previously taken place both inside the hillfort of Old Sarum and the area immediately surrounding it, this is the first time, to the authors’ knowledge,that any metal-detecting survey in the vicinity has been carried out. This study also provided an opportunity to test the methodological approach of a 10 per cent sample versus a 100 per cent metal-detecting survey. Discussion of the coins recovered from Sorviodunum provides for (sic) new insights into the town from the perspective of numismatic evidence. In addition to Roman coins, metal finds of medieval and other periods were also recorded, and these are argued to contribute to our understanding of Roman Sorviodunum, as well as later occupation at Stratford sub Castle.
Note: 'an opportunity arose' and 'to the authors' knowledge'.

The first thing one notes is that the actual area of the site examined is not in any way explicitly indicated or properly described in the publication, it provides (not 'for' !)  loosely 'floating data'. It looks like the field in question is that centred on 51° 5'17.16"N   1°48'31.91"W. The administrative district of the site is not given, neither are the dates of the survey (needed for searching for information on the PAS database). The scales of the maps are idiotic and seem deliberately designed to obscure information rather than inform.

One of the figures - two dot distribution maps, of course

The second is that the editors of Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine seem to have no idea about how to edit. The first three pages of this text is a solid block of narrativisation (called 'background') that could have been presented in four paragraphs with references to the literature. This is just padding and 'bibliography bulking'.  After the waffle we get (p. 192) to the research aims. This too is equally waffly. The searchers wanted to "determine the paucity or otherwise of artefacts within the site", in other words find out "how productive" the area next to a scheduled site was, a typically detectorist concern. Anyway, they say:
When practised responsibly following the Code of Practice (2017), metal-detecting outside the areas of the scheduled ancient monument [...] can cover a large area reasonably quickly and produce noteworthy results. If carried out with care and precision, evidence thus produced can contribute enormously to the knowledge of a site. To put this into context, before this study the total number of coins discovered at Sorviodunum was 91; by contrast, two detectorists undertaking a survey over a total period of 16 days, produced 133 coins.
Super eh? How could it be otherwise? But merely "recovering more artefacts" is not a valid research aim. That's just an extension of the  "wottalotta finds we got" PAS-mantra. They also reckon along with the coineys that "moneta uber alles" and merely getting 224 coins to put into "Reece periods" and make a histogram is 'doing archaeology' and  "can contribute enormously to the knowledge of a site".

By the way, note that 133 coins alone in 16 days is the equivalent of 130 recordable items each in a month - as opposed to Heritage Action's 30.25 per year.

To return to Brooks and Smith's "research aims":
The final aim was to test field methods for conducting metal-detecting surveys [...] Assessment of these results would, in turn, help demonstrate the value of metal-detecting as a complementary component of any archaeological examination of a site, adding substantially to the knowledge and evidence obtained from other elements such as non-invasive surveys and excavation. 
So rediscovering the wheel. Except they did not do any of those other elements, merely collected as many COINS as they could from an area of about 160 x 255 metres ( so that's 4 ha off the edge of a site that has an area of 17ha). Hmmm.

Methodology (pp 192-4) is more waffle (a lot of this should have been in the 'background') They followed the 'Code' (but make no mention of 'Our Portable Past') and say they had 'photographic evidence from the owners which showed the site had been ploughed in the 1970s'. They could have used Google Earth, where you can see it was ploughed in 2017. Padding.

Due to previous ploughing and agricultural use, the soil contained a large quantity of ferrous objects within the detectable depth, giving a high level of ‘background’ noise across the entire survey area [...] both detectors were nevertheless set to discriminate against ferrous objects, as is common in most metal-detecting surveys [refs]
Note that here the notion of 'background noise' is "not-coin noise" - they are aware that they are leaving evidence of Roman use of the site in the soil, but all they want are the goodies for their coin loss histograms. On p. 293:
finds were retained and recorded by being placed in individually numbered finds-bags, with an accurate GPS position of the finds recorded on the bag, using a Garmin Etrex 20 which is accurate to ±2m. All recovered finds were shown to the Finds Liaison Officer and all finds meeting the remit of the PAS (i.e. dating prior to AD 1700) were recorded onto the PAS database (www.finds., search ‘Sorviodunum survey’).
Go on, search. That information is hidden away under 'Other reference' in the PAS records, as shown by the anonymous record ('created 2 years ago, updated about one year ago') of the sole find that is (for some reason, its a bog-standard two standards Gloria Exercitus) presented in the article WILT-9D9B89. But that data-field seems not to be publicly searchable by the search engine provided. Padding.

Note the glaring fact that no mention is made in the article of where the objects recovered during this project were deposited. But then, the PAS record states 'Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder'. This is important in the light of the declaration that an upcoming course of the so-called Institute of Detectorists on doing precisely such surveys "is about how to use the metal detector as an archaeological tool to contribute knowledge for public benefit - nothing to do with any "collection-driven exploitation". Here it looks like the detectorists pocketed the finds from this "survey". In other words, this article refers to a bout of collection-driven exploitation of a known site, right next to a scheduled site that is masquerading as an archaeological survey.

As for what it 'tells' us:
The distribution of Roman coins can also be compared against that of medieval and postmedieval finds (Figure 5). Roman coins have a clear focus towards the south of the field with only 17 coins located in the northern half, whilst the medieval and post-medieval material distribution is greatest to the north and is more evenly spread. The distribution of Roman coins potentially indicates that the extents (sic) of the settlement are greater than previously thought
Since along the west side of the field there is a modern hamlet, the later finds will more likely relate to the earlier stages of its development, and in particular to material carried out as manure from it . But the authors are more interested in making a histogram of the coins (pp. 195-198). They try to assess (classify!) the site, ignoring any archaeological evidence that was not a coin. There was pottery, probably slag, ferrous objects such as mounts, fittings and tools in that ploughsoil - some of it (if we believe detectorist lore) being eroded by being in that topsoil. Yet the opportunity to study it was ignored in favour of the COINS because they are (a) collectable and (b) have pictures and writing on them so they don't take a lot of effort to analyse and understand, unlike the rest of the archaeological evidence from a site where an understanding of context of deposition and discovery are needed more than an x-marks-the-spot-accurate-to-two-metres.

I'd have more sympathy for their notion that they have "discovered" that the extent of the settlement was greater at this point than previously thought if it was based on similar gridded fieldwalking of pottery, tile, nails and other archaeological evidence, and not based on the selective pocketing of a single class of evidence, ignoring its relationship with others. All we have is a pattern of dots.

As for the alteration of the coin histogram from this site that seems to so excite these writers, the histograms that 'show' this are not really very convincing. Both the peak of coins of Reece's period 13 (260-275) of the pre-survey sample and those of period 17 (330-348) of the survey results as well as that 'Flavian peak' (p. 192) into which much was read, could merely be due to localised effects. For example in the infield to the north of the settlement may have been a field ditch or largish quarry pit with a shallow upper fill that had been levelled by the dumping of domestic rubbish  in the 330s and 340s that was later ploughed out and that would explain why in this modern field, the coin assemblage differs from other areas of the site. In order to interpret these 'data', more information is needed about both context of deposition of these items and the context of discovery. It seems to me that apart from these peaks, the rest are within the range that could be explained as random sampling effects.

I think most of the authors' conclusions (pp 198-9) can be challenged, but this post is too long anyway and I can't be bothered. What is not coin-based is trite stuff (about waterways and all that) that is not particularly innovative, while other bits just go into text-driven speculation. The authors seem to think their (selective) 'evidence' from a single field, instead of reflecting what was happening in  a small part of the area just adjacent to part of a site apparently a kilometre long, can be a pars pro toto representation of the site's history that they then go even further and extrapolate into the regional context, but without any discussion (or even apparent awareness) of whether or not that is justifiable. Bonkers. 

The conclusions of this article are bulked out by including bits that should be in the 'recommendations for future metal-detecting surveys' but then both needed editing to remove the repetition. I'd add that any detectorist intending to attempt such a survey first needs to learn how to properly write up the results to avoid a train wreck like this paper - even if an archaeologist is involved in its drafting.

Two tekkies searched a field next to a Roman road, without saying which field, and without saying when, without saying what they eventually did with the material. They tell us about the coins, but nothing about the other finds (which are difficult to identify - if they are there at all - in the current form of the PAS database). They draw some 'conclusions' that are impossible to verify due to inaccessibility of the details of the 'survey'  or the material recovered. And then somebody writes, with the aid of the FLO, a paper 11 pages long that probably could have covered the same material in five if the excess narrativisation and padding were cut out. Yes the metal detector can be a useful archaeological tool, but only when used as such, and not a means to provide loose items to collect and witter about. 

Thursday 28 May 2020

Artefacts from Northern Africa

There has been massive militant Islamist activity in Africa over the last few years. See the article by Jacob Zenn, 'I SIS in Africa: The Caliphate’s Next Frontier' Centre for Global Policy May 26, 2020.

One of the most prevalent prehistoric antiquities sold online on eBay are lithics and other objects (ancient beads in particular) removed from sites in the Sahara Desert and surrounding regions. I've got an article about this coming out in the next couple of months or so. Most of them are being sold by dealers in the USA and UK. Absolutely none of them offers any kind of paperwork showing legal procurement or the manner by which they were exported. Although the majority of the sellers do not  state where the items they are selling come from, we can determine that quite a lot of them are coming from the regions shown on this map.

The photomontage below shows only a small part of the stock of just one British dealer.
I have personally handled over 50,000 of these Neolithic arrowheads or 'flints' during my collecting over the last 20 years. All of my items are authentic, I do not sell fakes or reproductions, this is as important to me as it is to you. If any of my sales are ever proven to be anything other than stated and genuine I will refund in full.
Several sources talk of the stripping of entire sites over entire regions of the Sahara by artefact hunting precisely over that past 20-30 years.

Asad's Men Destroy Ancient Tombs

Reports are coming in that militias fighting alongside the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad  have desecrated and destroyed the tomb of the eighth Umayyad caliph ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-̵ʿAzīz (r. 717-720 AD) located in the north-west province of Idlib.
 Video footage of the destruction emerged on social media yesterday, showing the graves of the Caliph, his wife and his servant damaged and with the contents exhumed and disappeared. The site in which the graves are housed, located in the village of Deir Al-Sharqi in the area of Maarat Al-Nu’man, is seen to be burnt following its capture by the regime and militia forces in February this year.  

Tomb of Umayyad Caliph Umar Ibn Abdul
Aziz  burnt and destroyed by militias,
28 May 2020 [Sana/Twitter]
This, although particularly sickening in itself, is not the first time such an incident has taken place after Assad regime loyalists have conquered territories.
In February, videos surfaced showing regime forces and militias desecrating and exhuming the graves of numerous opposition fighters and commanders buried in Sunni areas, with other videos showing Syrian soldiers playing with the skulls of exhumed bodies. Similar scenes were also reportedly witnessed back in 2015 when regime forces exhumed dozens of graves in Homs and stole the corpses.  

Still no Arrests Made, But Soothing Messages from the British Museum

A spinoff from the July 2019 Heathrow seizure of two trunkloads of antiquities from Bahrain... (Jonathan Gornall, 'Why fakes are replacing real trafficked antiquities from the Middle East' Arab News May 25, 2020). Readers will know I do not buy the argument offered (see also here), but the graphic is nice.

The article is not very well-researched though. For example, the looting in Iraq did not "begin" in 2003, in some areas we now know that it was coming to a close.  And to claim that this is due to "the on-the-ground support of the British Museum" is just junk journalism copy-and-pasting the type of self-gratulatory puff the BM pumps out analogous to the vacuous spin it produces on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This - in the light of what actually is happening out there - ins nothing short of scandalous and irresponsible:
The discovery was confirmation, believes archaeologist Dr. St John Simpson, senior curator and assistant keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East Department, that the war on looters is being won. 
Because it most certainly is not, and the BM is doing precious little to contribute to that. I also profoundly disagree with the next statement. I do not know what the BM curator has been seeing, but this is not at all true:
Faking, added Simpson, “is an emerging trend. There is still looting going on in certain parts of the world — in parts of Syria there has been very bad looting. But the supply of fakes is on the increase. 
But to return to the fakes:
Unlike looting, which deprives an entire nation of its heritage, faking artifacts has only one direct victim — an unscrupulous wealthy individual blessed, perhaps, with rather more money than sense. “In this case I think it was somebody very gullible indeed,” says Simpson, “probably somebody who is interested in collecting ancient Mesopotamian documents as examples of the first writing in the Middle East, has read about them, maybe seen pictures of them, but has never actually handled the original, and who fell for fraud.” [...]  It was, said the museum, “as if the whole genre of ancient Mesopotamian writing was represented in one shipment: An entire collection ready for a single, uninformed buyer.” [...] Exactly where the forgers’ workshops are based “is difficult to say at the moment,” said Simpson. “We believe they are probably somewhere within the Middle East, but we have seen evidence of metalwork purporting to be from Iran or the Islamic world actually being made in the Far East. There is a global market.”
The article also puzzles over a "mystery" about the consignment seized by the UK authorities:
 despite extensive investigations no arrests have been made in the UK.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

"Understanding the Contemporary Market for Antiquities": Erin Thompson's Auction Houses Exercise for Students

Erin L. Thompson @artcrimeprof tweeted 3 hours ago:
I had fun making an interactive activity for walking a class through an investigation of an antiquities auction for provenance and authenticity concerns. Use it in your art history, classics, or cultural property class if you want! Link.
It is well written in the author's inimitably humorous but open and informative style and has several sections:
Antiquities for Makers
Antiquities for Pre-Meds
Antiquities for People Who Don’t Blush Easily
Antiquities for Poli-Sci Majors
Antiquities for People Who Like to Play with Fire
Antiquities for Military History Buffs
Antiquities for Animal Lovers
Antiquities for Slackers
(the last one you can't actually choose) and then:
If after this exercise, you want to keep up with fakes, looting, and other scandals in the antiquities market, here are some good sources:
Some of the antiquities given as examples have been discussed  in the social media by Prof Thompson and myself (I'm even cited as an "expert" on erotic art in one section)

Ooooo- Temptation (?)

Reading this blog has its uses. You can learn that a buyer could now acquire this item for a reduced price. They could, but...

Sublime Upper Palaeolithic Portable Antiquity

Hoard Found on Pasture On Teesdale Farmland

'Outdoor exercise', fat guy in camo lounging
 around after finding Treasure on pasture
Oh, innat nice? A nice puff article about artefact hunters ostentatiously donating to a local charity ('Treasure hunters' £250 'thank you' for allowing access to Dale land' Teesdale Mercury 26 May 2020). That Dale land of course being pasture, where responsible detectorists are asked to keep away from. The West Lancashire Metal Detecting Club has managed to scrape together the magnificent sum of 250 quid between them (about the cost of a pint of beer from each of its fifty or so members) for a charity that helps people living in remote areas, and expect us all to cheer them along in their heritage-grabbing enterprises. Hmmm. And, "just by coincidence" of course:
The club is now looking for more places in Teesdale where they can search for finds. Mr Morrison said: “We are currently looking for farmers and landowners to gain permissions in the area of Teesdale so that we can raise some much-needed funds for organisations like Teesdale Day Clubs so we’ll be putting something back into the local community.
Oh, and the artefacts for them themselves to pocket, unless they are a haul of Treasure in which case we'll all be out of pocket giving them a reward for not flogging them off.

See Martin Paul, 'Spectacular' Bronze Age hoard found on land at Teesdale farm' Teesdale Mercury 20 Aug 2019.

Not forgetting this numbingly-boring video of a increasingly messy and rather pointless keyhole "excavation" by the mouthy Durham FLO with the heavy breathing intro:

Eggleston hoard Posted on You Tube by Phil Holt 26 Jul 2019.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

UK's DCMS Issues Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19''

This is really rather odd, the DCMS has issued a guidance note (26th May 2020) specifically on:  Guidance for members of the public (including metal-detectorists) searching for archaeological finds in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no discussion on why it is a good thing that members of the public are searching for archaeological artefacts to collect which is what I'd expect from an organization charged with looking after the nation's heritage.
If you choose to leave your home to search for archaeological finds, including metal-detectorists, field-walkers and people searching the Thames foreshore (mudlarking), you must follow this advice. [...] This guidance is designed to help individuals search safely while also continuing to be alert to the safety of others. [...]  This guidance has been written with advice from the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme on how to report your finds and to protect in situ archaeology (sic). 
That last bit is not true. Protecting in situ archaeological evidence means not deliberately digging it up willy nilly for collection.
Reporting your finds Due to current social distancing requirements, you will have to report finds in a different way to ensure that you and your Finds Liaison Officer remain safe. You are currently unable to physically hand your finds into your Finds Liaison Officer, and as such, there will be new systems in place for reporting. Finds Liaison Officers will aim to provide advice on reporting via phone and/or email. [...] At the current time, it will not normally be possible for Finds Liaison Officers to meet directly with finders to record finds. However, you can still share your discoveries for recording. You should contact your local Finds Liaison Officer. They can support self-recording and provide advice on the digital reporting of important finds. 

Monday 25 May 2020

Hiatus (Personal)

photo Chido-Fajny
There was a bit of a hiatus here. I was suddenly hospitalised last Tuesday (19th May) and spent the week in the neurological ward of the local hospital having lots of tests and being looked after by wonderful Polish doctors and nurses (the best). Thank you, Dr Uchmann.

I felt and feel fine, though have lost eight hours of short-term memory, which seems a small price to pay for the lesson I learnt about the consequences of being blasé about certain existing conditions. Other effects include learning from the tests done that I do not have two conditions that were diagnosed some time ago.* I got back most of my memory except those eight hours when was in the throes of the crisis, and I might be having some minor problems with accessing bits of my Polish vocabulary, but not English and maybe some minor motor issues (the first ten minutes of trying to type were frustrating and initially frightening, but my brain got used to pressing the key a little more to the left and it seems to be OK now). So, all in all, frankly an intriguing experience. Especially it happening during a pandemic.. but everything was very well organised from that point of view. Much better than in crappy old England.

Anyway, due to a quick reaction from the ambulance service at four in the morning, a certain callous and gauche metal detectorist will have to wait a little longer to "read Mr Barford's obituary".

*it's sort of like archaeology, we can never know the past, and the doctor will only know what really is wrong with us when they can get the corpse and cut it open.

Vignette, my experience was a bit different from that of this Mexican blogger living in Poland, but the link might interest somebody. 

Sunday 17 May 2020

Naked Greed Posing as Sport and Naked Artefactology Posing as Conservation

Outdoor recreation
Heritage Action: 'Metal detecting is back. Because it’s wholesome?', 17th May 2020.
Sadly, last Wednesday detecting was allowed to re-start in England straight after the National Council for Metal Detecting told Ministers it was a member of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, implying that detecting is pretty wholesome. But it isn’t a sport and it’s unlike all the other listed outdoor activities as it involves taking stuff from the countryside and not reporting most of it. Precisely like egg collecting. So it’s not “wholesome” at all. Why PAS didn’t explain that to the Government is a mystery.
It's not really, the PAS in general avoids explaining anything much beyond 'naked artefactology' to anyone. Anyway, their 41 members of frontline staff have had a fifty-day lockdown period to clear their naked artefactological backlog, now they can do ongoing naked artefactological recording. On Weds 13th May 2020, PAS recorded just 42 objects, half of which are coins (stats 13th May 2020). On "Finds Friday" it was down to just 26 items (as many as 21 of which were coins). Now they’ve cleared their backlog during the lockdown, let us see how well they do getting all the finds made by probably around 27000 detectorists online. After all, if the FLOs are all working from home and avoiding contacts, they’ll not be distracted by other “outreach” tasks, just concentrate on the recording.

Because it seems to me that if you've elected to make the sole measure of your success "wotta-lotta-finds-we-got-on-our-database", that's going to need a bit of intensified work. This time last year they had 21317 records containing 30585 objects. This year the winter was wet, then the ground was dry, and then we had lockdown, and thus there was less destruction of the archaeological record through collection-driven exploitation but consequently the PAS results are 16971 records about 28866 objects... notta lotta records really. Just in fact three records a day from 41 FLOs (not mentioning the volunteers) in 137 days (instead of four a day in the previous year). What, actually have they been doing while "working from home" on public money?

Saturday 16 May 2020

My Reply to a "Media Enquiry" I

Tend to go on... 
I quite often get asked to do an interview on this or that related to antiquities. Here's a reply I sent this morning to one. What I imagine happens (always) is that an editor has asked a journalist to do a story on... "hmm, yeah, metal detecting, do one on metal detecting, 1600 words by Thursday at ten, for the Leisure pages". They find a blogger talks an awful lot about metal detectors, gets his contact details, but don't actually delve into the blog contents.... It usually turns out the same journalist wrote last week on beach bars in Benidorm and fake male potency medication scams the week before. Next week he'll be covering a salacious story about a woman's football team coach. So generally the journalists who contact me don't really know what they are going to get phoning Warsaw.  Usually a monologue, because they've not been able to prepare proper questions, and have swallowed the usual PAS-spun crap. So I decided to write to this one to inform them what to expect:
Yes, that’s fine, if Tuesday - after eight, before two, if Weds - after eight, free all day thereafter.
 I’ll talk to you about “nighthawking”, as much as you like.

 Do you know this useful definition of the four types? (the fourth is not always includes in the discussion as much as it should be): 

But I’ll warn you now though that – in contrast to most of my British colleagues – I do not see what you call “nighthawking” as the main problem. This is a cop-out argument, the main problem is that huge numbers of artefacts are dug up and not being reported or recorded, and while that is “not illegal”, it is causing MORE damage to the archaeological record than that which is illegal.

 Britain has about as much of an idea/policy/control of metal detecting as it does about CV-19. My colleagues there will tell you that “a minority” are “nighthawks” (how do they know, who’s measured it?) and the “majority” of metal detector users (ditto) are “law abiding hobbyists passionately interested in the past and contributing to our understanding of it” – you’ve read that in every single news report since 2003(ish) and I am sure some of the people you’ll be talking to (from the PAS and all the others) will be urging you to write that too (it has been repeated uncritically by so many journalists by now that the world really will not miss anthing if you don’t).

 It’s a cover-up excusing inaction. The ‘law’, which is barely any law at all in much of the UK, has nothing to do with it. A legally dug hole causes as much damage to an archaeological site as an illegally dug one. PAS says they’ve got records of  1,495,460 objects within 956,285 records” bravo, hip-hip hooray. But let them answer you how many of the currently estimated 27000 metal detectorists in England and Wales have brought in those finds, and why they’ve not brought in 8 million finds ( If they say that number is “wrong”, ask the PAS for the real, official, figures:
the actual number of active detectorists in England and Wales
the number of artefacts they find a year
and when they say that after 24 years of liaison, they “don’t know”, ask them to explain why.

How is that a “minority”? How is having millions of objects constantly being ripped out of archaeological sites and only one in eight of them ever being known about mitigating the destruction or leading to any “contribution to understanding the past”? How is that in any way acceptable?  
 The people clandestinely pocketing seven out of eight of the (legally) metal detected artefacts are technically not “nighthawks”, but they are doing a massive amount of damage right under everybody’s noses. And that, together with the inability to openly talk about it, is the real problem. This, in my opinion, is the real story.
And of course then there is Scotland, with very clear laws about what to do if you find historical objects, hand them in. The latest estimate is that there are an additional
 1,447 detectorists there, all finding enough stuff to keep them interested in the hobby, yet the Scottish TTU Treasure Reports fairly consistently have annually a few hundred artefacts, even though this includes as well finds made by archaeologists. what is happening to the rest? Why are we not talking about this in terms of that mythical “minority of lawbreakers”?
 all the best Paul Barford

That led to some more questions - I'll put the answer to them in the post below.

My Reply to A Media Enquiry II

 making money
There were some more questions from the inquisitive journalist (see above) prior to having a phone interview. As my readers know, archaeology is not really rocket science... but look how much explanation a simple topic gets to be when it's an answer to questions about some basic issues:

[questions] [...]
Its a bit complicated

A long explanation, might save time later....

Firstly, Britain has somewhat different approach to antiquities from much of the rest of the world – where antiquities belong to the state, so there all artefact hunting and collecting is illegal.

In Britain, it is legal to look for and collect/buy/sell them.

BUT there are three main divisions within that. England and Wales (together) Scotland and Northern Ireland. THEN on top of that is the Treasure Act which is what I think you are getting confused over.

- In Scotland, you can go artefact hunting (for example metal detecting) wherever you like, with the landowner’s permission, UNLESS the site is protected by law (scheduled, site of Special scientific interest etc). BUT almost everything historical you find (with some exceptions) must by law be reported – and then the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) would look at it and decide what should be done, whether it goes to a museum and you get a (market value) reward, whether you (and the landowner) get it back etc. (check this out too – with reference to the reference of the Scottish system to the Treasure Act of England and Wales ) So, in Scotland, Illegal metal detecting would be as you say finding something and not reporting it, just hanging onto it. As I said in my first message, over 1000 metal detectorists MUST be finding well over the 2-300 objects that are reported from the whole country each year. They apparently are just digging up stuff and illegally hanging on to it... If that is so, there are a lot of metal detectorists acting illegally in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, there you actually need a permit to go metal detecting in the first place, and have the obligation to report everything you find. But the whole situation there is so nontransparent that I’ve given up trying to find out what’s happening there. Illegal detecting there would be going out without a permit (most of them do that) and keeping what they find (it seems that a lot do that because ver few permits seem to be being applied for) - but to be honest, I’d not write too much on that.

England and Wales , you can go artefact hunting (for example metal detecting) whever you like, with the landowner’s permission, UNLESS the site is protected by law (scheduled, site of Special scientific interest etc). So that’s the same as Scotland BUT the difference is that in England and Wales the 1996 Treasure Act applies (here is the text if you really want to know... but it is succinctly summarised in wikipedia:

And I think this is what you meant. If the thing or things you have found fall into that legal definition of “Treasure” (horrible word, because of course archaeological finds are scientific evidence, not Treasure), you are obliged to report it/them within 14 days. If you don’t you go to jail (search the internet or my blog for “Leominster hoard” for a recent case where four guys were jailed for doing precisely that).

But the majority of things artefact hunters/ metal detectorists find do not fall into that definition. Bronze buckles, brooches, seals, iron swords, single finds of Roman coins, Medieval coins, stone age axeheads and so on. All of these are archaeologically significant, but do not fall into the legal definition of Treasure (IMO the law needs to be changed so that they do, in the way that they do in Scotland).

Therefore in England and Wales, they set up the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to record the non-treasure finds.

Most people belive the spin they put on what they are doing, you may gather that I am more outspokenly critical of it and think it is a huge cop-out, and what they write about themselves and their achievements needs to be read with a critical eye – for what they DO NOT say.

But the theory is that “finders” report what they find so the things can be recorded on a public database – thus saving the information that would be lost of the objects vanished into a private collection or on eBay without a record. It is voluntary – no obligation. Motivations for reporting finds will vary, but the main gain is that the Scheme provides good propaganda for the hobbyists. They make it look OK to dig myriad little holes all over archaeological sites “because we get the information” (this is a false argument, but I’ll leave it there). So then we get foisted on us a picture of these people “helping archaeology” and these are “the good guys” doing it legally, while the bad guys that “get metal detecting a bad name” are those naughty “nighthawks”.

So the propaganda machine gives us a nice cardboard cut-out “enemy of the people” – the law-breaking nighthawks that creep onto people’s property and steal their stuff – or worse go onto protected sites (such as Hadrian’s Wall) pilfering the history.

But it is not black and white at all (Black characters =nighthawks/ white characters =the mythical “majority” that not only do not break any law [because basically the law says they can do what they like, really] and also report all their finds – hooray)

The problem is that the real majority consists of a very large number (and since the PAS hide information about how many detectorists they see each year – we do not know how many that is, but I’ll guess there is a reason they hide those data) of people that ask the landowner nicely, or go to legal commercially organised artefact hunts BUT who report nothing or very little of what they find. These are the very big “grey” area. Neither black, nor white. They are not nighthawks, but neither are they “responsible detectorists” or doing anything useful or ethical. But they are destroying the archaeological record for the sake of collectable for themselves. They are selfishly stealing knowledge from the rest of us, perfectly legally, but unethically. And nobody is talking about them, that therefore allows them to hitch a free ride of shared legitimacy from the people that do responsibly record what they find.

Suppose the PAS were to release the figures of the number of individual detectorists that voluntarily reported NON-TREASURE finds in 2019. What would it be? 6000 maybe? That would leave 21000 who they’ve not had contact with. But I’ll bet the number is lower than 6000.

So that’s what my problem is, of colleagues that just want to talk about the black characters. I’d rather see the grey ones scrutinised, and also scrutiny of my jobsworth colleagues that refuse to admit there is even a problem.
And wouldn't it save a lot of words just to ban artefact hunting and artefact collecting in the UK, without all these divisive regulations?

Thursday 14 May 2020

The Antiquities Market Today: Looting and Faking

Melissa Gronlund, 'As looting slows, counterfeit antiquities are on the rise', The National May 6, 2020. Melissa's found a way to earn some money just regurgitating what she's heard somewhere else. Or actually NOT listening:
"A recent seizure of fake ancient artefacts suggests that counterfeit antiquities are on the rise, says St John Simpson, a curator at the British Museum. Last summer two lorries of figurines, seals and tablets purported to be from the first century BC were seized by British Customs officials.
 A very derivative account. Trunkloads not truckloads.  They were not fakes of "first century BC" antiquities. The only reason looting might be slowing is when all the more accessible lootable sites in a region have been exhausted. Certainly worldwide collection driven exploitation of archaeological record has not slowed, but thrives in all sorts of places.

Counterfeit antiquities have been predominant in a large section of the antiquities market from the end of the 1990s (and in the opinion of some are not so uncommon in the other bits), and looting certainly has not "slowed" since then.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Passionate About History: A Metal Detectorist's Home Library

This photo has been doing the rounds on the Internet falsely described as Umberto Eco's library. It is not, this blog can reveal that many metal detectorists not only own this many books on history, but because it is their passionate interest, have read all of them. This history book collection in fact belongs to Baz Thugwit of Canvey Island, Essex ("Minelab XL32, Garrett Pinpointer T44, Big Clompy Boots and Savacentre 37w spade, 2020: 4 hammies 2 Roman, Silver ring")

"An Extensive Collection of Unpublished Papyri in Michigan"

A potentially important new direction of enquiry in the Dodgy Green Papyri case - Brent Nongbri, 'Some Additional Thoughts on Sabar’s Atlantic Article', Variant Readings May 13, 2020.  Dirk Obbink was an academic consultant to the Greens during their collecting spree and was one of their biggest suppliers of papyri.
From January 2010 to February 2013, Obbink sold the family more than 150 papyrus fragments—for a total of between $4 million and $8 million, according to a source who has seen the figures and described them to me as a range.” It is known that Professor Obbink (legally) sold 9 Oxyrhynchus “Distribution Papyri” to Hobby Lobby in 2010. Professor Obbink is also alleged to be the source of 11 of the 13 stolen Oxyrhynchus items in the Green Collection (the other two stolen pieces are said to have been bought from Khader M. Baidun and Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel; how Baidun got them remains a mystery). That leaves (at least) some 130 pieces unaccounted for. [...] If Prof. Obbink was in fact the source of these other 130+ items, where might these pieces have come from?
Nongbri then looks at the chronology as reconstructed by Sabar of Obbink's relationship with the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford and his registration (in 2012 Ann Arbor in Michigan) of a new business, "Oxford Ancient". [note that at some stage after this, Oxford Ancient began operating from an Oxford, UK address (alongside the 'Museum of The Bible Fellowship'). Although OA remains active, it was later followed by another business in Oxford called "Castle Folio" in 2014, which Obbink co-founded with a Michigan man named Mahmoud Elder]. Nongbri continues:
I have to admit that I hadn’t thought that much about the fact that Professor Obbink’s time at the University of Michigan overlapped with his association with Green Collection [...]. Or that his appointment at Michigan was specifically as Professor of Papyrology, which means that he very likely would have had special access to the extensive collection of unpublished papyri at Michigan. [...] That Professor Obbink was selling (legally acquired) papyri to the Greens already 2010 means that he was involved in the antiquities trade even before he established his business, Oxford Ancient, in 2012. I wonder if colleagues at Michigan were aware of Professor Obbink’s activities on the antiquities market?

Artefact Hunters' Obligations to Landowners During Pandemic

It is worth landowners checking first for themselves before agreeing to entry to their land for artefact hunting that the local offices of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) are now open for normal business. Many of them are based in museums and council offices that are either closed, or have restrictions on non-employees entering and/or employees are working from home. In both cases the PAS staff are unable to meet finders to complete the paperwork and there will be long delays before landowners will see a copy.

As the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (agreed with landowners' and farming organisations), makes clear, responsible detecting means recording with the PAS all finds whether or not they are intended for personal collection or sale. If the local PAS office is not open due to the pandemic, this cannot be done, so therefore it would be irresponsible to carry out this activity if there are not yet the possibilities of doing so responsibly (the same goes for processing any eventual Treasure claims).

It is in everybody's interests that landowners do not encourage irresponsible artefact hunting, as its the beginning of a slippery slope to so-called 'nighthawking' (property theft). Landowners should get a written agreement with metal detectorists, setting out their full obligations concerning paperwork, payment and commitment to responsible behaviour before they agree to anyone coming onto their property during this pandemic. Many of them are currently NOT recording artefacts they find, simply walking off with them, and adding them to their own collections, or selling them online: British antiquities (a few of these soon add up)

Landowners Obligations to People Entering their Property During Pandemic

Hand sanitiser dispenser
From a Farming Forum concerning recreational activities on their property
[...] The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has issued the following update: [...] You can take part in exercise or activity alone or with your household.
1. You can also now meet one person outside of your household to exercise but you must stay two metres apart.
2. There is a two person limit on gathering to exercise or take part in activity unless you are exercising with your household.
3. Check in advance if the facilities you want to use have reopened.
4. If exercising in the countryside remember to follow the countryside code and act responsibly.
5. Once you are home remember to wash your hands.

But why only when home? If people outside their homes have been touching things (gates, stiles) or picking things up from the dirt, that's where they pick up contamination. If a landowner allows people onto their property where they may pick up contamination, it is their obligation to provide facilities for decontamination BEFORE somebody leaves the premises and spreads it further (like going to a petrol station) before arriving home.

Landowners should remember that on admitting artefact hunters to seek Treasure and coins on their land, they are responsible for them while they are on his or her land, just the same as any of his employees. There should be hand washing opportunities and hand sanitisers at entry and exit points for people entering the farm (a workplace after all).

Also when meeting finders to examine what they've found and sign the protocols assigning title for anything they remove, social distancing must be maintained, and masks and gloves should be worn by both parties as a minimum precaution.

 Otherwise claims could be bought by anyone affected by a landowner's failure to 'be alert' and make adequate protection available. There are going to be a lot of lawyers around in the next few years pursuing CV-related compensation claims.

A Mystery at Oxford The university has half a million ancient papyrus fragments. They started to go missing.

Ariel Sabar@arielsabar·4 g.
This serpentine story of faith and fraud took months to investigate. It features an Oxford don, an evangelical business tycoon, and a disemboweler of mummy masks. A Bible museum in DC, a castle in Waco, and the largest papyrus collection in the world.
And well repays reading. It makes a coherent story from what emerged in confusing fragments (would be worth making into another book when those further details mentioned at the end emerge - though I doubt we will ever learn full story). New details emerge about Scott Carroll and the end of his employment by the Greens and at Baylor, that  Professor David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University knew about a piece of deception from the start and remained silent until now, and new details about Yakup Eksioglu.

See Brent Nongbri here

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Getting the Backlog Done

The UK in lockdown
I wrote yesterday (Tuesday) about falling daily PAS record numbers, and wrote to the head of the Scheme who told me this was "not surprising" because metal detectorists (slip of the tongue, should have been "members of the public") were not allowed to go out hoiking and FLOs were using the time to "update old records". That seemed to me to be a weak excuse since on every UK metal detecting forum you will find constant reference to finders not getting their stuff back from the FLO for months because of the backlog. Now there's a chance to get the backlog cleared.

The 40 FLOs (41 minus one) working-from-home most of them have recently been managing an average of seven a week - so one and a half records a day and a very long coffee break. But it seemed my letter provoked a reaction, while Monday was just 30 objects and the previous Friday was ... just two (one PUBLIC and not a PAS employee at all), the day I wrote to the PAS it went up from 30 to to 106 objects (a whopping 2.6 each!).  Perhaps I should write more often. 

How does this period actually look in the overall statistics?   The UK was late beginning and implementing a lockdown, it's lasted just seven weeks. Here's who has been recording objects 23rd March to yesterday. I'm just listing those that managed an average of one new record made a day for 35 working days in that period.

Among the number of constructive things the PAS could have been doing, even remotely, one of the things they could have been doing in the lockdown was looking at the 'information value' of their website. There is no list of what all the increasing number of acronyms mean - who is NMS? Nautical Museum in Sark? You can click on the link and all it gives you are a list of eight names - that I happen to know (but my Mum would not) all work in Norfolk Museums Service.  Taxpayers in the regions are supporting regional partners - how can they easily see where their money is going on this nonsense?

PUBLIC (volunteers, not PAS employees)   327
NMS         505
LEIC         368
SF             301
LIN           234
BH            226
OXON      209
NARC      182
LIV          162
SUR         160
WMID     156
YORYM  150
DEV        150
GLO        133
NLM       115
WAW        93
SWYOR   90
IOW          84
SOM         66
NMGW    49
WILT        49
LON         46
ESS          57 (the one who called the Police on me)
HESH      38
Contributing 15-30 records in the whole period: DOR, BERK, KENT, WREX, GAT, GGAT, BUC; Contributing less than 15: HAMP, CORN, DENO, Mouthy FLO in DUR (just five), NCL, CAM, SUSS, FASAM, FAKL. 

 All 40 FLOs are on this list, we should remember that there might be attenuating circumstances for low record rates (such as FLOs getting the disease, duty of care etc.) nevertheless it raises some questions what the PAS has been doin and using resources in this time.

PAS To Increase Productivity by Wednesday 13th May?

It looks as if on Wednesday many of Britain's artefact hunters will be driving all over the country, getting their metal detectors out of the boot of their cars and, after checking it with the landowners, heading off to their "permissions" in masks and gloves to hoik collectables once again out of the archaeological record in the fields of England.

Is the PAS ready to accept the finds when the British government this morning (a day before) not actually released the guidelines agreed with the unions and employers on workplace safety? We are not actually dealing with small quantities of material and information. How much?

Let us say that half of Britain's c. 27000 detectorists are those who will be returning to work because they can't work from home. Most of the other half will want to be getting out there digging away.

Not all of them have their own "permissions", relying on club land and commercial rallies. Some of these, I have no doubt, will count on the farmers staying indoors and will find some secluded fields and try to stay out of sight and not bother to try and get permission to conduct their "exercise". But then will these finds be offered for recording with a true statement of where they came from?

So let us say that 12000 of them will be out hoiking legally over the next two weeks. At the (pretty minimal) recordable finds rate predicated by the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter (averaging out at 0.59 finds a week), the next fortnight's detecting could produce 14160 recordable artefacts for the 41 FLOs to deal with (173 a week each). Since up till now the whole lot of them have been averaging recently 7.7 a week each... the FLOs have quite a bit of catching up to do to mitigate the knowledge loss.

I am told that PAS is currently "working with DCMS on new guidance for finders that will replace the advice on our website". Will it be in place in time to put it into action tomorrow morning as FLOs arrive at work [since in such circumstances they will now be rendered unable to continue working at home]?

Maybe MP Tim Loughton should have responsibly ensured the PAS had the resources to deal with this problem and sudden increase of workload before he irresponsibly told the main UK metal detecting magazine that collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record was perfectly OK as long as it was done individually or in family groups. That would have been the "alert" thing to do.

The PAS at Work During Coronavirus Lockdown [updated]

Yesterday, I asked the head of the PAS whether the British MP in his haste to help the looters of the British archaeological record to get out during lockdown had consulted the PAS and Treasure registrars. A few weeks ago I had submitted a query about a case that was in the news and was told (in lit. 23.04.2020) that the PAS was unable to answer the question as the member of staff involved was not in the BM at the time but furloughed.  Most of the 41 FLOs work in museums and council offices that - as non-essential were closed. I was therefore surprised to learn from the Head of the Scheme that the PAS was working as normal. It's worth placing on record what it says on the PAS webpage at the moment (it is undated but would have been posted about 23rd [?] March 2020):
Under the Treasure Act 1996, it is a legal obligation for the finder to report potential Treasure. For all new finds of potential Treasure, finders must notify their local Finds Liaison Officer and/or the British Museum treasure team (in England) by email (, with photographs of the object and full details of the findspot, finders' and landowners' details, and await further instruction. The necessary precautions mean there may be delays in the Treasure process. We thank finders, landowners, occupiers and everyone involved in the process for their understanding, patience and cooperation during this time.

Portable Antiquities Scheme staff will no longer meet finders in person or undertake outreach work until further notice. Most Portable Antiquities Scheme staff, including Finds Liaison Officers, will remain contactable by email, so, therefore, can advise on the recording of finds (such as self-recording). We ask that you temporarily retain your non-Treasure finds for full recording at a later date. Please ensure that you keep detailed records of the findspot in accordance with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales. Finders in Wales and Northern Ireland should contact the relevant authorities for advice.

Following the latest government social distancing guidance, advising everyone to stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS, do not metal detect during the current situation. All metal-detecting rallies should be cancelled.  
The aims of the PAS are set out here. It is difficult to see which of them can be carried out while keeping away from people. But the PAS 'are working' says the Head, so one might expect the database to be being maintained. Most metal detectorists that report items to the PAS complain that it takes months to get finds back from the FLO, there is a large backlog. So the staff, unencumbered by other duties, could be working through the material during lockdown to come up to date. Is that what they've been doing? A look at the PAS' own statistics page suggests otherwise. I took the results from Wednesdays at this time of the year in 2019 and 2020. There have also been 16 Treasure cases reported since 23rd March, despite the restrictions on metal detecting.

So, are the PAS prepared for a fresh influx of metal-detected finds and treasure items from Weds 13th in accordance with the government's newly-defined policies? Watch this space.

Update May 14th 2020
Records on May 13th 2020: 46 objects.

Interestingly, a lot of those Treasure records are for old finds (2018 mostly, recorded by NMGW) so it is unclear why they are only now going into the database (even though in fact they should not be going there anyway as the PAS was for recording non-Treasure items and the Treasure Act requires them to be reported separately so this is double-reporting for number-boosting). 

Monday 11 May 2020

British MP Approves Looting Again

Searcher magazine claims it has an email from Tim Loughton MP stating individuals and members of the same household can begin metal detecting again on Wednesday 13 May .There is no word on how this will get the economy going again or of the ability of PAS and County teams to offer support and recording.

It is also unclear whether this is the MP's own personal opinion, or the government's standpoint. Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is no more "exercise" than rhino-poaching. It is destructive looting. In any normal country a minister found falling over his own feet in his haste to enable looting of the country's historical heritage and the help the removal of archaeological artefacts to feed the antiquities market would have to resign. In Britain he gets patted on the back and gets to judge the looters' competitions with a whole stack of 'The Searcher' in his rooms next to the blocked toilets in the Houses of Parliament (The 'Searcher' Team in the House of Commons). 

UPDATE 11.5.2020
After this announcement was made five hours ago, the NCMD has now issues its own:
Covid 19 Update 11-5-2020
this advice is only for our members in England, the Channel Islands and anywhere else where their independent government has advised it is safe to exercise unrestricted.
Sadly the loosening of guidance on outdoor activities do not include Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. We are sorry that this does not cover everyone – we are just reflecting government policy.
Following the change to Government guidance for England announced yesterday we are able to change our advice to you. Detecting individually or with household members can again be enjoyed from Wednesday 13th May.
We are sure you are looking forward to getting out in the fields again.
Please though remember to continue to follow Government guidance. Travel should still be limited and social distancing rules must be adhered to. We also urge you to take precautions to protect yourself and others and, for example, wear gloves going through gates, etc. Also please be respectful of your land owner’s views, and check they are happy for you to continue to detect on their land as their views may have changed over the last three months.
Sadly this pandemic is still very much a risk to us all and so the Government’s loosening of restrictions on outdoor activities does not allow for club or other group digs. Hopefully, if we all play our part, infection rates will continue to fall and it will be safe to resume these sometime in the near future.
We wish you safe and happy hunting. Best wishes
The government advice yesterday was of course that everybody that cannot work from home should go back to work, not go gallivanting about looting archaeological sites for collectables to pocket and sell.

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