Tuesday 30 June 2020

PAS Cymru to Fight Poverty, Gender and Racial Inequalities Now?

Detectorist and Finders survey
Deep Digging in Wales
Ruth Garnault Consultancy, have been appointed to evaluate the current structure, provision and funding of PAS Cymru. We are asking for your views on PAS Cymru. This will help us develop options for the future of the service. [...] . Time is short to produce the report and we would be very grateful if you could complete this form by 6th July. A Welsh version is here: https://forms.gle/8dudCmnmiQA4knBWA. You can be anonymous if you wish.
Seems open to abuse... It is not clear whether these results will be made public and in what form so that the British public can see what is happening to the archaeological heritage. Now, why is PASCymru being treated as a "service" for "finders and detectorists"? The questions are dotty. There are the usual crap ones you'd expect in a survey obviously intended to generate PAS spin. In the section Current strengths and weaknesses of PAS Cymru we read:
"As part of the work to deliver the aims described in the introduction, a core role of PAS Cymru is to record finds. Staff photograph, report on and then return the object. Significant finds would normally be best looked after in accredited museums, which also protects them for future generations. Part of the staff role is to instil this understanding of responsible finding".
There, of course, being "no other"?

Above all there are some questions about "what PAS does for you" in which the survey omits the fundamental questions  "do you record artefacts that you find with the PAS/how many/ do you use any other means of recording finds/ what are the reasons that [if any]  you do not record some of your finds with the PAS?  Indeed (to establish the scale of operation of PASCymru in the future), "in an average year (pre-covid) how many recordable finds would you be making?"

 But it gets dottier:
What could PAS Cymru do to make a better Wales? (For example, people be healthier, more prosperous, have a better understanding of our culture and heritage, have stronger communities - or anything else you might want to say.)
What does PAS Cymru do now in poorer communities? What else could it do?
and the verbal gymnastics involved in determining "how you think about your gender" and "ethininicity" [sic] (looking forward to seeing the results of that one). Nothing here about education or literacy levels or computer savviness (online recording and dissemination). It seems the Consultancy has been tasked with finding out how to "make PASCymru more inclusive" - but before they do that, they need to find out whether the main source of the finds, the activity of "metal detecting" in fact is "inclusive". I suggest that it most certainly is not, so what are the Welsh planning to do? Find ways of getting LGBT+ people and members of ethnic minorities to get involved in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record? Eh? Why? We need to be curbing this destructive activity, not getting more and more people doing it...

Not a question here about the Code of Practice or attitudes to what it says about detecting on pasture/grassland, or about whether the detectorist only searches in Wales and what happens bout recording of finds made outside the country.

What also is missing is anything asking "finders and detectorists" what they see as the future of PASCymru when the funding stops (as seems increasingly likely). What alternatives do THEY see? In fact, how many finds are they making a year and how many of them are they reporting? Such a statistic would be vital to determining what the effects of cutting (or altering) the Scheme would be. There is a difference between cutting a scheme where only one-in-eight finds gets recorded (which is what I currently think is about the figure for England and Wales as a whole) and one where six out of eight are (in fact unachievable).

So Ruth Garnault Consultancy, instead of doing something even remotely useful in the area of heritage conservation, has just set out to produce yet another coffee-table document full of fine words and feelgood sentiments about the usual waffle about "iclusivity", "partnership" and "social values" while skipping the real issues of a policy that has at its core the stripping of the archaeological record of Wales to fill the pockets of a small social fragment of greedy collectors.

Manchester Artefact Hunters Arrested With Metal Detectors, Artefacts and Cannabis [UPDATED]

Cheshire Police Rural Crime press release: Officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team arrest four people in connection with the theft of historic artefacts 30/06/2020
Officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team have arrested four people in connection with the theft of historic artefacts following a series of morning raids in Greater Manchester. Earlier today (30 June) search warrants were executed at seven addresses located in the Droylsden and Audenshaw areas of Manchester and relate to an investigation of unlawful metal detecting at protected heritage sites across the Midlands and Northern England. [...] Four men aged 28, 31, 32, and 31 have been arrested and are helping police with their enquiries. Artefacts, metal detection equipment and cannabis was seized as part of the investigation. The artefacts will be subject to expert analysis by finds experts from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologists from Historic England.
It's not clear what they'll learn from just the loose "artefacts and metal detection equipment" without documentation of search locations (and search-and-take agreements and protocols assigning title from the landowners - or lack of).  How can you prosecute anyone in the UK on the basis of a loose Bronze Age axehead, no matter what 'the archaeologists' say it is?

It is not clear why seven addresses were raided, but only four arrests made.

And, this time it fell to the lot of Sgt Rob Simpson from the Rural Crime Team, to intone the traditional mantra:
“We recognise that the vast majority of the metal-detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land. But the small number of people who do remove artefacts unlawfully and damage ancient sites are depriving the community of our valuable history".
Yeah, and so....? Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England lets slip the reason why 'sticking to the law' is not the actual issue with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record:
"Unlawful metal detecting is not a victimless crime. We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context.
BUT that does not just happen in unlawful detecting, but in artefact hunting as a whole, for goodness sake. Finish the sentence, tell it like it is, please Historic England.

Cheshire is the region where metal detector use is discussed in a video that shows what we are losing from (lawful) hoiking. When is Historic England going to get tough with the 27000 artefact hunters pilfering metal archaeological objects from sites "who are intent on causing loss and damage to our shared cultural heritage"?

See also Sophie Halle-Richards, 'Four arrested during morning raids over theft of historic artefacts from Northern heritage sites' Manchester Evening News 30 JUN 2020 for video of the raids.  Apparently these metal detectorists have very similar tastes in flimsy front doors.

Apparently they are suspected of having taken stuff from two sites in Cheshire and South Yorkshire. We also remember that it was at a rally in Yorkshire that there was another incident involving cannabis and metal detectorists.

UPDATE 1st July 2020
The number of arrests given in the press release was (and still is) four, but it is reported that two more suspects gave themselves up shortly after the first four were arrested. The fate of the seventh is not known yet. Perhaps he's busy leaving his expensive metal detectors and logbooks with friends before he pops along to the police station for a handslap.

The video shows what seem to be evidence collected in plastic bags, but note that the bags seem to be unnumbered and the labels in the bags have not been filled in, signed and dated. What sloppiness is this? I note that the officer in charge says it's their first operation of this type (despite the fact that metal detectors have been used in Cheshire since the 1970s, so if what he says is true it does not look like they really are "taking heritage crime seriously" there, after all).

UPDATE 1st July 2020

BBC, 'Historic England thefts: Two more held over stolen artefacts' 1st July 2020.
Two more men have been arrested after artefacts were stolen from protected heritage sites in northern England. The suspects were detained as part of a probe into unlawful metal detecting at Beeston Castle in Cheshire and Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire, bringing the total number of arrests to six. [...] All six suspects, aged 28 to 32, have been bailed pending further inquiries. The arrests were made following raids on seven properties in Droylsden and Audenshaw, Greater Manchester on Tuesday. It follows a similar operation in January, which saw two men held over "nighthawking" at Beeston Castle.
They were from Droylsden too, aged 28 and 31. The damage at Roche, near Maltby was also discussed here.

Christies's "Black Claims Don't Matter"?

Igbo figures (Christie's)
Celestina Olulode, 'Nigeria saddened by Christie's sale of 'looted' statues' BBC News 29 June 2020
Nigeria is "saddened" by the sale of two sculptures belonging to the south-eastern Igbo community, an official from the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, has said. [...] Prof Chika Okeke-Agulu told the BBC the two objects were "looted" from shrines during the civil war in the late 1960s. The items were sold for just under $240,000 (£195,000) in Paris. Christie's rejected the claim that the sculptures were stolen, saying the Monday sale was perfectly legal.
Central to the controversy is when the statues were taken and where from. Prof Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University says the objects were looted from communal shrines in his native Anambra state, with the help of local conspirators. He said they could not have been acquired legally because they were removed during the 1960s Biafran civil war, when the Igbo community attempted to secede from Nigeria.
He accused Christie's and other art collectors of "expropriation". "To pretend we don't matter - what we think doesn't matter - is for me a recast of the colonial arrogance that we are still dealing with in other parts of the African continent," Prof Okeke-Agulu said.
Christies's claims ignorance: "The auction house believes there is no evidence these statues were removed from their original location by someone who was not local to the area, or that the area they came from at the time they were acquired was part of the conflict at the time," it said in a statement. "Our understanding is that even prior to the conflict, local agents were trading in objects such as these and they were starting to circulate more widely," it said. It added that at no stage "has there been any suggestion that these statues were subject to improper export". But then, there is no evidence either that they or the seller can demonstrate (for example by showing the documentation) that they were legally acquired or exported before they were bought by French art collector Jacques Kerchache, before his death in 2001.

It's about time, isn't it, that Christie's and the London art market became decolonialised. 

Sunday 28 June 2020

British "Recreation and Exercise"

From what the social media are showing us, the 2020 British idea of "recreation and exercise" is to go to nice places and selfishly spoil it for everyone. Some leave stuff, others take it (without taking the left stuff that matters). Margate beach 25th June 2020, photographed by Frank Leppard

Metal detecting and disrespect for the environment seem to be all part of the same social landscape in Boris's Britain.

Saturday 27 June 2020

UK Metal Detectorists Flogging Off the Heritage because Museums can't Afford to Pay the Treasure Ransom

"Not in it for the money", is what most metal detectorists in the UK will tell you, some will strut about demonstratively making sure everyone sees that they give the proceeds of their finds "to charity" but right at the top of Google you can still find: 
Metal Detector Finds for sale | eBaywww.ebay.co.uk › ... › British › Metal Detector Finds
Buy Metal Detector Finds and get the best deals at the lowest prices on eBay
Click, and you find that right now it's 1,014 results starting with this:

The listings start with this "13 century Medieval gold sapphire ring metal detector find ", from a seller in  Leicester, , United Kingdom:
Mowsley Ring, PAS 2012
This amazing ring was found by myself in 2012 . It's has been in the papers , magazines , and featured on the antiques road show . Disclaimed by the museum through lack of funds and now offered on the open market. Known as the Mowsley ring it can be found on the web with a newspaper article Extremely rare due to the size of the stone and weighing in at 5.6 grams Valued by Jeoffrey mun on the roadshow a few years ago at 10k. Fantastic investment with all documents , reports and provenance. I restore classic cars and bikes so will consider any deal
Interestingly, he gives the Antiques Roadshow valuation as the basis for the asking price £10 000.00, not the TVC's which the museum decided it could not raise. And the Treasure number is not given [missing info: (2012 T245, PAS ID: LEIC-C03C23)]. Now interestingly, the TVC estimated it as 3000 quid.

Then, specially for Sophie Flynn: JoJo's Jewellery of Weston-super-Mare  has these "RARE gold LUNA EARRINGS metal detecting FIND STUNNING RARE HISTORIC ITEM, METAL DETECTING IN ESSEX OTHER FINDS ALSO LISTED”. No mention here of any Treasure process.  £780.00. If these weree real, they'd be a bit of Essex history under the hammer but Ms Flynn has petulantly let PAS Head office know that she does not with me to contact her to discuss artefacts or anything else.... ah well... there's British archaeological "professionalism" for you. "My FLO", Ha!

Drought in Europe

Quite apart from the horrific implications of this, it will be interesting to see what effect this sort of weather conditions will be having on the cropmarks across Europe.
Clear signs of drought across Europe in recent measurements of groundwater wetness (left) and root zone wetness (right) by NASA and GFZ’s GRACE-FO satellites. The darkest reds show dry conditions which should only occur once every 50 years: https://go.nasa.gov/383d3t2.

I love how the Americans feel its necessary to put the names of the countries on the map... 

Friday 26 June 2020

Two Parisian Dealers Arrested Over Antiquities Sales

Culture theft not a victimless crime (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
Several people in the Parisian art world have been helping French police in their enquiries about antiquities sales in the past few years (Henry Samuel, 'Art dealer cited in stolen gold Egyptian coffin case quizzed over looted antiquities in Paris', Telegraph 26 June 2020). This enquiry involves potential allegations about the sale in Paris of looted Middle Eastern artefacts potentially worth millions of euros. It is claimed that now Brexit is beginning to marginalise the British antiquities market, Paris has become an international hub for looted artefacts.

The Telegraph names the five as : Parisian art dealer and 'expert in Mediterranean archaeology' Christophe Kunicki; Annie Caubet, a former curator of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Antiquities at the Louvre; Paris antiquities dealer David Ghezelbash; Antoine G. the director of Paris gallery Pierre Bergé and Associates (this gallery is mentioned already several times on this blog) and a fifth person was also detained - that later turned out to be Kunicki's spouse. The five were being quizzed by officers from the Central Office for the Fight against the Trafficking of Cultural Goods, and officers from the Central Office for the Fight Against Major Financial Crime, which specialises in fraud and money-laundering cases, were also involved in the inquiry.

Mr Ghezelbash was freed without charges on Friday as were Caubet, and the Pierre Berge director. Mr Kunicki has already figured on this blog and elsewhere as involved in the sale of 'the Golden Coffin of Nedjemankh' formerly in New York and recently repatriated to Egypt from the USA, and some other items - a limestone naos shrine and scuptured head as well as in the case of the looted Stele in the name of the head of the elders of the doorway to the Hathor Temple of Pa-di-séna reportedly seized last year at TEFAF, in which the name of Pierre Berge also crops up.

There were reports last night that
'A prominent French archaeologist and his husband were charged on Friday as part of an investigation into an antique smuggling ring exploiting unrest in Middle Eastern countries to spirit out works to sell in France, sources said. Christophe Kunicki and his husband Richard Semper were charged in Paris with a range of crimes including fraud, money laundering and forgery, a judicial source and a source close to the inquiry told AFP. The pair were presented to a judge and released under judicial supervision [...] Kunicki and Semper, widely respected figures in the rarified world of Parisian antiquities, are suspected of taking advantage of the instability that followed the Arab Spring in the early 2011 to loot ancient relics."
(AFP News, 'French Archaeologist And Husband Charged Over Mideast Antique Trafficking', June 26, 2020)It will be interesting to see how this case develops, what was the reason the Louvre official was detained for questioning?

UK Metal Detectorist Wants to Block This Blog

(Heritage Action)
Daniel R. Scott (southwestpaw), a newbie "metal detectorist" apparently from somewhere in the southwest of England discovered a post here that annoyed him because it mentioned his detecting mate and a muddy hole and he seems to feel his identity threatened by what I write about artefact hunting and collecting. Interestingly, he (says he) has legal qualifications:  "LLB(Hons) Dip. Legal Practice"

As a result, he's recently been trolling this blog with increasing numbers of fatuous comments and getting very agitated and accusatory. Most of this comment-overload I rejected on the principles set out here. Just now I had another in which he goes on about how much money generated by his hobby he has given to "charity" (he's even posted a receipt for his 20 quid on Twitter!) and for him how obvious it is that my concerns for the archaeological record are born out of "hatred" for "people like [him]". But in amongst all the hate-speech addressed to me that he himself spews out, he also wrote:
I will not rest until this blog becomes digital archaeology
Well, since Britain has now left the EU, not by any means involving European law, eh? I'm here and he's there.

Of course he could do what one of this "mates" did and contact some metal detectorists in Poland to help out - like one of his British colleagues informed me he'd done which suspiciously coincided with an attack on a member of my family outside our home (repeatedly doxxed by several of them too). Or he could do what another did and send some dog's poo in a box to what he thought was my Warsaw address (actually it was our old address which at the time was rented out to a police officer). Then there would be the time another metal detectorist sent me a series of threatening emails several times a day and night because I'd written about the mess he'd made of digging up some bronze vessels from below plough level. Or there was the time another one sent me a series of mails pretending he was coming to beat me up and proceeded one day to post views from an aircraft window landing at Warsaw airport and then a series of texts every few minutes detailing where he was and how he was getting closer ... (but of course the photo was from Google). There was Deep Digger Dan and his threats because I criticised here some of his videos. Then there was Mr Chetwynd.. a case on his own. And of course let us not forget the foul-mouthed John Howland who has built his life around attacking Paul Barford and Nigel Swift and archaeologists every few days - now on his "Detecting and Collecting" website that gives such a good insight into the inbuilt prejudices of the mindset of some detectorists.

These are just a few of the many, many metal detectorists (ancient coin collectors have been no better) that have tried to put me off thinking what I think, and writing what I see happening. Daniel Scott thinks he's better than them, and better than me. We will see. 

But of course this kind of behaviour does not reflect at all well on the metal detecting community. And even if the blog goes, the problems that it highlights will not disappear, and those who despoil the archaeological record for collectables in the UK will not always enjoy the protection that having a PAS currently affords them.

[UPDATE] UK Detectorist Protests that he "Didn't mean it"

In denial
A few hours ago a metal detectorist said he "would not rest" until my blog "becomes digital archaeology" (see post above). On seeing himself outed here, he now behaves like a certain US president that will not accept responsibility for his own words and meekly  protests with a cliche:
I wish [...] your antiquated view to [sic] detecting to be consigned to the dustbin of history - where it belongs.
I really do not see what is so 'antiquated' about in 2020 challenging a policy about artefact hunting of the 1990s (premiership of John Major) using among other things the latest data to emerge from the PAS (born of that 'policy') as its basis. The world, and the antiquities collecting aspects of it including the market, has moved on a lot from the 1990s and will soon be moving on post-CV pandemic. There is nothing backwards looking in asking just what is being achieved/done now, and where this is all going.In fact it is imperative.

I suspect that, rather than actually finding out for himself what the issues are, like most metal detectorists, Daniel R. Scott accepts and parrots what somebody else has told him ("PAS is the future its only dinosaurs wot 'ates it M8"). The PAS is clearly not the future and the real microcephallic dinosaurs are those that stubbornly cling fondly onto the dream that it "might" one day be the solution to the UK's problem with collection-driven exploitation of the finite and fragile archaeological record. It almost certainly will not, and we need to examine why, and knowing that, find a way forward.

This blog is just one small part of that necessary discussion.

Coin Collecting and Metal Detecting Dying Hobbies: Going the Way of Bottle Digging

Matt Thompson and his collection
On the 'Dirty Old Coins' blog is an interesting post 'This Dying Hobby' from Sept 16, 2019 that is worth reading in full, here I just want to pull out a few fragments:
Once known as the “hobby of kings”, coin collecting is slowly becoming as passé as monarchy itself. From casual collectors to career professionals, and all levels of dedication in between, numismatics is experiencing a steady decline. [...] Finding relevant data seems tricky. There's certainly no shortage of rosy op ed pieces from auctioneers and trade analysts [...] The most accurate barometer in interest of ancient numismatics is eBay. [...] Privately, many dealers admit to seeing less business than even just a few years ago and more have left the field entirely than new ones entered the fray. [...]  But if one considers that each passing year fewer new coins are found (given that the detectorists repeatedly scour over the same fixed number of archeologically fertile locations) the only logical conclusion is that the bulk of those new coins found on eBay comes from the holdings of recent retirees or their estates. [...] The bottom line in this scenario is that fewer coins will trade hands [sic] both from price and lack of availability (and possibly also harsher global policies that could restrict the commerce in ancient collectibles) all of which results in a progressively less compelling proposition for newcomer and seasoned old-timer alike.
In the middle, he decries the fact that young people don't want to take up this exploitative colonialist hobby (he says it's 'video games'). Note here the awareness that the coins are disappearing because of the metal detectorists stripping the 'fixed number' of accessible 'productive sites', but this is not seen as any kind of a conservation issue, when in many countries such searching and digging (not to mention export) are illegal in order to prevent this happening, but one of 'laws that limit personal freedoms' (see below) ... Look at this:
Uncleaned coins, the longtime gateway for many into ancient coin collecting, might well be the canary in the mine. From the heady days of twenty years ago, following the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc along with its stringent laws limiting personal freedoms (such as owning and using a metal detector, for example), when there was a positive oversupply of new coins entering the market, we see now only an anemic trickle. Quality, quantity and even average size per module have steadily decreased forcing many dealers out of business and newer hobbyists to gripe. A handful of uncleaned coins which may have yielded an interesting variety of copper coinage spanning several centuries is now largely restricted to a narrow selection of coins from the Constantinian, Valentinian and Theodosian dynasties from the 4th century. Fewer neat additions translate into a corresponding decrease in customers looking to place followup orders.
So, again the falling number of sales (see figure below) is caused by the depletion of the archaeological record that is the source of the material (see here too) which is affecting qualitatively the material that is coming onto the market. The coin dealers can see it, policy makers are not being informed by archaeologists.
Dirty coins, at this rate it could even all be over by 2030

The outlook we are left with sees a bleak future for ancient numismatics with a much sparser field of dealers, auctioneers and scholars that serve an ever smaller community with a median age that ticks up year after year. If the trend were to continue unabated one could expect the eventual death of commercial numismatics altogether. If that’s a gloomy assessment there’s some respite in noting that the emerging economies in Asia and Latin America will serve to prop up the declining ranks of aficionados - for some time at least. While the lion’s share of their interest will naturally lie with local coinages, historically a fair number branch out and discover ancients. But - and this but is beyond debate - the number of countries still minting small metal discs meant for currency dwindles annually because it is truly an obsolescent practice out of step in the digital millennium. The day, therefore, will not be very far in coming when the very concept of coins will be history. We should all hope that there will be, at least, some competent custodians left to curate that history.
Huh. So all those millions of coins and artefacts that were dug out of those archaeological sites by "metal detectorists" will be as useless as the thousands of bottles dug out of Victorian dumps when this was a fad (Bottles and Metal, the Early History of Artefact Hunting in the UK PACHI 19 August 2019). If that's the future of ancient coin collecting that caused so much destruction , then good riddance, but what a shame about all those loose coins and sites with a rash of little holes in them where artefacts should have been.

Operation MEDICUS, Artefacts Being Smuggled to UK Market

An international crime gang that ransacked ancient sites in Bulgaria and trafficked stolen archaeological goods whose total worth exceeds several millions of euros has been broken up as a result of an international police operation coordinated by Europol (Press Release, 'Police Recover 'Millions' in stolen treasures after busting archaeological crime gang in Bulgaria' 25 June 2020). Nicknamed Operation MEDICUS, this effort was led by the General Directorate for the Fight against Organised Crime of the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs together with the British Metropolitan Police and the German State Criminal Police of Bavaria (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt) the action was coordinated by Europol:
Eight individuals were arrested and some 4,600 archaeological items were recovered as a result of this sting [...] Five suspects were arrested in Bulgaria, and three in the United Kingdom (UK) as they entered the UK with a significant quantity of archaeological material concealed within a hide in their vehicle. This operation dates back to October of last year, the details of which can only be released now due to operational reasons.

The investigation which led to these arrests dates back to March 2018 when the Bulgarian police, after being informed by their British counterpart, began looking into this suspicious trafficking of cultural goods out of their country.

Among the trafficked items were ceramics, glass funeral urns, lamps, arrowheads, spears and ancient coins. Most of the seized items date back to the Roman period and come from military camps once located in Northern Bulgaria. Furthermore, some other artefacts belong to Bronze Age, early Iron Age, Middle Ages and Ottoman period.

The illegally excavated archaeological goods were brought out of Bulgaria and smuggled into the UK by means of private transport operators. Germany was their preferred transit country.

This case confirms that the most common way to dispose of archaeological goods illegally excavated is by entering the legitimate art market. This modus operandi takes advantage of the fact that the existence of these goods is not officially known, therefore their illicit origin can be hidden by providing them with a false back story (fake documents of provenance).
The last bit is rather odd, since as we know, the majority of items on the market have "somehow lost" their paperwork, and they sell, so why bother faking documents?

Thursday 25 June 2020

Playing about with Hammies

Some artefact hunters claim they "study the past" by ripping artefacts out of their archaeological context. Others just play games with them...:
Suffolk Detectorist @SDetectorist ·23 cue
#detectorist #metaldetecting #xpdeus #medievalhttps://twitter.com/SDetectorist/status/1275393355485233153 Too hot for me today so here's a coinage collage.

Suffolk Detectorist

Where were the finds labels while this was going on?

Overpriced Treasure Item Fails to Reach Museum or Find a Buyer, But Treasure Hunting Out Looking for More

A Norfolk woman dug up two Anglo-Saxon gold artefacts in fields near her home near Aldborough, Norfolk, three months after taking up the hobby (BBC, 'Norfolk treasure-hunter puts finds down to 'beginner's luck'...' 24 June 2020). The news item concentrates on the human interest aspect: "inherited a metal detector", "a case of "beginner's luck", and skips the archaeological and conservation issues:
Mel Hollwoger, 54, unearthed a sword scabbard mount and rare gold band [...] The mount was valued at £25,000 and both have been declared treasure [....] The band, which resembles a ring, is expected to be valued at a price similar to the early medieval cast gold and garnet pyramidal mount, which failed to reach its reserve price at auction recently [...] Norfolk Museums Service wanted to buy the mount but had to withdraw following its valuation by the British Museum. [...] The lucky detectorist said she was hoping to find "something Celtic" next.
And who set that reserve and on what grounds? The real headline should be that the Treasure system needs fixing so this sort of thing stops happening, as the market becomes saturated with disclaimed metal detected Treasure items.
Until then, since these folk invariably claim they are "in it for the history" and not the money, maybe standard search permissions could include a clause about both finder and landowner agreeing upfront to donate free of charge all finds declared as treasure to the museum that requires it

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Monkey Christ and the Metal Detectorists

Sam Jones, 'Experts call for regulation after latest botched art restoration in Spain' Guardian J Mon 22 Jun 2020
Conservation experts in Spain have called for a tightening of the laws covering restoration work after a copy of a famous painting by the baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo became the latest in a long line of artworks to suffer a damaging and disfiguring repair. A private art collector in Valencia was reportedly charged €1,200 by a furniture restorer to have the picture of the Immaculate Conception cleaned. However, the job did not go as planned and the face of the Virgin Mary was left unrecognisable despite two attempts to restore it to its original state. The case has inevitably resulted in comparisons with the infamous “Monkey Christ” incident eight years ago, when a devout parishioner’s attempt to restore a painting of the scourged Christ on the wall of a church on the outskirts of the north-eastern Spanish town of Borja made headlines around the world.
So, we all realise why furniture restorers cant be trusted to do conservation work on a painting, but don't see why a bus-driver cannot be relied on to record the archaeological evidence of a site where he's metal detecting. Why are archaeological experts in the UK not as bothered as Spanish experts? Why is there no call for a tightening of the laws about this? Because make no mistake, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and the damage done to the sites 'mined' for collectables is a conservation issue, just the same as damaged artworks and ecosystems.

So-called "citizen archaeology" leads to many more trashed sites than dodgy restorers destryoy art.

"Knew where he'd Found What"

NMGW-9C0216 Ringland Hoard.
On 19th December 2007, Mr. Craig Mills discovered a hoard of two bronze bowls and a bronze wine strainer while metal detecting at Langstone, Newport. A complete wooden and bronze tankard was also discovered by the finder at the same time and within a few metres (estimated at 25 feet by the finder, but established through follow up survey and investigation as 12.8m) of the hoard. The discoveries were made in a field under pasture, which had not been ploughed within living memory, in a low-lying area prone to water-logging.
What value are the findspot 'data' in the PAS database when in many cases they rely only on hearsay?

How Inclusive is Metal Detecting?

The UK is multicultural and multiethnic, except in many Brexiters' wet dreams it seems, according to Wikipedia, 87.2% are white, Asian British account for 7.3% and Black British 3%, with another 2.9% being mixed and 'other'.

In answer to a comment of mine about white metal detectorists getting praise (as "heritage heroes") for doing exactly the same as brown-skinned people ("looters") in other countries, a metal detectorist going by the name of southwestpaw wrote in a comment to my post:
"Not all detectorists are white (unless you have evidence that this is the case). Or did you jump to a conclusion again for a blog post. There are many female detectorists (including my own daughter).
That was quite an interesting remark. Most UK detectorists are indeed white males, most of them middle aged and older. Do we have any "evidence"? That'd be a question for the PAS that have been doing liaison with the metal detecting community for 23+ years now. How many of them come from ethnic minorities?

Just as a guide, I did a search for "UK detecting clubs/images" and "UK rallies/images" on Google and it threw up a lot of pictures. I took just those where there were larger groups of detectorists shown frontally and where the faces could be seen. I rejected those where detectorists were presenting money raised from "charity digs" as it was not clear who in the photo was a detectorist and who not. I was not intending to do an exhaustive search, but the twelve that I was able to look at in detail produced the following visual information (if there was any doubt about gender from the photo, I noted them as female):
white-looking male: 244
white-looking female: 34
Asian-looking males and females: 0
Black males and females: 0 
The total number of white metal detectorists in this sample 278, yet there were no ethnic minorities among them (if this were proportional, for the UK there'd be some 18 'Asians' and 8 'blacks'). In the UK, 51% of the population is female which means that if the representation of the sexes were to be equal, there should be 140 ladies in the photos.

I think that's pretty suggestive that metal detecting is not very inclusive. I think that probably goes for the way the hobby is practised in the USA (and I bet it's the same for ancient coin collecting too).

'Detectorists' -TV comedy series (Regton)
This means that the motley members of the fictional Danebury Metal Detecting Club, with among its eight known members were as many as three females, including a lesbian couple where one partner was of mixed MENA origin (Varde) and a young 'British-Asian' individual (Hugh).

From reading over many years the content of UK metal detecting forums I think this is a very unlikely composition of a metal detecting club, even from the Home Counties.

Though the MD forums have been cleaned up enormously in the last couple of years, their members saw nothing wrong with posting a sizeable number of sexist comments, misogynous and homophobic 'humour' on the forums (some of whom even had a separate section for "adult jokes' mainly puerile material of this nature). In the runup to the Brexit referendum, there were enormous numbers of xenophobic and anti-EU comments, pro-Brexit propaganda and many members had as their avatars a St George's Flag or BNP logos (and my memory serves me, occasionally reference to NF slogans and logos). These seem to have disappeared now, but as has already been remarked a number of times, UK metal detectorists have long been very supportive on their forums of the idea of a Brexit.

For these reasons, I would think anyone not fitting into that general demographic would not feel very welcome in such company.

Cue, now for posts below "we've got a [...] in our club and he/she feels at home, we go out and have a larf togevver, just one of the lads"   - which I would say is the exception that could prove the rule.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference...

.... between the 'bad guys' of the anglophone media, brown guys digging in their own country, vilified by the anglophone press, and criticised by the British Museum and other heritage professionals:

Looters dig through the sand to find Roman and Pharaonic
 antiquities to sell on the black market in 2013 in Sheikh Ibada,
 Egypt. (Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) 
and the allegedly 'good guys' who were praised in the press as heritage heroes and told "you done (sic) right" by the British Museum and PAS for reporting a brooch Greg that Sweetman and the 'Medway History Finders' ripped out, one February 2014 afternoon, of an early medieval grave on a known site in Hollingbourne, Kent:

Greg Sweetman poses triumphantly in the hole he dug
Yes you are right, the WHITE detectorists from the country that colonised the other don't use sieves.

Is it enough merely to decolonise the heritage debate, or do we need to talk further on the methodology of "responsible artefact hunting"?

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Facebook Reportedly Bans its use in the Antiquities Trade

As a result of a sustained campaign by academics, mostly in the USA, Facebook has now banned illicit antiquities trafficking on the platform: “starting today we now prohibit the exchange, sale or purchase of all historical artefacts on Facebook and Instagram " (Steve Swann, Facebook bans 'loot-to-order' antiquities trade BBC 23.06.2020) This hopefully will affect British metal detectorists that were using the platform to promote their hobby and sell antiquities (including coins), so that is good news for the historical heritage of Britain too.
Facebook says all trade in ancient artefacts is banned on its platforms. The changes are included in a new set of Facebook Community Standards published on Tuesday. They ban content that "encourages or attempts to buy, sell or trade historical artefacts" or "attempts to solicit historical artefacts" [...] The social media giant is developing automated systems based on images and key words to identify content which violates the new policy "
We will see how effective this is, some researchers familiar with the way the trade works on facebook are sceptical. The problem has reached serious proportions, the article continues:
"Illicit antiquities trade on Facebook appears to have the greatest reach in the Middle East and North Africa where we are currently monitoring over 120 Facebook groups developed solely for looting and trafficking activity," said Prof Amr Al-Azm "The largest group we identified had roughly 150,000 members this time last year - now it has more than 437,000. " Part of the recent increase may be attributable to the effects of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But this was not just a case of the impoverished selling antiquities to make a few dollars, said Prof al-Azm. "This is also a black market that funds criminal organisations, warlords, and radical extremists, and it's happening on the same site in the same digital space that you welcome into your home and [use to] share photos of your children."
What is most amazing about all this is that this is the effect of a campaign that was almost entirely a volunteer effort, led by a dedicated team of archaeologists determined to protect global heritage. If they can do it why can't British archaeologists deal with the metal detecting crisis in their midst?


New Web Resource: What the PAS is Not Telling You About "Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility"

Over lockdown, I put together a web resource called "Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility" (draft 1.1) which is at present in blog format, but I hope to migrate its revised contents to a website in the future.*

The premise is that if heritage professionals and the media are talking about "responsible metal detecting/artefact hunting" as a phenomenon that is having a positive effect and not at all damaging to the archaeological resource, then what does that look like? Sure, there is a "Code" but it does not really cover very much, and leaves a lot of questions open.

My webpage aims to open discussion on how to close those gaps from an archaeological point of view and the position of the primacy of preservation. I do not know how much discussion it will get from British archaeologists, but nothing ventured... and they themselves (PAS included) have never tried to do anything like this, which rather puts them at a disadvantage in any discussion.

I wanted it to be as objective as possible. In my text, I assume there IS some form of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record that can (truly, not nominally) be called "responsible", that this IS possible to achieve, given sincerity and dedication of those collectors "passionately interested in (preserving, studying and displaying) the past". On that premise that there is a non-malevolent form of collecting possible, and people that want to do it, I set out exploring in more detail what that means from the point of view of doing the activity in a way that damages the finite and fragile archaeological record the least.

I could not do this myself, I needed a co-author that steps aside from the bare theory and is able to put that in the context of artefact hunting practice, even if this means being sharply critical. Sadly, I was unable to find a British archaeologist to fulfil this role, but was lucky to persuade the nominal central European archaeologist, my colleague Tamara Prava-Kroftova (half sister of another well-known archaeologist) to give metal detectorists and other artefact hunters a running commentary. I have always said they need a comic-book character to get the message over, here is one.

This actually took a lot of time and effort to put together, I had to fit this in between my other work and other lockdown activities. I learnt a lot by trying to explain concepts we all take a little for granted to an outside audience and trying to make it all fit together, and work out how to explain it as clearly as possible. I cannot help think  however that the 30+ staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 3+ months of lockdown (a) could as a collaborative task have put together something like this with less effort, and (b) by now jolly well ought to have done to earn their keep. But now, I and Ms Kroftova have proposed for them a justified benchmark of what can be considered "Best practice" and "responsible artefact hunting/collecting". It's my present for them. I look forward to seeing them either using it, or discussing where (and why) our visions part.

Comments are welcome (over there or here below), they are however moderated and subject to my usual conditions. Please use real names. Thanks. 

* I am not happy with the blog template - especially what it does with quotations - and may migrate it to another one later but in the same place for now.

Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility- contents

Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility

Front Matter
banner/title page: Archaeology and Responsible Artefact Collecting

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.