Wednesday 10 June 2020

Object-centred Metal Detecting and the Tyranny of the Written Record in Medieval Archaeology in UK

A metal detectorist dug holes overnight between June 1 and 2nd in Fotheringhay Castle in East Northamptonshire, protected as a scheduled monument, (Sam Wildman, 'Metal detectorist wanted after holes dug at historic East Northants site where Mary, Queen of Scots was killed' Northamptonshire Telegraph Monday, 8th June 2020)
Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society [...] said: "Metal detecting is all very well in a controlled practice such as was done to find the real site of the Battle of Bosworth, but unauthorised digging can do all sorts of damage, with loss of context for found objects [...] that means we like to know what and where things have been found so that work can be done to fit them into our knowledge of the daily lives of the men and women who lived in the late middle ages. Loss of context is very damaging to our knowledge of these matters."
Here it appears Mr Stone thinks the "context"  is the written record. So archaeological survey is useful because it can find the "real site" of the battle known from the chronicles, and the "found objects" can be used (merely) as illustrations of the written history.

This has always been a problem in medieval archaeology, see: Champion, T.C., 1990. Medieval archaeology and the tyranny of the historical record. In: D.Austin and L.Alcock (eds) From the Baltic to the Black Sea. Studies in Medieval Archaeology, London: Unwin Hyman, One World Archaeology 18: 79-95.

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