Monday, 5 October 2020

UK Archaeologists Hype up Burial Disturbed by Artefact Hunting


Where's Mick? Half of the metal detecting
praised by PAS for digging a
signal below ploughsoil
University of Reading hoping to get funds for conservation of material produced by underfunded project initiated by artefact hunters from the Maidenhead Search Society metal detecting club disturbing below-plough remains that turned out to be a 6th century male burial (University of Reading Press Release, Research News, Anglo-Saxon warlord found by detectorists could redraw map of post-Roman Britain, 4th Oct 2010). Apparently it is from such a region of the country that one anomalous burial "could redraw map of post-Roman Britain". They've christened it "The Marlowe warlord" because the burial was "on a hilltop site near with commanding views over the surrounding Thames valley" and as "buried alongside an array of expensive luxuries and weapons, including a sword in a decorated scabbard, spears, bronze and glass vessels, and other personal accoutrements". Aha. Apparently two metal detectorists, Sue and Mick Washington "came across the site in 2018".
Sue said: "On two earlier visits I had received a large signal from this area which appeared to be deep iron and most likely not to be of interest. However, the uncertainty preyed on my mind and on my next trip I just had to investigate, and this proved to be third time lucky!" Sue, who along with other members of the Maidenhead Search Society metal detecting club had visited the site several times previously, initially unearthed two bronze bowls. Realising the age and significance of the find, she stopped digging and the Club, in line with best practice, registered this discovery with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. (PAS). The PAS Finds Liaison Officer for Buckinghamshire undertook a targeted excavation to recover the very fragile bronze vessels and, in the process, recovered a pair of iron spearheads suggested that the context was likely to be an Anglo-Saxon grave.
All very nice and cuddly. Mike Lewis Head of the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme is quoted,"This is a great example of archaeologists and metal-detectorists working together".  If it is so great, then where are the records of the finds that Mick and Sue and all of their Maidenhead Search Society mates who visited this (barren?) site  several times running? There is nothing, zilch. The Portable Antiquities database does not have a public record of any recording by finders anywhere in the region of Marlow. Something very wrong here with this public database - raising again the question on how reliable are the "data" it presents? 

Also how "responsible" is it, being in a group of people that claim time-and-time again that they "only remove material from shallow depths in the ploughsoil" to go back to dig up a "large signal that appeared to be deep iron" when (a) its below plough level and (b) there are no funds to deal with it properly when the tejkkies start interfering with it? Is that what the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales says to do? The Code that the same Mike Lewis bellyaches all the time that he cant get enough detectorists to follow it?  The same Mike Lewis that when somebody ignores it and digs something up that then prompts the need to mitigate the problem they've caused, pats them on the head and said this is a "great example" of best practice. WHAT actually is meant by this mythical and mutable "best practice", in British archaeology?

Reading University
 And what does the photo show? Eleven archies working away in August 2020 in close proximity none of them wearing masks, and when we get a closeup of this "warlord", there's a socking big hole in his chest. Shades of Cumwhitton here - except this time they were careful to edit out of the detectorists' account how far they say they dug down below the ground surface. So these two bowls and two spearheads were in a cluster on the corpse's chest, or were there other holes dug into this deposit by the detectorists and excited FLO? How many carrier bags were used this time? At Lenborough the museum archaeologist had only one, and a paint scraper. The usual excuse:
The burial was at a very shallow depth, making the excavation crucial to protect it from farming activity.
But then, they opened a trench (that looks like 10 x 15 m), so any other features outside that restricted area, the features that form the context of that single feature, are not going to be recorded before "farming activity" makes them illegible? Is that it? We don't really want to know the landscape context, just the hole that's got the goodies in? Without all that burdening context, it's easier, isn't it, for British archaeologists to make up stories about how important this discovery is. Hooray. 

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