Sunday, 28 February 2021

32p a Coin. Telling the UK Public About "Roman Archaeology" from Private Collections


Another addition to the PAS "fifty finds dumbdown" stable. Anon: Review – Andrew Brown, '50 Finds of Roman Coinage: objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme', Amberley Publishing, Current Archaeology February 27, 2021.

Roman coins make up "almost a quarter of the whole PAS dataset". Roman nails hardly figure at all.

Apparently this book is "succinct and engaging"

[It's probably got a lot of pretty pictures of round pieces of metal with pictures on them divorced from their context, some dot distribution maps and I'm going to guess, like all PAS archaeo-fluff, refers throughout to what we know of the Roman world from written sources that the coins illustrate and inferences drawn from what the pictures on these objects show. Yes? Sixteen quid to find out how many times "archaeological context" is mentioned in it, and whether the PAS educate the public this time about why ripping them out of sites is damaging (Valletta Convention Art. 9)].

Hat tip David Gill

Thought-Provoking Information of the Number of NCMD Members in UK

There are those in Helsinki and nearer who say the estimate of 27000 metal detectorists in the UK is wrong, "too big", because nowhere near that many "responsible and responsive" (sic) tekkies report finds to the PAS. A number that has usually been kept close to the chest (for that very reasons) is the number of NCMD members. There's an interesting piece of information over on Keith Westcott's FB page:

Keith Westcott to Simon Davis

"Did you receive one of the 20,000 NCMD letters sent out in the post, Simon"

so how many of those Code-abiding NCMD members reported anything much with PAS 2018-20? 

 

Friday, 26 February 2021

The Missing Oxford Papyri Saga Continues


Twenty one more papyri allegedly stolen from Oxford University have turned up in the collections of the Museum of the Bible, the Egypt Exploration Society said today (EES 'Museum of the Bible and missing EES papyri'). They had been "acquired by Hobby Lobby and its agents from a number of third parties". The MOB is "making arrangements for their return" and reportedly the UK police probe into the whole matter is still dragging on. Part of the background is described by Ariel Sabar ('A Biblical Mystery at Oxford', The Atlantic June 2020 issue). His account states: "the EES said it has so far identified 120 papyri that “appear to be missing, almost all from a limited number of folders”. So, if 13 turned up with the MOB ex Green Collection earlier, and anoter 21 have been spotted (also with the MOB), there are still 86 to be found. These third parties complicate matters of course. How many people were removing items from the EES collections? Who had such access not only to the objects but also the catalogues, so they could remove records? What kind of security was in place?


Two disturbing elements of the EES statement:"The research on two of these texts by scholars under MOTB auspices will receive appropriate recognition when the EES publishes the texts". The question is who would be doing any kind of research on archaeological material that was lacking elementary paperwork showing its licit provenance? For a number of years now, it has been crystal clear that merely being in the MOB was not enough to guaranteee licit origins, or even legality.
Another element indicates that the EES is now resuigning from its duty of care of the objects taken from Egypt:
"The MOTB has informed the EES that it has repatriated all remaining unprovenanced texts in its collection to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The EES Trustees accept that these may contain some unrecognised small scraps from the EES collection, but because this cannot now be proven, they have agreed that the MOTB is free of any further claims by the EES, and they welcome the transfer".
Except, the problem is that, as part of the EES collection, the papyri while in the EES collection (I will not say "safe in the EES collection"), had a known provenance and associations. In a jumbled mass of several thousand equally unprovenanced scraps of papyrius dumped on Egypt (what are they going to do with them?) those associations are next-to irretrivable. The EES should have made more of an effort to identify the papyri from the assemblage they were curating in a timely manner while they were with the documentation of their acquisition, because now these items and their contexts are as much lost as if they'd gone into some private collection. And the MOB to make amends for the mistakes that made should have done more to make sure those fragments ended up back in the assemblages from which they had been taken.

The "All-Buckinghamshire Horse Brooch" the Plot Deepens


Dr Simon Maslin, the Surrey FLO, has now added something to his earlier explanation of the "full background" (sic) to how the Late Iron Age enamelled "All-Buckinghamshire Horse brooch" came to be PAS-recorded. The problem is that the DENO FLO seems unwilling to answer my (perfectly justified) questions about what has been going on in her own office, and she referred it to Mike Lewis in London 208km away to the south. Mike Lewis told me a different "full background" to Dr Maslin, and none of it resolved the questions I had to the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire FLO about the timing of the publication of this text in time for the sale and mostly duplicating what detectorist Adam Staples (who was not the finder) wrote in the auction catalogue and simultaneously "The Seacher" metal detecting magazine Some of it simply cut-and-pasted. Now I have actually heard yet another version in confidence that fits none of these either - but that I have to keep to myself. There is also the 'what if?' aspect that could be dismissed if not for the fact that there are already some major discrepancies in the story as publicly presented by two parties. But there seems no reason why the PAS should hide anything from us. So Dr Maslin adds:
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 3 min
The record was created by a PAS volunteer who was the only person who could get access to the find to record it. They recorded under the DENO prefix. Record prefixes on PAS are not specific to FLOs (I myself use two) as volunteers in each region can record under them too.
The phrasing is not clear here and raises more questions than it answers. First of all, does the guy know what he's talking about, or is he just guessing? If he does know, does he mean that the "volunteer" (so not an archaeologist from the PAS?) was doing this independently of DENO? That she's not working for and in the DENO setup? So who assigned this to her, and who authorised it? Why would it appear as a DENO entry (when there is also a 'Public' category in the database structure)?

By the time the record was made, the item itself was presumably in the possession of Charles Hanson's auction house (it had been catalogued as lot one and was due to be sold in five days time). So, how was a "PAS volunteer" the "only person who could get access to the find to record it"? Did she have access to Charles Hanson's safe at weekends? The problem is that if the PAS description that this volunteer produced was simply cut and pasted from the auction catalogue, did she actually have access to the object at all? In which case, how reliable is that description if it is not based on a first hand examination by a specialist? 

Also the Buckinghamshire FLO has easier access to the finder. Or did the finder travel to Derby to be interviewed by the PAS volunteer? 

As for "only her" having access, what is the relationship of this particular PAS volunteer and Mr Hanson and his staff? We know that just before the PAS database entry appeared, and thus helpfully legitimised one of Mr Hanson's star lots, Hanson had helped out Derby Museum (the home base of DENO) to raise some money from an auction that he ran for them. Is that why just after that had taken place it was precisely a PAS volunteer attached to DENO that posted up a convenient database entry legitimising the find just before Mr Hanson's own artefacts sale was due to take place? Dr Maslin suggests the volunteer was NOT attached to DENO, so the question is why was the entry made to make it look like she was? 

We know that some time around 4th February several scholars had been raising questions about this (specifically this) find and Mr Hanson possibly felt in need of the PAS documentation that he had apparently neglected to secure before he put the object up for auction. 

All this may be a total coincidence of course, but it would be good to have the full transparency instead of the PAS trying to sweep the whole matter under the carpet and fob off any questions with half-arsed and conflicting answers. And if mistakes were made, then some honest admission of the fact.


UK FLO: PAS "Changing social attitudes to Artefact Collecting"



   Some might ask, what's the point of standing up for anything at all? 
 
Discussing the Late Iron Age "All-Buckinghamshire horse harness brooch", a FLO attempts to justify why PAS opted to react to finding out this was on sale by making a cut-and-paste record to boost their own database numbers, instead of producing a press-release and getting it in all the big newspapers and online media what a mess British policy is that something like this is ripped out of context and flogged off by artefact hunters. He asks: "So ... what exactly would your solution be? Do nothing? Sit back and let such things slip entirely from public view without even the barest record? The legal definition of Treasure is being re-worked specifically to prevent this type of sale, as we speak". Social media today are full of archies bemoaning the fact that "they" (the guvn'mint) have not yet changed the law for them.* They want it on a plate because surely they should not be leaving it up to others to do it for them, they need to get out there elbowing and forcing legislative change (if they really believe in what they are doing). They prefer to sit and moan. 

In that spirit, my reply to the FLO about what I see as the solution: "On the contrary, I'd like to see the PAS actively mobilise public opinion (what they are there for) to change social attitudes about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and the damage it is doing. I'd like to see PAS be more active". To that, the FLO retorted
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 2 g
Well luckily, that's exactly what we are doing.
Not from where I am sitting you (plural) are not. I asked him to "please show us how 24 years of PAS has usefully changed social attitudes about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and the damage it is doing. The numbers of detectorists has been rising under your watch" and in answer to that, we heard:
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 2 g
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues @Archaeology_tea i @findsorguk
Pretty difficult to summarise 24 years of work in a single Tweet. The vast number of finds and sites recorded (and excavated) and research undertaken speaks for itself. We have no ability to control the numbers of detectorists in the UK.
This seems to be a bit of wilful misunderstanding. What I said was "changed social attitudes". The amount of recording, excavation and research is not at all the issue I was addressing (and we don't need a PAS to do any of that). In my opinion, "we have no ability" is an easy cop-out for not even bothering to try to affect the degree artefact hoiking is seen as socially acceptable behaviour. Anyway, if a tweet is too small a space to summarise 24 years of PAS efforts, successes and failures changing public attitudes to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to one that favours the preservation of sites from having all the diagnostic finds hoovered out and pocketed by greedy collectors, there's a comments section below, or Dr Maslin can submit a guest post on this blog. Please, be my guest.

The PAS was set up in 1996 to react to (among other things) disquiet about the growth and effects of the hobby of artefact hunting and collecting. It had several specific aims in attempting to deal with this, and in reaction to article 2 and 3 of the Valetta Convention. The aims were reformulated in 2003:
  1. to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
  2. to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
  3. to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
  4. to encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote BEST practice by finders.
  5. to define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
Dr Maslin will no doubt tell us how "let's make a big database of all the stuff they show us" (which is basically what PAS does) fulfils all five of these aims. 

Where is this "archaeological context" in PAS outreach? "X-marks the spot" is not archaeological context. Artefact hunting is not archaeology any more than collecting costume barbie dolls is ethnography, so where is the public being involved in the archaeological process simply by helping make a bigger database to make denser dot-distribution maps?  To what degree has the attempt to get "all those who find archaeological objects" to report them if there are 27000 metal detectorists? To what degree is the public (including landowners) informed about the numbers that simply dig up and pocket everything, and what are the public encouraged to think about this and do about this? And what resources have been identified that will enable such a model to work? How many members of the public know about how much more money the PAS needs to do what it needs to do to save everybody's archaeological heritage from simply being trashed like this? 

Where on the PAS website is there the material needed for the public to judge properly the effects of current policies on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and its relationship to the rest of British archaeology? A bibliography for example. An explanation of what archaeological context" is and why it - and not just artefacts - is important. If they can't be arsed enough to produce one, they could link to other ones, such as here: https://archaeologywassat.blogspot.com/. But there surely are others... 

Dr Maslin (or any other FLO)?



 

* and note how "thing orientated" this notion of "letting such things escape" rather than the site and evidence trashed getting this ogle-worthy bit of metal with its flashy colourful enamel out of the ground for them to drool over.
   

Another Hanson's Auction: Artefacts like potatoes



I wonder why, when Mr Hanson had so many wonderful archaeological objects on sale in his latest auction, the PAS decided to chase up the first lot (the "Buckinghamshire" harness brooch) and not any of the other Celtic items, and record them before they vanished into somebody's collection, and not the others. I was interested in this reference to a hoard of [Republican] Roman coins. The four coins depicted as a hoard were  split up and sold off as separate lots (204, 205, 206, 207). They had in the past also been sold off separately (so it is unclear how Mr Hanson knows that they were found as a hoard), NN (Nomis AG?) Auctions 17, 47, 35, 31, and they were all marketed as "ex John Wells collection". Mr Wells must have liked the odd odd treatment of the hair on the Q. Cassius one.  I wonder what provenance and documentation dealer NN offered with them? Whatever it was, Mr Hanson makes no mention of it. They are just sold loose, like potatoes. 


and I can't ask because as a dealer, Mr Hanson's apparently not keen on an archaeologist looking over his shoulder.....


Oh well, not my loss. 


Jobs for the Schemers


Scheme contacts
The Scheme currently employs 57 members of staff in the following sections. Below you can get contact details for each member of staff and also find out more about their jobs and what they have recorded in their regions.

Finds Liaison Officers
The Scheme currently employs 42 Finds Liaison Officers. Pity though that the only thing they want to tell us about is "what they have recorded in their regions" (and outside, eh? Nudge, nudge)

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Alerting PAS to an Unrecorded "Buckinghamshire" Find [Updated]

 

On seeing a link to Andy Brockman's Pipeline article, I asked on Twitter "When did author of this article contact Hanson's with questions about this? Was it before the PAS database entry suddenly appeared on Sunday 21st February 2021? Who reported this to @findsorguk? The database uses what seem to be the dealer's photos..". The answer I got was intriguing:

Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 25 lut 2021
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues i @findsorguk
@findsorguk [PAS] was alerted by myself and some colleagues seeing the advert for the auction .... on Twitter. Dealer photos are unfortunately all that we have at this time.
The "we" is noteworthy. It seems that until last night, there was just one "advert for the auction of this item" on Twitter and that is this pompous tweet (21st Feb 2021) about what you can find on a Sunday walk in a Tier 4 area from Charles Hanson announcing his upcoming sale. 

Here's another video of it, Mr Hanson in multi-coloured garb holding it in his sweaty hands, waving it about outdoors, boasting about the price he got for it

The comment underneath is interesting: 


"making a memory" (what does that even mean?) rather than making memories by "digging into" and selling off bits ripped from an archaeological site, he's making a lot of money as you can see in this film from the auction where a lot of unmasked people are moving about the room as there are a number of phone bidders. The metal detectorist's speech at the beginning is worthy of note. Also look at the copy of "The Searcher" on the podium during the auction. 

Update 26th Feb 2021
Dr Maslin has replied as following:
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 6 min temu
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues i @findsorguk
It was one of the early auction catalogue announcements. I emailed a number of senior colleagues at the BM to alert them and the relevant curators then made contact with the auctioneers. This was before the magazine came out.
So, before Jan 28th 2021. Presumably the emails exist. One of the people informed, apparently, was Dr Julia Farley of the BM (M. Lewis pers. comm. 25th Feb 2021), an enquiry sent yesterday to her has so far gone unanswered.

Update update 26th Feb 2021
Dr Maslin informs me that he notified the BM on 4th Feb, but now admits that "I hadn't seen the printed magazine as we are unable to access our offices but my colleagues had by that point".


Metal Item Recorded at Last Minute by PAS Fetches....

 Readers might be interested to learn that Lot 1 in the Hanson's sale today "Celtic Harness Brooch" with an estimate of  £6,000 - £8,000 sold just now for £55,000 . So I think all the more does PAS owe an explanation of how that record was created last Sunday. Interestingly, the PAS record (currently) has "Date(s) of discovery: Saturday 17th October 2020", while on Twitter, the dealer says (58s.) it was found "three years ago". When was it found, and with what?

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Product Placement and Plugging: "The Searcher", The PAS and the Trade in Unreported British Artefacts (Updated)


The Portable Antiquities Scheme publishes in the detectorist magazine the Searcher, alongside other material. The Pipeline has picked up an interesting case, a Later Iron Age brooch reported as being found in Buckinghamshire by detectorist Ray Pusey and placed on sale  (Andy Brockman, 'The Antiques Woad Show: TV Auctioneer Sells Rare Iron Age Brooch that [Almost] was Not Reported to PAS' February 25, 2021). The auctioneer Hansons has been mentioned on this blog in connection with some other questionable sales. On Fri July 29th 2016, Mr Hanson assured Nigel Swift of Heritage Action that he'd be "taking due care" not to "accept any metal detecting finds that don't include both PAS documentation and landowners' consents".  Has he? The lack of a PAS number in this case too suggested that the object had gone directly to the auction house, without the opportunity of a proper record being made. If so, Hanson's would be selling the products of irresponsible metal detecting.

This object (later accorded 'nationally important' status) appears as Lot 1 in the 25th February auction of "Coins, Banknotes & Antiquities". In order to hype the forthcoming sale, the March 2021 edition of metal detecting magazine The Searcher published an article about the same harness mount ('Chieftain Chariot Brooch' and featured on the front cover"while lacking archaeological detail, the account in The Searcher indulged in a little product placement, namechecking the metal detector and software package Mr Pusey said he had used"). This appeared under the byline of Adam Staples. This is the same Adam Staples that has been mentioned in this blog a number of times, and who is an employee of Hanson's. The handling of this object in this manner raises a number of questions about Mr Staple's status as a "responsible metal detectorist" (though, oddly, the official code makes no mention whatsoever of playing a part in the antiquities trade).

Certainly the article at the very least mirrored the Hanson’s catalogue and, given the ease of locating the object on the auction website, effectively forms an advertorial for an object valued well into the thousands, for which it is also in the interests of the finder and the auctioneer, to drive up interest among potential bidders. However, neither The Searcher article, nor the catalogue acknowledges the shared text. Neither does The Searcher declare Mr Staples' affiliation with and pecuniary interest in, Hanson’s as his employer.
Andy Brockman identifies a number of ethical issues that seem to have bothered neither Mr Staples or the Searcher.
We also questioned The Searcher over the magazines failure of the article to mention the Portable Antiquities Scheme or the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, asking, “Does The Searcher consider that this failure to mention the PAS and the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, sets a good example to metal detectorists, especially when the artefact concerned is clearly so important?” Up to the time of publication The Searcher has not responded to our questions.
Mr Brockman says there are legitimate questions to be asked about the journey the harness mount made from the soil of Buckinghamshire to the catalogue of a Hansons auction, and addressed these questions to the auctioneer too.
Up to the time of publication Hansons have not responded to these, or any of the other, questions we raised about the sale. However, in a late twist to the story, within days of the auction going ahead, the Hansons catalogues was suddenly revised to include a catalogue number from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Noting that the PAS records that the find was made as long ago as October 2020, the PipeLine can only question why the recording of the find was left so close to the date of the auction?
In fact the record DENO 2BAD49 was made according to the footer "three days ago" and updated "one day ago" although the object was found on 17th October last year. Inconsistently the details are visible on the thumbnail: "Created on: Sunday 21st February 2021 Last updated: Tuesday 23rd February 2021". The findspot is given as "To be known as: Buckinghamshire". What is actually very odd, apart from the fact that this record was made on a Sunday, is that its author (someone called "Michelle Ray") made only this one, single database entry this year. As we all know, Hanson's Auctioneers is based in Etwall, Derbyshire... and that abbreviation DENO is... not Buckinghamshire, but Derby City Museum, on a Sunday. Note the entry says "Grid reference source: From finder Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square". Did Ms Ray meet (liaise with) the finder on a Sunday in the middle of the pandemic? The record suggests she did: "Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder". I note she also gives this parameter: "Weight: 169 g". So, did she weigh it? Well, in fact, I suspect she did not. If we compare the PAS database text with the description of Lot 1 in the Hanson's sale, we are surprised to see that
the main part of the PAS database entry corresponds, almost verbatim with the central part of the text in the Hanson’s sale catalogue. The relationship between them is highly suggestive that the PAS text has been copied directly from the Hanson’s one, and not the other way around. Why is this not indicated in the PAS entry? This is plagiarism. It seems even the weight is taken from the auction catalogue. There is nothing in the DENO description of this item that could have been gained only from in-hand examination of the object. It is just a copy of the saleroom staff's description (which Andy Brockman suspects was the work of Adam Staples). It would be interesting to speculate whether there is some kind of connection between Mr Staples and Ms Ray. 

What were the circumstances of the creation of this database record. I wrote to the Derbyshire FLO this morning to allow that to be ascertained. Watch this space. 

UPDATE  26th Feb 2021
Not without significance might be the collaboration between Hanson's and Derby Museum a few days earlier: Derby Museums, 'Thousands raised in virtual auction for Derby Museums’ Endowment Fund' (17th February 2021). Note the date of this article is the same as the single 2021 PAS record made by a member of the DENO team, based in Derby Museum. Is it possible that Mr Hanson gave his help to the Museum to auction stuff to raise money for them, and the museum reciprocated by helping Mr Hanson raise money by auctioning off an archaeological artefact that he needed to be provided with some paperwork to accompany the article in a metal detecting magazine? Is it? 

According to Hanson's social media, the catalogue was being put together or had been put together by 14th January 2021 and already featured the harness brooch on its cover. By the 28th January, the March 2021 number of the Searcher magazine article had been printed with the object on the cover. Photos of the first page show what Andy Brockman was saying about the identity of this text and the Hanson's catalogue entry. 
 

The "Known as Buckinghamshire" Late Iron Age enamelled harness brooch Suddenly Recorded in Derby on a Sunday: Some questions for the PAS


Following on from my text on the "Known as Buckinghamshire" Late Iron Age enamelled harness brooch suddenly recorded in Derby on a Sunday, as a researcher, I have some questions for the PAS. The Derbyshire FLO is Meghan King:  

Dear Dr King,
I am enquiring about the circumstances surrounding database entry DENO-2BAD49 created by one of your staff on "Sunday 21st February 2021 Last updated: Tuesday 23rd February 2021".

Is Michelle Ray currently a formal employee of the Scheme, or a volunteer? Since it was created on a Sunday, was this entry approved by you, and was it based on the examination of the find itself, and liaison with the finder (from Buckinghamshire)? If so, when and where was this find examined? Was this record created on the initiative of the auction house or Ray Pusey, the finder? I note this is one of only eight records this person has made in DENO since 2019. Why was this complex and controversial find from Buckinghamshire her first one this year?
Thanks
Paul Barford  

and

Database entry photo use query
Returning to DENO-2BAD49, I note that the photos on the database, that all lack scales, include those that are the exact same as the ones in the Hanson’s Auction Catalogue and seem to have been taken by the auctioneers (they are similar in format and concept to the other ones in the same catalogue), yet they are labelled “Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme”. At what stage were those rights transferred and in what form? Why is the Portable Antiquities Scheme using a dealer’s photos in its database? If they are, why is that collaboration not acknowledged in the public record? This again raises teh question of how, where and when the description of this object was creeated. Was it just from the photographs? If so, again the public record should say so.
Thanks
Paul Barford

Let's see what results this will produce. All a bit odd-looking. Does the recorder of this item have any connections, professional or otherwise, with either the Derby-based auctioneer or maybe one of his employees? How did this ecord come about being made using photos from the dealer, and apparently about the same time as Andy Brockman was asking the dealer about the lack of PAS recording details? 


 

The “Kath Giles” Hoard


     Isle of Man (NASA)   

A collection of Viking Age artefacts discovered on the Isle of Man has been declared Treasure by the Isle of Man Coroner and put on public display as a trophy even though the insurance valuation has not been completed yet ('Viking Hoard Declared Treasure on the Isle of Man' Manx National Heritage Thursday 18th February 2021). The find
consists of a gold arm-ring, a massive silver brooch, at least one silver armband and other associated finds, buried around AD 950. It was discovered in late 2020 by metal detectorist Kath Giles whilst metal detecting on private land.[...] The “Kath Giles” hoard will go on display in the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum on Thursday 18 February prior to valuation and further conservation work. The location of the find and details of the landowner will remain confidential to protect the integrity of the find site. 
"The integrity" of the Viking site Ms Giles blindly dug it out of has already been severely compromised by her blindly digging an unknown number of holes into it at various unknown places, disturbing it and removing random items from its archaeological record. Sjhe's going to get a "reward" for doing it.

Roman legal document recovered in Madrid



Spanish police officers in Madrid have recovered a fragment of a Roman legal document that was spotted while monitoring the internet for stolen antiquities just as it was going to be auctioned  (Rare 2,000-year-old bronze Roman legal document recovered in Madrid Murcia Today.com 22/02/2021). It is the record of a decree by the Emperor Tiberius regulating soldiers’ and veterans’ privileges and funding, which was issued immediately after Caesar Augustus’ death.

Investigations began when officers learned that an important Roman item was to be auctioned in Madrid. Initial enquiries revealed that the archaeological piece had been acquired by the owners of an antiques shop in Seville. The shop owner didn’t have any paperwork to prove its legal provenance, and after further enquiries, investigators discovered that it had not been included in the archaeological assets inventory as established by the Historical Heritage Law. The bronze plaque is an important Roman legal document, as such items, of great legal, historical, and archaeological significance, are rarely found on the Spanish mainland. The piece has been confiscated and the Ministry of Culture’s General Office for the Protection of Historical Heritage has been asked to collaborate on studies of the plaque to determine the most suitable location for it.
The most suitable place for it was in the archaeological context in which it had lain for 2000 years before (no doubt) some artefact hunter dug it up.
 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

On What is "Reputation" Based, if not by Proper Due Diligence?


Some academic institutions seem to have problems holding onto what's in their teaching and research collections. Yesterday we were discussing Oxford University's custodianship of Egyptian artefacts, now it's Yale. Apparently someone has been selling coins from the Dura-Europos collection at the Yale Museum under the table.

"We believe that these coins are the property of Yale University". They were the property of Syria.    Note the tiny little point that CNG are skating around... how they determined that the person supplying the coins on offer actually had title to sell, that the coins in their auction had been legally sourced. Note the withdrew the whole auction, suggesting that these six coins were not the only ones for which cast-iron documentation of licitness had been supplied at the time the coins were accepted by this "reputable firm" for sale. As professor Erin Thompson observed:
What’s notable here is that the coins pulled from the auction were identifiable as coming from Yale’s collections. So whoever sold them from Yale was not especially covert about it - they trusted that no one would pay enough attention to catch them.
i.e., nobody in the antiquities trade and antiquities collecting worlds really gives a tinker's. 

hat tip, Dorothy King mentioned this yesterday.



Monday, 22 February 2021

A Question of Honour and Integrity (only?)

 

An interesting thread that, if true, raises a number of questions about morality and honour in Britain today:

Dorothy Lobel King @DLVLK 2 g
Dirk Obbink / papyri / Oxford / EES. I know a lot of people are wondering what’s happening with this, and the answer is simple: nothing. Obbink is retiring from Oxford, and they’re not pushing for charges because they want to brush this whole mess under the carpet and move on.

She suggests that the arrest (or should that be "arrest"?)  last year and the admission by the EES that items from the Oxyrhynchus collection were missing, is because of pressure from the Museum of the Bible. That only because the difficult questions were being asked by and of the Museum of the Bible did the EES admitted the papyri were stolen. Egypt, please take note. Dr King alleges that in the UK, Obbink is off the hook and is going "Scot free". Is that true? I think Oxford University and the local police should issue statements on progress in these investigations and where they see the case going. After all, some of the EES papyri (the ones that did not go to the MOB) are still missing.

Vignette: Fake Gothic of Tom Tower, Christ Church (1681-2)

Silly Turks: Cops Seize Female Statue From Men

   

              .                                          

Wow, just wow. One wonders about the effort demonstratively expended by the Turkish authorities to "save the cultural heritage of Turkey", but the incessant stream of media publications of examples shows that most Turkish citizens (including its law enforcement officers, the police press department and a whole bunch of Turkish journalists) seem not to have the foggiest idea what it should look like (Turkish Cops Seize Roman Statue From Men Trying To Sell It Illegally - The Tennessee Tribune).
Two people were arrested on Feb. 10 for allegedly trying to sell an ancient Roman statue of a naked woman in Eskisehir, Turkey. The police officials instantly launched an investigation with the anti-smuggling teams on the same date. Investigation revealed that the two suspects were trying to sell the historical artifact. The suspects E.U. and G.K. (full names are yet to be known) were transferred to the courthouse and detained on their way from Seyitgazi to Kirka town in the Turkish Province of Eskisehir. “Activities for the protection of our cultural and natural assets will be continued by the Eskisehir Provincial Gendarmerie Command,” said the police official. “The public has been informed about the same.” The suspected vehicle was seized and a 21-centimeter tall Roman statue was recovered. The statue was taken under protection and delivered to the Eskisehir Museum Directorate.
It's not a "Roman statue", it's not an archaeological artefact at all, it's not even antique. She's got a chip out of her showing the brilliant white material its made from, and casting flaws on the inner thigh that suggests this is resin or a plaster cast. So I am sure the Eskisehir Museum will be glad to have it. It'll end up in the caretaker's cubby hole, together with the belly-dancer posters.


Tip for Turkish police. To avoid looking like complete fools, get somebody who knows to say what the stuff you seize actually is before you go to the newspapers with it. Get their name, and put their name and academic affiliation under the identification. And give these guys back their car. 


 hat tip David Meadows
 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Polish Detectorists Have a Go at Polish Archaeologists: Introduction


Some metal detectorists in Poland are very similar to the majority in the UK in many ways. Here's a trailer for a film they've created to help smooth the path to closer collaboration and persuade lawmakers to effect detectorist-friendly legislation. The film, Ciemna strona archeobiznesu- cz.1 [the Dark Side of the Archaeobusiness - Part 1] is out, but in Polish, but the trailer gives a flavour of the tone adopted:

Posted on You Tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów

They are trying to discredit archaeologists and archaeology (and so therefore archaeological resource preservation). This is no more than the usual 'two wrongs' artefact hunters traditionally apply. Let's see where that gets them. I'll review the film for the non-Polish speakers when we get more parts, at the moment it's pretty pathetic (and both detectorists and archaeologists not only committed mistakes here, but showed a hefty dose of ill will). 

Here is is for the hardy... Despite the dramatic music and sound effects it's pretty slow-moving and poorly-edited. The first 5 minutes 12 seconds is a ("what we're going to show you") preamble, the actual contents start at 5:13, with a film of some metal detectorist going over a site that he asserts is Niewieścin site 36 in 2018... 

Posted on You Tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów
Told you so.



Grave Finds: Mortuary derived antiquities from England


Adam Daubney, one of the more "thinkier" PAS FLOs before he left the Scheme last year has just had published an Historic England Research report ( Report number: 11/2021) that reflects his recent interest in grave goods:
Grave Finds: Mortuary-derived antiquities from England
Summary The ‘Grave Goods’ project was undertaken between July and September 2020. The aim of the project was to improve the care of mortuary contexts in England through a better understanding of the unique threats posed by the private ownership of grave goods. Research was undertaken to establish broad trends in the public discovery of grave goods, and to understand the scale and implications of their subsequent sale on the antiquities market. Naturally, these data touched on a wider range to ethical and practical issues in public archaeology. Information was collated on the frequency and character of in-situ grave goods (i.e. when found in association with human remains), and unstratified grave goods (i.e. when found in plough soil) reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Further information was gained through a three-month monitoring exercise of internet auction houses.
Available as a pdf here: Adam Daubney, 'Grave Finds: Mortuary-derived antiquities from England' (PDF)

Saturday, 13 February 2021

UK Metal Detectorists Digging up More Ancient Bronze Figurines than Archaeologists?


In the latest rather cringeworthy attempt at an "archaeology-is-relevant" piece, on the day before Valentine's Day, British press is announcing archaeologists have dug up what they say is a torch-carrying "cupid" figurine on a bypass (BBC Cotswolds: Roman Cupid figurine dug up near planned A417 bypass). "The bronze artwork was found along with a bow-shaped brooch and a Roman or early Saxon skeleton".
"It is a rare and exciting find. It will tell us about the lives and beliefs of the small Roman community that lived alongside this road," said Melanie Barge from Historic England. There are fewer than 50 known figurines of this kind found in the UK. It also one of only three found as part of an archaeological dig rather than by metal detectorists.
At least Ms Barge is not claiming that artefact hunters are 'citizen archaeologists'... The excavated examples are included here (see Emma Durham's discussion of the metal detector finds here). 

But over in tekkie circles, that last bit was picked up and reported like some kind of sports game score (John Howland, ' Latest result: Tekkies 47, Arkies 3', Detecting and Collecting February 13, 2021)
Why the discrepancy, one wonders. There could be several answers.
1) On-site thieving by archaeological staff
2) Poor excavation technique
3) High degrees of integrity within the detecting community
Little wonder then, the usual suspects are so desperate to blacken the name of Britain’s Detectorists in an effort to divert attention from, or an investigation into this scandalous inconsistency. 47 to 3 makes a mockery of them and their claptrap. Happy, safe and lucrative hunting
The gentleman in question (a Brexit supporter) did not bother to check out the facts as reported in the media. In fact, the PAS database has only 22 of the alleged 47 metal detecting finds (including examples in lead and not copper alloy), so where are the rest? There was one on eBay yesterday too, and this one from a London dealer.

Spend some time on a few UK metal detecting forums and you'll see that this "them and us" sort of approach to archaeologists is (still after 24 yrs of PAS outreach) quite widespread. It goes back a long way

And how odd that nobody has commented that if "47 out of fifty" known cupid figurines (and an unknown number of unknown ones) have been dug out of the archaeological record by artefact hunters before the site could be properly examined by archaeological methods, it would mean that 94% of this particular type of evidence is being destroyed by this activity. That's Heritage at Risk too, Ms Barge. 


TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  
 
PS, back to the archaeology:
And by the by: I think the British public deserves more from HE a superficial identification of this bit of metal. Eros/Cupid is usually winged, is this figure winged? And he has a number of attributes, among which a torch sometimes appears. But then so does Harpocrates, and Cautes is always(?) carrying his torch. Why is this one specifically "Cupid" apart from that the archaeologists on that day wanted to please the journalist? In any case, what is that rather misshapen object raised above the head? IS it a "torch" or is it a club? Is this not Hercules, the second most common male figurine discovered in Roman Britain after Mercury according to Emma Durham? 


Nighthawking: British Archaeology's Sin of Omission

 

         Lots of blobs, but silence on one notorious one 

Referring to a map published earlier this week in the periodical British Archaeology, Heritage Action, 'The missing Staffordshire hoard, abandoned to crooks, not even given a blob' The Heritage Journal 13th February 2021.
Here’s a funny thing. A map by Historic England of scheduled and other sites targeted by nighthawks. But one of the most important is missing. So we’ve added it (in yellow). Does the omission matter, one blob in so many? Actually, it does, for that’s the Staffordshire Hoard field and we’ve posted 22 articles about a number of raids by nighthawks and begging for the inadequate original official searches to be repeated to see if anything is still there. Yet nothing has happened. Will that be the final fate of the Hoard? World famous, and mostly on display in a number of museums, but partly still in a field in Hammerwich and being progressively removed by nocturnal scruffs, and not even accorded a blob?

Read the rest here.

The map published in British Archaeology gives the impression that British heritage professionals are doing their job by keeping an eye on illegal artefact hunting (remember, the illegal artefact hunting they said was a problem that had now been fixed by setting up the PAS and "numbers are falling" - that was 12 ago). David Gill was sceptical, a recent Guardian article from June 2020 was equally scathing. The British Archaeology article admits there is a problem with the guys with metal detectors and spades.  

I think the problem lies elsewhere too. There are 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. Yet this map shows not only no record of the Staffs Hoard field, also Bradwell on Sea (a remote scheduled site in Essex known to be looted) is also missing.  What's going on? 


When, two years ago, I spotted several unpapered gold items on sale on eBay.uk PRECISELY of the nature of the type of stuff that could illegally be coming off the Staffs Hoard field in the situation described by Heritage Action, I immediately reported them to the Treasure Registrar and PAS at the BM. As could any of the 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. I was told that they'd not do anything to determine the circumstances behind the 'surfacing' of those objects, and that "if I liked", I could contact British police and report it myself. Me, living in Warsaw Poland, using my home telephone to place a series, no doubt, of international calls to try and chase down a British bobby that would take it up. Instead of reporting it to an official body in the UK empowered with dealing with portable antiquities and treasure case - who'd take it further in the interests of securing the national heritage from improper handling. Oh no. They carried on drinking their coffee in Bloomsbury.   

As I said, I'm based in Warsaw, where a public official notified of a potential crime that refused to take action is legally culpable. In Britain, it seems no such situation exists.

Nigel Swift and his Heritage Action folk visited the Staffs Hoard field out of curiosity, they saw clear signs that the site was being visited by artefact hunters. They posted it online where not one of 6000 heritage professionals saw their reports and decided to take action.

It seems to me that half the problem with "nighthawking" is that a lot of British archaeologists can't be bothered to do anything at all about it.

I'm writing at the moment a paper on "metal detecting in Poland", trying to compare and contrast it with the UK. One area of contrast is that in Poland in the last few years alone, over 100 people have been arrested for illegal artefact hunting and illegal sales of material on the internet. In the UK, how many? I think the number in the same period can be counted on your fingers (if we treat Leominster as one case). The blobs on the HE map are cases that were missed, they've not caught anyone looting Bradwell, they've not caught anyone looting the Staffs Hoard field, and my experience suggests that even if a nighthawk were to openly offer bits of the hoard online (without saying "me and my mates dug this up at night near Hammerwich") they'd probably get away with it.


Friday, 12 February 2021

Pseudopasts and Modern Leanings

                 Thin Trump in his Hedjet          
                

HOPE not hate has highlighted what seems to be the (attempted?) emergence of a bizarre cult that they affirm is piggy-backing on the QAnon conspiracy theory and far right imagery to amass a vast network of followers on 'alt-tech' platforms like Telegram and underlines the dangers posed by conspiracy theories and disinformation (Gregory Davis, 'The Sabmyk Network: How a Mysterious Disinformation Network is Highjacking QAnon', Hope not hate 12/02/2021). It is worth noting the timing of tyhe creation of the portals by which this material is being disseminated, and considering who/what is behind it. What is relevant here is the way this links with re-imaginings of a made-up mythological past:
the real purpose of the channels is to promote the Messianic mythology of Sabmyk and the sword of Shawunuwaz. [...] This narrative, a blend of ancient mythology, New Age spirituality and some entirely new elements, appears to be the creation of an Iranian artist living in Germany who goes by the name Princess Ameli Achaemenes. Achaemenes claims to be a descendant of Persian royalty and to have been given her ancestral sword of Shawunawaz by the billionaire investor George Soros in 1992, before destroying it to prevent it from causing further harm [...]Achamenes’ website, a website devoted to the Sword of Shawunawaz and series of interlinked Facebook pages promoting these fables, were all established in early 2020, although none received much attention at the time. The Shawunawaz website claims to be the work of an organisation called the Shawunawaz Society and lists a street address in Baden Baden, Germany, but has no visible presence elsewhere. The websites and Facebook pages present supposed sketches and references to the sword from prominent historical figures like Picasso and Heraclitus, all of which are forgeries.[...] The myth of Shawunawaz only began to receive wider exposure in December of 2020, when the operation moved to Telegram and adopted the strategy of piggybacking on QAnon and other conspiracy beliefs to draw in unsuspecting users. By this time, the narrative of Shawunawaz as detailed on Achaemenes’ website had been altered with the addition of a Messianic figure called Sabmyk, who is claimed to be preordained ruler of the earth and who came into existence on December 21, 2020.
"Sabmyk" is a name unknown from existing texts on ancient mythology. "Shawunawaz" likewise. The object shown in the drawings is a very improbable form of any kind of "sword" and certainly not one that would be used by "King Gilgamesh" and Alexander the Great. The presentation of the sword jumps from one unsubstantiated statement to another, the Varna Tablets are cited as a valid source on Gilgamesh. One wonders whether this is all an elborate stunt to sell some otherwise uninteresting paintings by an artist attempting to 'do a Banksy'. The same sort of thing however can be found elsewhere, such as the cult of Kek ( Adrià Salvador Palau and Jon Roozenbeek, 'How an ancient Egyptian god spurred the rise of Trump' The Conversation, March 7, 2017).
Pepe the frog and /pol/ first collided with the outside world in June of 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy for president of the united states. Trump, with his aversion to “political correctness” and penchant for flair and showmanship, was /pol/’s immediate candidate of choice. And so, Pepe the frog was edited to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat, and began appearing in hundreds of Trump-supporting forum posts. [...] The word “Kek”, originally a Korean onomatopoeia for a raspy laugh, had long been used on 4chan as a replacement for “lol” (laughing out loud). One day, a /pol/ contributor discovered that Kek is also the name of an ancient Egyptian frog god.
The similarities between Kek and Pepe were striking enough as it was, but Kek also has a female alter ego, or nemesis, that takes the form of a snake. This was quickly taken to symbolise Clinton, a universally reviled character within the /pol/ community. What’s more, to our modern eyes, the hieroglyphs supposedly used to write the name Kek in ancient Egyptian even strongly resemble a man sitting in front of his computer. [...] Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, this series of coincidences proved too much for the 4chan community to ignore, and the cult of Kek was born. The frog-headed Kek became the father, Pepe the holy spirit, and Trump the son, sent to Earth to fulfil a divine destiny. [...] What this saga means for the future role of the internet in political campaigning isn’t yet clear, but a precedent has been set: no matter how bizarre or misinformed, the collective power of tens of thousands of internet cultists appears to works wonders.
Things like this start raising questions that we should be addressing about the nature of our relationship with "the past" (and "pasts") and the actual dangers of not engendering a more questioning attitude among the public to what they are told about it, such as the manipulative false use of made-up stories of ancient gods, heroes and symbols...

Hat tip for the Pepe/Kek story 'going about my business'

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Christie's and Collecting Histories


Citing staff cuts, ChristiesInc will close access to its vast collection of auction catalogues, housed in London, which dates back to the auction house's very first sale in 1766 and has been an invaluable resource for dealers and academics. They thus indicate their priorities, closing off this archive seems to indicate that establishing collecting histories and maintaining accountability seem not to be among them. Anybody really surprised by that?

Another 1990s fake in the British Museum

BM Britain, Europe and Prehistory Department Accession number 1990,0501.2 1990,0501.2 

 Description
Bronze bucket mount with crude ox head. Possible modern copy.
Cultures/periods Iron Age
Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)
Purchased from: Lord Alistair McAlpine
Materials copper alloy
Dimensions Length: 34 millimetres
Curator's comments
A group of vessel fittings formerly in the collection of Lord McAlpine were acquired by the British Museum in the late 1980s to early 1990s (1988,1206.1, 1990,0501.1-3, 1990,0602.1). Similar pieces were also acquired from a different source (1990,1006.1-2, 1991,0603.1). Since that time, there has been some debate over the authenticity of some of these pieces.

Rebecca Ellis studied this object in 2021 as part of her PhD, ‘Animals and Humans in La Tène Art in England and Wales’, University of Hull. She comments:

This vessel mount is much narrower and longer in the overall bovine head shape than the other fittings in this group, a feature which can be paralleled in other bovine fittings such as PAS ID IOW-2CAEF7 and HESH-C96C96. However, this item also has identical eyes to 1990,0501.1-2, 1990,1006.1 and 1991,0603.1. The bronze finish is also unusually smooth, with lost definition. The open mouth loop is extremely unusual and is only paralleled by one object, which also happens to parallel the narrowness of the head shape: a vessel fitting discovered at Corbridge, Northumberland (Macgregor 1976, 314). The mouth shape of 1990,1006.2 does not match this totally, however, and is closer to the Ram vessel fitting from Harpenden (Stead 1996, 60; Jope 2000 Pl. 170). The combination of elements from these two finds causes further doubt on the authenticity of this item. Therefore, it is unlikely that this item is a genuine Iron Age/Romano-British find; it is more likely a modern copy inspired by two pre-existing published finds.

References:
Jope, E. M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Stead, I. M. 1996. Celtic Art in Britain before the Roman Conquest. London: British Museum Press.
Location Not on display

Thwe question is, what kind of a respectable institution would be buying from any dealer any object where the only provenence and collectibng history is: "Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)".

Six out of Ten are Newbies: Nine out of Ten Ignore the Real Code


Facebook, Fudge's Group (Stephen Llewellyn, Admin), 21st December 2020:

As an admin of the group, when I'm accepting new members, 6 out of 10 are just starting out in the hobby. It's important that you all know the code of conduct, especially in the current climate with new rules about to be added to the treasure act. So if your [sic] a beginner, please watch this video that the NCMD have released. The NCMD Code of Conduct. The National Council of Metal Detecting is committed to publicising the importance of responsible detecting.
The National Council of Metal Detecting is "committed to publicising the importance of responsible detecting", but not enforcing it among its members. This tells you a lot about PAS penetration. It is zero. There is no mention here of the proper 'Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, only the NCMD's lame excuse code. What are the PAS doing about it after two decades? How are they attempting to reach those six out of ten?  


Sunday, 7 February 2021

Khaled Al-Asaad RIP


The remains of Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad have been found near Palmyra today. Al-Asaad was imprisoned and then beheaded at 83 by ISIS in 2015 for being connected with the Syrian regime and refusing to lead them to the locations of Palmyra’s hidden antiquities.

PAS and What the British Public Should be Getting


The Charity Commission Regulatory alert issued to charitable think tanks Published 7 December 2018 "Think tanks have an important role in society helping to educate the public. Society is richer when it is challenged with new ways of thinking and when debate is stimulated". 

It is interesting to reflect how much this applies to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Unit (neither of which, as we are aware is a charity, but the same principles surely apply):
Understanding the charity’s objects
In general terms the object of most think tanks is to advance education for the public benefit. Therefore any research published or other activity undertaken must:
    have sufficient value in educational terms
    further the charity’s purposes
    be available (either directly or indirectly) to the public,
     or a sufficient section of the public
    present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions
    be educational in the way understood by charity law

Education does not have to be entirely neutral; it can start from a generally accepted position that something is beneficial. A charity can therefore promote uncontroversial views and perspectives.                     

          Outputs in furtherance of the objects



Our advice
The trustees must ensure that the charity’s outputs (research reports, articles, seminars and so on) are balanced and neutral, and that there are robust processes and procedures in place that can provide assurance on how the charity ensures this is the case.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is formulated around the notion that information from artefact hunting is archaeologically usefuyl, therefore artefact hunting is not really all that damaging because it provides archaeological information. It does not objectively examine either of those propositions, moreover it very little of any research published on PAS "data" or other activity undertaken can present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions on portable antiquities issues. The nature of the PAS and its activities (such as its annual conferences and annual reports) pretty closely correspond to the second column in the table above: It is not neutral and presents the individual with biased and selective information in support of a preconceived point of view; The researchers are linked to a particular view or opinion which suggests bias; It is not balanced and only explores one side of the argument; It is designed to promote a specific policy and is really seeking to achieve a political outcome and risks being used as a political vehicle; At events, the audience is only addressed by people with the same views on a topic.


Friday, 5 February 2021

Responsible Collecting: Before You Descend


 
                    Harrowing of Hell          
    
Over on a post made almost a year ago ( UK Public using 'PAS Database' to Market Norfolk-dug Artefacts PACHI Monday, 13 April 2020) about the use of the PAS database to facilitate sales of artefacts, a Mr or Ms "Unknown" has ventured a comment, the beginning is noteworthy:

I think that all artefacts, unless unrecognizable or detoriated, should be reported to the PAS. If they ALL should be in a museum, often hidden away from any public... Of course not. I have a private collection which will go to a museum/musea after my descending. It is key that the knowledge accompanying an artefact is preserved and given through to future generations.[...]5 February 2021 at 03:26
This person does not think that "unrecognizable or detoriated (sic) artefacts" should be reported to the PAS. This raises the question of who is to do this "recognition", an artefact hunter, or an archaeologist who knows a good deal more about the archaeological material. On an excavation the poorly-visible items might be subject to radiography before writing them off. Would a metal detectorist do this? Also even shapeless fragments, strips and bindings have their information content, though a collector might not give them a second glance. That is the difference between archaeology and artefact collecting. 

Equally how is an object from the earth not going to be "deteriorated"? Here the artefact hunter is again muddling what is collectable with what produces archaeological information. 

I am not convinced by this mention of having a "private collection that will go to a museum/musea (sic)" after the "descent" (to Hell?) of the detectorist. Will a museum want it? Has this collector contacted the museums in their region to determine whether this collection corresponds to their collection policy? As I pointed out elsewhere (responsible disposal of collections - I wonder if "Unknown" has read it, perhaps referred there by the PAS?) this should have been agreed beforehand with the institution intended as the recipient, and ascertaining what conditions such a donation will be accepted. If not, "descent" may be followed by disappointment.  


British Museum Buys Fake Amulet

 
The BM online records contain a number of odd things, but I was reminded of this one by a metal detectorist who wished to remain anonymous:
Museum number 1990,0101.1 pendant; amulet; forgery
Description
Pendant; silver: a Thor's hammer with suspension ring with ends riveted together; double-ended hammer shaped pendant with sub-spherical terminal to handle, pierced for suspension; hammer stamped on both faces with triangles containing six pellets; nine stamps on each side; modern forgery.
Findspot
Found/Acquired: Carlisle (England) (near) Dimensions
Length: 24 millimetres
Width: 19 millimetres
Purchased through: Sotheby's
Acquisition date 1990
Department Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Registration number 1990,0101.1
This item is discussed on Jane Kershaw's "Viking Metal" blog (with a mention of Timelines Auctions and Artemission) Thursday, 9 April 2015 ' A modern fake exposed'. I presume Sotheby's was swindled by a guy claiming to be a metal detectorist.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

The PAS Database, Unvalidated Scraps of Information Compiled by a Broken System: UK Archaeologists are Proud to Support it


I've been studying the PAS database since the 1990s, commenting on it for much of that time. Nevertheless a PAS FLO takes it upon himself to lecture me about the basics of how the PAS database works.
The database is peer-reviewed and produced by a network of individuals; records are often the result of several authors' contributions. The fact that the record is publically [sic] visible means that it has been written or validated by one or more FLOs or finds advisors.
Oh dear. In fact, the PASD search engine tells us that out of 973,708 records records, as many as 657,802 records available to the public are "awaiting validation". That's two thirds of them. So what does the fact that such a large chunk of it comprises anonymous, unvalidated information mean for database reliability? The FLO is again dismissive:
It usually just means they need photos adding or are self-recorder records which need checking prior to publication. No mystery.[...] [T]he workflow flag system, [...] is one of several features (such as findspot protection) which are frequently misunderstood [...]
Patronising. He also misses the point. Daniel Pett @DEJPett (who built the database to the specifications of PAS) adds:
Paul, the volume of records broke the workflow system. The finds advisers could never have coped with validating every record. If I built it again, I'd have simplified the system to quarantine, review, published. I explained the workflow stages here: Workflow stages for content control
I replied:
Thanks, I realise why it is, but it is the validation of the loose records that should be giving the database records the consistency in content and quality that is now so lacking. I get fed up with being told that the scale of artefact hunting in the UK is nothing to be the slightest concerned about because it is producing so much "important archaeological data" by people that totally ignore the actual nature of this database, its limitations, the selectivity of the information in it and the actual value of that information.
These data are of very limited use, and the salvaging of these scraps of information from unregulating looting of the archaeological record for private collectables in no way comprises a justification for avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that the way it is being done in the UK at the moment, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is simply trashing, unseen, huge quantities of the basic information about many aspects of the past from right under the noses, and often with the tacit approval, of the British archaeological community. The moment you ask them about it, they fob you off with glib soundbites, instead of addressing the issue.

 
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