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? 


Philip said...

Asking Mr Howland to check facts is I think akin to asking Donald Trump to do the same. As far as I can see Mr Howland's sole purpose in life is to wind you up. Judging by the lack of visitors to his blog, even his 'friends' are a bit fed up of this. At least Dick Stout features interviews which might be of interest to other detectorists, and he has a dry sense of humour which is totally lacking in John Howland's childish provocations. He's best forgotten...

Paul Barford said...

Absolutely, all he can do is wind-up and provoke, rather than address issues. But the attitudes he expresses are more general (otherwise he'd not be playing to any gallery) and so from time to time, worth highlighting when it suits the aims of this blog.

Brian Mattick said...

Like Trump's, his gallery is NVB but like Trump and Trump's gallery, they perform a useful illustrative role.

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