Sunday 28 March 2021

NCMD Advice on Commercial Metal Detecting Events During Pandemic [UPDATED]


As the number of Covid-related cases in the UK reaches four times as many as when Britain belatedly decided to begin a national lockdown, it's ending. The country's metal detectorists can't wait to get out there looting artefacts from the archaeological record again after the brief respite the lockdown created.

It may be noted that while Britain's artefact hoikers claim univocally "we are not in it fer the munny", current NCMD (Naysayers Council of Metal Detectorists) advice applies only to commercial activities, the individuals seem to have been left to sort it out fr themselves. Obviously with each commercial rally participant needing NCMD membership (for the insurance), it's in the NCMD's financial interest to pack as many in as possible this year. So this has come out today:
we are confident the following advice is correct:
STEP 1 (from the 29 March) – No events are allowed.
STEP 2 (no earlier than the 12 April) – It’s not cut and dried. Most outdoor events are NOT allowed. We have been told that only very specific events are permitted, these are mainly drive in events (think drive in cinemas). However it is your Local Authority who will decide what events can proceed and they are being given more guidance over the next few days. Advice MUST be sought from the Local Authority in which the land belongs and we believe approval to hold an event is very unlikely to be given.
STEP 3 (no earlier than 17 May) – Outdoor events for up to 4000 people are allowed. They can only be organised by registered businesses and charities, etc. (following covid secure protocol).

UPDATE 30th March 2021

next day, the NCMD updated its advice:
Latest advice for England as we exit lockdown 30th March 2021
England is still in national lockdown but restrictions are starting to be lifted. Below are some very basic guidance for our hobby on what can and cannot be done at each of the 4 steps out of the coronavirus restrictions. This is an update on the advice we gave on the 2nd March to reflect the changes in event guidance.
Guidance for the other nations are provided separately.
Please note that all dates from Step 2 onwards may be changed. These are the earliest dates when this step in reducing restrictions will be introduced.
From 29 March, the rule of six for outdoor gatherings will return and will include informal outdoor sport and recreation. The ‘stay at home’ rule is lifted. However you should continue to minimise travel wherever possible, and you should not be staying away from home overnight at this stage. No events are allowed.

Step 2 will begin no earlier than 12 April. Social contact rules in England will not change further at this point. Outdoor gatherings must still be limited to 6 people (the rule of 6) or two households, as in Step 1. Travel should still be minimised. Staying away from home is only permitted in a domestic setting (single household) or self catering facility where no facilities (including catering) are shared with other households.
Please see separate advice on events.

Step 3 will start no earlier than the 17 May. The Government will lift most legal restrictions on meeting others outdoors, but gatherings of more than 30 people outdoors will remain illegal.
From this stage outdoor events will be able to take place (please see separate guidance)
Step 4 will take place no earlier than 21 June and will remove all legal limits on social contact.

Government guidance on the roadmap out of lockdown can be found here—not-before-12-april

Pair due in court over Chelmsford Iron Age Coin find


In darkest Essex, two treasure hunters are appearing in court charged with an offence against the Treasure Act following the discovery of more than 900 Iron Age coins and in one case, 'going equipped for theft', it is believed they were sharing a spade (BBC  Pair due in court over Chelmsford Iron Age treasure find 29.03.21).
Shane Wood, 62, from Great Baddow, and 61-year-old Kim Holman, from Chadwell Heath, will appear at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on 30 April. They will answer a charge of theft and of failing to notify the Coroner about an object believed to be treasure. It comes after gold staters were found in the Chelmsford area in September.
The timing is interesting. Firstly in that area they should not be meeting and metal detecting anyway during a pandemic. Secondly it is interesting how quickly the case was detected and came to court (compare with the slow movement of other cases). So what happened? I would love to think that they offered a bulk lot of coins to a coin dealer that turned out not to be crooked and he reported them.

Friday 26 March 2021

Lorry driver is jailed for two years for trying to smuggle Bulgarian Antiquities into UK

Some of the artefacts (Kent Police)

Think before you buy those artefacts on eBay. A lorry was stopped at Dover on 27th October last year and coming into the country with a load of trousers, but strapped to the chassis was a package of artefacts Bulgaria that the media claim were collectively worth more than £76,000. They included ancient coins, pendants, brooches, statues and spearheads  (Katie Feehan, 'Lorry driver is jailed for two years for trying to smuggle ancient coins, arrowheads and statues into UK to sell for Bulgarian mafia bosses' Mail Online  22 March 2021).

 Dimitar Dimitrov, 41, was working as a courier on behalf of a Bulgarian organised crime group and has now been jailed for two years following an investigation by Kent Police detectives with assistance from the Metropolitan Police Service's specialist Art and Antiquities Unit and the Bulgarian authorities. Canterbury Crown Court heard how Dimitrov initially denied any knowledge of the items in his lorry, which were found during a search by Border Force officers. The items had been concealed within two black packages that were taped onto an airline in the vehicle's chassis rail, which Dimitrov claimed must have been placed there without his knowledge. Evidence including messages found on his mobile phone led officers to believe he had been planning to deliver the items to another member of the organised crime group, who would then try to sell them to antique collectors in London. Dimitrov, from Pazardzhik in Bulgaria, pleaded guilty to transferring criminal property prior to his sentencing last week. 

The investigating officer, Detective Constable Max Gregory of Kent Police expressed satisfaction that the smuggler was convicted and points out that the organised crime groups behind such activities use the proceeds to fund other international criminal activities. Enquiries are still on-going to identity other individuals within this criminal network.

Thursday 25 March 2021

Belated Brill Retraction

The archaeological publishers Brill are finding out the hard way about why collecting history matters. They've just decided to publish a 'retraction notice' about their involvement in the publication of the controversial 'Sappho' papyri. I'd say that this is a goodly while too late, as the ever-shifting stories of where the thing came from only added to the uncertainty that had existed about the origins of this piece right from the beginning.

The editors Anton Bierl and André Lardinois suggest that "serious doubts" about where this came from appeared "In the years following the first publication of this book" (in other words, after they themselves agreed to be involved in its handling and publication). As readers of this blog know, that is simply untrue. Even when setting the record straight, these scholars cannot honestly set the record straight. They further write that:
The repatriation of the Green Sappho fragments has restored these papyri to its [sic] rightful owner. We hope that they will be made available to the scholarly community in their new location both directly and through online digital reproductions, so they can be studied further. The status of P. Sapph. Obbink remains problematic, however, not only because its provenance is tainted, but also because the papyrus, which is the main testimony of the Brothers and the Kypris poems, is inaccessible. We sincerely hope that it will also be made available to the academic community soon and its acquisition circumstances will be fully explained.
That's totally colonialist. The papyrus fragments entered the western market by 2012 and were subject to a whole load of behind-the-doors dealings (including by auction house Christie's) and sequestering in private collections since then. By no means were they fully available to scholars (least of all those from the country from which they were stolen) in that entire time. At no time in those nine years was the collecting history of those fragments presented honestly by those in whose possession they were. Now two Professors of ancient Greek from Basel and Nijmegen urge the Egyptian authorities and institutions onto whom the Green Collection/MoB have just offloaded 50000 loose manuscript fragments almost overnight to "hurry up and make these particular fragments available to us". What a shameful attitude of entitlement! Profs Bierl and Lardenois should take to task all those involved in the matter of these illicit manuscripts, but don't. Pathetic.

The Guardian has a new piece summarising the bare bones of the shifting story over the years:  Charlotte Higgins. 'Doubts cast over provenance of unearthed Sappho poems' Guardian 25 Mar 2021. It does not mention that Dirk Obbink has promised "that he is working on an academic article in which he disputes [sic] the findings of Sampson, but he has not mentioned a timeline". Could it be that she doubts that this will ever appear?

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Another "Golden Brownie" seizure in Turkey


Turkish police are up to it again, another "Golden Brownie" fake conflict antiquity has been "found" on the possession of some citizen or other (Anadolu Agency, 'Turkish police seize ancient manuscript stolen from Syrian museum', Hurriyet daily news March 12 2019).

Turkish police have recovered an ancient leather manuscript from suspected antiquities traffickers in a Central Anatolian province, security sources said on March 12. The manuscript, thought to have been stolen from a Syrian museum, was seized in Kırşehir. Acting on a tip, police squads stopped a suspected car with an Istanbul license plate on the Ankara-Kayseri highway near the Kaman district of Kırşehir. They found the manuscript hidden in a rug near the car seat, said the sources who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media. The 16-page ancient book written in Hebrew bore different bird figures, a hexagonal shape and a red stone on the cover page. During the police search, a blank firing gun and cartridges in the glove box of the car were also seized, the sources said. Two suspects in the car, identified only by their initials, E.S and K.G., were arrested for antiquities trafficking charges. According to suspects’ testimonies to the police, they bought the manuscript in the southeastern Mardin province and were planning to sell it in Istanbul for a large sum of money. The ancient manuscript was stolen from a Syrian city’s museum during the war and was brought to Mardin illegally, the suspects said in their testimonies.
The kilim is nice too. For these "manuscripts", see 'The 'Golden Brownies' Turkish Fake Manuscripts' PACHI Sunday, 17 February 2019 and also Sam Hardy here.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Brexit Sovereignty and Stupidity from Royal Mint

One for the coin fondlers. The Royal Mint is expecting kudos for the 'historic' decision to represent Britannia on a new 'coin' issue as a 'woman of colour' say the blurb. It is difficult to see what 'colour' she is, or what genetic mixture her features are intended to represent. I'm more interested in the misappropriation of the 'ancient Greek' helmet here (in the year when Boris Johnson says the Parthenon Marbles are Britain's by right"). What a completely ridiculous depiction of a Corinthian helmet! I am willing to bet that no photos will be released of a woman (of colour or not) modelling this helmet worn like that without grasping it firmly in the hand to prevent it dropping right off (apart from probably being extremely uncomfortable). That heavy crest (look at the size of it!)  would pull the whole thing off backwards. Note there is no chinstrap holding it on. When the helmet is worn properly (that is with the front of the helmet vertical), it would crush her nose and jaw. Anatomically, that heavy helmet is pressing on the nape of the subject's head, and indicates that the back of the cranium of this individual is not very far from the ears, in other words she has a very doliocephalic skull - but a massively neanderthal mandible. This is a Brexiter, microcephalic and neanderthal. Attention is drawn to to the lion rampant on the side of the crown. When the helmet was on properly it'd not only be not-rampant but supine in a ridiculous position.  Not a supporter as in the Hannoverian arms, but a groveller.


Friday 19 March 2021

UK Interior Decorator Peddles "Gandharan" Frieze [UPDATED]

Pseudo-Bonham's photo of the fragment ripped off a building @loveantiques auction aggregator ("We sell genuine antiques for trusted antique dealers") has just posted on Twitter an advert for this thing: 4:30 PM · 19 mar 2021 

How interesting. This is a 2nd - 3rd Century AD 'Gandharan Frieze Section with Buddha' is offered for sale from Greystones Fine Interiors: #antiquities #frieze #stonefrieze #aincentstone #buddha #loveantiques
The asking price is £3000. The text of their sales spiel says: "Greystones Fine Interiors has clarified that the Gandharan Frieze Section with Buddha (LA334273) is genuinely of the period declared" there however is not a word there that they equally clarify that there is export/collection history documentation. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with dealers who flog bits ripped off buildings and archaeological sites as "ancient art" as feelgood trophies for people whose life is lacking, the photography leaves a lot to be desired We cannot see the back? One wonders on what an interior decorator would base their "clarification" and dating on. Schist has a bit of a grain to it, so that's probably why the eyes of this piece are so squiffy and (to my eye) un-Gandharan. Also the smeary layers of what looks like thick lumpy limewash and brown gunk rubbed off the highlihghts don't look very convincing. I'd like to know more about the tooling of the backgrounds of other reliefs is generally like, the horizontal lines of chiselling don't look very familiar. Here is what Greystones (a firm in  Peterborough, United Kingdom) say:
2nd-3rd century AD. A carved schist frieze section with arcade of rectangular pillars framing two scenes.
The historical region of Gandhara.... [bla bla narrativisation, rolling out the usual dealer claptrap] [...]. In this fragment of the frieze we can observe a curious scene in which the Buddha is surrounded by a retinue of offerors [sic] or followers, very similar to scenes from the Christian imagination in which Jesus Christ is surrounded by his apostles [oh, pleeese!].
22 kg total, 81.5cm width with stand 27cm in height (on stand). Cf. Jongeward, D. Buddhist Art of Gandhara in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2018, item 32 for type.
MEASUREMENTS Height: 27 cm Width: 81.5 cm Depth: 8 mm [eh???]
Greystones Fine Interiors has clarified that the Gandharan Frieze Section with Buddha (LA334273) is genuinely of the period declared with the date/period of manufacture being 2-3 Century AD
Good condition, commensurate with age and its journey through time [sic]. Some old restoration to bring together the two primary fragments of the frieze.
It then [tellingly] gets a bit dubious
ADDITIONAL INFO Period: Pre 16th Century Material: Stone Origin: Persian Date of Manufacture: 2-3 Century AD
Although the dealer might need it, I hope I don't have to provide readers of this blog a map here showing the relative positions on the map of Gandhara and "Persia" (called Iran these days). These are two completely different regions. The Kushans for example did not rule Persia. With gaffes like this, one wonders how reliable the dealers' other claims are.  

Updated 19th March 2021

What kind of business is it that is quite happy to post up a link to an "interesting" antiquity with no mentioned documentation... until somebody draws attention to what they've done? Why not check legitimacy first? What a "novel" idea, eh? The original advert however is still unrepentantly up

UK Treasure Hunter "Only Interested in the 'Istry"

   Tekkie TV star and author Graeme Rushton

While the PAS in posh Bloomsbury tightens its lips and does not interfere, up in Dalton (George Lythgoe, 'A Guide to Metal Detecting by Dalton treasure Hunter Graeme Rushton' The Mail 18th March 2021)
A treasure hunter is set to launch his first book revealing his best finds and top tips for budding metal detectorists. Graeme Rushton, who runs Unearthed UK in Dalton, has seen some of his finds including incredibly rare medieval coins sell for thousands of pounds at auction. The hobby is seeing a surge in popularity recently  and Graeme hopes to give people an insight into life on the trawl for buried treasure. [...] “This is such an accomplishment for me as I never thought I would do this because I left school with very little in terms of qualifications [...] "There has been a popularity surge in metal detecting in the last 10 years [...]” He has recently appeared on the pilot episode of ITV4’s Henry Cole’s Great British Treasure Hunt, which he hopes will get the green light for a series in the near future.
And the PAS? Not a word from them about this, even though one of their FLOs took part in the programme. The journalist apparently believes that it's only in foreign countries where the archaeological heritage is damaged by mining it away as a source of collectable items. If you think of that, it's yet another example of racist views in "Great" Britain.
Hat tip Hougenai  

Tuesday 16 March 2021

"Recovering the Objects" is not the point.

In a small island peripheral to the Continent, artefact hunters boast that the museums are filled with the artefacts they and their fellows have found and have in many cases have demanded payment for. In Europe meanwhile:
Dan Diffendale @diffendale 18 g.
It's depressing how much of the archaeological collections in many small Italian museums increasingly derives from sequestration of (to-be) trafficked artifacts.
The difference is that in one country they fight looting and smuggling, in the other the police, like the rest of society, turn a blind eye to them. In both cases though, the effects on the archaeological record are the same:
Dan Diffendale @diffendale 18 g.
obviously I'm glad they're being stopped before being smuggled out of the country, or repatriated as the case may be, but usually the damage is done


Time Team Teams up With Detectorist

         Detectorists' holes getting bigger and bigger     
Roseanne Edwards, 'Time Team returns to our screens to excavate Roman Villa discovered in Banburyshire fields near Broughton Castle' Banbury Gazette, 16th March 2021.
The announcement that the cult TV programme will return to our screens with a Banburyshire dig that is expected last for years has thrilled the Fiennes family at Broughton Castle and the detectorist and amateur archeologist, Keith Westcott, who discovered the villa two years ago [...] . At 85m x 85m it is the second largest Roman villa in the country and only slightly smaller than Buckingham Palace. It would have been one of the grandest villas in Roman Britain.
[It is quite considerably smaller than Buckingham Palace].

Monday 15 March 2021

Irresponsible Metal Detectorists, Sussex Police and Landowners at Midnight


At about the same time as British police used Covid regulations as an excuse to brutally break up a peaceful vigil held by women on Clapham Common another event was occurring some 50 km away to the SW. Three men from London were stopped by Sussex police on Saturday just before midnight while they were metal detecting together in woodland at Rudgwick near Horsham on the Sussex/Surrey border (Pipeline, 'Sussex police response to possible illegal metal detecting in question' 15th March 2021). It is not clear whether they had been tipped off by a member of the public who suspected night-time illegal artefact hunting was going on, but one can imagine the ire of a landowner having the whole house woken up by a police intervention after midnight to establish whether the men were there with their permission (presumably some kind of a 'search and take permit' was proffered when the men were challenged). In the event, the only action that seems to have been taken against the men was to issue what appears to be a fixed penalty notice issued under England's Covid Regulations. We know because for some reason, somebody boasted about it (metal detectorists!) on social media:

The notice, which was posted on Facebook by an individual from London, who cannot be confirmed as one of the individuals fined, and which was passed to thePipeLine, begins by confirming the time and location of the alleged contravention of the "Health Protection [Coronavirus, Restrictions] [All Tiers] [England] Regulations 2020", under which the men were issued fixed penalties. The notice states that, "On 30/01/2021 at A281 Rudgwick, at 23.30pm you were found to be in contravention of the regulations..." The notice goes on to describe the circumstances of the alleged contravention, "3 males were found in woods with metal detectors. They explained they had travelled from their homes in London for the weekend to carry out metal detecting. All three were therefore fined for non-essential travel from London."
One wonders how responsible artefact hunters would expect to be able to see where the objects were coming from and whether they were in any archaeologically-significant associations in the dark. Also digging in unploughed sites in woodland, they risked digging down into undisturbed layers (while the Code of Best Practice says nothing about visibility issues, it does talk of keeping off undisturbed land that might have shallow stratigraphy). Also in the middle of a weekend night is not the best time to contact any FLO (that's Jane Clark) to report anything that might need their intervention or help. That also is very irresponsible. 

The Sussex Police press office has so far not responded to a query on this matter from 'Pipeline' (who report on this) and the boastful Facebook post with a photo of the Fixed Penalty Order was subsequently deleted.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Bad News for Those Involved in Sale of the "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch"?


Concluding (?) further correspondence with the Portable Antiquities Scheme concerning the involvement of one of their volunteers with the sellers of the "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch", Professor Michael Lewis, Head of the Scheme reminded me (in litt. March 12th 2021) that he is "on the National Police Chiefs Council's Heritage and Cultural Property Working Group and illicit metal-detecting and the trade-in antiquities are areas where the Group is particularly proactive", but that "obviously, I cannot discuss any operational aspects or ongoing cases". That sounds a bit ominous. I think if I'd just paid 55thousand quid for a chunk of corroded metal, on hearing that, I'd be looking very carefully at the paperwork accompanying it about its collection history. In the case of ancient artefacts, it's always better to have not only some paperwork, but just the right paperwork. Or were those just empty words of the Head of a Scheme that actually cannot provide any details about what one of their volunteers has been up to and why?

Friday 12 March 2021

City Council Debates Introducing Permit System for Artefact Hunting: Implications

A new post on thePipeLine talks of a "Welcome For Proposed Metal Detecting Policy In Portsmouth That Goes Further Than Current Guidelines" (12th March 2021) New proposals for a licencing system for artefact hunting on lands owned by Portsmouth City Council in Hampshire have reportedly attracted wide attention in the archaeological community 

with some archaeologists welcoming the new policy as it appears to go further than current national guidelines in protecting the integrity of archaeology both in the ground and as recovered by members of the public using metal detectors. The proposed new policy also comes at an important moment for both archaeologists and metal detectorists, with archaeologists concerned at the number of artefacts which are being alleged to be recovered without recording and even illegally and detectorists concerned at possible curbs to their hobby, with the Government in Westminster engaged in a consultation regarding the legal definition of "Treasure" as set out in the 1996 Treasure Act. [...]  it is equally possible that the interest has been prompted by the alleged increase in the number of people metal detecting since lockdown and reports of a decreasing number of permissions to metal detect available on private and farmland, as commercial rally organisers price individuals and traditional metal detecting clubs, out of the market.[...]  licences/permits will only be granted to detectorists prepared to follow national guidelines and required to observe nationally recommended recording standards. If adopted nationally by local authorities, and other landowners such as farmers, the kind of approach proposed by Portsmouth might go some way towards solving the vexed issue of how to regulate a hobby in the public interest, which, while popular, and capable of providing much useful archaeological data as long as the participants act with integrity, appears to many archaeologists to be increasingly out of control. 

As proof of this widespread approval among archaeologists of what is, in effect, nothing more than a direct transfer of the Polish system to Britain, the Pipeline quotes a whole series of quotes from:

"Archaeologists commenting on the proposed policy to thePipeLine",

"a spokesperson for the PAS 

"one finds specialist [and regular user of PAS data]"

Why are no names given, yet again, when its metal detecting and metal detectorists involved. are British archaeologists afraid to say in public and under their own name, what they think about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record? And why would that be? 

What is notable, reading between the lines, the PAS was not involved in this proposal. That is a shame. 


The proposed new Metal Detecting Policy at Portsmouth City Council is approved without opposition.

Thursday 11 March 2021

The Professionalism of British Heritage Professionals

In Poland, we have a neat law, embedded in the Administration Code, whereby if a member of the public contacts an official body with a query or request, that body has by law 14 days to reply. If they do not reply, then the matter can be taken further (for example to NSA - national administrative court) and if the delay is judged unjustified, the official pays a hefty fine. Britain has no such requirements of its public employees. So on 25th February 2021, following the creation of a legitimising PAS record just days before a contentious sale of a Late iron Age harness-brooch reportedly from Buckinghamshire, I contacted the FLOs of Debyshire and Nottinghamshire DENO (Meghan King), Buckinghamshire (Arwen Wood), and a British Museum employee (Julia Farley) about this. One of them fobbed me off without answering my question, referring me to the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Prof Michael Lewis) and then refused to answer a subsequent mail that was a restatement of the query. The Head of the Scheme gave a half answer. And we are no nearer understanding the circumstances of the PASD "record" made by a DENO of the Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" that at best looks like a clash of interests.

The whole basis for British "policies" (I use the term loosely) on artefact hunting is that it expects transparency of those involved in the handling of archaeological information in the course of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. I think this means that we have an equal right to expect that the heritage professionals who are the intended destination of that information, are equally transparent. That is not something one can say on present evidence of the four people named above. There are a number of questions unaddressed within the "database record" complied by a(n unsupervised?) volunteer mainly on the basis of what the auctioneer supplied to be put into that sale-enhancing record. Simply sweeping the discrepancies (like the circumstances of its finding, such as when it was dug up and with what) under the carpet will not resolve the issues. 

What are PAS policies on selling archaeological artefacts, and the involvement of members of the PAS staff and PAS volunteers in the antiquities trade? Can we see them?

Vignette: no place for the British mode of dismissive behaviour in Polish administration. 

Thursday 4 March 2021

The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness Brooch" (I): Discovery Among the Tiers


The harness-brooch    
For the last couple of days, prompted by Andy Brockman's piece about the sale of a Late Iron Age harness-brooch, I have been trying - as a concerned member of the public and an archaeologist (even more concerned) - to penetrate the institutional obtuseness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to discover how the database record DENO (DErbyshire and NOttinghamshire)2BAD-49 got created. It is very important, as from what we have now, this case has every appearance of potentially being an example of collusion of  the Portable Antiquities Scheme (and the British Museum?) and its archaeologists with the antiquities trade. And, if so, what kind of 'best practice' would that be?

The gist of the matter is that a British metal detectorist found an intact (though damaged) large piece of Celtic enamelled metalwork, and had it cleaned, photographed, written up by the auctioneer and on sale by auction. Nowhere along that line was recording with the PAS involved. It is my understanding that objections to the undocumented sale were raised from some quarters and miraculously at the last moment (four days before the auction, and largely using material supplied by the auctioneer), a PAS write-up of this harness-brooch appeared online. This apparently legitimised the object that was then sold for some seven times its original estimate. On the face of it, it would appear from this that the PAS was involved in the process of price-hiking. The PAS database is intended as a long-term deposit of information, not an auction-news service, there was no reason not to wait with publication of this record until after the sale was finished

Actually getting information out of the PAS and the BM about how this came about proved to be difficult. I am still waiting for substantive replies to my queries from: The Bucks FLO, the DENO FLO and Julia Farley. None of them seem to accord any urgency to explaining away the PAS involvement in this sale. I am reliant on the published information, the auction catalogue and Searcher article, both written by Adam Staples of the auction house, the PAS database record and its metadata, which is heavily based on the auction catalogue and Searcher article (reportedly with two pieces of information from the finder), and the emails written to me by the Head of the PAS after one of his FLOs had refused to answer my queries and referred me to him, apparently as being a person who knows more about what goes on in her own office than she herself does. Wow.   

The Discovery

The discoverer

The Searcher article tells us that the finder of this object was Ray Pusey and the local newspaper gives us some more information (James Richings, 'Item from 2,000 years ago is found in Haddenham in Bucks', Bucks Free Press 1st March 2021). He lives in Haddenham and the local reporter says the find was made near that village:

Mr Pusey, a detectorist for 30 years, confessed he nearly didn't go out that day but found the brooch eight to ten inches underground after about an hour of searching. He said: "I watched the auction online [...] It was an exceptional result and so exciting to watch. "The money will be split 50/50 split with the landowner and, when I went round to tell him, he nearly fell over. "Me and my wife are having a Chinese to celebrate tonight".
Buckinghamshire until the national lockdown was recently in Tier 4 (the highest risk zone) and Mr Pusey should not have been "going round to see him" at all, but the phrase suggests that the farm is very local to Mr Pusey's home. Note, that all the operations describes as occurring after October 2020 were also in what became high-level lockdown zones (tiers 3 and 4).

If Mr Pusey has been detecting 30 years, he'd have started about 1990, so would have had to be an utter recluse not to have heard of the PAS and what it is there for. He, however, decided not to contact the FLO, but go ahead and get it cleaned and sold.

There are two puzzles about this. First of all, who measured and recorded the "weight" of the object (169g) and why? It appears in the auctioneer's catalogue. The significance of this is that this is one of the more useless data fields of a PAS record. If Mr Pusey weighed the object, it could be that the van-driver was aware that PAS archies weigh their stuff. The second conundrum is that there is (reportedly) a 10-figure NGR recorded for the findspot, which means (unless it was built into the detector) a GPS was being used in the field. Why would a metal detectorist be doing this if there was no intent to report it to the PAS? Puzzling. 

The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" (II): Context of Deposition

Following on from: The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness Brooch" (I): Discovery Among the Tiers

The PAS records x-marks-the-spot information about the position of the findspot of objects reported to it. Like a Treasure map. A dot on a Kossinnist distribution map. An outlier of the Southwester decorative style. 

But of course that is not archaeological context. Not by any means. That is lost when an artefact hunter hoiks an object out of the ground without recording it. In what kind of associations was this object found? A site with pottery of the 1st century AD, a ploughed out chariot burial? A ploughed out hoard? Or none of these? Was it an isolated find, buried in a pit, was it found with other horse-care items? 

It is interesting that the finder refers to what he found as "it", the significance of which is that there are three separate pieces, the stem is snapped across, and the crescent-shaped headplate is loose (just slotted onto the stem by a projecting round pin and its difficult to see how it stayed on in use). Apparently they were found together. There had been an iron pin, but all that remained of that was rust on the pin mechanism.

No mention is made of an analysis, but it seems likely that, as the auction catalogue says, that this is a high tin bronze. The corrosion of these alloys is very variable, so not much can be made of the current state of the object. But  it is difficult to account for the present condition of the pin, even taking bimetallic corrosion into account. Note that the end of the looped segment is more heavily corroded than the catchplate, was it in contact with another metal object in the ground? Or is the discolouration there due to contact with decaying organic matter in the ground? 

What is interesting is the break across the straight looped element. The object has been snapped. Was this done when Mr Pusey pulled it out of the ground (like the Holborough brooches discussed here a while back)? What is interesting is that it appears (at least the auction catalogue makes no mention of it)  that the thinner projecting pin of the catchplate is not snapped off. The straight looped element of the harness-brooch has a convex curve to it and appears to have been snapped in two by pressure from the front. There is corrosion in the crack visible on the rear and (stress?) corrosion at this point on the front.

The harness-brooch

How could this have happened? If the object was on the surface and got stomped on, or driven over, the two pieces would be scattered and the edges of the break not so fresh. This snapping probably happened to a buried object with the soil around keeping the fragments in place. Being driven over by agricultural machinery seems a likely cause. But it should be noted that there is no other trace of damage by agricultural machines (no plough/harrow bashing that is so often postulated, no scratching of the patina) and no trace of chemical fertiliser damage. The fact that all three parts were found together and not scattered by subsequent ploughing is significant.

The detectorist is quoted as saying it was dug up from a depth of "eight to ten inches" (approx 20-25 cm) which presumably is meant to mean it was within ploughing depth. But the state of the object does not support that. Was it found on grassland?  Or was it dug out from below plough level, from the fill of an underlying feature? 

Finally, I'll note one curious passage from the auction catalogue which I'll not comment, beyond saying that its potential significance apparently was spotted by Andy Brockman, but the PAS volunteer making the record seems not to have noted it and asked deeper questions. Adam Staples writes that the characteristics of the find "make it very unlikely to be a casual loss. More probable is that it was carefully placed in the ground". A deposit or hoard? What an odd thing to say, in the circumstances. 

It should be noted that, although they are clearly visible in the dealer's photos and some mentioned in the auction catalogue, the PAS volunteer recorder Michelle Ray did not describe any of these features in her cut-and-paste "description" of the object. We will return to the question of the reliability of the PAS-hosted "DENO too bad" record of this harness-brooch later. 

The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" (III): In the Saleroom

Follows on from: The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness Brooch" (II): Context of Deposition

Ray Pusey and the landowner decided to sell the artefact that Ray had found in a field somewhere near Haddenham. They decided that to get a good price they should go to Charlie Hanson's setup in Derby. As we have seen before on this blog, Mr Hanson apparently has no problem with accepting artefacts with no real provenance documentation, and British metal detected finds in particular with no PAS records even. I've discussed this on my blog before and in 2016 Mr Hanson wrote to HA and myself assuring us he'd never do it again, that he'd insist on having only items that had been responsibly recorded. Huh. Hanson has sympathies with tekkies though, he is quoted as saying:

"I was inspired to work in this industry after discovering the joy of metal detecting and the ancient treasures beneath our feet as a boy.
A story of  'from artefact hunter to artefact profiteer'. 

Somewhere along the line, Mr Pusey and the landowner had to make contact with someone to clean the fragile object (it looks professionally cleaned, I suggest consolidation of what remains of the enamel at least was involved), photograph it, get it (during lockdown?) from Buckinghamshire to the auctioneer, who then researched it, wrote the catalogue entry and a Searcher article, made a promotional video. All before the appearance of the auction online by the beginning of February. That's just 14 weeks after the reported date of discovery of the harness-brooch (Ms Ray puts that as "Saturday 17th October 2020", and you can work out for yourselves what lockdown regulations were in force there and then). Or rather one of the dates of discovery. Because in that promotional video, Charlie Hanson says that the object had been found "three years ago" (promotional video of 21st Feb 2021, at 58 seconds - the date of finding does not figure in the auction catalogue or the Searcher article). So, when was it found? And why should we believe Ms Ray (who it is possible never actually met the finder during lockdown) and not Mr Hanson (who perhaps had just the same amount of contact)?

To be continued...

"It's quite a large object this, it was found three years ago, it's going to cause a real stir when it's sold on Thursday, we guide it between four and six thousand pounds, but actually I think it will make a lot more money, so watch this object, and of course when you are walking today and you are walking maybe in undergrowth or grass, or maybe a ploughed field, you never know what is lurking under your feet"

The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" (IV): Archaeologists Notice and Conflicts of Interest


PAS's Bazaar archaeology
This follows on from The Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" (III): In the Saleroom

The object was cleaned, written up, photographed and the auction catalogue distributed (or at least put online) and the auctioneer claims 'great interest'.

And this is where things become murky. Some gossip has reached me from two, apparently, independent sources that, if true, would raise some questions and in particular what lay behind Andy Brockman rather oddly, but thought-provokingly, raising the question of hoards of prehistoric metal objects. Sadly, my attempts to determine whether there was foundation to these rumours got nowhere due to the obstructivism of archaeological colleagues in the PAS. Leaving aside gossip, here's "the official view" that Mike Lewis sent me on Sun 28th Feb 2021 (quoted with his express permission): 

Hi Paul, I have told you the story, but you seem not to like it. Julia Farley (who is an expert in these things) contacted the auction house to see if we could recorded [sic] this object and they agreed. The record was made by a volunteer based on the information the auction house provided. Obviously we would have rather have seen the object etc etc, but this is the best that could be done in the circumstances. I am not sure what you are expecting from us, given the finder nor auction house have no legal obligation to do either [sic]. The best we can hope is that this case further illustrates why the Treasure Act needs revising in lines with what the Minister has proposed - a significance based definition.
I hope that is helpful. Mike

Prof Michael Lewis FSA MCIfA Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum Visiting Professor, Archaeology, University of Reading Research Associate, University of York
The last sentence relates to a previous letter where he'd tried to deflect discussion of the case I'd asked him about to a (rather patronising in the circumstances) rediscovering-the-wheel exposition about what needs to be changed in the Treasure Act. And should it be a "minister" proposing it, and not the PAS arguing forcefully, loudly and publicly that this change is 25 years overdue? 

The reason why I "do not like" this story is that it leaves too many things unaddressed about the commercialisation of this harness-brooch. In fact the very things I was asking about, but are ignored here. I had previously written to the DENO FLO who referred me to the Head of the PAS to explain to me what was happening in her office. She refused to respond to a second request for information on that. I wrote to the Buckinghamshire FLO asking why they had not been asked to liaise with the finder over this Haddenham find and make their own record, I wrote to Dr Farley last week. No reply from there either.

Let's look at the official story.

1) "Julia Farley (who is an expert in these things) contacted the auction house to see if we could recorded this object and they agreed". There were several other items of Celtic metalwork in the same sale, yet it was requested of the dealer that only this one object was recorded? How come? Usually when an object on the market without any paperwork is singled out as being "important" is because a researcher wants to publish it themself. Perhaps we should keep an eye open for Dr Farley's future writeup of this harness-brooch...

Now actually, somebody else claims that they were the one that spotted this item and led to it being recorded, Dr Simon Maslin, who does not mention Dr Farley. So there is something more complex going on here that leaves with Prof Lewis's fob-off answer rather lacking. 

2) Dr Farley "contacted the auction house to see if we could recorded [sic] this object and they agreed": The mistake "recorded" suggests this phrase was carefully edited from something else. But what? Apart from that, there is a huge problem here. The auction house was not the owner of this object. Dr Farley had no business asking the auctioneer for permission for a record to be made, that is down to the landowner where this (as yet to be sold) object was found and the finder. Mike Lewis should know that, it's in the PAS guidelines on their website (!)

Secondly, according to the official account, Dr Farley is represented as going over the head of the PAS.  She is not a PAS employee, nor even listed as one of the finds advisors (that's Sally Worrell). In the corporate world, crossing into another department's competences would result in a disciplinary case. I have asked Dr Farley for her version, but at the time of writing, it was not forthcoming. Seems like a pretty simple thing to tell the same story as the Scheme head... or set the record straight if he has missed out something. 

3) "[the auctioneers] agreed. The record was made by a volunteer based on the information the auction house provided". Whoah! The record of this harness-brooch was made DENO volunteer by Michelle Ray, who had previously recorded just nine objects for DENO  on the PAS database - presumably under FLO supervision.  I could not find any online archaeological publications by this lady, so it is unclear to me why specifically she was assigned this task. But the record was posted up on 21st February 2021, which is a Sunday. By whom? Ms Ray, or did the FLO vet it and post it on a Sunday just four days before the sale? If the (remember: unsubstantiated) gossip about this case is to be believed, having the object vetted and legitimised by the PAS would to some extent be getting the dealer off the hook. In any case, since objects with verified provenance are at a premium on the market (or so dealers say), then having a PAS record was an instant price-booster. Presumably placing this piece beyond the abilities of a public institution to acquire. So the timing of the posting of this record is really disturbing. At the least it is thoughtlessness on the part of the person responsible (who is....?).

Was it the British Museum's Dr Farley who contacted Ms Ray directly? Is that why the only information I got from Meghan King  was the following cryptic note (25th Feb 2021)?
Dear Mr Barford, Many thanks for your email and the queries regarding this record. I would recommend directing your questions to Michael Lewis, who is copied into this email, as he has more information regarding the recording of this object.
Kind regards, Meghan King Finds Liaison Officer (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire)
[just a trace of annoyance in that?]. Mike Lewis himself on 27th Feb 2021 insists: "Meghan was not involved with recording this find, so doubt she can help answer your questions". This means that there is a volunteer that had been previously making database records for the DENO FLO, but in this one (?) case, the FLO was excluded from the process? How come? Is she making this record in her own name? Yet it still bears a DENO number and not a 'Public' one. Why? Why does Prof Mike Lewis "have more information regarding the recording of this object" than the FLO presumably supervising a voluntrer making database entries under her DENO number? Why does Prof Lewis assure us that this same DENO FLO "was not involved" in making a DENO record?  Again, in the corporate world, a junior staff member making unauthorised alterations to a database like this would probably get them fired on the spot. Except she's a volunteer. So what safeguards are in place affording volunteers of various kinds access to the database?

Why was the Buckinghamshire FLO not asked, but a volunteer to make such an "important" record? Mike Lewis is silent on that. The photos and link to the catalogue could be sent by email to  Buckinghamshire just as easily as to wherever-Ms-Ray was when she made that record. And the Bucks FLO had better access to the local finder. 

4) Is there a connection between a DENO record being made four days before the sale and helping the dealer out, and Mr Hanson's earlier organisation of a fundraising auction in aid of the very museum hosting that new record? Was there a conflict of interest here? Is this why it is now being claimed that the Derby-based FLO had "no involvement" with a volunteer that had previously worked on DENO records? There is an odd pattern of recording in DENO, recording had been going on in fits and starts until 15th September last year, one more item on 22nd September, and then nothing... until this object was recorded on 21st February the following year. At the time of writing, this is the last DENO record. 

5) "The record was made by a volunteer based on the information the auction house provided. Obviously we would have rather have seen the object etc etc, but this is the best that could be done in the circumstances".  No need to comment really. Better than nothing is NOT what British archaeology should be aspiring to. So why is a substandard record made from looking at the pictures and cut and pasting from a tertiary source like the auction catalogue in the PAS records rather than in Dr Farley's own notes? How reliable is the PAS database if it incorporates "data" like these without a word that this is what has been done in the record? If they can do it from a Hanson's catalogue, why not eBay? That'd be a way of boosting database record numbers. 

6) The records claim that the recorder had access to the finder: "Date(s) of discovery: Saturday 17th October 2020" [not in the auction catalogue or Searcher article], "Grid reference source: From finder Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square" and "Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder" (sic). Yet the finder is based in Haddenham, Bucks. Did Ms Ray discuss the find with him? Did she look him in the eyes as he explained how and when he found it and what was or was not in the immediate vicinity? Is she familiar with the other objects the finder had taken to the FLO and something about his working methods? This makes a difference to the quality of the record, so why is this not part of her report so that we can assess data quality? Or are we expected to take every single piece of PAS information with a pinch of salt and shrug it off as "better than nothing"?

As can be seen, the PAS database "record" is compiled pretty exclusively from material supplied by the seller. I therefore find it difficult to unconditionally accept that in the middle of a national lockdown she met the finder and handed the object from the seller's stockroom back to him. If, therefore, this part of the public record is not a statement of a fact, what else is untrue? The findspot for example? How reliable is her record of that and how can we tell? The nature of their contact is fundamental to interpreting that record, yet that information is excluded from that record. In fact, how did a volunteer from DENO make contact with a Buckinghamshire seller anyway? Who had and handed her his personal data? The PAS always present themselves as real sticklers for protecting personal data - presumably Hanson's also adheres to the same principles? So how were these individuals put in contact with each other? Was Ms Ray's home address and private phone number given to a metal detectorist? Did they meet on neutral ground such as a motorway service station? 

6) "I am not sure what you are expecting from us". Professionalism, transparency. Not getting involved in any way with legitimising antiquities sales. I'd expect any responsible heritage organisation to wait five days until after the sale to publish that record to avoid boosting the sales price. I also expect from the PAS that in the contacts with Mr Hanson, he was informed using the strongest language possible that if ever again, he tries irresponsibly to sell metal detected antiquities straight from the ground and without any PAS record, that PAS will make sure (in the public interest) it is plastered all over the national newspapers why such sales are irresponsible, bad practice, and damaging to the national heritage. PAS can influence dealers to stop this kind of behaviour right now by taking action. But they do not (I stand to be corrected, would love to see some links to national newspapers where PAS head office or FLOs are decrying any aspect of the UK antiquities trade in such terms). 

That's what I would expect if I did not have the experience that the PAS is currently running circles round itself to avoid honestly revealing the full facts about what they actually did here and why. FLOs and British Museum staff simply refusing to answer a (totally legitimate) public enquiry about their handling of this matter will face no consequences. The public, whose heritage it is and who pay for the PAS will be kept in the dark and are the losers.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

Threats to Preservation of Archaeological Heritage on the Increase

Advert for a "Climate Change Archaeologist" based in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, northern Canada

hat tip Justin Walsh

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