Friday 30 April 2021

An Active Approach to Illicit Artefact Hunting

Andrew Reinhard has an idea for an archaeology-themed thriller:
The NCMD will certainly refuse to provide any expert opinion, they always do. But what about the Portable Antiquituies Scheme?

Thursday 29 April 2021

"Communicating Archaeological Values" (I)


PAS FLO "Communicating Archaeological Values"

What type of archaeological information was imparted to the public that pays for this? What value are they getting for their money?

Derby Museums Hand in Hand with Antiquities Dealer?

Charles Hanson    

A few weeks ago, Derby Museums used the DENO Portable Antiquities Scheme office to give legitimacy to a controversial archaeological artefact ripped under unclear circumstances from its context. This object was on sale by Hanson's Auctioneers based in Etwall Derbyshire. The inclusion at the last minute (four days before the auction) on the PAS database seemed for some to settle the dispute about the circumstances of the find (there were conflicting stories) and thus arguably boosted the selling price from the estimate of £6,000 - £8,000  (before the creation of the PAS record) to a cool £55,000 after it had been documented in the British Museum-run database. 

I have unsuccessfully been trying to determine the circumstances of this event, but the office responsible (PAS FLO Meghan King in Derby Museums) refuses to discuss it. After being fobbed off by her and PAS Head Office, I wrote to the Executive Director of Derby Museums (there is no Curator, it's a charity) and so far have received not even an acknowledgement of my letter. This morning I decided to check out who the Trustees to whom he is answerable were... and what do we find at the bottom?

So, Mr Hanson works with and for the Trustees of a charity that runs a museum that duly provides legitimacy to the sale of an antiquity by Mr Hanson's own firm. Is that right?

All very Third Worldly and looking very sleazy. I am sure there is a very good explanation of this. Will we learn it? 

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Wanna Join the Irresponsible Alcohol-Crazed Archaeology Trashers in the UK?

Upcoming commercial artefact hunting rally openly touting targeting a "Huge Roman Fort Complex". on a  630-acre farm near Doncaster. This is not "responsible metal detecting" and anyone going on such a commercial event has no right to call themselves "responsible metal detectorists", they are simply looters and the British archaeological community, media and government should say so. Why are they not? 

Also if they are too tipsy to drive, they are too tipsy to be wandering around a working farm, with all its hazards. The fact that this is allowed on such events should affect their third-party insurance should there be a claim. Has the company insuring them been informed of this circumstance? It is like the cannabis cake that was irresponsibly being distributed at a Coil to the Soil rally at High Melton near Sprotbrough, Doncaster a while back. Manchester detectorists were arrested with cannabis (here and here). The Sussex Heritage Hunters figured a cannabis leak in their club's logo.

This is not to mention of course that if an intoxicated artefact hunter finds something in an archaeological context, they are in no condition to make adequate notes of the context and associations and avoid damaging either.    

Value of a Discovery

Here is some discussion of the Ampleforth 'hoard' and it going to auction:

Treasure Hunting Magazine 5 d
Wishing James and Mark all the very best for the forthcoming auction and also to express great thanks to them both for firstly sharing their experiences and these stunning finds with Treasure Hunting magazine. These wonderful artistic 'treasures' have provided a direct connection between the modern day finders and the person who originally buried them - something that metal detecting is very good at achieving. From a remote rural site one ponders would they have ever been found otherwise? Who knows? But what is certain is that metal detecting has brought them to us today - Whatever their ancient votive reasons for burial their recent unearthing makes them fantastic offerings to us all in the modern age. What marvellous experiences and memories James and Mark have - with yet more to come [...] the main focus should always be what the finders have actually given - and that is a fantastic discovery which has permanently enriched our awareness of Roman Britain - money cannot buy that - and rest assured academic study of this discovery will go on for years benefitting us all - like many things in life that we want we have to buy them - and should a private collector or hopefully a museum wish these wondrous things for their collections then in most cases like the rest of us their hands are going to have to head downwards into their pockets - best Jules 

 First of all, what do we know about the context? Why is it "votive"? And why was it buried by "one person"? "Metal detecting" has not achieved anything except find four loose objects at more or less the same spot. The finders, out during lockdown, have not "given" us that context. 

As for money can't buy that... I'd like to see a grant application to any major funding entity that postulates that for a mere £100,000 a two-man team will search a productive Roman site until they find four nice things, they won't make any notes on contexts and associations, they won't do any geophys, they'll just hand in four things from a field, won't really be able to say "which field" or "which part" for then dire things will happen. Is that a grant application that would be seen as good value for money by the funders? You see, put in those terms, this discovery is not worth 100 grand as a research project. That's what the loose items are worth on the antiquities market. The two should not be confused. 

And why has not 24 years of PAS outreach got that message across to even the tekkies that have double-barrelled 'posh' names? 

Vignette: Metal detectorist with small head and mental health.


Tuesday 27 April 2021

UK Detectorists: Give Them an Inch, They Want a Mile (still breaking Covid Rules)

UK artefact hoiker breaks Covid rules, misuses firm's business account and puts locals at risk to attend LGD artefact grabfest:

Dean Tyrrell 2 h
Question for you guys. Anyone stayed local over night somewhere before last weekends dig at Gloucester? I’ve gone to book a local hotel and Covid rules state no rooms allowed for leisure use until 17th May.

Clint Dennis
dont get that just book it dont reply to all there stupid rules buisiness people still using them

Mick King
Premier Inn’s your best bet. I use them still when working away.

Rob William
Get technical with them, who’s to say this isn’t a business trip?

Dean Tyrrell • 36 m
All sorted ! Thanks guys. My company has a premier business account

Saturday 24 April 2021

How to deal with Large Damaging Commercial Artefact Hunting Rallies in UK? A Suggestion for Discussion.

Paul Barford @PortantIssues 30 min
W odpowiedzi do @WDHUK1@JSArchaeology; and 9 innych użytkowników
There is no doubt, large commercial rallies are damaging the archaeological heritage. Even the @findsorguk PAS says so.….
So, what are we going to do about it other than talk?

Since British archaeologists don't seem to be doing much more than shrugging shoulders and just talking about how bad this all is (or blocking any discussion of how bad this all is), here are some suggestions. I note that what they've got to work with are (a) a rather vaguely-worded law on dealing in 'tainted' artefacts that does not really seem to be being used very much at all, and (b)  commercial firms that keep a database of the names and contact details of every participant in each of their rallies, and the name and address of the landowner where those rallies took place, (c) rally participants that walk off with artefacts from this land with no explicit documentation of legal title, and then stick them (or artefacts that could be them) on eBay, again without attention to documenting where they are from and how they got them.

Some alarmist wording on a crowd-funding campaign could well get enough money together to retain a creative and ever-so-slightly unprincipled but persistent lawyer who could work with those three to get some court cases together of individual participants that could be given the suitable publicity. The firm's database can be accessed through either framing it as a cultural property investigation, or a tax inspection. Basically, it seems to me that when illegal or potentially illegal activity is concerned, most metal detectorists want to wash their hands of association with the accused, and when interviewed by the media would be forced themselves to denounce certain practices on such rallies. Formerly shoulder-shrugging heritage professionals could take it from there...

Lawyer gets some publicity and can set themself up as a cultural property lawyer, a sort of a British Peter Tompa (who now has his own law firm I see). They'd be one of the good guys fighting the dodgy trade dealings.  


Friday 23 April 2021

UK Site-Stripping Artefact Grabfests "Ethical"?

This from a former PAS FLO: Anni Byard - really old metal things @ArchaeoAnni 9 g
[...] the detectival lads have always been very pro PAS in my experience, they have their own recording crew... And make available to PAS and ensure folks report treasure. In fact they're the rally group whose ethos I would like to see replicated. They've worked with PAS for several years.Are commercial pay-to-dig artefact hunting rallies in any way "ethical" archaeologically or otherwise? Asking for a friend.

Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns Lots of Stolen Artefacts from New York Gallery

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office wants us to know that together with the Department of Homeland Security: Press Release, 'Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 13 Antiquities to Thailand' April 22, 2021)
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 13 antiquities valued at approximately $500,000 to the people of Thailand during a repatriation ceremony attended by Thai Ambassador to the United States [...] For many years, the Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at HSI, has been investigating KAPOOR and his co-conspirators for the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, and other nations. KAPOOR and his co-defendants generally smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through KAPOOR’S Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2020, the D.A.’s Office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by KAPOOR and his network. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million. The D.A.’s Office first issued an arrest warrant for KAPOOR in 2012. In July 2019, a complaint and series of arrest warrants for KAPOOR and seven co-defendants were filed and an indictment was filed in October 2019. In July 2020, the DA’s Office filed extradition paperwork for KAPOOR, who is currently in prison in India pending the completion of his ongoing trial in Tamil Nadu.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know. The fact is that Mr Kapoor did not begin his activities in 2012, but may years before. For a long while a whole load of Asian (mainly) pieces had been passing quite openly through his gallery, and Manhattan D.A.'s office did nothing at all... until the Indians arrested him. Only then did they act.

Just a few days earlier the same DA office returned some stuff to Afghanistan (Tom Mashberg 'Looted Objects From Afghanistan Are Returned' New York Times April 19, 2021). Thirty-three antiquities, many of them delicate lopped-off heads made from stucco, clay and schist, valued at $1.8 million, were handed over to the Afghan ambassador.
The artifacts were part of a hoard of 2,500 objects valued at $143 million seized in a dozen raids between 2012 and 2014 from Subhash Kapoor, a disgraced Manhattan art dealer currently jailed in India on smuggling and theft charges.
(but not yet tried in the US).

An interesting observation from ATHAR:
ATHAR Project @ATHARProject 17 g.
Antiquities market lobbyists are noticeably silent on returns like these.
Saying anything would mean acknowledging that one man—Subhash Kapoor—was responsible for $143 million in trafficked artifacts over just 2 years.
Just 7 Kapoors make this a billion dollar illicit market.
How many high end antiquities dealers are there in the US, Canada and Europe put together?

Is UK Detecting Going to the Dinosaurs?

A video concrning "Spring Detectival" (now to be held near Henley-on-Thames in June 2021 made by a “Rob Random” is in trouble for incorporating a fragment of the 1993 film Jurassic park (988880 ) likening herds of artefact hunters to the herds of Velociraptors apparently without licensing the footage. The video seems to have been taken down. Andy Brockman asks:

With the video now facing extinction [at least on YouTube] archaeologists and metal detectorists might ponder another related question. With the results of the consultation on amendments to the Treasure Act due and a growing unease about the impact of unregulated metal detecting rallies on unrecorded archaeology, are commercial rallies like Detectival themselves about to go the way of the the Velociraptor, the Brachiosaur and Jurassic Park’s unfortunate corporate lawyer who tries to take shelter from a T-Rex in a Portaloo? Are the hoard-hunting herds too about to become extinct, living on only in electronic form in re-runs of Mackenzie Crook’s “Detectorists”?
It's either that, or the extinction of most of the accessible archaeological record.  

Query about Museum Engagement with Item from Hanson's Artefact Sale 25th February 2021


Sent to Executive Director of Derby Museums, Friday 23rd April 2021 16:33

Do: 'TonyB [....].org'
Query about Museum engagement with item from Hanson's Artefact sale 25th February 2021

Dear Mr Butler,

I was not sure which member of your staff would be best to approach with this query, I hope you can pass this on to whoever deals with such matters. [I have already been in touch with the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (DENO)]

I am a researcher based in Warsaw, Poland investigating the archaeological and conservation implications of artefact hunting and the antiquities trade and the entanglements between the interests of various stakeholders in the archaeological heritage as related to its unsustainable exploitation merely as a source of  collectables. As part of this research, and in connection with a text that I am currently writing on the antiquities trade in Europe, I came across a case in which your museum was involved that seems to embody some of the problems I am writing about concerning the process of the commercialisation of archaeological artefacts.

The case involves a Late Iron Age so-called “harness-brooch” (mount) recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme unit based in your museum under the number  DENO 2BAD-49 []. There are grounds for questioning a number of aspects of this sale and this it was suggested threatened to lower the interest of potential clients and put them off bidding. The appearance of the legitimising DENO PAS record at the last minute (at a weekend, just four days before the sale) helped the auctioneer out and the piece subsequently raised a price substantially above the estimate of £6,000 - £8,000. The item sold for £55,000.

 In February and March 2021, I covered this controversial auction, and events leading up to it, as well as a number of the implications in twelve posts on my blog: . [See also Andy Brockman’s critical piece]

Despite my best efforts to elucidate the situation, there are several things that are unclear. I was hoping that the Museum could answer a few questions.

At the time of the auction, I attempted to obtain information from the person apparently most directly involved, the DENO PAS FLO (Megan King) who curtly fobbed me off and referred me to Michael Lewis in Bloomsbury, who seemed (not surprisingly) not to know what had been happening in Derbyshire. Your Museum’s FLO did not reply to my second letter seeking information. Two months have passed with no reply and now I have to finish my text, so I would therefore be grateful if another member of the Museums’ staff could clarify the following issues.

1)      Why was only this archaeological object recorded by the DENO PAS from the Hanson’s Historica 2 sale of 25 February 2021? There were other items of the same date and importance that were ignored.

2)      Was DENO FLO approached by the finder to get this recorded?

3)      Was DENO FLO approached by the seller to get this recorded? If so, how then was contact made with the finder?

4)      What was the involvement of Julia Farley of the British Museum in the record being made? Did she contact Michelle Ray, the recorder?

5)      Why was the DENO PAS record made by Michelle Ray who had until that time only created nine records on the PAS database? Does she have any expertise in this area? I cannot find any archaeological publications under her name.

6)      Under whose supervision was this done, the DENO FLO or Michael Lewis?

7)      Does/did Michelle Ray have independent access to make unsupervised entries on the PAS database?

8)      Is there any connection between the timing of the price-boosting DENO PAS record of this item and the charity auction that Mr Hanson had earlier organised for Derby Museums fundraising []? Note article published on the same day as this controversial auction of archaeological objects.

9)      Why is the DENO PAS record, instead of being a first-hand description by the recorder, based almost entirely on copying out, pretty much verbatim, the text (probably by metal detectorist Adam Staples) of the auction catalogue and using photos that are the same as those in possession of the auctioneer? The DENO record says the find was “returned to the finder” when in fact it was already in Hansons’ saleroom.

10)    Did Michelle Ray actually meet the finder? How and where? If not, how were the circumstances of finding of the object verified?

11)    Did Michelle Ray have the object in her hands when she made this record?

12)    Why, when the object was reportedly found in Buckinghamshire, was the matter of making a PAS record (including reportedly talking to the finder), not referred to them? Why did it have to be created in Derby?

13)    Does your Museum have a formalised policy concerning interaction with and involvement in the commercial trading in archaeological artefacts by companies such as Hanson’s? If so, was what happened here in line with existing museum policy on that subject?

Sorry for any inconvenience in this busy time as UK lockdown eases, but thank you in anticipation for your cooperation.


Paul Barford

Hanson's to Sell Ampleforth Hoard

Part of a hoard context lost, objects sold (Gazette and Herald)

Jonathan Chadwick, 'Incredible Marcus Aurelius bust is among a treasure trove of 2,000-year-old Roman bronze artefacts dug up by metal detectorists in Yorkshire and tipped to sell for £100,000 at auction' Mailonline 21 Apr 2021
A bust of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is among a collection of 2,000-year-old bronze artefacts dug up in Yorkshire – and set to sell for around £100,000. The 'fantastically preserved' 6 inch (13cm) bust of Aurelius, who ruled the Roman Empire from AD 161 to AD 180, depicts him with hair and beard flamboyantly curled. As well as the bust of Aurelius, the collection includes a statuette of the god Mars on horseback and the handle of a knife shaped as part of a horse. The items were discovered last year by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. Experts believe they were buried as an offering to the gods as part of a Roman religious ceremony in about AD 160 – which was the year before the start of Aurelius' reign. The stunning collection is due to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers on May 20, with a pre-sale estimate of £90,000. 'We have had worldwide interest in the hoard from both private individuals and museums,' said Adam Staples, head of historics at Hansons Auctioneers, which is based in Etwall, Derbyshire.

These objects were dug up during lockdown in May last year, in the period when the NCMD required all members to follow government  guidelines and stay at home. Many artefact hunters in the UK responsibly complied. It seems there are always some that consider the rules do not apply to them. Ampleforth, where the hoard is said to have been found on 24th and 25th May (YORYM-870B0E) is 20 miles north of York. These guys went out there on two consecutive days running (Karen Darley, Rare Roman artefacts found in Ryedale field', Gazette and Herald 25th November 2020). In May 2020 upwards of 400 people a day were dying of Covid in the UK, and these two guys went out together detecting twenty miles from home. 

A pair of history buffs have uncovered the find of a lifetime while metal detecting in Ryedale. James Spark and Mark Didlick, from York, were exploring a site in May when they came across “significant” finds. James said: “The day was a memorable one. Mark has detected the land for a few years and had the odd Roman find here and there, so there was a potential for some finds, but never in a million years did we expect to find what we did. “After a slow start we headed to a different part of the field and I came across a large target which when I dug it up I thought it was a lead toy soldier on a horse. Another target later and within a foot away I unearthed a large Roman bust and Plumb weight, and the following day Mark unearthed a horse head terminal.” He added: “These items are extremely rare and probably date to the 2nd century BC.” The finds are currently with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) for recording and documenting where they will be cleaned and added to the database.

And how, actually, did they reach the FLO (Rebecca Griffiths) in the middle of lockdown?  

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (XVIII): Smart Alec and the Crotal Bells (part one)


                        Crotal bells (metal detectives)                    
no scale but tend to be 25-35mm diam

Metal detectorist Smart Alec decided to make a contribution to the discussion of the reliability of the database created by the Portable Antiquities Scheme of public finds (including from metal detecting). He comments on my post "Detectorists Decide How Reliably PAS Database Reflects what is Taken". This discussed the comment of a metal detectorist who asked "Exactly, just how many crotal bells and buckles do you need to record? An explanation to what these items are and a date should suffice" and I pointed out that this was not preservation by record of the archaeological record that is being trashed. Alec decided to 'enlighten' us with a perfect illustration of tekkie intellect (and intellectual curiosity): 

Historical context.. fell off a cow in 15th c because the farmer couldn't attach his dingaling properly.. subsequently the cow wandered off and ended up in the medieval version of mcdonald's.
Dingaling and McDonalds, only 'passinittly intrestid in histry'. 

I must admit to having a soft spot for crotal bells. When I was a young lad just starting out in archaeology, I got really interested in researching the finds and writing them up. One of the first opportunities to do this was in a small local amateur group excavating threatened sites in NE Essex, before development. One of them produced a crotal bell. In those days (late 1970s/early 1980s), researching this stuff involved trawling paper publications, and I managed to find what I was looking for and wrote it up.

Smart Alec has not really looked into the subject before spouting off about it. First of all they were not used for cows (or if the PAS says they were, I'd challenge that). Rumbler bells were primarily used on horse harness and vehicles. They were not used by farmers as such. 

So a find of one of these could be an off-site loss due to carelessness or damage to an attachment, as Alec says. But the fact it's lost in a place means it was first of all in use in such a place (that brings us to the dot-distribution maps I hate so much - see below). But some of them (like the one I wrote up) were site losses. We need to know about the context of site losses, and what they were found with and in what contexts. Of course the metal detectorist and PAS do not tell us any of this. Are they found in contexts related to stabling for example? Did the objects get re-used after their primary purpose was fulfilled as some form or charm or plaything? And so on. 

The PAS database contains information about 3,082 crotal bells, of which 144 are claimed to be "medieval" examples (from mid-thirteenth century onwards, it says). The UKDFD also has a bunch and a useful finds guide.  The plot of post-medieval ones known to the PAS (to the right) may be used to look at Smart Alec's "dropped off a cow" explanation. 

Let's just assume that this map of dots is not an artefact caused by the means of gathering the "data" (actually, we have to because the PAS database does not contain a mechanism of  checks and  balances that allow us to check this out). 

At once we would see that Smart Alec's "farmers and cows" would have to have regionally determined behaviour, it's not really a viable model. 

There are regions where these bells are found on sites/off sites in some abundance and other areas where they are relatively rare on site/off site finds. The red square in Aldbourne Wiltshire is the site of the factory where it is claimed many of them were manufactured. The distribution does not seem to be biased to proximity to the place of the origin of their distribution. 

The usual interpretation is that they were largely used on horse-drawn vehicles (oxen were rarely used in Medieval England to draw carts) to warn other road users of their approach. Why then, were they not lost over large areas of northern England and Wales? While I suspect their broad distribution is only coincidentally partly coincident with the landscape zone of the Midlands dominated by open fields, I suspect the coincidence with that of High Medieval coins may not be mere accident. 

It is a theory worth investigating that we see the functioning of zones with different mechanisms of exchange, an area where goods were transported on carts (and by other means such as water transport) and those where pack horses were used as the main form of road transport. The difference is that a lumbering cart would be difficult to stop if something/somebody was right in its path (hence the need to warn them to get out of the way earlier) while a team of pack animals would just walk around the obstacle - and therefore did not need warning bells. It is interesting to note the crotal-bell-free zone running from the Cotswolds up the Jurassic ridge to the NW. It would seem plausible that carts were not used so much in hilly terrain, and packhorses took over the role on and crossing the upland ridges. 

Whether or not this was so, we can only use PAS "data" for interpreting the past even in very simple terms as above if (a) they are representative and not skewed by uneven reporting, and (b) the information in the database [replacing the actual objects themselves] is expertly created. If Smart Alec was a self-recorder and made the reports of his own finds, he would make decisions about what to include on no firmer basis than his flippant remarks quoted above. Even the description of the finds he does record cannot be relied on, as he quite simply has no idea at all what he is looking at, and not the intellectual curiosity to look it up and learn before writing something down. A "database' created in that manner is no use for research purposes, just show-and-tell.

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (XVIIIb): Smart Alec and the Crotal Bells (part two)


This follows on from The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (XVIII): Smart Alec and the Crotal Bells. Apart from greed and self-centredness, one characteristic that may be associated with metal detectivitis is manic obsession. A UK metal detectorist hiding behind the pseudonym Alec for the purpose of posting flippant comments on this blog sided with fellow detectorist Paula Pennington in asking "how many crotal bells" we need recording if artefact hunters are removing them from the archaeological record and adding them to scattered and ephemeral personal collections. He suggested that their historical (sic) context was that they all: "fell off a cow in 15th c because the farmer couldn't attach his dingaling properly.. subsequently the cow wandered off and ended up in the medieval version of mcdonald's". When I pointed out that they were associated with horse harnesses, he noted that in "disputing that they were used for agricultural use" I was "implying that everyone at PAS are therefore incompetent". When challenged to prove that "everyone at PAS" said they were not related to harnesses, he first came up with a ten-year old mention on the website of a small local museum on the northern edge of Salisbury plain who'd acquired one of these bells from a metal detectorist and said it was a sheep bell (he could equally have referred to a page on Dartmoor folklore that has some common features with the museum's narrativisation). When I pointed out that the page he cited was not even "anyone" connected with the PAS, let alone "everyone", he then searched the PAS database for cow bell and came up with this:

This tickled me no end as (although anonymous, the time it was made, 'three years ago' tells us), this was the ex-Essex FLO Sophie Flynn, who is not on my personal list of liked and trusted FLOs. I have never met Ms Flynn, but she thought it appropriate professional behaviour to set the police on me for discussing one of her public Finds Days on this blog. As such, the opinion of Sophie Flynn is not rated very highly on this blog. I am not really convinced that if Ms Flynn describes something as, quote: "cast copper-alloy Post Medieval (c. 1700-1850) rumbler or cow bell" that it means that "everyone in the PAS" thinks such bells were used as cow-bells [also note "rumbler OR cow bell"]. Smart Alec has failed to prove his point. 

The reason for this post is not, however, a comparable obsession with proving my own point, but that this exchange reveals an epic misunderstanding within the PAS database that might be worth exploring in the context of determining its reliability and archaeological values, and as a means of transmitting them to the public that pays for it.

In my previous post I mentioned the guide by Rod Blunt on the privately-run UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD). While I am no fan of this 'resource', it should be recognised that there are some noteworthy features here, and some of the 'guides' to different types of finds are among them. Rod Blunt generally knows his stuff, and the UKDFD guide to Crotal Bells more or less contains everything any finds nerd might need to know on the topic (it's the one cited by the Market Lavington museum in preference to the PAS one). Notably, what that guide lacks is a discussion of the function of the cast spherical ones with an integral loop and internal pea, a basal slot and 'sound holes' in the upper body. it is this type that is colloquially known (among metal detectorists in particular, as 'crotal' bells - the name comes from the Greek crotalon/Latin crotalo, meaning rattle). 

If however we turn to the PAS website, we find a rather wishy-washy finds guide (by Helen Geake) that deepens the confusion. Exactly the same page is referred to when searching for "crotal bell" and "animal belland it may be this that confused Smart Alec. The problem is that the author Helen Geake includes on this page (titled 'Bells') a number of totally different types and dates of objects (at least twelve), and these cast spherical bells are just one of them, while hawking bells and open clappered cow bells are also included in this broad category. Indeed she says ("PAS object type(s) to be used"): "Always use BELL. The PAS database avoids ANIMAL BELL because in most cases we are unsure about the function of any particular bell. CROTAL is only used for a very rare Bronze Age object'. This is rather unfortunate, as the majority of recorders (FLOs and PUBLIC) totally ignore that. 

(Cf the plot in the previous post)

If we search for 'bell' in the PAS database, the search engine throws up 12,292 items of all twelve+ types, but if we look at the object categories, oddly: BELL (4,241), COIN (820), STUD (373), CROTAL (360), ANIMAL BELL (138), FURNITURE FITTING (131), VESSEL (97), HRNESS PENDANT (83), WEIGHT (71), UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (64), TOKEN (63), BROOCH (58), MOUNT (55), TOGGLE (38) and lots more. there is obviously something wrong there. And look at the result for "crotal bell" under "bell" (3600, while a search for that term by itself produces ten times as many. What kind of a 'research database" is this? It can't be used for straightforward analysis by archaeologists (even if they had full access to the hidden fields), and how is a member of the public (like Smart Alec) to use it to learn anything at all?

Look what happens when you search within "bell" for "crotal". While there are outliers (in Buckinghamshire (5), Hampshire (4), Cornwall (3), Cambridgeshire (2), Suffolk (2), Herefordshire (1), Devon (1)) the map shows three clusters corresponding to modern counties (NMS (200), LIN (40), OXF (11)). Obviously these records are differentiated by means of local recording protocol.  

The same thing happens when you search for ANIMAL BELL within BELL. here they almost all cluster in and around Norfolk.  Is there contextual evidence for these (whatever type they are) bells being recovered from associations that support such a functional attribution? Or is this just a localised piece of guesswork?

Whatever the reason for this, it seems that there are serious problems in the "standardised terminology" of the PAS database that is supposed to make it easily searchable. This problem is likely to get worse as more and more people become involved in the recording.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Helsinki Gang Strut Their Stuff, Again

Public culture in Helsinki

Over on the University of Helsinki webpage, we find this gem of information:

FindSampo Presentation Public Seminar 17-18th May: Programme and Registration Open

The SuALT project by the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Finnish Heritage Agency will hold a two-day public seminar discussing the results of the project. The event will present the forthcoming FindSampo cultural heritage data service and online portal for metal-detected and other public finds. Talks on Monday 17th will be held in Finnish and on Tuesday 18th in English. 

Free registration for the event is now open. It calls itself a "public seminar" but asks for your institutional details, just to make sure that you are not, actually, a member of the European public concerned about how the archaeological record is being consumed by collectors. Here is the "event programme" but sadly Eljas Oksanen, the author did not feel it was worth giving the finnish titles in english, no matter Mr Google can do his work for him [in square brackets] All times are in EET.
Maanantai 17.4., 14:00–18:00 (suomeksi)
[14:00 to 16:30 same speakers and topics as the English session the following day, but longer] [plus]
16:30 Löytösammon aineiston käyttö tutkimuksessa [Use of discovery material in research] (Eljas Oksanen, Helsingin yliopisto)
17:00 Metallinetsijän puheenvuoro [Speech by a metal miner] (Jaakko Aarniveräjä, Suomen metallinetsijät ry [Finnish Metalworkers Association])
18:00 Tilaisuus päättyy – Close
Tuesday 18.4., 14:00–18:00 (in English)
14:00 Opening and welcome (Suzie Thomas, University of Helsinki; Eero Hyvönen, Aalto University; Ulla Salmela, Finnish Heritage Agency)
14:15 Presentation of SuALT project and goals, achievements (Suzie Thomas, University of Helsinki)
14:30 User experience (Anna Wessman, University of Bergen, Norway)
14:45 FindSampo: data service, portal and reporter (Eero Hyvönen, Heikki Rantala & Esko Ikkala, Aalto University)
15:15 Access to archaeological finds data and future visions (Ville Rohiola, Finnish Heritage Agency)
15:30 Coffee Break
15:50 European Public Finds Recording schemes (Suzie Thomas)
16:00 DIME (Andres Dobat, Århus University, Denmark)
16:15 MEDEA (Pieterjan Deckers, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)
16:30 Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands (Stijn Heeren, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
16:45 Portable Antiquities Scheme (Michael Lewis, British Museum, UK)
17:00 Keynote: On the Joys and Rewards of Archaeologist-Collector Collaboration in the USA (Bonnie Pitblado, University of Oklahoma, USA)
17:30 Discussion 
18:00 Close
Oh, so Great Britain is still in Europe when it comes to grant money, then? Along with the USA? What backwards Finnish tomfoolery is having the keynote paper at the end of the session? It's a shame that Eljas Oksanen is not presenting the only paper here explicitly about archaeology (and not data crunching) in finnish only. Also I think we'd all like to hear the Finnish metal detectorist and see what similarities and differences (that "transnational context" the Helsinki Gang are always banging on about) there are between his views and his typical British counterpart. I really do not see why this cannot have been more professionally organised with a simultaneous translator rather than a double presentation with some bits missed out.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Social Media and Heritage Protection

The Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) points out that social media plays a huge role in teen culture. According to @AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), 75% of teens have at least one social media profile and 51% visit social media daily. Yet in britain, heritage professionals only use it to make facile dumbdown posts involving "things" rather than as part of a concerted programme of getting archaeological values accross. Besides:

Hat tip Damian Huffer 

Lack of Respect Possibly Why Many Detectorists Have No Access to Land and Have to go on Pay-to-Dig Events

Fresh developments from the Facebook page of the generally untraansparent Let's go Digging Commercial Pay-to-Dig company after a debacle of a dig on Sunday. Spelling and punctuation as in original (honest):

Important group announcement
Their [sic] are going to be some very big changes to the club as of now, Firstly LGD group is now closed for the foreseeable future for anyone joining this Facebook group, We are also reducing the amount of members we allow on each event, If you are in this group you just made it because it won’t be opening back up for new people to find and join as we feel we have enough already in the group at the moment [...] we will be closing membership at the end of May so from 1st June if you haven’t joined you won’t be able to attend events until Jan 1st 2022 when new membership starts LGD are looking at taking on around 10 more admins as of now for anyone who has been with us a while and can attend at least 2 events per month feel free to contact me, you must be prepared to travel Their are a number of reasons for closing the group to new ppl joining and also becoming members only, firstly so we know exactly who is on our events and so we can hold full contact details for everyone who attend the rallies, also so we can make sure LGD members abide by LGD rules when on our events, We are going to be restricting events and be very tough on members for the sake of the club and it’s members, We will be only opening a set number of fields at a time so every field has enough admin to be able to monitor holes and gates etc, please be warned anyone seen leaving a bad hole by admin or other members on our events will be removed from the club and permanently banned no questions asked, if a number of other members see you leaving bad holes not filled back in and inform admin we will take action, On all events if you open a gate close it properly simple, caught leaving gates open after yourself will also be a ban, dropping litter on our farms or seen leaving any rubbish is also an instant ban Goes without saying not showing finds is a ban, These things are simple to abide by and things you are expected to abide by being an LGD member and attending our events, Myself and Joanne are seriously disappointed today after losing all of the Gloucester permissions in 1 foul [sic] swoop, All the good farms gone,

Your behaviour on our events is paramount to us getting more farms and recommendations to other farms, unfortunately we have lots who dig a hole and walk off if no one is watching, We have some who throw beer cans in hedges or in fields, leave gates open, climb fences instead of using gates, It’s these members we want to catch and remove from the club, This is your club and it can only be as successful as you members make it, you fill your holes in well and remove litter, close gates I can keep farms coming and keep us digging in different areas, you disrespect one event and you can as has happened far too many times now lose the club that farm and future farms in that area, We have in the past lost some of our best farms due to diggers taking the piss [sic] and disrespecting the club, it’s members and our farmers, 5 more farms we have just lost for litter, gates, holes, ruts left in grass, beer cans thrown in hedges, LGD have to take some more responsibility fit this and have, We to hold bigger events need more admin, This allows us to give more land and most importantly the more members we allow the more we can pay our farms, 
We need to take action immediately and can’t carry on letting people lose this club land, You’ve had some of the best areas in the country and hugely successful digs and lost the club those farms, Theirs [sic] only so much we can do as organisers the rest is down to you lot, So you will unfortunately see the next 2 Gloucester events cancelled and have to bare [sic] with me while I now set up new events that are not already in crop, Pissed off ain’t the word, Those who respect this club and farms will be rewarded with nice events in lots new areas, those who take the piss [sic] will be banned, This club will become smaller and fine tuned to everyone of our members respecting our digs and farms, we want you full members to let admin know if you see other members doing any of the above , let admin deal with it, Don’t let them lose us the farms, We will make it impossible for people to do the above by having smaller events, more admin, only set fields open at certain times so they can be checked before we allow other fields to be open, This is not the way we wanted to run this club but due to too many taking the piss [sic] you’ve left us no option, We will make the events great for those who do follow the rules and get rid of those who take the piss [sic], Enough is enough to many farms now lost because of idiots, Please expect fewer events moving forward for a while as we reduce numbers to manage the events this reduces the amount paid to farmers by at least half and makes it even harder to gain land then already is, We will have to set up a full members only group if things carry on so we can lock it down to club members only (This is so club information stays within the clubs members only), Truly disappointed once again and hate having to bring negativity to this club AGAIN.

Note, "filling in yer 'oles", "Frow away yer rubbish proper" and "shut th' gates" are the key notions contained in the NCMD "Code of Conduct". It could be an idea to notify the NCMD of LGD members thrown out of the group for not doing these things, and let them be thrown out of the NCMD too to show it means business. 

As for beer cans in the hedges, it's a surprise to learn that they allow alcohol on site during such events. Do the landowners know? This could seriously affect the third party insurance cover that must be part of the assurances given before any contract concerning access is signed.


Detectorists Decide How Reliably PAS Database Reflects what is Taken

Archaeology dumbdown

The discussion of artefact hunting goes on, all sorts of objections raised to metal detectorists doing the decent thing and allowing archaeologists to record what they are taking. Including this from a detectorist:
Paula Pennington @penns65 · 3 g. W odpowiedzi do @mutteringmadam @ArchaeoAnni i 11 innych użytkowników
Exactly, just how many crotal bells and buckles do you need to record. Fair enough if its a new detectorist recording a few items like this to get them in the swing of it. An explanation to what these items are and a date should suffice.
So explain to us again please your concept of "preservation by document". What should it mean? The PAS record should be what is being taken from sites and assemblages, not just selected highlights. That was the idea.

The problem (yet again) here is the PAS is simply failing to communicate any archaeological values to the British public (that pay for it), there is apparently a lack of clarity in the artefact hunting community (24 years after it's been going) WHY there is any recording at all. Things are not helped by the PAS producing popular science publications that basically concentrate on "fifty best finds from...", "Fifty best Roman finds..." rather than what archaeological information about the sites raided by artefact hunters they have.

Monday 19 April 2021

Bonkers Britain: Archaeologists Fight over Understanding "Metal Detecting"


I spent a long weekend out of Warsaw and come back to find that in my absence this has been going on in a thread about commercial artefact hunting rallies and detector permits. One presumes that this tweet is answering an archaeologist, but the person addressed has blocked me so I can't see which one on that thread it was (W odpowiedzi do @WDHUK1 @mutteringmadam i 9 innych użytkowników):

I take it from the reference to "unprofessional" behaviour that this was a heritage professional. Why is it that every discussion of artefact hunting in any other country has archaeologists (both professionals and amateurs) in agreement against it, in the UK archaeologists fall out over it ? [serious question]. The difference is the existence of the divisive Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Vignette; Professional greed.

Sunday 18 April 2021

The Entangled PAS: Neil Brodie on Metal Detecting Finds from England and Wales (I)

The article 'What is this thing called the PAS? Metal detecting entanglements in England and Wales' by EAMENA's Neil Brodie in the latest issue of Revista d'Arquelogia de Ponent (30:85-100) is an important contribution to the literature on the issues surrounding collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record not just in the UK, but Europe in general. This paper has just come online (along with  the whole dossier containing this paper), and I can warmly recommend this thought-provoking text. 

The paper begins with (and set around) a whiff of scandal with the idiotic response of six academics [Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, and Suzie Thomas  involved with detector-finds-recording to a text by Samuel Hardy, I wrote about this earlier. The Deckers et al fiasco is mentioned several times throughout the paper. 

Brodie sets out to explain why some academics are so very defensive about the PAS (p. 86). He then sees Hodder's 'theory of entanglement' as a means of elucidation. He sets out the background to the existence of the PAS (pp. 87-8). Although this overlaps with my own in the paper following, Brodie's account helpfully puts this material in a broader context of changes in British archaeology at the same time. This is then followed by two related sections 'The archaeological value of PAS and Treasure data' (pp 88-9) and 'the reliability of PAS and Treasure findspot information' (pp 89-90).  The core of the article then addresses 'The PAS entanglement' (pp 90-92). The next section provides some important new information on 'The market in metal-detecting finds' (pp 92-4) that was of particular interest to me as it overlaps with something I have just written and this is supplemented in Brodie's article by 'Internet sales of Western (Dobunni) Iron Age coins' (pp 94-5). The discussion (95-6) draws all this together and addresses the question of why there is so much defensiveness surrounding the PAS and very little 'critical self-consciousness'. 

Brodie suggests that this is due to the conditions under which the PAS operates that have led to "professional entrapments [with] an impact on scholarly debate". He suggests that "understanding this entanglement might be the first step towqards transcending it" and the defensive attidues of the entrapped professionals is "unhelpful in this regard", characteristic of a primitive stage of the discussion of a particular disciplinary environment, before it "loses its innocence". That's hardly news to the author of this blog, but it's heartening to see the point being made by others. The paper ends with discussing the attempts by the Helsinki Gang to advocate for the setting up of PAS clones in other countries. Brodie is, rightly, sceptical of the realism of such ideas.

The text is rather curious in that it is very "Cambridge/Stanford", noticeably citing scholars and concepts emanating from those academic centres to make many of the main points. I am not convinced that Brodie has defined that "entrapment" in the most aposite manner, and this then leads him to see the future development of the PAS (or whatever it transforms into) as related to technology, though at the end, he does refer to the issue of public opinion and morals (though only in connection with the market in antiquities rather than the trashing of sites to get them).     

The Entangled PAS: Neil Brodie on Metal Detecting Finds from England and Wales (II)


Neil Brodie's paper referenced above concentrates on the appalling behaviour of our colleagues, attacking a critic (not even criticism) of some of the ideas that the PAS-approach to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record embodies. For this reason, when discussing the "entanglement"  (Hodder 2012) of which this behaviour is a symptom, he centres it on the PAS itself (treated as a Hodderian 'thing'). Doing so leads to some interesting conclusions. 

One of the most interesting is seeing it in the context of the developments in archaeology (p. 90-1) from which Brodie concludes that archaeologists use information about finds compiled by PAS not so much because they believe them to be particularly high quality or reliable data, but because they are in effect handed them on a plate and don't have to go and look for them (p. 90). It's all about laziness. Of course that's something I've been saying a long time. 

As somebody who for a long while has struggled with putting it into Polish, I find Hodder's book (2012) frustratingly fluffy, vague and badly-written. In the context discussed here, I read Hodder in a different way to Brodie. Possibly part of the problem is that the latter refers in his article only to the 2016 'studies' open access volume by Hodder, rather than the source volume. 

Surely the people-thing entanglement that we should be considering is that between the items found by artefact hunters and other members of the public and the various stakeholder groups (including "metal detectorists", other members of the public, collectors, dealers, archaeologists, museums and the PAS staff). I am puzzled by the fact that Brodie devotes much attention to the antiquities trade, yet not the collecting with which it interacts. If they are not hoiking them for sale, what is the social function  of the artefacts metal detectorists find, if not to collect? Treating the entanglement as around the artefact-hunted fiinds (the "things"), I think, puts a different perspective on PAS and the nature of the entanglements both practical and ideological and perhaps I'll explore that a bit later on. Something to think about. 


Hodder, Ian  2012, ‘Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things.’ Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell: currently available online:  

 Hodder, Ian  2016, Studies in Human-Thing Entanglement’, Open Access work, available online only:


The Entangled PAS: Neil Brodie on Metal Detecting Finds from England and Wales (III)


The section on "Unreported (dark) finds" is a bit of a mixed bag. Dr Brodie spends some time (p 91) making excuses why British artefact hunters may not be reporting finds. Nowhere does the word "irresponsible" appear, still less "self-centred bastards". Again, the failure explicitly to consider collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record as a collecting activity flattens the argument. On page 92, he makes several good points with which one can only agree:

a) "When considering the dark-figure problem of unreported finds, it is important not to confuse the issues of illegally-detected finds and legally-detected though unreported finds, nor to develop an analytical polarisation between legal and illegal detecting, which problematizes illegal detecting while accepting legal detecting and implicitly the non-reporting of legal finds".

It is odd how many times this needs to be said... This is exactly the sort of information that a quarter of a century of expensive PAS outreach should by now have got out to the British public. 

b) "The finds recorded on the PAS database are clearly only a sample of the total, but the PAS has not paid a lot of attention to the problem of unreported legal finds [...] Yet in archaeological terms the non-reporting of legal finds is as damaging as illegal detecting"

It is odd how many times this needs to be said. This is exactly the sort of information that a quarter of a century of expensive PAS outreach should by now have got out to the British public. 

c) "The argument that non-reporting ‘hoarding’ detectorists might record information about their finds which they might be willing to share with researchers and that such finds should not be considered lost is disingenuous (Deckers et al. 2018: 324)".

It is odd that such a thing should even need saying.

d) "The PAS was developed to encourage the reporting of legally-found objects, thereby diminishing archaeological damage, and its success in part must be judged by its success in achieving that aim. Thus the dark figure of unreported finds remains an important though presently inexact statistic, which was one of Hardy’s motivating contentions (Hardy 2017: 42).'

Deckers et al. for some reason (Brodie says why) did not seem to want to see it that way.

I have a bit of a problem with Brodie's attempts to say what he thinks those figures are, and have devotd a separate post to my thoughts on this in order not to detract from the overall positive aspects of Dr Brodie's paper, which all PAS staff should read and reflect on. 


Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.