Thursday 5 August 2021

Not Looking a Gift Horse Brooch in the Mouth: Another Pretty Thing Dug Up For UK Arkies to OOO-and-Ah About [UPDATED]

In the latest British Archaeology Magazine there is a brief text (below) about yet another 'Celtic horse harness brooch' coming up in a group find that a metal detectorist located below plough level.
Images from Dr Morrison's tweet [update: I am informed by Mike Pitts 
"you might like to point out to those reading your blog the photo and the text, [are] copied from the new British Archaeology magazine. Even better if you could give a link here done]

As a bit of self-promotion, Dr Wendy Morrison (@Hillfortian 21 g.) writes: "Fantastic to see in @archaeologyuk the awesome pics of the stunning horse brooch recovered by a very responsible detectorist in the @ChilternsAONB; it was a delight to be able to excavate and record the hoard last year". 

I asked how this particular artefact hunter earned the title "very" responsible since by definition in UK, all law-abiding ones who report their finds are considered to be "responsible".* 

Dr Morrison replied
All the FLOs were away on summer hols, no one in the HERs was available, he tried three different counties, and found me through the project website. He wanted it excavated and recorded properly and he wanted it safe from nighthawks who were already sniffing about. And before the cynic cries 'well it was treasure...' he didn't know it was a scattered hoard - only that it was lovely and probably important to understand the context of it .
So "very responsible" is only doing what 25 years of PAS outreach and millions of pounds spent on it has been trying to get all finders to do in just such a situation. When the PAS was set up, the hope was expressed in the House of Lords (Baroness Blackburn, I think it was - it was a long time ago) that if we set up this new-fangled PAS, such behaviour "would become  normal". A quarter of a century on (and after the expunging from the online public record of so much that was hopefully and with such conviction said in the early days of this liaison), the full reality emerges that this is still an exception.

So much the exception that the need has not emerged to set up in England and Wales some kind of a mobile task force to deal with such situations. A tekkie finds something, is afraid that the "hawks" (scil. other metal detectorists) get wind of it, so he "wants" the rest of it hoiked out tout suite. It does not matter by whom, what their research aims are, just "someone". So he tries the FLOs (it's not their job), he tries the HERs (it's not their job either). We are not told how many commercial archaeological units were approached (Oxford Archaeology is pretty close) or by how much Dr Morrison's team undercut their price (and I am assuming that she as a professional archaeologist involved in another project did not work for free, just for the entertainment value).

I asked, but got no answer to the question, how the finder knew that "nighthawks were sniffing around", how did that manifest itself? Locals being accosted in pubs by men in camo suits and dark glasses? How did Mr Grace specifically identify them as "nighthawks" (and if he knows who they are, has he reported them)?

So many questions here, but let's not talk about that eh? There's a well-lit picture for short-attention span British archaeologists to focus on. Wotta discovery! Innit PRETTY?  Wow!  

Can anyone spot on the PAS database what is the number of this item, dug up a year ago?  

This is not a criticism of Dr Morrison, it also involves the other 5999 heritage professionals (we are told by surveys of the profession in the UK) who basically - one hopes - are merely quietly muttering away to themselves about how cack-handed the British approach to Collection-Driven-Exploitation of the Archaeological Record actually is, reliant each time on ad hoc goodwill reactions to individual cases. Let us hope if British archaeologists can't pull their fingers out and create an almighty fuss in the media, the soon-to-be-formed Institute of Detectorists will do it for them. 

*leaving aside the issue of whether blindly extracting archaeological artefacts from sites and assemblages can be considered "responsible" treatment of the archaeological record in the first place.

UPDATE 6th August 2021
Despite what I said at the end, the lady seems to have taken my comments personally. She protests that I "moderate" comments on my blog, so that's why she's not going to answer here under my post but take it to a disjointed thread on Twitter. 

It seems that in fact Dr Morrison is proud of the fact that she in fact did agree to do the work to recover the hoard and record its context free of charge to the landowner and finder or anyone else. The landowner who issued the permission for the initial intervention and the initial investigator of the site who had not the resources himself to complete the job properly seem therefore to have contributed less to supporting the response than some would say they should. [So why can't  other British professional archaeologists also excavate supermarket sites, rail projects, pipeline wayleaves and bypasses for free, just digging smaller holes with a team of friends and voluntary workers? "Better than nothing' cuts both ways.]

For the record, the image above was taken from Dr Morrison's tweet (referenced just below it). You can read her lengthy and defensive "response" indicating that she'd not really understood the points I was making starting here. We look forward to the full publication of the site report in due course. Will Dr Morrison and friend do that for free too?
[Bemused update: yes, indeed she said she did. No wonder archaeology is losing its status in the public eye and in higher learning if it turns out you can easily get professionals to do everything for free simply by not paying them to do work on threatened sites]

As for "nighthawks sniffing around", in her reply Dr Morrison says:
the detectorist knew he was observed from the public footpath. No, he wasn’t telling tales down the pub. Yes, he worried because the landowner was aware of trespassers.
So he saw somebody with a metal detector and a spade watching him through binoculars from a footpath and optically triangulating findspots? Or did he see some people using the footpath and suspect/assume/deduce that they were nighthawks out to get him? The statistics say that in the UK, 1 in 2300 citizens is a metal detectorist. Nighthawks are (we are assured) a very small minority in the detector-using community, so even if 2300 people passed along that footpath in the time Mr Grace was digging up this find, statistically one of them might be a fellow detectorist, but the chances are, a law-abiding one. If this find was dug up in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, perhaps there may have been a "nighthawk in the crowd", watching and waiting for dark. My comment still stands.

[NOTE: With regard to the archaeologist's comment on moderation, I'll reiterate, as some people don't seem to be able to read it here (point 15). If on this blog anyone's work, actions or ideas are commented upon and they feel that what I said is unfair, they always have the right to as full a reply as they feel they need to challenge, correct, contextualise or otherwise respond to what I said. That goes for you too Dr Morrison. I suggest though that if you are going to stereotype me or use sarcasm, as you do in your tweets, I may well pull you up on it].


Brian Mattick said...

It seems unlikely that "nighthawks sniffing about" is the result of loose talk in the pub. Whoever heard of such talk including precise location details?

No, the nighthawks would surely have been witnesses who actually saw where it was found. In other words other detectorists. Why are archaeologists so reluctant to ever face that reality? If the names, addresses, and photographs of all present were sent to the FLO things might improve.

Paul Barford said...

I don't know, the archaeologist simply threw out this phrase to justify her own involvement there and then, and refused to answer the question what that meant in real terms.

Again, this seems to be a matter of detector users digging down too far before deciding to get help (so therefore increasing the chances that a watcher or casual visitor would see traces of the hole) and/or not having any ideas about how to protect the site (or take on the responsibility of doing it themselves).

This is a situation that has been recurring for 25 years of PAS outreach and including ad hoc goodwill responses, we've seen it time and time again. Each time resulting in a titchy (but neatly square) hole that focuses on the actual findspot, that almost never is properly published. Think of Staffordshire Hoard, Crosby Garret, Lenborough (!), Frome Hoard and many, many more. And probably dozens where the tekkie was looking for help, but could not get it easily enough (or the person contracted wanted funding from the landowner), and in the end the tekkie dug it out himself.

Hougenai said...

All the FLO's were on holiday?
What sort of organisation lets all it's employees take holidays without arranging some sort of cover?

Unknown said...

Interesting that you choose to ignore the fact that Dr Morrison is in fact....a Dr. Don't start playing the 'she was rude to me card' unless you are actually willing to abide in a civil conversation.

Paul Barford said...

Mike Pitts comments:
"Glad you like this find Paul. And the photo and the text, which you might like to point out to those reading your blog is copied from the new British Archaeology magazine. Even better if you could give a link here"

Paul Barford said...

The picture was copied from the tweet, rather than the magazine. But it's on pages 4 and 5 of the magazine. I look forward to seeing a proper writeup of the find (and the rectangular inset visible on the back, and the strap arrangements) as well as the excavation done-for-free in due course.

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