Saturday, 27 November 2021

Britain's Public-Funded Great One-in-Nine Portable Antiquities Scam: An Abusive and Toxic Relationship Ignored

 

The topsy-turvey abusive and toxic
relationship between collectors and
UK archaeological "partners"


Heritage Action on the recent PAS "Responsible Metal Detecting" video, funded by public money:
In my opinion not conning the landowner about your behaviour is the single most important thing a detectorist should be doing for the farmer, science, archaeology and the country, yet there’s not a word on the video about that from the professionals. In my opinion, that’s just not right. It lets everybody down.
PAS happy to take public cash, less keen on keeping the public informed about the real situation on the ground that thie public-funded "liaison" reveals. Just keep soldiering on, hope nobody will catch on to the one-in-nine scam.   



'PAS's First Million (UPDATED - British Museum Hides the Statistics from Public?)' PACHI 16 November 2021.

'PAS: So What Are the Real Figures Anyway, and How Are They Calculated?' PACHI 19 November 2021.

See: ' A Revised Artefact Erosion Counter' PACHI Sunday, 15 July 2018. 

WHY, actually, are so few people discussing these figures (even if they intend to show they are "wrong")? Is it of no concern to a single heritage professional? Really? The whole lot of them totally oblivious and negligent of some disturbing information? Or are they just overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness and decide to fall into a marasm of denial and reality-avoidance? Are they really so "entangled" in a network of dependence on the collectors that Neil Brodie wrote about? Perhaps instead of sinking deeper into the soft coils of denial and ignorance, British archaeology might think about finding a way out of this abusive and toxic relationship.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Destruction and Looting of Cultural Heritage Sites by ISIS in Manbij and its countryside


Manbij still unstable after ISIL   

Adnan Almohamad, 'The destruction and looting of cultural heritage sites by ISIS in Syria: The case of Manbij and its countryside' International Journal of Cultural Property , Volume 28 , Issue 2 , May 2021 , pp. 221 - 260

Abstract
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied the city of Manbij and its countryside from 23 January 2014 until 12 August 2016. During this period, the region suffered greatly as ISIS monopolized control and brutally imposed its ideology. Fierce battles were fought for the control of oil wells, bakeries, mills, dams, and power stations, all of which were sources of revenue. Antiquities were soon recognized as another potential income source. This article demonstrates the ways in which ISIS began to administer and facilitate the looting of antiquities through the Diwan Al-Rikaz. Within this diwan, ISIS established the Qasmu Al-Athar, which was specifically responsible for looting antiquities. Based on interviews conducted in 2015 and primary documents, this article studies the specific ways in which ISIS facilitated the quarrying and looting of antiquities in Manbij and the rich archaeological sites of its countryside. Further, by examining the damage at a previously undocumented archaeological site, Meshrefet Anz, the looting of antiquities under the direct supervision of the Diwan Al-Rikaz is studied. Using documentary evidence including ISIS’s internal documentation as well as photographs collected by the author between 2014 and 2016, the article demonstrates the methods used by ISIS, reveals its financial motivations, and bears witness to the damage done at specific Syrian heritage sites.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0940739121000114 

I've not seen it, but hope the ISIS internal documentation does not include the Abu Sayyaf raid material that I consider was, like some of the antiquities, planted.

Another issue is the texts that have appeared after August'16 referring to other looting:
US, France looting artifacts in northern Syria’ The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights Dec 12, 2018

'US-Backed SDF Forces Looting Historical Artifacts in Manbij' DEFA News 20 May 2018

'Artifacts and narcotics trafficking and looting of millions of US dollars among grand corruption cases in Manbi', The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights Jan 11, 2021

Are these just propaganda, or does something lie behind them? What do the satellite images say? Interestingly, we hear so little about them these days now the US-led war on ISIL has come to an end, suddenly looting threats to cultural heritage in Syria loses its cachet (and grant-attracting properties) in the US and UK archaeological communities. 


Thursday, 25 November 2021

Missing Durga Reportedly Turns up With London Dealer

 

(The Lost Arts of Nepal)

Lost Arts of Nepal note: " This 18th Century Wooden Torana of Durga, stolen in the 1980s-90s from Kumari Chhen (Living Goddess) has been located in the collection of Barakat Gallery, UK" I am sure that on confirming this is the case, the dealer will immediately return it and provide investigating authorities of all the information they have on the chain of passage of this item to them. This is why on acquiring stock, having provenance documentation and asking critical questions is so important. <

Looting the Past as a Sport in the UK?

 

   Archaeotrashing, a new national sport in UK   
The National Council for Metal Detecting bills itself as "The recognised voice of Metal Detecting":

The National Council for Metal Detecting is a representative body of elected volunteers formed in 1981 to provide a means whereby responsible metal detector users would have a democratic forum to discuss problems affecting the hobby and to provide an authoritative voice to counter ill -informed and frequently misleading criticism of the hobby. It does not represent the trade or archaeological interests.
So it has been going for more than 40 years. It seems that after some awkward scandals and fallouts within its cumbersome structure, a breakaway group has formed. It is called Association for the Metal Detecting Sport (MADS for short). While the NCMD has long been a member of the Sport + Recreation Alliance (formerly the Central Council for Physical Recreation) - nobody is really sure why, this group takes it a step further, and defines looting archaeological sites as a "sport". in the same way as certain off--road drivers in the UK treat driving over barrows, DMVs, earthworks and churning up moorland flint scatters as a "sport" (it has a name "archaeotrashing"). It's sort of like the Brexited British equivalent of the Cultural Revolution, an anti-elitist movement of everyman aimed at "sweeping away the past, levelling up now". Archaeologists see any form of interaction with the past, even something as destructive as "metal detecting [digging up and taking]" as an expression of an "interest in the past" even if that means the evidence is destroyed for selfish reasons. 


Anyway this MADS reckons they are going to promote and "protect" collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record:


.. and through them, Britain's 27000 "metal detectorists [digging it up and taking it away]" are going to have a "greater say in how metal detecting [digging it up and taking away] is to go forward". Interesting notion. In Britain, there are so many people that have an interest in the past as to join other types of organisations, not the "digging up stuff and pocketing it fer meself" type, but the preserving sites type. So the National Trust has  5.37 million paid-up members and English Heritage 1 million members. That means a 27000 strong minority trying to impose their will on over 2.4 million history-lovers more interested in preservation than ripping bits off and pocketing them. That's about 1% trying to impose their will on 99%. Of course what is needed is for those 99% to be fully informed about what the anorakish term "metal detecting [digging it up and taking it away]" really means and what effects it is having on the survival of shallow sites all across the country. that of course means British archaeologists getting their fingers out and doing something to inform the public about these issues.

I would draw attention to the unintentional symbolism of the first few seconds of the video used to present this new fraction:


We have now all sorts of organisations functioning on and offline all claiming to represent the interests of the hobby to the outside, but above all their own members. This is a result of a failure for the hobby to gather round a common set of principles. the ultimate result of this is a fracturing, a weakening, of the hobby in the face of external pressure rather than its consolidation and strengthening. Which could be used to the benefit of the heritage... could be, will British heritage professionals seize the opportunity this presents? 





Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Another Yandex Reality Check on the International No-Questions-Asked Antiquities Market

 

                       Man about to thrash a tree                      
"aesnumismatics" in Austria is an interesting dealer to look at. They sell through Catawiki, where you can find this "Viking Era Bronze Important Ring representing the Mythological scene Odin sacrificing himself under the Tree Yggdrasil9th.-11th Century AD" NO. 52535075. Collecting history vague as vague can be:
Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki.
Interesting. On the Ancient Artifacts Group.IO, Renate has identified where it came from, and it is very much "after the 1980s" (Renate 23rdh Nov 2021 10:21pm #95958)
The origin of the man-and-plant ring [...] is this page: https://rings.guru/collection/19329. "Comes from an old private collection" is the common wording for "recently purchased from an Ukranian or Russian treasure hunter" on Catawiki and other sites [...] Kudos to the Yandex.ru image search!
Rings Guru has been discussed by me here. The website says that it is from the early modern era, 15th-17th century (so pretty far from being 'Viking') and that it was found in Ukraine. The problem with the seller asserting that it was "obtained legally" from what we now know through Yandex would be first admitting that it was not found in "Austria" but was exported in full accordance with their laws on such things from Ukraine. Then to make it legal, that would require having the documentation of legal excavation (so a permit), legal gaining of title to an excavated object, then legal export (permit). Has aesnumismatics got such documentation in this case? Well, they must have something as Catawiki have gone on record to say they've seen these records... oh.... oh. No, what Catawiki actually say "provenance statement seen by Catawiki", what does that actually mean, "provenance statement"? How is the veracity established of such a "statement" that one has "seen" (not even kept on file)?

This object has been vetted for kosherness not only by the seller but also by Catawiki's expert Peter Reynaers. I would say to assess something like this, one would need a pretty good grounding in metalworking techniques, not only theoretical but also practice. I'd like to know whether Mr Reynaers has much experience of using a burin (and on an object of this scale). I presume he knows how they work. So I'd be really interested to hear from him how he thinks that design was carved (apart from "crudely"). 

Looking carefully at the photo, I am interested in the wide flat bottomed recessed fields with the steep sides. How was that done? Serious question. More to the point (and, I would suggest looking at the enlarged photo, not unrelated), I'd like to hear his explanation of the shape of the line making up the figure's right forearm and that of the right calf. Why, in the way this is lit, do they seem to have a rounded cross-section? What ancient hand-tool has made that toolmark, according to him? Because neither of them look like what a burin would do. When he was examining this carefully before recommending to Catawiki that they put it on sale, did he consider as a working hypothesis (among others), that this design could have been made by blocking it out quickly with a tool like a dremel drill, and then going over it with a burin and - in the hollow of the thorax and head with a round-tipped burnishing tool to get rid of the traces of grinding? I am sure, looking at the toolmarks that we can see in the seller's own photo that the possibility must have crossed the mind of the attentive expert. So how was that hypothesis falsified? (because it must have been as the object is offered as a genuine antiquity).

So, what actually are we really looking at? Something found by metal detecting in Austria in 1985 and kept in the finder's collection until sold? Something found by illegal metal detecting in Ukraine? Or something recently knocked up for sale to collectors in the empty workshop of an abandoned kołchoz somewhere in the same region? Whatever it is, as a loose object of unknown origins, does it have any potential to tell us anything at all about the past - given we do not know what it represents?



UK Jernlists Wot Kant Spell Luv Th' Metal Detectrists

 

It's an easy story innit? Local bloke with a metal detector's always finding something for the local newspaper's journalist to write about, even if he cannot spell:

"The hoard of coins which included, shillings, six pence's, three pence's were found in Shap on farmland." 

Five grammatical errors in one sentence (Ben Barry, 'Unearthed in Dalton hits the jackpot in recent dig', The NW Mail 24 Nov 2021). It's another plug for "Unearthed in Dalton", run by Graeme Rushton who "runs monthly digs to see what buried treasures they can unearth", so the publicity will come in handy.
The dig was broadcast last night (Tuesday, 23) on the Unearthed youtube channel at 8pm where people can find out more information and watch how the archaeology process takes place. Graeme said that that they were very fortunate to find the coins when they did as in the future the land they discovered them on will be used for redevelopment. Graeme said: "Potentially with the machinery going in, it could of smashed the coins into bits and pieces so we were very fortunate in finding those coins from future disruption."
"Could of"...

Well, we "could of" made a drinking game from the video of the "archaeology (sic) process (sic) taking place". You take one deep swig from the glass every time you hear the word "folks". You take two in quick succession when you hear the video host urge "keep watching". Don't do this if you plan to drive to the shops or pick up the kids afterwards. And do not by any means skip that loud, excited so-over-the-top beginning.

Note that they are on heavily-grazed pasture, looks to be pretty established pasture to me, and even so they claim "no archilogicil layers wos damigid" because its "near the surfice". Code of Best Practice for Responsible metal Detecting anyone? And look what they are showing us, coin after coin after coin. There are no nails in that field, no iron strip and sheet fragments, no pieces of fragmented copper alloy artefacts, no pieces of lead. Just an entire "culture of coins". The type site of the "Dalton Coin Culture". Even if these things are recorded (like the best practice Code says) it'll tell us very little about the actual archaeology (past landuse/activities, zonation) of the site, just some coins were dropped on it between the 13th and 17th centuries, and probably one bloke lost a purse when he collapsed drunk in some bushes on his way home across the fields after a night out boozing (perhaps he was doing a 17th century drinking game). Note, no mention is made in the film of individual plotting of the hoard coins (or any of the others) as they came up, the hoard is shown to us as a loose group of unlabelled coins, so how has that hoard been recorded in this "archaeological process"? How do we know they were associated? Look at this video:
.
.

And the newspaper writeup promises something really cringeworthy to look forward to:
"Currently, Graeme is filming with ITV for a new five-part series, which is due to come on in January. The show will be centred around treasure hunting and will be presented by Henry Cole".

Hat tip: Dave Coward 

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

"So Many Horses": A Swastika is a Swastika

 

Collectors are becoming more savvy these days on how to look at online antiquities sales, online networking helps them to learn the pitfalls of buying unpapered artefacts, no matter how they are dressed up as 'kosher'. Tuppenny Tim's Ancient Artifacts Group.io now has a new member, ArtCrimeProf. She writes there (So Many Horses #95957 24 Nov 2021) that the algorithm of Live Auctioneers ("the world's best auctions for one-of-a-kind art, antiques & luxury goods") is revealing that they have offered for sale many versions of the same type of ancient Roman brooch over the years. 

Live Auctions via ArtCrimeProf (edited)

If you look deeper beyond the pictures, as she notes, they are mostly being put on the online market for inspection and appraisal and eventual purchase by a single UK dealer with vague British collecting  histories that do not properly explain how these items got on the market or from where. Checking it out, here are just a few examples of this phenomenon (note, all of them were sold after the PAS was set up to record metal detecting finds from the UK, so given the fact that all of them first "|surface" (from underground) as artefacts of British origin, the lack of a single one with a PAS record number is thought-provoking):

"UK art market, acquired prior to 1985".[Sept 2012]
"Provenance UK art market, acquired prior to 1980" [May 2015]
"From a Surrey, UK, collection; formed before 2000". [Feb 2016]
"UK art market, acquired prior to 2000" {May 2016]
"UK art market, acquired prior to 2000" (miscast) [Feb 2017]
"UK art market, acquired prior to 1980." Also Feb 2017 - Note: another model)
"Property of a North West London gallery; formerly in a 1980s collection" variation on a theme, it says this one is silver [Sep 2018]
"Property of a European gentleman living in London; acquired on the UK art market" [Sept 2019] 
Though the sellers can't seem to decide if they should be dated to the 2nd century AD or the third. 

And if you want one for your reference collection, though this time with a rather unattractive patina, here's one on sale by Live Auctioneers right now, get your bids in, sale ends in about a week: "Ex British collector; by repute found in the UK. [No Reserve]". Mind you, the aesthetics aside, "by repute" is not very secure, there is in fact no mention here of whether there is a protocol assigning title by the landowner or which specialists vetted this sale. 

There are lots more just a mouse click away. Apart from the archives of LiveAuctioneers, there may be others revealed by image research tools by other online showcases and aggregators, such as worthpoint, lot-art and lotsearch, (not to mention those annoying 'pinterest' duplicates often poorly referenced to source). And then there is always Yandex

It seems to me that there is a nice undergrad thesis topic here if someone is looking for one. Not least comparing the frequency and stated /implied origins of these items from the virtual saleroom as originating from British artefact collections and the actual data from the ground, where British Roman plate brooches with horses' heads are rather like hen's teeth. British 'horsey' plate brooches that are 'grounded' in the database of archaeological finds are of a different type entirely. So what's going on? 

And just out of interest, Roman swastika plate brooches seem to be quite favoured in the online antiquities market (where it can be used to reinforce the point that this symbol is "nothing to do with you-know-what but an ancient sun symbol!") yet if it comes to items stated to be derived from British collections, look how few there seem to be on an actual database of  33,559 Roman brooches

UPDATE 24 Non 2021
Anonymous Groups.io list member "Renate" (24.11.2012 10:57pm #95959) casually and somewhat condescendingly replies to ArtCrimeProf:

Hi, It's good that you bring up these brooches again. They were and are very popular, which explains the amount of genuine and fake pieces. [...] Petković (2018) writes about the type and distribution [...] Keep researching! Renate"
he/she forgets to give the link to where you can check the context of the quote taken out of context  [here it is] and the type is linked to "Sarmatians, namely, the Alans" in the Roman army at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century. Petrović (2018, 82-4 ) says they are very frequently found in sites of the Danubian province Pannonia Secunda and in particular near the North Serbian town of Novi Banovci. If that is so, then have these items on sale in the UK in fact come from sites in Central Serbia (and incicidentally NE Croatia and NE Bosnia Herzegovina)?  If so, can the collecting histories offered by the sellers be related to any historical events in that area (like a civil war for example and the looting of sites with metal detectors during or after that)? 


Missing Kathmandu Sculpture Reportedly Turns up With London Dealer


(The Lost Arts of Nepal

The Lost Arts of Nepal are alleging that a "17th Century kneeling donor image stolen in the 1980s From a Buddhist vihara in Om Bahal, Kathmandu has been located in the collection of Barakat Gallery, UK". If that is confirmed, the gallery will no doubt be hastening to return it and provide investigating authorities of all the information they have on the chain of passage of this item to them so the traffickers can be identified and removed from the Market. This is why on acquiring stock, having provenance documentation and asking critical questions about where things came from and how they entered the market are vitally important. Different lighting in the two sets of photos obscures some distinguishing marks, but the old damage to the base of the plinth is the same. Notably, in entering somehow (how?) the antiquities market, damage has been done to the sculpture's hands and left thigh, at least. This is noteworthy in the context of the argument made by collectiors that by acquiring artefacts from brown-skinned people, they are "caring for and preserving [the world's] art".

Professor Romuald Schild

  

I am saddened to learn of the death of Professor Romuald Schild, born in October 1936 in Lviv (then part of Poland) and had a long and illustrious career, mostly in the Institute of the History of Material Culture (later Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology), Polish Academy of Sciences (see here for some of his research interests).  





Meltdown of UK's National Council of Metal Detecting Continues it Seems [UPDATED]


Nighthawks have taken it? All is not well in the Kingdom... it seems



Update 23 Nov 2021

Bradrick List Moderator 'NCMD news', Tue Nov 23, 2021 2:05 pm
Just for information: I have it on good authority that a 'new and interactive website' is scheduled to be released in December.
Ooooo. Interactive. That'll be fun (and instructive) to watch. So, they remove an interactive Facebook group to create an interactive other group? Same moderators? What's the reason?

Update 24th November 2021
It's all happening in Bonkers Brexited Tekkieworld... now the post has been removed  from the MDF forum. So this new site is some kind of a secret, so the Nighthawks don't find it? Or has it been decided that the new Institute of Detectorists will take over the imploding NCMD's former functions? 


Friday, 19 November 2021

PAS: So What Are the Real Figures Anyway, and How Are They Calculated?

 

This is actually getting quite confusing. The other day, the obtrusive counter on the homepage of the PAS database was showing that there were 999,335 records of a total of 1,553,446 objects. I wrote about it. PAS then decided to hid the actuual number of records.... Not wanting to miss the "1,000,000th record", I tried this morning to use the "overall statistics" tab to get the number today... this is the result.

Yes, it says 997,082 records of 1,550,652 objects. So where are the missing 2000 records of some 3000 objects? Why is there a discrepancy between what one part of the PAS Database webpage says and another page of the same website shows? 

 Even if this is a matter of paper records from the pre-digital age, even if you do the search from 1996-01-01 to today, you get: Total objects recorded: 1,550,652 Total records: 997086 (reminder: today it says "1,553,928" and the number of records is hidden). How "difficult" can it be to tell the public who pay for it how many records a given database contains? Is anyone keeping track of what the PAS is up to?  Why is PAS sitting on this information? What is the PAS hiding, and why? Where is the transparency that we require from so-called "Responsible Metal Detectorists"? This is actually quite appalling. 



Thursday, 18 November 2021

The 'Unplundering" of Nepal’s Artefacts


 

                  Artist and scholar Joy Lynn Davis’                 
artistic rendering of an 18th century
Ganesh stolen in 1988 from
Bhaktapur 
(Photo: Joy Lynn Davis)

Over the past few years, we have been hearing about many repatriations of Nepali artefacts, returned by museums and private collectors from across the world. These are mostly religious sculptures, often hundreds of years old, and being identified in foreign collections increasingly by citizen-led groups like Lost Arts of Nepal and the newly established Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign. "As the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act makes it illegal for any antiquities more than a hundred years old to be removed from their places of institution, many of the Nepali artefacts that are in museums, galleries and private collections abroad are believed to have been taken illegally" ( Prasansha Rimal, 'The unplundering of Nepal’s artifacts', The Record November 18, 2021)
The question, however, remains: how did these Nepali artifacts leave the country in the first place? [...] [it seems that this] art theft only began with the entrance of the British to India. Previously, such artworks were only seen as objects of worship, not of interest to collectors and museums. It was the British that began to cart away artifacts by the truckloads from the countries they colonized.
But Nepal was never colonized by the British and remained largely closed-off to the world until the collapse of the Rana regime in 1950. It was then that foreigners began to arrive in Nepal and an interest in Nepali art began to take hold.
According to historian Mahesh Raj Pant, in 1967, interest in Nepali art arose after king Mahendra sent Nepali artifacts to New York for display at the Asia House Gallery. The exhibited artifacts were later brought back, but they would introduce the international art market to Nepali craftsmanship and create a large demand that would be met illegally.
“Later, German art historian Stella Kramrisch published a book called Art of Nepal, which was based on the same exhibition, and this attracted westerners to Nepali artifacts,” said Pant. “Art historians themselves have played an important role in getting our artifacts stolen and displayed in foreign museums.” [....]
A 2018 Al Jazeera documentary titled Nepal: The Great Plunder also showcases how artifacts were smuggled or sold. The video sheds light on how easy it was to illegally obtain ancient artifacts. In the documentary, the seller can be seen time and again assuring customers about the export of the artifact. “Don’t worry about customs. It is illegal but I can manage. I can fix the deal under the table,” says the seller. What is even more interesting is the fact that the seller has connections with museums abroad.

Who, however, should pay the costs of conservation of items that were first damaged by being removed and acclimatising to new environmental conditions (humity changes, temperature, light damage) in the foreign collector's display or storage, and then acclimatises back as it is transferred back to Nepal? 



 

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

PAS's First Million (UPDATED - British Museum Hides the Statistics from Public?)



           The Detector Lie

Getting close to a real landmark with PAS recording... 1,553,446 objects within 999,335 records. Let's forget the "let's count all the potsherds in this shoebox from a ploughed out pit individually" and "all the coins from inside  the intact pot in this hoard" numbers and look at the number of records made. Still less than a million, but edging there... over the past three months, the FLOs have been managing an average of 100 records a day - which means that by this time next week there should be 1000000 records. Yeah.

There's a bit of a problem for those who want to use this as a symbol of PAS "success" and that "most English and Welsh detectorists are responsible" ... My Revised Artefact Erosion Counter that (nota bene) nobody has yet falsified, and is still the best available estimate in the absence of any other, says today that some 9,681,409 finds and groups of  associated finds have been hoiked by artefact hunters (that's just the ones with metal detectors) since the PAS began. So that translates into a rate of "one-in-nine responsible". not very impressive, is it? But Bonkers Britain will soldier on, until it's all gone. Then the archaeological establishment will express in shocked surprise: "oh!".

UPDATE 19th Nov 2021



Oh! Look at this. For 25 years the staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme have been honest about the number of records they've made for all that PUBLIC MONEY. Just a few days ago Barford in far-off Poland wrote a blog post pointing (quite rightly, of course) that their trite "number of objects" pseudo-statistic is not representative of the scale of activities of the so-called "Responsible Detectorists" in England and Wales. This morning we find that they've now changed the front page of the database (screenshot above at 7:00 AM Polish time today)! If that is how things are to look from now on, I am glad I do not work for such an institution that (in these days of rampant government sleaze in the UK) HIDES from the public that pays for it what their money is actually buying. Shame on you FLOs, the lot of you for putting up with it. More than your jobsworth is it to suggest the PAS should be more, not less transparent. 

It is a shame also with the current levels of the spread of the disease that although the page (in fact page name) promises "Current government advice on searching for archaeological finds (with a metal-detector, field-walking or mudlarking) in England during COVID-19", the link  to that information is today dead. No need top worry about covid any more, eh tekkies? The PASD homepage promises something it does not deliver, which is, I feel, utterly symptomatic of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a whole. Their website has not changed substantively for about a decade and they cannot even keep it up to date, but the moment somebody points out an issue we should be discussing, they are pretty quick to delete the evidence. For those who want to know what the page looked like before they decided to hide this all-important statistic, here it is... you'll note the "join the conversation" bit down at the bottom right (opposite the British Museum logo, because its the BM that runs this fascadism).   Well, let's "join the conversation" about this then, are you up to it British Museum? 

First of all, you need to reinstate the counter of the number of records made so everyone can see exactly what it is you "want" (?) to have this "conversation" about.




The Usual UK Press Fluff on Metal Detector Find Challenged


Despite what the British press are cribbing from somebody's press release, there’s no evidence at all that a gold bead found in Yorkshire, England November 2021 by Buffy and Ian Bailey is intended to represent a Bible (Kathleen Kennedy When a Bible’s Not a Bible Hyperallergic 14 Nov 2021).
Recently, news broke that British metal detectorists discovered a miniature 15th-century “Bible.” The one-and-a-half centimeter, five-gram, gold bead’s exterior is cast in the form of an open book, and the interior is carefully engraved with images of St. Leonard and St. Margaret. But beyond that, as Luke Skywalker said, almost everything currently published about the newly discovered bead is wrong. Historical facts about late medieval England tell a much different story about this find. Hiding behind these mistakes lurks the myth of the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages as poor, dark, and ignorant, which easily lets contemporary culture off the hook by inventing a false sense of cultural “progress.” We can probably blame the Daily Mail for muffing the story. We expect that. More surprising were the casual own-goals by the BBC, in theory a bastion of careful reporting, and one that has handled medieval finds better in the past. In this piece, Hyperallergic will correct the mistakes of these legacy platforms.
Most brits these days would probably not recognise a Bible if they tripped over it. This sort of news hype via "Treasure Hunting Magazine" frequently appears just before the object it concerns appears in the catalogue of a certain Northern British auction house. It seems not to be in the PAS database. So we have more chance of keeping up with so-called "responsible metal detecting" from the Daily Mail than the expensive government scheme set up with public money to keep the public informed about so-called "responsible metal detecting". Yeah? How is that in any way satisfactory?

Saturday, 13 November 2021

No-Questions-Asked Ancient Coin Collecting Encourages Looting

Lobbyists like Peter Tompa and all the rest will deny it until they are blue in the face, but coin collectors have a large share of the blame for encouraging archaeological looting (ILH Staff Thousands of ancient coins recovered in raid on Ashkelon jewelry store 10 Nov, 2021)>

Inspectors from the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit in the Israel Antiquities Authority have retrieved a collection of over 6,000 ancient coins that were being illegally sold. After scouring digital platforms to track down the coins, members of the unit pinned their suspicions on the owner of a jewelry store in Ashkelon whom they believed to be selling the coins in violation of the country's antiquities laws. When the seller's home and business were raided, officials found thousands of coins from various eras that were intended for sale or trade. Inspectors also found metal [detector]s and digging equipment that they suspect the seller used to steal artifacts from archaeological excavations.[...] Ilan Hadad, national inspector for trading at the IAA, explained that "Illegal trade in antiquities comprises a critical link in the chain that feeds off antiquities theft. Antiquities theft strikes an irreversible blow to the country's ancient sites. "The robbers, who dig at archaeological sites, destroying them out of greed, cut the antiquities off from their archaeological context and erase entire chapters of the history of the Land of Israel. These are stories that will now never be told," Hadad said.
and the no-questions-aske antiquities trade is constructed in such a way as to conceal all traces of where items like this come from, and how they got on the market.

--  

Friday, 12 November 2021

"Researching Artefacts" the Dealers' Way


The Taino peoples saw their territories colonised by Europeans between 1492 and c. 1640 which displaced them and then led to a decline of their culture. Their descendants are starting to kick back against the people that profit from the sale of items of cultural significance to them that are treated as trophies by foreign collectors .


In case you did not know where they were/are despite
 the collectors and museums collecting (Wikipedia) 

An auction of pre-Columbian artifacts went ahead at Christie’s in Paris yesterday, November 10, despite widespread criticism about the sacred nature some of the items on offer, as well as the legitimacy of the sale. The house’s “Pre-Columbian Art and Taíno Masterworks” sale was preceded by an in-person protest, a slew of media articles, and a petition that circulated on change.org, signed by 44,767 supporters trying to halt the sale. Official representatives from several countries in Central America published a joint statement condemning the sale. Nevertheless, the auction went on as scheduled, totalling €3,062,750 ($3,515,000), but with a third of the 137 lots going unsold. Christie’s defended the sale, saying the house recognizes its “duty to carefully research the art and objects we handle and sell.” [...] The most contested lots were 38 Taíno objects from the Fiore Arts Collection that are sacred to the Taíno indigenous people, 22 of which sold. [...] The push-back on the sale also comes amid a sea-change in public opinion about the ownership of cultural objects from the colonial era. [...] The day before the sale, the embassies of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru in France issued a joint statement condemning the auction, expressing their “concern about the commercialization of cultural property,” in light of the “the devastation of the history and identity of the peoples that the illicit trade of cultural property entails.” 
Just take a moment to consider Christie's statement. I doubt that this "research" really was (as Wikipedia puts it) "creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge. It involves the collection, organization and analysis of information to increase understanding of a topic or issue". There may be (I've not seen it) a glossy richly catalogue. It may well have lots of artfully-lit colour photos of the items (it'll most likely not show you the backs of them). There will be some narrativisation of the objects, drawn from secondary sources and used mainly as a marketing ploy. There will be nothing about the manner in which the item was found in the ground, where and with shat, but some vague reference to previous collectors that flipped it. A few words on 'condition', that do not really contaiun any real information about former 'conservation' and restoration treatments and how they affect the current appearance and stability of the item. They are all the same. This is not research. What they call research is probably not much more than making sure that there can be no claims made on the object, that they have "can't touch you for it legality". This is done to reassure clients that if they buy something from this sale, they'll not be faced with claims from the government of the specific country it was removed from (which in many cases will not be listed in the catalogue anyway). So, the seller will look on the "stolen art registers" but will do nothing much more than this to establish that there really was a traceable path from the ground to the present owner that could have been challenged itf it took place in the open. This is how the entire global antiquities market works.

What about some market research? Why do not auction houses carry out public opinion polls, not among their clients, but the general public (the cultural heritage does not belong to just rich buyers paying $60000 for a single carved spoon in 'primitive' style that they can regale their dinner guest with tales about, or the dealers that sell them). How about asking the people of the caribbean region in general how they feel about this sale in a distant auction house of cultural items taken from their region, and whether they apoprove of it going ahead? I'd say many of them could think about a better use, for their community of that $60000 than some jerk having a trophy geegaw to put in his cabinet along with the others. This is the kind of "research" dealers could be doing, but they'll not.

Let's be clear, Christie's "research" protects clients (rich collectors), not the endangered cultural property of real people who colonialist sales like this simply walk all over.


Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Colonialism is never "Cool", Buying Unpapered, Ungrounded Artefacts Even Less So


        Bad taste (screenshot from 'LadBible)
          She's actually holding it upside down       

In the unthinking-clickbait part of the Internet, someone that posts a lot of mostly-empty comment is dubbed an "influencer". As Kate Fowler of Newsweek points out ('Influencer Slammed Online for Showing Off Ancient Egyptian Artifact: 'Return It', 11/10/21) they can sometimes read their audience wrong:

A makeup artist and influencer with over 600,000 followers has been met with criticism online after sharing an ancient Egyptian artifact she purchased. Many have claimed the artifact could have been stolen, given the West's history of looted goods trade. Erin Parsons, who identifies herself as a "vintage collector" and often shows vintage makeup tools, posted a video introducing her purchase to TikTok. Parsons had bought an ancient Egyptian cosmetics spoon from an online auction. Although the video has since been deleted by the creator, snippets are still available to see in stitches by other TikTok users. "This is an ancient Egyptian cosmetic spoon from around the 18th dynasty," she said as she showed the tool to the camera. Viewers of the video were left disapproving of the purchase, with concerns that it could be a stolen artifact as so many are.
Absolutely, and an even greater number are fake. Disregarding (as I think one can very safely do) the assurances of the online seller, the object Ms Parsons has in her hand is probably not an eighteenth century cosmetic spoon [recte: palette] (they saw her coming: "makeup artist? I have just the very items for you ma'am"). Also, since she (and the dealer) has no proof that it's a dugup antiquity, if she knew how Egyptian fakers can get that grungy 'patina', she'd probably not be too happy holding it in her nicely-manicured hand so close to her over-painted face with that triumphant 'look-what-I've-got' smirk on it.* Best keep something like that in a well-sealed polybag and away from food (goes for most artefacts and collectors' "artifacts" too).
Parsons responded to the comment with context on how she purchased the spoon, writing: "What I know is that it was in a private collection since the 1980s. I found it at an auction online and added it to my makeup collection." The history of the spoon is unconfirmed, and it's not known by Newsweek whether or not it was stolen.
I can hazard a guess that it was not stolen from an archaeological site... 

Here's one from Catawiki, suggesting just what kind of an "online seller" she had dealings with and how much his or her undocumented assurances are actually worth (this one went unsold). 

And in fact, following that back, it seems that here is (or rather are) the very spoon she bought. It probably came from Artemission.  Mr Antoine Karawani seems to have found a supplier that has a cache of them. 


The narrativisation to the second wooden one states:
A very close parallel is in the Louvre Museum: N1747 = AF. 698
also represented in "Les objets de toilette égyptiens Au Musée du Louvre" by J. Vandier d'Abbadie, éditions des musées Nationaux, Paris 1972 page 24 fig41, p 23+25 > "Cuilleron composé d'une fleur de lotus encadrée de deux boutons et surmontée par un fruit de perséa. Les tiges des pleurs sont enroulées en glène, formant ainsi le manche de la cuiller." dated also to the XVIII dynasty.A very close parallel is in the Louvre Museum: N1747 = AF. 698 also represented in "Les objets de toilette égyptiens Au Musée du Louvre" by J. Vandier d'Abbadie, éditions des musées Nationaux, Paris 1972 page 24 fig41, p 23+25 "Cuilleron composé d'une fleur de lotus encadrée de deux boutons et surmontée par un fruit de perséa. Les tiges des pleurs sont enroulées en glène, formant ainsi le manche de la cuiller." dated also to the XVIII dynasty.
See also: I. Wallert Der Verzierte Löffel, p 143 (p24) pl 29 (under number AF 698)
And also: Capart: L'art de la parure féminine dans l'Ancienne Egypte, pl VI
The Louvre one is here, not so heavily patinated. Seems to have come from the nineteenth century antiquities market (?)

Of course, none of the "collection histories" cited by Mr Karawani makes them legal in terms of the various forms of legislation controlling excavation and export of items from Egypt, going back many decades before the "1980s". Neither does any of them "ground" the object in any way or form. So smug overpainted ladies who know nothing much about what they are buying (she's holding it upside down in the photo, it's a lotus) have no guarantee except Mr Karawani's say-so. The "influencer" could look him up in the internet to see what that is worth, I suppose, to get both sides of the story.

What is more interesting is that in this article and several others this morning, the actual story is that the poster was 'slammed' by TikTok viewers for showing an item of suche proveninience (I mean from this kind of online dealer) which suggests that the general public is gradually being affected by the kind of outreach on antiquities collecting being done by my colleagues (everyone except the fifty or so that work for the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme or the ones that are entangled in the Helsinki Network). Anyway:
Parsons reportedly posted an apology video but has since deleted it, along with her original video of the purchased artifact. Newsweek has contacted Erin Parsons for comment.

*PS looking at this again, the texture of the Artemission ones looks very much like some craftwork carvings from Southern Asia (India, SE Asia), perhaps its not even from Northern Africa at all, a wood identification would be good to have (I've no idea what the answer is, can wood DNA be tested to get a species from a small sample?)


Entanglement: The Use of HER Data for Commercial Artefact Hunting in the UK

 

Where do UK archaeologists that support artefact hunters imagine many metal detecting books suggest searchers look to find new “productive” sites? Funnily enough, the targeting of known sites, harvesting the fruits of archaeologists' fieldwork, is not a topic that is even touched upon in the wishy-wasky Code of best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales. A recent story highlights this issue (Pipeline, 'Council Acts After Accusations Metal Detecting Company Used HER Data to Target Archaeology' November 8, 2021):

Following thePipeLine’s recent story suggesting that leading metal detecting rally company, Sovereign Metal Detecting might have used data from the county Historic Environment Record [HER] for Shropshire to target known archaeological sites for pay to detect rallies, Shropshire Council has confirmed that it has taken steps to limit the location data available to users of the on-line version of the county HER. [...] “Clearly the council is concerned that HER information is being used by the organisers of metal detecting rallies who do not co-operate with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and we have therefore now taken steps to reduce the location information available via the Discovering Shropshire’s History online version of the HER [...] However, the restriction of access to HER records needs to be balanced against the requirements to make the HER a publicly accessible resource [...] [HERs] were never designed to [...] facilitate metal detectorists in finding locations to search, let alone provide locations for mass participation events where tens, or even hundreds, of detectorists pay to dig, and are under no obligation to report any finds to the HER, except those falling under the remit of the Treasure Act 1996. [...] [N]obody from Sovereign Metal Detecting had contacted the Shropshire county archaeology team in advance of the rally. Neither had Sovereign Metal Detecting paid for any searches of the HER, which is normal practice in searches related to the commercial use of the data.
this is a dilemma faced by archaeologists all over Europe. They have a public duty to inform society about the location of material relating to the past, yet if they do, looters with metal detectors and spades are also informed where they can most easily find artefacts to hoik out, collect or sell. What is the solution here?

Sunday, 7 November 2021

X-Marks-the-Spot is NOT any kind of "Context". Archaeology is About Context, not "Things"

  This is supposed to be
contemporary with
the rest, is it? 

 More on the "****** assemblage" (aka. "West Norfolk Hoard") from the British newspapers:

experts believe that the site had been disturbed before discovery and may have therefore originally included more coins. [...] 'The west Norfolk hoard is a really remarkable find [...] said Norfolk's finds liaison officer Helen Geake. 'It underlines the value of metal-detected evidence in helping reconstruct the earliest history of England, but also shows how vulnerable these objects are to irresponsible collectors and the antiquities trade'.
Hmmm. It seems they are not going to expand on that. So how secure is this as a single deposit, and what, archaeologically can we say about it now we know that it is not by any means complete? So even so-called "responsible detecting" has not here produced anything like complete information about this find and its context... has it? Why is the FLO not telling the public that, why is the FLO focussing, once again, on presenting archaeology to the public merely as a hunt for glittery things ("the biggest group, the most valuable, the oldest, best preserved, most unusual example with a pretty picture on the side" that by its mere physical existence above ground can add to our knowledge of the past? Our knowledge of the past in fact here would come from a better understanding of the two contexts, context of deposition and context of discovery from which we can get to the third, the context of use - which is what can tell us about the past. Is that really so difficult for British archaeologists to explain to the people they simply treat and take as an undifferentiated gaggle of plebs? It's easier like that, of course, but they are not being paid to choose just the easiest copouts to collect their salaries.

But then what is that context? The BBC quotes numismatist Dr Adrian Marsden, from the Norfolk Historic Environment Service as saying:
"It seems to have been built up by someone moving around the Merovingian kingdom." "And as it was found near an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, it may have been buried in a barrow (burial) and scattered by centuries of ploughing,"
Oh. So it is a hoard that illustrates the "econmic connections" of the entire East Anglian kingdom, or it is a personal treasure buried as grave goods? Or maybe a ritual deposit in the top of, or between, an earlier mound and its neighbours? Or was it a loss of a merchant who really had been sauntering around the Merovingian realms? How can we decide beteen these various scenarios (not without significance for interpreting the objects themselves and their grouping if you want to do an "archaeology of THINGS") without knowing anything about the context of deposition? Dr Marsden is just guessing here, because the proximuity of the findspot to that cemetery seems not to be so firmly established from what I can work out. Guessing is not archaeology. It is not in any way an academic pursuit and British archaeologists are not being paid to guess and make up unverifiable stories, are they?


West Norfolk Hoard Findspot Revealed!

 

The newspapers shouting all about the find of a group of seventh century gold coins kept one little fact from the public whose heritage is being sold off by the idiotic UK treasure process. The public was not honestly informed about the place in their historical landscape the find was made... and they still have not been. Meanwhile one artefactologist in a certain County Council who should know better wanted to show how much he knows about a group of artefacts...  so has just published an academic article showing off his knowledge with some antiquitist bla-bla. In the course of which he drops a little fact about the  findspot that it took me less than three minutes to cross reference with another (older) online article by another artefact-fondler... and bingo. Sitting here at a desk in Warsaw I know more or less exactly where that hoard was found. 

The findspot and its relationship with another landscape feature is intriguing to me as a medievalist... and probably would intrigue and inform other non-artefact-hunters if the public record actually said where it was. What is more, the combination of the information in the two texts together reveals something about the discovery of that hoard (if it is one) that should be in the public domain, and yet is kept out of the public domain, and current discussions about "Treasure"  (and incidentally the antiquities trade in the UK). These are the consequences of the secrecy British archaeologists titillate themselves and boost their own sense of importance with.  

That is really pathetic. If the British archaeological community is going to play the jealous gatekeeper of information then it should do it consequently and well, or if they can't work out how to do it properly, they should not try at all. It seems to me if everybody know where it was, "everybody-except-the-rouge(sic)-metal-detectorists" can keep an eye on the site. Since we are told there's not very many (really?) "rouge metal detectorists" and there's over 900000 inhabitants of Norfolk who can keep an eye on the site, surely it makes sense to tell people what they should be keeping an eye out for.

I am not going to say where it is or even give a cryptic clue (or answer questions in comments). It took me three minutes to find it. Let's say with a bit of clicking even the thickest person "interested in the history" or even metal detectorist from the information give could get it in less than an hour if the know where to go  (maybe longer if they're a slow reader). I do not think it profits anyone to think that criminal metal detectorists "must be" stupid and incapable of working something out where you gaily give them a socking big clue.

It is time for British archaeology to get its act together and decide whether they will keep the British public, who pays for their fun and deserves to know because it is their heritage too, fully informed. Or if they decide to keep them in the dark and only present a partial view of the past, how to actually do that while "doing their archaeology".

  

Saturday, 6 November 2021

The Same Old Blah-Bla

Talking of the British (and only the British) archaeological establishment mouthing the same old blah-bla about "collaboration/partnership" with artefact hunters instead of taking more decisive action over the depletion of the archaeological record by artefact-hunting reminds me of another issue close to my heart. There is a lot here that reflects exactly what is happening in another conservation/environmental crisis, much of Ms Thunberg's reaction to the inaction of authorities applies to the issue of the destruction of the archaeological environment (part actually of the same "Me-me-culture"):

Greta Thunberg 'Cop26 is a failure': posted on You Tube by Guardian News


"Saxon/Roman/Bronze Age" Site to be Commercially Looted by UK Treasure Hunters on Sunday [Update]

  Daylight knowledge theft (Favpng)


Evidence seems to point to another ethical issue that is completely ignored in most discussions of so-called "Responsible Metal Detecting". It looks like an infamous commercial metal detecting rally organiser Sovereign Metal Detecting is using HER data to target sites for rallies. The latest: " This Sunday we have over 70 acres of the most promising Saxon/Roman/bronze Age undetected that’s blessed with so much History it beggars belief". It beggars belief that this is going on week after week under the noses of the UK's 6000 heritage professionals and there are only a few lone voices of protest - like Andy Brockman here. As Neil Brodie observes British archaeology's entanglement with this destructive collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is tight. The lame video some of them made with their metal detecting "partners" recently makes NO MENTION of this issue, after all, why would it? these archaeologists' "responsible metal detecting" is nothing more than a feelgood copout label excusing inaction, rather than a concept that can be squared with actual practice and the needs of archaeological resource preservation or useful standards of "preservation by record" of the sites and contexts exploited by artefact hunters for collectable loot. Will British archaeology ever face these issues rather than merely year in year out repeat the same old blah-bla-bla?


UPDATE 8th Nov 2021

As a result of this event and discussions of the background, Shropshire Council has acted to limit location data in on-line HER after these accusations that a commercial artefact hunting rally company used HER to target known, but unprotected, archaeological sites and assemblages (see: Andy Brockman's Pipeline news coverage here). This may be a smart move, but it means that the entire population of the country (56,287,000 people) are deprived of free access to full information about their heritage because of the selfish and cash-orientated attitudes of a few thousand greedy artefact hunters and takers. This is wrong. A minority is spoiling things for everybody, and we should be speaking out about it.


X-Marks the Spot, to "dig" or "Not to Dig"?

 

         Archaeology; "We can't see a    
     problem....  Is there one?"


Long ago, Heritage Action alerted us all ('Archaeology (and avoiding it?) made simple!' 07/02/2016) to the regrettable fact that the commercially available artefact hunters' "productive site" finding resource ARCHI, compiled in part from material gathered by archaeologists was launching:
“the first British archaeological sites Android App“.They say it will “take us all to the next level when it comes to doing what we love” and have offered us access to a prototype “to discover and explore our nation’s rich heritage!” But therein lies a profound mystery. We are told that when done responsibly metal detecting is harmless and beneficial. So why would detectorists be being offered details of 190,000 sites of archaeological significance on their phones? To make sure they avoid them?
Neither before, nor since, have we ever heard this resource being discussed in any detail by the archaeological establishment. Like HA, I wonder how many of the covert and open supporters of collaboration with artefact hunters have any close acquaintance with it at all. Obviouisly, it is too much to expect that the Great British Portable Antiquities Scheme could inform the Great British Public what the opinion of the Great British Archaeological Establishment is of this manner of treating the Great British Archaeological Record. Probably they still think it is none of the public's business and "not worth the bovver" and they've "got better things to do" than keeping the public informed.

.


Vignette: Head-in-the-sand, the 20020s posture on anything that involves discussing the future of a resource.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

The BM Did Not Bin This One.

 

When in mid-December 2010, I reported internal documents a concerned member of PAS staff had leaked me about a proposed TV show provisionally titled "Britain's Secret Treasures", I was told by somebody who claimed to know that "when this proposal came to them they tore it up and binned it immediately". As we all know, my information was correct and the programme was made and released in December 2012 (at the same time as the real archaeology programme Time Team was cancelled) and a second series followed a year later. Both did enormous damage to public perceptions of what archaeology is about. A treasure hunt.

It seems they did not "bin" the next one either. Channel 4's "More 4" has commissioned a new series "Great British History Hunters" (News Release, 'More 4 links up with the British Museum to learn more about our hidden history' 3 November 2021). They've commissioned a series "following the real-life detectorists and the journey their fascinating finds make through the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure processes" from independent TV production company Tuesday’s Child (creators of "LEGO Masters", "Killer Camp", "Ghost Bus Tours", "For What It’s Worth", and "Superstar Dogs"). Real Class.

This series will tell warm characterful stories about ordinary people that are out-and-about all over the country making extraordinary discoveries every day. Whether metal detectorists, mudlarks or amateur archaeologists, they all have a passion for finding the missing pieces that help tell the story of our past. It's every detectorist’s dream to one day find “treasure” that ends up on display in the British Museum or a museum local to where they live. With unique access to the Museum’s dedicated team of archaeologists, curators, conservators, and scientists, the discoveries are filmed from soil to gallery,
and the process by which "some of these artefacts can reap financial rewards for the finders". That is how the majority of finds made by artefact hunters end up in cases these days, they have to be bought from the finder-landowner looting partnership. Most of the ones that don't bring a Treasure reqward get scattered in private collections, get dumped or go on eBay (PAS, BM, Channel 4, prove me wrong).
Against a backdrop of the Great British Countryside in all its glory [...] we’ll meet a colourful mix of finders, including an 11-year-old YouTuber finding Bronze Age gold, an Indiana Jones enthusiast, female detectorists giving the guys a run for their money, war vets, devoted dads and a host of other finders that illustrate the camaraderie and companionship that detecting can bring, and the important role they all play in the British Museum’s mission to involve people in archaeology

Artefact hunting is collecting, not archaeology.

This is probably the same, Henry Cole has worked with "Tuesday's Child" TV before. 

"Great British History Hunters" will air on More 4 next year. And then we'll see the numbers of metal detectors sold soar even higher beyond the number the PAS are now, and ever will be, under-resourced to deal with. Irresponsible TV, irresponsible of the PAS to take part. Though we all know the weak excuses they'll proffer for doing so, the same ones that they proffered in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013... and er... what actual effects did they achieve in fact? (That actually is a serious question, and one to which all the people putting money and hope into the Scheme deserve to have answered substantively)

.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

"Secret-West Norfolk Hoard" Goes to Inquest

 

Some of the gold coins discovered in a west Norfolk field (Photograph: British Museum/PA).

Readers may remember the Portable Antiquities Scheme's scandalous involvement in late 2012 and 2013 in a TV show "Britain's Secret Treasures"  and the discussion (that they, the PAS, dodged) about why they are somehow "a secret" when recovered and displayed in museums. Well, here's a new one, and the secrecy and mystery is not something immanent in the material, but the way British archaeology is treating it and paternalistically and condescendingly gatekeeping the information that belongs to all on the pretence that it's allegedly for our "|own good". 

The Guardian reports a news item that reveals just the edge of at least three big stories concerning Britain's "policies" on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, none of which is very edifying. One interlocks with another covered here a long while ago . An inquest has opened into the status of 131 early seventh century gold coins unearthed at a secret location in a West Norfolk field and over a period of thirty years and trying to determine (on what evidence?) whether they are part of "one collection" (ie a hoard) or scattered site finds of another nature (Nadia Khomami, 'Norfolk treasure newly declared as England’s biggest Anglo-Saxon coin hoard' Guardian 3 Nov 2021). If a hoard, this would be the largest found in the UK of this period. The coins are mostly Merovingian tremisses and solidi. There are also four other gold items in the group (including a bracteate and a small gold bar), that "were sporadically discovered between 1991 and 2020", but there is no information in the article about any other archaeological evidence associated. Tim Pestell (senior curator of archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery) is cited, calling it: 
an “internationally significant find”. He said: “Study of the hoard and its find spot has the potential to unlock our understanding of early trade and exchange systems and the importance of west Norfolk to East Anglia’s ruling kings in the seventh century.”
Details of the large-scale project to study the findspot commensurate with the stated importance were not made public. And of course the public has a right to know, the gatekeeping archaeologists are keeping the public away from knowledge of their own heritage. 

This story however is not the usual one of the 'eureka' moment and a hurried "scrabble to get the objects out of the ground before dusk fell and the nighthawks raid" that we usually hear, though there is a criminal element. As Ms Khomami tells us: 
Most of the objects were found by a single anonymous detectorist who reported his finds to the relevant authorities. However, 10 of the coins were found by David Cockle, a serving police officer who was jailed for 16 months in 2017 for illegally trying to sell them. Two of the finds concealed by Cockle have since disappeared into the antiquities trade.
That in itself is a scandal, that the British antiquities trade functions in such a way that stolen items like this are immediately untraceable. Cockle sold them to a person whose identity is traceable (its a police matter - so why did the police draw a blank?). The Cockle case was discussed here a number of times.  I have also raised the issue of the veracity of the reported details of the same metal detectorist's other finds in the light of this case - how reliable (or not) is the information published as "data" on the PAS database? One also wonders whether there is any connection between this "secret-West-Norfolk" find and the discovery of a single tremissis at "Fincham" in the King's Lynn and West Norfolk District in April/May 2013. This is very near to where Dave Cockle was living at the time of his searching of the field(s) between April 2012 and November 2015. 

Cockle had permission to be there on the location of the "secret find" under discussion here.... and - tellingly - an agreement to split the sales of the finds 50:50 with the landowner. The problem was that he failed to reveal to the latter that he'd found and sold gold coins (how did the landowner find out?). This is despite the fact that the same (?) landowner had an agreement with Anonymous-Johnny who'd apparently been "sporadically discovering" items from this assemblage there since 1991 (and would continue to search there until 2020). So how does this work? How many other people did this anonymous landowner allow onto those anonymous fields in the same 30 years? At the time of the Cockle case, the Mirror had other details ('Metal detector cop cheats farmer after finding £15,000 gold coins in field' Mirror.co.uk, 26 Jan 2017):
The coins which he sold in three batches over 14 months are believed to have been part of a larger hoard [...] Another 34 similar gold coins were found in the same field in west Norfolk by another metal detecting fan (sic) who also had permission to be on the land. But unlike Cockle, the other man did the right thing and reported his find to the authorities, leading it to be declared as treasure trove.
so 34 in January 2017, plus Cockles' ten - and the authorities knew of it... which means that 90 coins were lying out in the field and recovered only by a single (?) anonymous-honest-johnny-tekkie in sporadic trips over the next four years. And why was a project not set up by the museum or archaeology section to employ local responsible detectorists to do a thorough gridded survey of the site in one fell swoop? How much information was LOST by this being done in the amateurish way is was? Instead of investing the money to do a proper archaeological survey of this known findspot, we will be paying a reward to an anonymous guy who did something by himself. What he did in all probability will never be known to the details necessary to interpret the dot-scatter pattern accurate to one metre of the individually numbered items that no doubt he made as he recovered the material. In what way, "Professor Tostig" is this amateurish ad-hockery "Responsible Metal detecting" and an archaeologically responsible use of the archaeological record of this site? And since those 34 coins were declared a hoard by January 2017, where is the record of that find in the PAS database when the PAS insists on putting Treasure finds in there? Why has it taken four years to put the record up in the public domain (coincidentally, look when the Fincham PAS record was in some way altered: 'four years ago' - why? What is the connection, why are the details being hidden so we cannot see if there is a connection or not using this flawed and incomplete "database"?)

At least this time the PAS to make a newsworthy photo did not tip all the recovered coins into one heap from a carrier bag loose on a table. These are in nine groups, suggesting that there are nine batches - what are the records for each of them? Why is the full information about this piece of (ahem) "citizen archaeology" (sic) not already in the public domain to be available to all members of the public interested in the archaeological heritage of England and Wales, and what is happening to it? "Thieves", you say? The public are all thieves? Or just some of the ones with metal detectors?  


 
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