Sunday 30 January 2022

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite and Artefact Hunting

"The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail is a bold experiment;
there are no guards or fences here. You, the visitor, are
the protector of this valuable resource. It is illegal to remove,
 deface, or destroy improvements, rocks, and fossils". (BLM)
Brian Engh @BrianEngh_Art

 In the US there is outrage in social media about an incident at Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite (and here) in Utah where about 20%-30% of the site has been damaged mostly from a team from Utah's BLM office driving a mechanical excavator right over these rare fossils to remove a boardwalk on the grounds that it had deteriorated and was a "tripping hazard". The boardwalk was there to protect the site (to stop people walking on it). Instead of repairing (looking after) it, the decision was to rip it up and replace it. They got the boarwalk up but damaged the site that it was originally installed to protect. One wonders what training in monuments care the people engaged in this operation had, and how this work was "supervised"? Presumably, the person responsible for the lack of care and supervision has been identified and fired...

But for all that indignation, and questions ("how can anyone have let this happen?"), of course as a conservation issue, this is no different in any way from what happens in England and Wales with "metal detectorists" that trash archaeological sites and assemblages. It's all condoned and praised as "responsible" because they show a few of the artefacts, leaving a trail of destruction unremarked. What kind of a "conservation" policy is that? Here, the people responsible for the lack of care and supervision are too busy patting artefact hunters on the head to bother about this issue, and as long as they tell the public the same old protective mantaas nothing will change.

Artefact Hunting as an Information Source

 For all those archaeogullibles out there who think that metal detecting gives them "archaeological information" about the sites that are trashed (by the way the PAS database does not contain information on the machines used and their settings in any given search to pick up any bias): 

Ambassador for the Hobby


Ambassador for the hobby

The way to get your view across, tekkie style. Guy just started following me, however. But that's fine, I have nothing to hide. 

The UK's Public Lie Again and Again

   Literacy issues perhaps  

A man has been sentenced at Coventry Magistrates court for using a metal detector and causing damage to the protected remains of a medieval castle site after being reported by a member f the public. The culprit left a trail of destruction on protected land at Brinklow Castle, near Rugby (Paul Suart Metal detectorist picked up by police after digging 30+ holes at medieval castle coventrytelegraph 05:00, 30 JAN 2022)
A warrant was executed at an address in Coventry where a metal detector, shovel and associated metal detecting equipment were recovered. A man and woman - neither have been named by police - were interviewed in August 2020 in connection with causing damage to a scheduled monument and the illegal use of a metal detector on a protected site. The woman was cautioned for destroying or damaging an ancient protected monument while the man was charged to court. After several adjournments, he pleaded guilty to destroying or damaging an ancient protected monument and possession of a controlled drug during a hearing at Coventry Magistrates’ Court in November. He was sentenced to an unpaid work requirement of 200 hours (equal to £1,900 at the national minimum wage) and ordered to pay £490 court costs. His metal detector and associated equipment was ordered to be forfeited and destroyed by the court
But of course, we then get the head-patting:
PC Andy Steventon, from the Warwickshire RCT, said: "We know this person does not represent the majority of the metal detectorist community. True enthusiasts [...] would not go into areas where detecting is prohibited. [...]"

I wonder how many articles about a shoplifter being convicted in Coventry Magistrates Court include a quote from a policeman saying  "We know this person does not represent the majority of the shoppers in the city"? Because this is the sort of thing journalists feel constrained to put in almost every article on metal detecting. Almost every one, why? It gets even more puzzling:

Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy at Historic England, said [...] "The overwhelming majority of metal detectorists comply with the legislation and code of practice for responsible metal detecting [...]".

Well, that's just complete bollocks, unsupported by ANY statistics produced as a result of 25+ years of actual liaison with artefact hunters in England and Wales. Why do people like Mark Harrison keep parroting so repetitively this sort of nonsensical mantra? If the "Head of Heritage Crime Strategy" has no idea of the nature and scale of what he is combatting, then where does that get us? When was the last time there was a Nighthawking Report in Britain? Oh, April 2009. As far as I am concerned [see old posts on this blog at the time], that study was not as through as one might expect, and missed a lot. Moreover, the situation in detecting is very different now than it was then.

But Mark Harrison completely muddles in his statement three different things. The "legislation" is one thing, this fluffy Code is another and actual "responsible metal detecting" is yet another. Here's a Venn Diagram showing it. 

Which of these areas is Mr Harrison referring to when he says that the "overwhelming majority of metal detectorists" are engaged in "responsible metal detecting"? Because it is not even remotely true, is it, that the overwhelming majority of metal detectorists comply with even the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, because most of them outright reject it, along with the NCMD. Something Mr Harrison should know. And if he knows that, was he misquoted here, or did he actually say to the public something which is at such variance with the actual facts? A reminder, in 2019, just over 4k individuals reported something to the PAS. 90% of them were MDers, so if there's 27k of them, over 85% of MDers didn't report anything to the PAS (as the Ciode says they should). What kid of a basis for strategy is that? 

As for the law breaking, what we know is that few people are caught metal detecting where they should not be. Not every site in Britain is surrounded by houses and roads and has a big notice forbidding artefact hunting on every gate. 

UK's PAS Archaeological Outreach


"Happy Birthday to a dead King"... 


This is not archaeology. This is not archaeological outreach. Archaeology is not just "digging up and making up stories about old things". Not even is modern historiography  just kings-and-battles res gestae and has today gone somewhat beyond merely being a historia rerum gestarum, so this is not even that. So what is going on here? Is this not an archaeologist being a gatekeeper ("come gather round, let me show you some of h treasures I have gathered") and doing a bit of show-and-tell?

What archaeological values are being communicated here? What historical knowledge about life and society in the mid fifteenth century is this disseminating. None. This is just empty narrativisation of artefacts, using artefacts to illustrate a history constructed on the base of written sources.

See: Barford, P. M. (2020). Artefact collecting: creating or destroying the archaeological record?Folia Praehistorica Posnaniensia25, 39-91.



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Saturday 29 January 2022

Romano Egyptian scarab


suspect13david@...Jan 26 #96231 Romano Egyptian scarab
Hi I bought this scarab from the seller called DRG coins and I was wondering if it's authentic. From my experience this is a good seller but I just wanted to double check what you guys think. This was the description:
Ancient Romano Egyptian Scarab Amulet, stone with Roman initialing on the base dating to about the 1st C B.C. - 1st C A.D. 23mm long.
The dealer forgot to mention that it still has the dirt on it, a gentle "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" to the potential buyer that it's erdfrisch. It also looks from the photo to have been dunked in something corrosive and tumbled to take any fresh edges off. So far nobody on the list has addressed his question.   No mention seems to have been made of collection history or export documents. 

Interesting.... and Disturbing


In a paper about a year ago, Sam Hardy pointed out how metal detecting forums in Ukraine seem to have been used to create false identities. It's plausible. I've noticed something too along these lines. If a FLO tweets a picture of a coin of Magnus the Wifebeater or any other monarch on social media and nerdily says 867 years ago "on this day" the guy was born, not a lot happens. Probably because nobody gives a tinkers. It's irrelevant public-funded dumbdown. 

If however there is a metal detecting related post that gets a little more controversial (a rally, Treasure reward squabble etc) a little discussion thread starts to develop. Among comments by the usual culprits (most archaeologists don't give a tinkers about this and stay silent) there always are some posters making some inflammatory remark. It's worth looking at the account as a whole. All too often (as happened to me just now) you find it is somebody with a very ambiguous description of who they are and their sole activity seems to be retweeting material if a rather eclectic manner, recipes, memes, some article about politics, a music video. But no actual content of their own. It seems to me that these are candidates for being considered bot accounts. And it is interesting (given the obsession of conservatives in general and the far right with culture) to see how the metal detecting debate is one of the topics their AI is searching for. 

Of course it is easy to say "don't feed the trolls", but on the other hand, what people read on social media (whether or not it is generated by trolls/bots) does influence their thought. That's why bots are there, to promote a picture (or divisive pictures), to influence not individuals but societies. The PAS and most of the major archaeological bodies shy away from an active use of social media to inform and challenge preconceptions and misdirected thinking about archaeology.  Some individuals do it, and get a lot of aggro for it (see recently Howard Williams, 'Against Racist and Dangerous Pseudoarchaeological Conspiracies: 'Celtics' and 'Rome wasn't Real'; or Flint Dibble over that wonky Atlantis show) . I get rather a lot of nastiness from certain PAS FLOs for questioning British policies of antiquities collecting and trade. But it seems to me that these things do need answering, they do need challenging. If archaeologists do not start speaking up more for archaeology, and what makes it different from hare-brained (or manipulating and deceiving) pseudo archaeology, who will, and how will the public know? Osmosis?

"Keeping Away the Fever" in a Field

          Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus Tecum,        
benedicta Tu in mulieribus et benedictus
 fructus ventris Tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria,
Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.
Another "Man finds exciting thing in field" story. It makes a change from "fireman rescues cat from tree" as a column filler on slow news days. William Nordhoff, 49, a former Lance Corporal in the army and a keen metal detectorist found an 800-year-old brooch in a field in Pewsey Vale, Wiltshire (Henry Martin Metal detectorist finds unique £5,000 medieval brooch in field Mail online 27 Jan 2022).  
A coroner dated the medieval brooch, which weighs 5.77g, to 1150-1350 AD, and [...] an auction expert estimated it could be worth up to £5,000 [...]. The roughly circular brooch has a bevelled edge that has part of a Christian devotional prayer inscribed on its four surfaces along a diameter of 24mm. The Hebrew letters A, G, L, and A on the inner inscription are believed to have amuletic properties, according to the coroner's report, invoked as a charm against fever during the medieval period.
Not only does the journalist have problems understanding how circles work, but he's not going to tell you the name of the prayer (even less where it comes from) "The Latin written on the brooch translates to: 'Hail Mary full of grace the Lord/is with thee/blessed art thou amongst women/and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Amen."

And of course, the perspicacious reader will have spotted that the lettering AGLA is not "Hebrew" as reported above but Lombardic Latin script (it would look like this in Hebrew: אגלא ). This seems to have been a Kabbalistic acronym for ʾAtā gībōr ləʿōlām ʾĂḏōnāy, "Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever". If so, it is interesting to consider how this could have passed (presumably as some kind of charm) into mainstream medieval culture. There are some 40 examples so far known to the PAS, they map out as below. The PAS interprets it as "a charm against fever". 

 So here is an exercise for all those British aficionados of interpretive games with dots on maps. What does this mean in the case of loose finds, often offsite or decontextualised? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below). 
What makes it unique is its four inscribed surfaces, its relatively good condition, and the fact there were no spelling mistakes made in the inscription. The inquest concluded there are no others like it.
Just what inquests are for, eh? And just look at the plough damage and the effects of being in soil water full of artificial fertilisers. It probably would not have lasted another few months in those conditions. OK, inquest, what's the archaeological context?

Mail-reading Brexiter Toby Leggott comments that he wants it on a plate:

Hat tip: anonymous reader

UPDATE 19th February 2022

"The brooch contains religious and magical inscriptions in Latin and Hebrew" (Owen Jarus, 'Metal detectorist finds medieval gold brooch with supernatural inscriptions' Live Science 18th Feb 2022). No.   
When are news reports about archaeology going to concentrate on the person who used and wore this item back in the fourteenth century rathe than its modern discoverer/ Surely that is what archaeology is about, no? 

Selling off the PASt in Brexity Bonkers Land


In Brexity-Bonkers land, off the edge of Europe, the state broadcasting company celebrates the commercial trashing of the archaeological record by Treasure hunters:  

Some reactions:

Dr Tess Machling #Dig4Arch @Tess_Machling 14 g. W odpowiedzi do @BBCBargainHunt @KnowlesEric i 2 innych użytkowników
"...which was then bought from auction buyer by generous soul who gave it to Yorks Museum (where it should have gone originally)".
How on earth can anyone justify selling shared heritage of these islands for profit??
| How on earth can so-called reputable auctioneers sell it?
(readers may remember, this is what happened) and.... here's Charlie,
Charles Hanson @HansonsAuctions 14 g.
W odpowiedzi do @noddinggoth i @BBCBargainHunt
Delighted this lot we sold is now at @YorkMuseumTrust To uncover and tell a story and let it come to light and breath again for the public to see is why I love history. I respect the past and people and all comments appreciated. It’s not about financial value
Says the man who profits from the sale.... except it is not the objects that tell a tale, but the archaeological context they were ripped from by Treasure hunters. 
Dr Lauren McIntyre @noddinggoth 14 g.
Well then why not encourage the finders donate it to YM in the first place?? Why sell it to someone else for thousands of pounds? Because you wouldn't take a cut then?

and the answer? 

Charles Hanson @HansonsAuctions · 14 g.
Hi , museum in first instance declined a purchase when it would have been a lot lot less expensive . I have a duty of care to respect history and give it an awareness in my role of rejoicing at history
I wonder how York Museum Trust would react to that. Now moralising....
Charles Hanson @HansonsAuctions
W odpowiedzi do @Tess_Machling @BBCBargainHunt i 2 innych użytkowników
Collectors respect history and that’s important. Preservation in finds educates our understanding of the past and such recorded finds add value to a sense of history which must not be lost and inspires history to live on
Just meaningless waffle. Loose phrases. Collectors collect, some collect motorcycles, some beer mats, others gollywogs, Barbie dolls or vintage Lego, vinyl records of groups from their youth. That is not "respecting history". What is more important than Bill Bloggs of Swanage collecting Constantinian bronze coins and second-century brooches is that sites are not trashed by artefact hunters looking for them to sell.  It is the proper methodological investigation of those sites that "educates our understanding of the past". The recording of the loose hoiked finds from this hoard "add [considerably less] value" to what we could have learnt from knowing more about their context. There is no "sense of history" in a plumb-bob and other stuff that has no proven context or associations. "Not losing our sense of history so that it may live on" is the call of ultra-Right nationalist  everywhere.  At least somebody understands what Mr Hanson ("I almost became an archaeologist since my passion is [...] to live in the past,* breath it , understand it and respect it") seems unable to articulate: 
Talla Hopper@TallaHopper 12 g.
W odpowiedzi do @HansonsAuctions @Tess_Machling i 3 innych użytkowników
Finds torn out of their context destroys valuable archaeological information about their deposition. Their history is lost.
Well, it's not quite like that, but she is right that Mr Hanson has got it totally wrong. Respecting the past means having nothing to do with the process of selfish individuals trashing it for personal entertainment and profit. "Respecting the past" does not involve providing a market for Treasure hunters. 
Dr Lauren McIntyre @noddinggoth 22 g.
Pretty disgusted @BBCBargainHunt for promoting sale of archaeological finds found by metal detectorists. Nobody should encourage looting archaeological sites. Unsurprising to see @HansonsAuctions lining his pockets. Suppose it's a small mercy he wasn't selling human remains again [...] It's a shame because there are plenty of responsible detectorists who work alongside archaeologists. This relationship is beneficial for everyone and most importantly, the archaeology!
That last bit got my hackles up, so I added: "That "plenty of" is of course in fact a minority of the hobby as a whole. Latest estimates suggest could be upwards of 27000 active detectorists in England and Wales, how many show the majority of their finds to the @findsorguk? Ask them and please post the answer here". Paul Blinkhorn (one of the very few British archaeologists looking clearly at artefact hunting and not afraid to express an opinion on it) clarified helpfully: "In 2019, just over 4k individuals reported something to the PAS. 90% of them were MDers, so if there's 27k of them, over 85% of MDers didn't report anything to the PAS, so the vast majority either find nothing or they're not "responsible"". How can you be an artefact hunter that does not find anything? I do not think you'd call yourself an angler if you never catctch a single fish, or an apiarist if all your hives were totally empty.
Win Scutt's ArchNews @Archaeology_ws
This is an important issue for the ethical code of the BBC @BBCPress which should not be promoting the sale of antiquities nor the looting of archaeological sites #HeritageCrime

Hmm and TV like Britain's Secret Treasures? 


* "Live in" or "live off" it? 

Monday 24 January 2022

Slap in the Face

 The view from papyrology

But pretty much all British archaeologists are quite oblivious and some perhaps even like getting slapped in the face by metal detector wielding fortune hunters. 

Hodnet Axes: Archaeology "Saved"?


Once again, the total failure of the public communication by archaeology of what it's all about leads to more nonsensical arguments. Since the PAS and the FLOs are so noticeably absent, David Knell joined the social media discussion on the side of the archaeologists. He got an insulting reply from the metal detectorist:

luckyorange@luckyorange1812 20 min
Not trashing it Damon, saving it, you are blind to the obvious.
Uh-oh. That's what happens when you leave archaeological outreach largely to a "portable antiquities" scheme based for the most part in museums. Archaeology is being seen by broad swathes of the public merely as "digging up old things". 

Why cannot LuckyOrange distinguish between loose objects (evidence) and the archaeological context ("archaeology") they lie in and form part of? Do the PAS effectively teach these things to metal detectorists? If not, why not?

Killing rare butterflies caught in the wild and sticking them in rows on pins in cases [with or without labels giving findspots] is "saving" them from rotting ("being lost") in the wet grass when they die. But, self-evidently, that is not "preservation" is it?

Because even if "findspots" are given, that mere fact produces no information about ecosystem they were in at time of death, and fact that butterflies are being killed there is damaging, not preserving, that ecosystem. No? This is about resource conservation. 
(I gave a link to this 2015 article:, 'Wings of Desire: Why the hobby of Butterfly collecting is overLepidoptery has changed with technology replacing the killing jar)

But this is exactly what happens when PAS archaeologists (paid from the public purse) neglect their public duty to help inform society of what archaeology is all about and how it is done and why ("encourages best practice by finders/landowners and archaeologists/museums [...] raises awareness of the importance of recording archaeological finds in their context" not much of that going on, is there? How can they do better?)

Sunday 23 January 2022

Barford Allegedly "Shouting from the Sidelines" of a Debate that is Simply Not Happening in the UK Profession


     Liaison Officer Peter Reavill      
Since the "Noble Pursuit" Hodnet fiasco has drawn attention to the West Midlands, I was reminded that just over a year ago the FLO for Herefordshire and Shropshire, Peter Reavill had a go at me ('Rebuke from PAS FLO Reavill: Be Careful What You Wish For' PACHI 30 January 2021). He accuses me, based here in Warsaw, of "shouting from the sidelines" of the UK heritage debate. It however is a fact that there really seems to be an almost total silence from the "6000 archaeologists" (Profiling the Profession) of the UK about the majority of the substantive issues that are raised here in this blog (and several papers that I've written down the years that have been bypassed by the UK's archaeological community). So I would ask, "sidelines" of which "debate"? 

Indeed, a few months earlier, Mr Reavill was confident that he could prove that the issues I and other have recently been raising about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record were non-issues, not worth bothering about. He said he'd write a response ("A Pragmatic Approach to Artefact Hunting Works and has Benefited the Heritage of the Country Greatly" PACHI Saturday, 11 July 2020 ). He agreed to answer some of the points I had raised, he wanted to hedge it around with conditions, but then pulled out (Communicating Archaeology: FLO Backs Down from Defending Claim PACHI Monday, 20 July 2020). He is quite welcome to change his mind and address those points right now if he likes. Mr Reavill also was one of the PAS FLOs that received a link to my (23 July 2020) efforts to produce an archaeologically-based fuller definition of what "Responsible Artefact Hunting" might be... ('Archaeology and Responsible Artefact Collecting' July 23, 2020). He has so far refused to comment on this too, and it is unclear whether this means the FLO agrees 100% with what is written there, or is so negligent of the ambiguity of the sole alternative definition so far produced that two years later he's not even bothered to open it. Yet this question has complete relevance to the issues raised by the practices we see being rehearsed by "metal detectorists" at Hodnet. 

The Code thought sufficient by Mr Reavill's employer does not (as we see here) define as "responsible metal detecting" enough that would fulfil in full the opening postulate:  "If undertaken responsibly metal-detecting can make an important contribution to archaeological knowledge". Even if those axeheads were 10 cm down, hoiking them out like this would still not "contribute to our understanding of the history of" that site, still less therefore "England and Wales". As for this simplistic code comprising "guidance on accepted best practice" that is just laughably naïve faced with a case like this.

As I said, I am perfectly willing to discuss this in writing, here, with any FLO even if they think they are entering the sidelines. I personally would say dealing (and 'partnering') with artefact hunters is itself a pretty massive sideline to real archaeology as a method-based discipline.

As I am sue Mr Reavill will claim he's "too busy" liaising with public finders to actually write anything about these issues, it's worth noting that according to PAS statistics, he's managed to record just nine objects (for the most part easy-peasey coins) since 1st July 2021 (compare that with countrywide results). I would say talking in the public domain about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to the wider public (who pay for it) is as important part of PAS' public outreach as talking directly to metal detector users. No? 

Vignette: screenshot edited from 'Interview with Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer at the British MuseumJan 19, 2021 

Nepal: the Threat From Collectors


The theme of the role of scholars as facilitators of artefact collecting seems of more general relevance (including to the issue of the increased popularity of "metal detecting" in the UK alongside collaborative partnerships like the Portable Antiquities Scheme), but in any case this University of Columbia webinar by Prof Erin Thompson  “Kingdom Under Glass: Repatriation of Nepali Sacred Art” (February 14, 2022 6:15 PM - 7:45 PM ET) sounds fascinating:

Nepal became a country of fascination when it opened its borders to foreign visitors in 1951. But as Westerners increasingly drew inspiration from its artistic and religious traditions, Nepal’s sacred artworks began to vanish. Nepali cultural activists have recently located dozens of sculptures of deities in American museums and private collections, matching them to photographs of the artifacts in active worship in temples and shrines in Nepal in the 1970s – before they were stolen and smuggled out of the country to feed the new fashion for “Eastern spirituality.” Some of these photographs were taken by American scholars who played an uneasy role in facilitating these thefts, believing Nepalis were incapable of preserving their own heritage.

Having served in an advisory capacity in some of the recent repatriation claims, I will discuss the relevant legal landscape as well as negotiation and media strategies applicable to claims for antiquities, sacred art, and other stolen cultural heritage from the region and beyond. I will also ask what our role as art historians can and should be in fields built from histories of cultural exploitation.

Hodnet, Don't Look Up! Challenging UK Detectorists' Ignorance and Superficial Thinking


The social media discussion on the Hodnet fiasco has been waylaid by an individual (luckyorange @luckyorange1812) that one can only assume is a metal detector owner. As may be recalled a video shows a man in a bobble hat digging down 45 cm in a grassy field. After reading the thread going since yesterday, LuckyOrange (could be a bot) remarks trollishly:
3 hours
Phew, in the plough soil , thank goodness they found them before the next pass of the plough and disc harrows smash them up for good . No archaeological context as they have been spread eh? [...] They have been spread around by the plough and possibly run over by machinery tonnes in weight which may push them down further. Echo chamber with you lot @PeterReavill is the guy that makes the decisions far more experienced in these cases than any armchair warriors. 

Oh. So, (a) does young Mr Reavill actually claim "more experience" than other archaeologists on that thread, for example myself (or is LuckyOrange making that up)? and (b) how sure is he that Peter Reavill will not "echo" what the other archaeologists are saying here about this not being best practice? Won't he, really? Whoah. Where did he go to archaeology school?

Anyway I issued a challenge that I confidently expect will not be taken up:
Bring here an [one] UK archaeologist (not a FLO) who will go on record in writing, saying that there is NO ...archaeological information to be gained from carefully collecting and documenting the pattern of artefacts of all materials in ploughsoil in the UK and collating it with information from, e.g., remote sensing. You only have to find ONE, we are interested to meet him or her.[...] Because if you cannot do that, it will show that you have swallowed uncritically a tekkie myth grown out of ignorance of what archaeology is/does.
I exclude the staff of the PAS for three reasons. 1). Most of them block me on social media so the majority of them cannot see the challenge, 2) Their boss, Professor Michael Lewis is on record in writing in at least two places as claiming precisely that [here p 134; here p. 2 ]. He may well think that, and not see that as in any way having any bearing on his running what is in effect one of the largest archaeological outreach bodies in the country, I could not possibly comment, 3) While in PAS employment, most FLOs seem to me from my contacts with them not to have the guts or gumption to go against the PAS 'party line' (or express any independent opinion at all) as far as artefact hunting is concerned (so see point 2 above). But if a PAS FLO wants to express an opinion here, fine, let's hear it. After all, they are archaeologists too.

Update 23.01.2022
Ooops, no archaeologists came forward to support his view, but there is an all-too-telling response from a guy on first name terms with the local FLO..... 
It is none of your bloody business to be frank. It is however Peters job to deal with it and as Finds "Liaison" Officer, note "Liaison". you would like to see detecting banned but without it no job for Peter and his ilk, stop poking your nose in and undermining his role.
Oh, so Mr Reavill will "deal with it" and will go along with the current situation in artefact hunting  because he'd somehow lose his job doing "liaison" to the metal detecting community? But Mr Reavill does not get funded to service metal detectorists (more entitlement there), but to liaise with all public finders and members of the public in general. It is the public who pay for the FLOs, not just a minority damaging hobby. I think (especially if the PAS is not going to do it), educating the public about collection-drive exploitation of the archaeological record is the role of all archaeologists, actually.

As for whose "business" it is, this concerns a film in the public domain of the destruction of archaeological information that belongs to everybody, not just Mr Clueless Woolly Hat Digger. It is as much everybody's business as logging in the Amazon, a woolly hat manufacturer dumping toxic waste into the sea, or parties thrown by public officers during lockdown.

Now can Mr LuckyOrange (or any other detectorist) produce an archaeologist that does not work for the PAS who has never done any gridded surface survey work and will say here in the comments below in writing that there is never any context in ploughsoil? Can he or can he not?
Visual aid for the Woolly Hat Brigade (from the Rossnaree Project Blog,
English FLOs eat your heart out)

Saturday 22 January 2022

Out in the Field at Hodnet with "Ring-Pull Paul"

                 Hat in the car                
There was some discussion yesterday on social media about a commercial pay-to-dig artefact hunting rally (organized by Cai Antoney's Noble Pursuits Metal Detecting) in a grassed stubble field in Hodnet in Shropshire and what was initially interpreted as a hoard that was roughly hoiked there. A video made at the time illustrates perfectly what the problem was. The film's author was "Ring Pull Paul Metal Detecting" (probably from Staffordshire), which has "346 subscribers" despite the guy's annoying flat empty voice and slurring words. The film starts off, appropriately, with him sitting in a bobble hat in his car in the waiting area of a UK McDonald's drive-in where he's complaining derisively about waiting for his nasty fast food. Yeah. Entitled.

He then films himself walking along the road and entering one of the four fields made available, saying flatly "hopefully we'll find a bit of silver today, you never know". (Not in it fer th' munny tho). He wants to stop his "silver drought" by finding an object of precious metal. He uses a Minelab  Xp Orx Site-Trasher, shows us his settings, and proceeds to follow the usual scheme of all these videos...
The Garrett KeeperS rattly-box for finds bashing

Swinging, beeping, read the numbers on the display, describe the audial characteristics of the "signal", dig-a-plug, bend down, get pinpointer out, beep-beep, dig more franticly, pinpointer, peep-peep, trial-and-error digging, home in on the trophy, pull out metal, give it an aggressive rub (get those soil particles scouring the surface), show the camera, say something stupid and mispronounce the terminology (the word is "livery" as in "delivery"), then chuck it in the Garrett rattly-box to knock around. Repeat. One wonders at the sort of sad people that watch these end-to-end  at 1x speed without skipping. With very rare exceptions, you've seen one, you've seen them all. 
Then we have the "fill yer 'oles behind yer" morality and advice about "settings". 

The fact that he's finding another searcher's previously dug hoik holes emphasises the total lack of systematic searching here. The finds are produced by random searching of individuals choosing where to go, overlapping each other and also missing out other areas, finds are retained due to collectability as seen by individual artefact hunters, with no fixed definitions of what is picked up and why. So different searchers would retain a different range of material from the same search.  Even if the artefacts found were plotted to a metre-accuracy (see that going on here? None of the finds in the rattly-box are in any way numbered or labelled), the lack of information about search patterns (the "context of discovery") means that the findspots alone are not sufficient as a plot of the distribution of archaeological material across the site. Also note Ring-Pull Paul discarding material on the way. A piece of lead is not collected in the field if it has not got writing or pictures (a token or pilgrim ampule) on it.  Even if all the searchers gave the PAS a download with every single of their finds labelled, bagged individually, and GPS-located to an accuracy of a one-metre square, there is still not enough information there to reconstruct on paper the surface contexts and associations trashed. This sample from a site tells us about collecting activity and not the actual underlying archaeological pattern. Please any archaeologists and/or PAS staff reading this, if I am wrong in stating this, please comment below and tell us all that this is so and why. Go on. 

One is struck by the number of times in these videos artefact hunters with their metal detectors and spades hoik a metal object out of the ground where it formed part of the search site's assemblage... and they show it to the camera admitting they do not know what it is, or they speculate about what it is (and get in wrong). One wonders what happens to the items that are not recognised in the field, do they get labelled with their find co-ordinates and get taken home for further study and asking the FLO. Or are they just chucked in the hedge?  Numpty digs out what he calls "just a bit of scrap" (ie "I don't want this fer me own collekshun") while showing us that it is in fact a perfectly recognisable archaeological artefact. It does not figure among the items he shows in the summing up at the end of the film. These videos show the extent to which there is irrational selective pickup of archaeological artefacts from any site gone over by these artefact hoikers. Given that a totally random selection of them will reach the appropriate FLO from only some of the people going over this search site, the "data" that reach the public record are by no means any kind of record about what was trashed by these exploiters. Please any archaeologists and/or PAS staff reading this, if I am wrong in stating this, please comment below and tell us all that this is so and why. Go on. 

Shropshire "citizen archaeologists" in action

Then we have the finds magnet effect. Numpty learnt from the live streaming on the rally organiser's social media that "a hoard" had been found in another area of the rally grounds... so immediately set off to have a look and see if he could get some live footage for his own social media channel. We see what happens, any notion of an area being evenly covered in a rally (so that archaeological recording of the objects gives a snapshot of the site - the story goes) goes out of the window. Immediately the search concentrates in the area where the most exciting finds have been made.   

The section of the film on the "hoard" site (21:32 to  28:59) raises some questions. Not least, where are the archaeologists? It emerges from the empty-headed banter that the area had been searched by the same group a few weeks earlier and nothing like this was found - so again how representative of the archaeology of an area can the finds from any one rally be? Also these came up from "really deep" ("it was deep though, wasn't they?") .. and the question here is whether blindly digging a narrow hole "really deep" into any archaeological context merits any kind of a Treasure ransom? 

               Citizen archaeohoiking partnership - context trashing, English style                   

They do not know what one of the objects shown in the photo is and whether it is associated with the two axes (it was not in the same hole).. so they gaily announce that they'll send a photo to the FLO, "he'll know". The FLO is treated here by them as a finds identification service for them. And will Peter Reavill give them that identification and heap praise on them for reporting it to him.. or will the FLO give them a bollocking for what this film shows, and get an article in the local paper denouncing them for trashing the site? Don't hold your breath, the answer is pretty much a foregone conclusion in this case. (I cant check because thin-skinned professional Peter Reavill has blocked me on social media for commenting in the past about one of his finds "identifications")

There is also some doubt, due to the appalling uncontrolled conditions under which these artefacts were 'retrieved'  about whether there is a hoard at all. The rally official in the dayglo trousers waves his arms about wildly, "he had one from there where that shovel is, the other one there..." - the distance (depending on which "shovel") is twenty or more metres apart. The two axes have entirely different corrosion products on them. Maybe this is some other kind of deposit or deposits... the fact that there are other signs of digging around raises the question of what those holes produced, and was there any pottery? 

Wednesday 19 January 2022

"Not in it Fer Th' Munny"? The Implications of £4.5m payment for Le Catillon Hoard.

Obviously metal detectorists from France and Britain should now be heading with their machines to the tiny island of Jersey to see how much more of its archaeological heritage can be monetised by treasure hunters. There's more profit there than anywhere else and teh citizens of the island have brought it upon themselves:

British archaeologists are concerned that the Government of Jersey’s decision to pay £4.5m to purchase the Le Catillon II coin hoard against official advice has set a “damaging” precedent for valuations that will affect museums’ ability to keep important historic finds in public ownership both locally and across the water [...] The final payout figure was more than twice as high as the TVC’s suggested £2m after counter-valuations from coin specialists Chris Rudd and CGB Numismatique of around £6m were put forward.
(Jenny Potigny, 'Jersey’s £4.5m coin hoard payment ‘sets damaging precedent in Britain’ Baileywick Express, 18 January 2022). As researcher Andy Brockman points out this decision provokes strong fears that the move has paved the way for so-called “casino metal detecting” (The Pipeline, 'Fears Jersey Award Could Lead to Inflated Valuations under Treasure Act' thePipeLine December 24, 2021).
he described the decision as “explosive” and said that it would leave Portable Antiquities Scheme and Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questioning how to “come up with a response to the States of Jersey undermining in one day the credibility of the key committee in the Treasure process”.
"Response" from the Portable Antiquities Scheme? Ha ha ha. The response should be to return the coins to the finders, all of them, and let them sell them to get their "six million" pounds while the bottom drops out of the market due to the influx. And charge them the going rate for the conservation, documentation and storage, while at the same time not refraining from saying loudly and publicly what we think of the commercialisation of archaeological evidence and how metal detectorists are trashing the past for their own private gain. Artefact hunting only exists with public approaval and acceptance. It is time archaeologists and all who (actually) care for the archaeological heritage start to work to remove that public acquiescence. This must STOP. Stop Taking Our Past. STOP Letting Exploiters Take Our Past. Response from PAS? Don't hold your breath.


That Unacknowledged "One Millionth Record": How Reliable is the PAS database?


Photo PAS, after anonymous finder.

The PAS has not contested that the actual one millionth record made in the PAS database was not the artefact (belt fitting) the Guardian newspaper published, but instead a Beata Tranquillitas Roman coin. Here is the record

Good grief. While a lot of attention is given to describing the coin, there is no reference number (RIC VII Trier 412. They could also have cited Alten, Dieter and Carl-Friedrich Zschucke 1987. Die Romische Munzserie BEATA TRANQVILLITAS in der Pragestatte Trier 321-323). No die axis given, there is duplicated information in entry, and it is incomplete. The VO/TIS/XX is omitted, which provides the date AD 322. The bust is not fully described, (facing right [NOT 'left'], in consular robes holding eagle-headed sceptre in [right] hand, flan badly flaked). The inscription is misread ([..] S IVN NOB C). The coin is of Constantinus II here is a better example (here too). More could be done with the reverse, the last two letters (AS) are, in my opinion, visible. Enough can be made out to confirm the LLIT too, before which it is illegible (four letters?) before which is a clear star. This is important in determining which type of reverse legend this was (continuous or with a break above the globe). The mintmark is misdescribed, there is a clear dot before the STR and no mention is made of the crescent. the state of preservation, the form of the damage is not mentioned (instead it is described as "worn, fine" which is a coin seller's description, not an archaeological one). So actually, the recorder here has just gone for the general type and not a description of the actual object. No wonder they prefer anonymity.

So what about the archaeological value to the general public (or anyone else) of this record? First of all, we are not told where it is from ("somewhere in or near the parish of Badgeworth" and the bit of it that is covered by OS 1:10000 map SO91NW - go figure). Well, there's a roman road goes through there, its not far outside the Roman town of Cirencester. Could have been a casual loss in the third century (some bloke frolicking with his girlfriend in a hayfield) it could have got there with manure used on a field of a settlement near the town. It could have dropped from the pocket of a nineteenth century country parson who'd received it from a parishioner. A single Roman coin found at some unknown spot on land of undetermined use in unrecorded circumstances by an anonymous finder really tells us absolutely nothing that we do not already know about the region. Zero. The fact that there have been 18 random metal objects (>50% coins) taken from the archaeological record "somewhere" in the same parish (including three Late Roman ones recorded within two days of the one discussed here), tells us nothing about the archaeology of Badgeworth, other than people were here in the Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods - big deal. Where is this going? How does this  "raise public awareness of the importance of recording archaeological finds in their context"? What is the "context" of these ripped out collectables? How many artefacts have been removed by artefact hunters from this same patch of the archaeological record that simply disappeared? 

Tuesday 18 January 2022

UK's NCMD Excited to be Invited

After six week's silence following the internal turmoil that seems to have recently visited the National Council for Metal Detecting, the NCMD proudly announce:
NCMD visit British Museum for PAS Annual Report
The executive committee members of the NCMD were invited to the British Museum on the 14th December, for the launch of the 2020 Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Annual Report and the 2019 Treasure Report. The event was launched by Arts Minister Lord Parkinson and he was joined by Hartwig Fischer, Head (sic) of the British Museum and Michael Lewis, Head of the PAS. Photos below include the NCMD Chair Wendy Howard and Communications Officer Dave Crisp, along with Lord Parkinson and Hartwig Fisher. There were some fantastic items on display, every one of them was a testimony to the hobby and the important role that Detectorists play in finding and recording of our heritage. For more information visit
14 January 2022
So, who represented the millions of people in the public of England and Wales who are not exploitive artefact hunters and were told how much of an important contribution the public reporting of chance finds has made to the finding and recording of our heritage? Eh, PAS?

Interestingly, this report of the results of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on this Scheme is just 21 pages thick.

Meanwhile, on a metal detecting forum near you, just a mouse click away, member crastinblack moans and then can't decide if he's making a statement or asking a question (Mon Jan 17, 2022 2:09 pm:
"I read the PAS editorial in last month's Treasure Hunting magazine. The impression I got was that PAS had a really negative view on metal detecting.
Have you seen the new PAS code of conduct video at brought to you by Mr. Westcott? He seems to be promoting it via his Youtube channel. Isn't this basically exactly the same code of conduct that the NCMD have had for the last 40 years just with an AoD badge slapped on the front? I suppose it shows the power of good PR and networking?
He receives a response from one "Jungle" (Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:05 pm):
No, NCMD have only just followed IOD in endorsing the latest version.
Wow. First of all, Jungle is totally wrong. There has been no change on this page for yonks (and certainly pre-IOD). There is no endorsement there. This is the statement the NCMD put there when they withdrew their endorsement in 2017/2018. And nobody should be forgetting that the NCMD WITHDREW THEIR ENDORSEMENT of the multilaterally agreed Code of Best Practice (maybe Wendy Howard might like to take a look at this again).

I don't as a rule read Treasure Hunting Magazine and really do not feel inclined to buy it on the say-so of a bloke that cannot even work out how to use question marks and what the difference between the NCMD Code and any others is. But if the PAS has developed a "really negative view on metal detecting", I'd be very pleased they've finally (but 20 years too late) discarded the institutional blinkers and are addressing the issue as they should be.

The video needs promoting not just by the Institute of Detectorists, but everyone with any contact with metal detectorists. Has the MDF got it pinned as the top post for 2021? (Don't bother registering to check, they have not). The code itself is a (2017) update of the existing official Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales that the NCMD was consulted over and endorsed for a while when it suited them but they withdrew their endorsement in 2017. The screenplay of the video diverges from the printed text in several places... why?  

Monday 17 January 2022

US Coineys Moaning Again

Shock-horror: " Any Greek coin struck prior to 1830 is now forbidden to be exported, according to the updated U.S.-Greece Memorandum of Understanding" wails hapless coiney churnalist Richard Giedroyć ('Greece Extends Memorandum of Understanding'). Leaving aside the tortured numiscentric syntax, the MOU was extended by the United States of America, as the way they set up the CCPIA, it's a one-sided process of a wannabe global-police superpower. He whines on further, echoing I am sure a certain lobbyist that he tends to quote (actually mentioned lower down his text):
Can you claim something is your cultural patrimony when your country didn’t even exist at the time the artifact or coin was produced? This minor detail isn’t an issue for Greece, which has recently extended its agreement with the United States through a Memorandum of Understanding to cover relics, art, and coins dating from the fourth century A.D. to 1830.
Some mixed up and simplistic thinking there (is he one of Trump's voters?). The cultural property of a territory on a bit of the landsurface and in territorial waters of our planet is protected by the state now exercising authority over that territory. So Stonehenge was not built by inhabitants of any "Kingdom of England" (let alone a UK), yet English Hweritage looks after it. Poland has a history of a thousand years, yet Iron Age sites like Biskupin were not built by inhabitants of any "Kingdom of Poland". Hoards of gold solidi buried in a field near Dresden was not buried by citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany (or even German Democratic Republic or Kingdom of Prussia). What nonsensical argument is this that the coineys are trying to drag up? Is coin collecting as bad for the brain cells as I sometimes suspect?

Giedroyć also mixes "export" and "import". The MOU he is referring to concerns the passage of artefacts from the international market into the USA. In this case, an attempt to restrict them to items documentable as having been exported legally from the source country. What actually is unreasonable about that, keeping potentially illegally exported material off the US market? Isn't there enmough of that already on the US antiquities and numismatic markets? Giedroyć does not explore that aspect.

The 1970 UNESCO Convention, to which the US is a half-hearted party (de facto only explicitly acknowledges one of its 23 articles) has as one of its fundamantal postulates that states in general, and states party in particular have the inalienable right to self-determine what material from their territory comprises its cultural heritage. The USA might exhibit Native American artefacts in "natural history" museums (seen it with my own disgusted eyes in Florida) and fail to control its export by any kind of permit system, but that does not mean that all states will treat certain groups of artefacts and other historical material from their territory with the same disdain.

Sunday 16 January 2022

Wot, too much "metal"? Or Not Enuff Archaeological Loot to Loot?

A metal detectorist's review of Woburn Detecting rallys(sic) today.
"I really feel like we got mugged off today worst green waste, builders crap ever it was obviously clearly visible just laying on the top no refunds were ever mentioned. 70 people £1400
Wait a second, that's "green waste" with or without bits of metal artefacts in it? When is "metal detecting" not detecting metal? Serious question. You give a hobby a name that describes it, not one that misdescribes it. If we call it collection-driven exploitation of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD then the above comment makes sense. Otherwise it's nonsense. Innit?

Saturday 15 January 2022

Lost Archaeology: Is Hearsay The Best We Can Do?

From a papyrologist that attended an online presentation about the trade in ancient material by Prof Erin Thompson... It seems that there are some ancient wooden writing tablets floating around coming (it seems) from Byzacena, and this group (?) of material has been on the market for "a while". Apparently most European and US academics are not willing to touch them and so nothing has been published, "although one can always find obscure journals of course ready to host shady objects". 

I have recently seen photos of what seem likely to be part of this group of objects, and it is my opinion from a number of visible characteristics that the ones I saw were most likely fakes. 

And where are these objects now? The ones I saw were on offer by a dealer.

But here we have a pretty typical situation, some hearsay tales of what would be really important finds if we knew more about their context ("from Byzacena" - still less "thought to be from Byzacena" - is not any form of archaeological context of deposition or discovery). There is some doubt that the objects are part of a closed single find, some characteristics suggest some are inserted fakes. And there is no firm documentation by which that context will ever be reconstructed with any certainty (that is the reality behind the soothing assertations of the Ixelles Six academics that this sort of situation is "merely zero gain")* 

The papyrologist even states: "as usual, very hard to find any solid information, only hearsay...". This is totally unsatisfactory. And what are archaeologists "doing" (I use the term loosely) about it? comments open, below.

By the way, for those not keeping up with the ancient world, Byzacena - more or less Tunesia.
Hat tip Prof Erin Thompson

Mr Beazley's Floral Suppository

 This has everything, Treasure, coprolites, "amateur archaeologists" and was written by a British journalist who it looks like just scraped through his CSE English (Freddie Webb, 'Amateur Archaeologists find 'extraordinary' Roman artefact dubbed 'paranormal paracetamol' near Havant' Portsmouth News Friday, 14th January 2022)

Amateur archaeologists have discovered what they call an ‘extraordinary’ Roman artefact and have dubbed it the ‘paranormal paracetamol’. They think the silver find is predicted to date back to the Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) and is suspected to have healing properties. Waterlooville resident Peter Beasley, 80, and fellow enthusiast Lee McGowan, found it while metal detecting near Rowlands Castle. Mr Beasley said in all his years of ‘history hunting,’ he has never seen anything like it. He told The News: ‘We’re calling it the paranormal paracetamol, it’s incredible. [...] ‘It’s made of silver, about three quarters of an inch long and is shaped like a paracetamol tablet. ‘We found it at a site which we suspect to be a Roman temple, and the coins coming out of there date back to Constantine [...] Mr Beasley and Mr McGowan say they have also discovered 800 ‘offering coins’ at the site of the tablet, and they want to research the area in more detail. Mr Beasley said [...] ‘We’re going to very carefully record everything and we’ll see where we go from here’.
Note the use of the future tense there. This silver item is 19mm long:
After cleaning and recording the artefact, which was found five weeks ago, the treasure hunters found the symbol of the Chi Rho. [...] Lilies and daisies are also engraved on the artefact, which Mr Beasley said is common symbology for the Virgin Mary. ‘We’ve come to the conclusion that people would have swallowed it to cure them of sickness.’ The amateur archaeologist explained the artefact was jet black when it was found. He predicts that was due to the oxidisation of the silver, or it was preserved in a fossilised coprolite.
First of all, it is methodologically incorrect to project medieval symbolism back onto the Classical past, secondly no evidence is presented for interpretation of this as an item to be inserted in the body (swallowed or used as a rectal suppository?). Thirdly, the loose use of the adjective "paranormal" is nowhere justified.

This is pretty appalling, more so that a "professional treasure hunter" should know he has 14 days to report a potential Treasure item. He's overshot that by three weeks already.
Jenny Durrant @Durrant_Jenny 4 g.
As the local FLO I am waiting to see this item as potential Treasure, and then examine it for decoration and date. Apparently also 800 coins of which I was unaware [...].
One wonders how long a British archaeologist determining that the law was broken would "wait" before reporting it to law enforcement authorities and why. In any case, waiting gives ample time for evidence to be tampered with or deleted. Mr Beasley is well-known to this blog.

This is what the item looks like (finders' photo):

It does not look much like a silver artefact to me, still less one engraved with a chi-rho or daisies and lillies. How was it "cleaned" to end up with this appearance? This should have been seen by an archaeologist before poorly-worded and demented claims were made about it. Will the FLO confirm this is silver?

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