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? 

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