Tuesday 8 November 2022

The Barnetby Bull Rider

"Paul Campbell's find depicts a topless woman grasping a bull by the horn as she rides with her arm raised in the air [...] The Barnetby Bull Rider is due to be auctioned on Wednesday 9 November with an estimate of £8,000-£10,000" and the BBC is giving it a bit of free marketing (BBC Lincolnshire metal detectorist's Iron Age bull rider up for auction BBC News 8 November 2022). The usual "lucky last-minute find" trope:

A last-minute find by a Lincolnshire metal detectorist could sell for £10,000 at auction. Paul Campbell had given up for the day when he discovered a 2,000-year-old bull rider figure in a field in Barnetby le Wold in 2016. [...] After a successful day detecting, which had produced a few Roman coins, Mr Campbell said he had been heading back across the field to fetch his bicycle when his detector gave a positive signal. Expecting to find more Roman coins he dug down and saw "old damaged horns". "That was the clue it was from Corieltauvi times," he said.
Yeah? Horns is Corries? Eh? Anyway, it's been recorded by the PAS and is now off to auction at essex Coin Auctions (City Road London EC1V 2NX) whose specialist is quoted in the BBC piece.
Adam Staples, from Essex Coin Auctions, said it was thought to be the only recorded example of a figure riding a bull and probably dated from the early 1st century AD. "It is such a unique piece and begs the question just who was she? Was she a slave, a priestess, a Queen [sic]?" he said. "The names of powerful Celtic Queens such as Boudicca and Cartimandua have survived the ages, but the identity of our rider has been lost to history," he added. Mr Staples said the bull rider would have been fixed to the top of a bowl that may have been filled with blood during ritual sacrifices.
So, it's got everything going for it, bloody sacrifices, topless women who might be "a slave, a priestess, or a Queen", wherever your fantasy takes you. There are said to be 1600 archaeologists in teh UK (Profiling the profession), very few of them speak out against their "partners', the site-trashers with metal detectors and spades that steal knowledge from archaeological sites for collecting, or sale. Not a peep from most of the passive jobsworths. You need very few hands to count on the fingers British archaeologists who consistently place conservation and methological issue over the desire get new loose artefacts for archaeologists to study and speak out. One of them is Andy Brockman who comments on a phrase that was used in the BBC article, a quote attributed to the finder and seller:
He said it had been a race against time as the field was being turned into grassland for sheep a few days later [...] Speaking of the auction Mr Campbell, who has been detecting metal since he was nine years old, said he was "not money orientated". "It's more important that I've saved it from the plough," he said.
. Which is of course what turning arable land into pasture would actually do. But a cynic might think that the real point here is that (despite the protective mythology being referenced here), it is less lucrative for the finders to leave saleable objects in situ, eh? Brockman's response to this was:
"Metal detectorist wins "race against time" to find rare Iron Age votive bull rider and get it to market, in another commercial auction apparently involving well known consultant Adam Staples who has also been linked to Hansons & it is all perfectly legal./ The BBC article does not pick up that the "race against time" before the field was turned into pasture, described by the finder, was in fact a race against time before the detecting permission may have been stopped given the field's new status. The object was not going anywhere. / Neither do the BBC question why this story is emerging days ahead of the auction where the bull rider will be sold (it's Lot 10 BTW). In fact the story, with valuation highlighted, is all about the money, as it is effectively a press release designed to drive interest and bids./ Without the promised, but MIA, reform of the Treasure Act to allow artefacts made from non precious metals to be declared Treasure, artefact finders (mostly metal detector users), and landowners, will continue to be allowed to bet heritage objects at the auction room casino."
 Another in the small group of plain-speaking and aware archaeologists, Paul Blinkhorn spots the usual spiel:
Ah, here we go, it's MD bingo time! "It's not about the money" "it's about the history and it being seen" [...] Also some ludicrous bollocks from a coin dealer about blood and ritual sacrifices.
Where are the rest? Where is the PAS? Time and time again the same old junk is parrotted by metal detectorists and uninformed and unreflexive journalists and the PAS (BM Press Department too) just plug their ears and hunker down behind their desks. And the public that pays for their comfy warm offices and their wages, is none the wiser for it. Value for money? I think not.

To my mind the notion that the figure represented is a "topless lady" is a metal detectorists erotic fantasy. The figure clearly is clothed, with seams of the decollete and sleeves clearly shown (unless we are urged to interpret this as some kind of "Celtic bondage harness"). Actually, if you look at the side view, the breasts are nowhere near as prominent as the lighting on the photo of the front view implies. There are no other 'female' attributes. I have another issue with this piece and the manner that the findspot is documented in the public domain (an apparently unsubstantiated second-hand account by the PAS).
This item is shown in PAS photos presumably soon after discovery: LIN-B96982. Both there and in auction photos that patina looks a bit off as a ground-dug object. The 1160-word 'report' by anonymous FLO omits mention of condition of the object's surface/ which is odd, as it is that surface that they are "describing". According to a 2015 study, depending on where object was found, preservation of metal objects in the parish is "fair" to "poor". This patina is more than that. Why? / Also, bearing in mind the ("better out than in") arguments for removing artefacts from a "damaging" (according to the PAS and its supporters) ploughsoil environment- where on this object is the plough and agri-chemical damage so universally claimed as justification for wholesale metal artefact removal?

 Update 10.11.2022

The object went for a hammer price of  £7500, below the estimate. Which goes to show that lurid metal detectorists' stories of "topless ladies" and "gory blood sacrifices" won't always attract discerning (or gullible) buyers.

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