Friday 31 March 2023

April Tomfoolery from Oxfordshire Museum "Service" - What About the SITE?

A really regrettable feature of the social media use of British archaeologists and museums is the continual dumbdown that is basically their only content and contribution to public understanding of archaeology and how it operates. This one from the Oxfordshire Museum Service is not in any way untypical:

@OxMuseumService 19 g.
#FindsFriday This is an exciting #Roman hoard we were able to acquire through the treasure process. The report on the @findsorguk database lists all the emperors on each coin. For fun you can try to match them up using the record
That would be about the level of the kindeergarten were it mnot for the fact that the photos of the PAS database were apparently taken through thick smoke with a 1960s box camera by the light of nineteen glow-worms. Probably some of the most pathetically bad artefact photos taken by anyone with an archaeology degree in the UK. But fortunately they are numbered, and you can match them up with one of the two duplicate tables of the coins in that "record" by the numbers. So what's the point?

But instead of thinking about playful and condescending ways to allow a patronuised public to "engage with the past" gatekept by these curators, they'd have done better to look at the spelling of their "record" - words like "vacinity", "colection", "mouring", "cornucopiae"(when even their muddy photos shows that the coin reverse shows one of them), "rostral" (recte rostrum) etc..

This is a very poor piece of public (-funded) scholarship, I can't see why Oxfordshire Museum Service draw attention to it (ah, but "Treasure" eh?). There is however another issue here, the value of this "record" as archaeological evidence about the site from which this stuff was ripped by artefact hunters.
Unique ID: BERK-C9A338

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

A collection of 25 silver Roman denarii (15 incomplete, 10 complete), two silver ingots and a bag of possibly lead alloy slag, all from the same area. Found by two individuals mostly between 29th March 2017 and 29th April 2017 while a couple of other coins were found in November 2017.

Finder 1: 9 complete denarii, 9 fragmentary denarii, 2 silver ingots* and 1 bag of lead alloy slag**.

Finder 2: 2 complete denarii, 5 fragmentary denarii

The earliest coin dates from AD 103 and the latest AD 144. Therefore the coins must have been buried c. AD 144. 10 of the coins are of Trajan, 6/7 of Domitian, 5 of Hadrian, 2 of Antomninus Pius and 1 of Marcus Aurelius as Caesar. The three later coins (Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius) may not be related to this hoard? [...] **A collection of seven amorphous fragments of lead slag or casting waste found in the vacinity of the coins is unlikely to be related to the coin hoard. The slag has a combined weight of 49.9 grams. The coins in this colection are considered to be from the same findspot, albeit dispersed over 10-20 metres and damaged by modern agricultural activity. The coins are over 300 years old and are made of silver and therefore qualify as treasure. The ingots are of a different date to the coins but are over 300 years old and therefore constitute treasure in their own right. The lead alloy cannot be dated and cannot be associated with either the coins nor the ingots so are not treasure.[...] This findspot is known as 'Nuffield', grid reference and parish protected.

This is bonkers. For a start, this "record" is so muddled, it contains the same information set out in duplicate all over the place. Zero planning, zero consistency. Which British university turns out graduates who write like that? 

"The three later coins (Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius) may not be related to this hoard?"

- is that a statement or question? It can't be both, and no justification is offered for either. If PAS staff cannot deal with writing English they should get a proof reader - or hire staff that do not need one.

Why is the association of the three Antonine coins with the others questioned here? Were they found in a different part of the field? Are they in a different condition? Are the finders suspected of planting them? It is not stated. Certainly Antonine coins are found in hoards with earlier ones quite commonly, in Britain and beyond. So what's the problem?

Now what actually, chemically and physically, is "lead alloy slag"? Especially when the same (anonymous - do they know what they are talking about?) author (an FLO?) also calls it "lead slag or casting waste " [two different things]. Why (since no chemical analysis is mentioned) is it specifically "lead slag" and not waste from refining silver - since the same record suggests that the coins are in some way to be (or not to be) associated with two silver ingots? 

As for the ingots, they are not illustrated in this record (!)
*The two silver ingots probably date from the Later Early Medieval period and are therefore unilkely (sic) to relate to this hoard. They could be described as a hoard in their own right. Objects of this type are often described as Viking Hack Silver and generally dated from the mid 8th to mid 11th Centuries, AD. C.750-1050. However they could also be much later (see below).

Ingot 1 is slightly curved in plan and has a trapezoidal cross section and that (sic) has been cut both ends. The lower, largest (sic) edge has an incised line through the centre of the length, dividing the ingot into two fields. The uppermost field has a very precisely drawn six-pointed star formed of three crossed lines. The precision of this symbol suggests a later, possibly modern date for this item. It weighs 12.8 grams and measures 26.8mm long, 9.3mm wide and is 8mm high.

Ingot 2 is a trapezoidal bar, cut both ends. The thinner, upper side of the ingot has two deep diagonal incisions spaced 10.8mm (0.425 inches) apart. Between these lines on one outer edge are 7 smaller nicks broadly equidistant. As in Ingot 1, the base of the ingot (the widest side) has an incised line through the length of the middle. There are also two deeper lines almost diagonal to the bar, similar to those seen on the top of the ingot but only 7.65mm apart and confined to one side of the ingot. A symbol is located above the medial line as was seen in Ingot 1; the symbol in this instance is a triangle with a horizontal line above it, as seen in triangule (sic) sum theorum. The ingot weighs 13.7 grams and measures 27.1mm long, 8.1mm wide and is 8.1mm thick.
So it is dated by a star drawn on one face.

This is pretty typical of the issues involved with second-hand recording of loose metal detector finds. Two blokes come in with a group of objects they say were found at the same spot - will they get a Treasure reward? There are some coins, mostly shattered and not very collectable, but there are also two ingots, and some casting waste. Possible interpretations could be that:

a) this is an early medieval workshop waste, with old 'found' coins used as raw material, and a cache of these somehow had escaped melting together with two ingots. The whole lot could be associated.

b) It's two deposits an Antonine coin hoard deposited (maybe at a "special" place?) and then coincidentally (or because of the same "special nature" of he immediate area) a second deposit of silver ingots, with or without the slag/casting waste was left there.

c) the whole lot could be a modern 'plant' by the landowner or finder - or unrelated joker - to gain kudos, fun/laughs or cash from some otherwise uncollectable material made to look interesting by adding some other stuff.

Which is it? The PAS record does not contain any information that allows the reader to judge just what it is we are looking at. So from that point of view, this record is next to useless in terms of archaeology, in terms of understanding that site and the landscape of which it formed a part. More attention needs to be paid by PAS to collecting information not just about loose and floating findspots, but the context of deposition and context of discovery of the artefacts that artefact hunters hoik and report.

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