Sunday 23 April 2023

Archaeology and "Brandolini's Law"

       A poster for MGM’s 1961 “The Lost Continent”       
On my way to work the other day, I was stopped in a corridor by an acquaintance in the company who knew I was an achaeologist who had "just one question to ask....". That turned out to be "how true" is a recent Netflix series on a lost civilization preceding our own (yeah, that one)? How do you answer that in a few minutes in a corridor? Do you just say uninformatively, "no, a load of bollocks" and carry on walking, or.. well, what? Sadly, I inadvisedly and without thinking began what inevitably would be a monologue consisting of statements about pyramids, domestic animals, the chronology. The truth is, I was on my way to a meeting, I had not prepared the comments, so it was all a bit incoherent, and we had to break off our conversation - which by that time had started to wander to another level, not what the programme had slickly presented, but what the non-archaeological listener did not know about some pretty basic concepts, such as what could be seen as constituting a "civilization" and how they work, and how they do not work.* I had to break off and vowed to make a handout with a few links to some good You Tube videos critiquing this series and the concepts behind it and mail it to him. The other day I sat down to do that... turns out to be complex, I have my own views on why Ancient Apocalypse is a specious argument (actually not an argument at all) and what it omits. One video or online resource mentions some of the things I think are important for the curious enquirer to know, but includes a lot of stuff I would not prioritise, while other things I'd say were important are better treated in another video - between 3:33 and 8:22. How to give the reader access to a fuller answer but without burdening them with too much (from their point of view, unproductive) reading and sifting to do?

This, I think, is an issue that archaeology needs to address. I come across this time and time again when addressing the facile and one-sided mantras used by the supporters of artefact hunting to justify archaeological collaboration with the collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record. It is the same with other types of pseudoarchaeology. But many of our colleagues have an aversion to public debate on issues connected with the discipline with non-scholars because of "Brandolini's law".

As Wikipedia helpfully summarises it:
"Brandolini's law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage coined in 2013 that emphasizes the effort of debunking misinformation, in comparison to the relative ease of creating it in the first place. It states that "The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it."[1][2] The adage was publicly formulated the first time in January 2013[3] by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer. [...] Environmental researcher Dr. Phil Williamson of University of East Anglia implored other scientists in 2016 to get online and refute falsehoods to their work whenever possible, despite the difficulty per Brandolini's law. He wrote, "the scientific process doesn't stop when results are published in a peer-reviewed journal. Wider communication is also involved, and that includes ensuring not only that information (including uncertainties) is understood, but also that misinformation and errors are corrected where necessary."[1] 

[Cited literature]
(1) Williamson, Phil (6 December 2016). "Take the time and effort to correct misinformation". Nature. 540 (7632): 171. doi:10.1038/540171a.

(2) Thatcher, Jim; Shears, Andrew; Eckert, Josef (April 2018). "Rethinking the Geoweb and Big Data: Mixed Methods and Brandolini's Law", chapter 12 in Thatcher, Shears and Eckert (eds), 'Thinking Big Data in Geography: New Regimes, New Research', University of Nebraska Press. pp. 232–236. ISBN 978-1-4962-0537-7.

(3) Brandolini, Alberto. "Bullshit Asymmetry Principle – Twitter"."
* There is also a disturbing situation that in the circles I move in you can even meet people in their thirties who have never actually seen domestic animals (like cows) from up close. For them, domestic animals, their characteristics and needs, are already an abstract concept.

Saturday 22 April 2023

Placing it on the Map: More Metal Detecting Excitement in Millom, UK


(NW Mail)

There are forty thousand tekkies in the UK according to the PAS. Most of them stay coyly silent about what they are finding and taking. Another group jump onto the forums when they come home from a day in the field boasting wotta-lotta-stuff they'd cleverly found. Still others get into the local papers (Darren Shield, 'Millom metal detectorist Josh Carr Easter weekend findings' NW Mail 13th April 2023)

Millom metal detectorist Josh Carr has continued his hot streak of historical finds over the Easter Weekend after unearthing yet more artefacts that shed light on the region's past. [...] The Millom and District Local History Society posted on its website that Josh had found 'lots of lead musket balls of different sizes' (indicative of the Civil War battle that took place around Millom Castle), an 1872 Queen Victoria gothic florin, a 1571 Queen Elizabeth I hammered coin, and a possible Roman stylus. The enthusiast has made several important discoveries in the Millom area, ranging from an Iron Age terret ring to a silver Marcus Aurelius denarii, two Roman trumpet brooches, and many other coins from Henry II up to Queen Victoria, including several of Queen Elizabeth I.
The "stylus" is nothing of the kind. The article does not mention PAS or anything about codes, permission. So basically its the same type of text that could have been written in the 1980s before PAS began doing all that expensive "outreach" that's just not getting anywhere.

This is the same guy that allegedly has been "rewriting history" by finding PREhistoric metalwork in the same area (Darren Shield, 'Millom metal detectorist Josh Carr finds sixth axe head' NW Mail 19th March 2023).

Three happy guys metal detecting on grass (NW Mail) [edited]

A metal detectorist could be 'rewriting the history of Millom' after a series of discoveries pointing to ancient settlements on the peninsula. When Josh Carr reported his three metal axe head finds in January experts told him to go out and find more - so he is doing just that. Josh has just found his sixth, equalling the number of metal axe heads found in one hoard in Cumbria [...] Josh is a keen metal detectorist who is interested not only in the history of the objects he finds but is proud to come from Millom and wants to 'put Millom on the historical map'. [...] All of his finds show that the Millom area was inhabited from Prehistoric times up until the modern era.
"Go out and find more" in a pasture field that has potential earthworks in it: 
Chair of the Millom and District Local History Society Jan Bridget aims to secure funding for archaeologists to further excavate the area, which contains 'interesting earthworks', to further prove the existence of an ancient hill fort.
This is the same hoard in pasture that we discussed here a few months ago when he had a beard and a taste for prancing around in combat gear: PACHI, ' Time Travelling or Time Trashing? What does UK's PAS Say?' Friday, 3 February 2023. PAS, of course, did not.


Hat tip Hougenai

PAS and its Falling Standards

From "Cleethorpes", WTF? Who's the FLO and finds advisor responsible for this ridiculous number-bulking travesty?
Record ID: NLM-5B1844
Object type: HANDAXE
Broad period: PALAEOLITHIC
County: North East Lincolnshire
Workflow stage: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation
Brown iron-stained flint with recently-reforming cortex, possible hand axe, as kindly identified by the finder. A thick chunk bearing scars from the removal of broad flakes by robust hard hammer working across one side and two long edges; part of one broad side is apparently left unworked. The object nevertheless sits comfortably in the hand if its ends are to be used for a vertical pounding action. Both ends show damage from relatively light battering. Suggested date: Lower Palaeolithic, 500,000-150,000 BC Length: 170mm, Width: 94mm, Thickness: 65mm, Weight: not measured, in excess of 500gms

Class: Abbeville
Subsequent actions
Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder

Broad period: PALAEOLITHIC
Subperiod from: Early
Subperiod to: Early
Date from: Circa 500000 BC
Date to: Circa 150000 BC

Discovery metadata
Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Coastland
Specific landuse: Marine

Created on: Tuesday 15th October 2019
Last updated: Wednesday 16th October 2019
Author: [blank- author is too coy to say]
Spatial data recorded. This findspot is known as 'Cleethorpes', grid reference and parish protected.
The photo is crap, totally inadequate as a piece of archaeological documentation, where did the (anonymous - not surprising) FLO go to archaeology school? Judging by what that "documentation" barely shows, we might ask what was the reason they failed to profit from "prehistory 101" there, and in particular the block of classes on lithic technology. 

The photo shows what is technically called in lithic parlance in most countries something like "just a blooming piece of stone" or words to that effect. It looks for all the world that what was given back to the finder (really? Did the FLO have it in their hand?) is a battered and rolled flint cobble. I am assuming it is flint because the PAS record says so. Though what they mean by "recently-reforming cortex" and how they can tell is anyone's guess (so here it really WOULD help us to interpret these records if we knew who it was writing these words).

What nonsense is the information on context of discovery: "Metal detector, General landuse: Coastland, Specific landuse: Marine". You don't find flint lumps with a metal detector. Was it found on the beach? Why not say so? That would explain why it is so rolled, wouldn't it? Again and again, the PAS shy away from spending time to provide the full data.

What has happened here? This is a pure guess: my bet is that the FLO did not actually have this thing in their hand and a deluded finder sent them a picture of a rock, calling it a "handaxe" and the FLO needed to meet their monthly finds quota and (having a photo), slipped it onto the database. That'd be why it says: "possible hand axe, as kindly identified by the finder". I think the description is by the finder too:
"A thick chunk bearing scars from the removal of broad flakes by robust hard hammer working across one side and two long edges; part of one broad side is apparently left unworked. The object nevertheless sits comfortably in the hand if its ends are to be used for a vertical pounding action. Both ends show damage from relatively light battering".
A handaxe is used for chopping, not "battering", there is no edge retouch I can see in the photo, and the flake scars are shallow with no bulbs I can see, so I do not know where this guff about a hammer comes from. In my opinion, from the photo, there is not any part of this battered and rolled that is humanly-worked. If we had the object to hand to analyse more carefully than that brief "description" (note it mixes interpretation and observation, rather than making an effort to keep them separate), or at least somebody to take a more informative photos, we might be able to say more.

I think the evidence we have to hand suggests that it is more likely to be a piece of tabular flint that was broken/eroded from a chalk (probably) layer long, long ago, got rolled about in some fast-moving water, possible secondarily buried in a drift (glacial) deposit, got eroded from that and rolled about some more and then was found by a numpty who thought the shape was 'like' a handaxe.

What is interesting is that on eBay (as well as in the offer of a certain prominent UK auctioneer) are a whole series of flint pieces (pseudolithics, I call them) that are interpreted (and being sold) as ancient lithic tools (the argument "sits comfortably in the hand" is often represented as the clinching one as if no natural stone would ever be of a shape you could hold comfortably to bash something).  I have suggested that the PAS FLOs are not doing enough to educate the public (finders that put this stuff on the market and the PAS-paying public who are the potential victims of these misidentifications) about the features of real archaeological flintwork. This find on the database makes me wonder whether that would be wise in every case anyway. Which FLO authored this? 

What point are anonymous and incomplete "data" of such poor quality (or ambiguous veracity), mixed in among the rest? What is the value of a database containing an unknown percentage of such data? When are the backlog of unverified records going to be cleared by the PAS finds advisors? 

Are Me'al Detektin' iz a Right, Innit!

[Photo by Stuart Nye, Google Earth]

 The artefact hunters up north are in a right tizzy:  James Tapper, 'Will they fight them on the beaches? Anger as Cleethorpes hits detectorists with £100 fines Lincolnshire locals are up in arms at an ‘illogical’ order by the council...' Guardian Sat 22 Apr 2023 (totally inappropriate headline, by the way).

The vast sands of Cleethorpes beach can stretch into the horizon at low tide, revealing all kinds of interesting things previously hidden by the sea. It’s the perfect spot for metal detectorists to discover artefacts such as musket balls and ancient coins among the marine debris.

Yet the local authority has introduced a ban with the threat of £100 fines for anyone using a metal detector in the area, causing uproar among local people who have combed the beach for decades.

Now the National Council for Metal Detecting says it is considering taking legal action against North East Lincolnshire council to overturn the ban [...] the National Council for Metal Detecting now has 30,000 members. Alan Tamblyn, its general secretary, said the council’s actions were “very misguided and very ill-judged and can’t be justified”. “We are certainly considering challenging this in the high court,” he said. “If they came up with a reason for doing this we’d accept it, but they haven’t.”.
Nice of them, eh? They'll agree if the LANDOWNER can justify why Baz Thugwit can't walk all over the place digging holes and taking stuff away - like, um, historical "musket balls and ancient coins" from the property.

"Legal action" eh? We'd love to see that come to court, exposing the metal detectorists greed and feelings of entitlement.

But... I may be wrong, but this may well be the first time that the NCMD has actually revealed their membership numbers. So, if the PAS asserts there are 40k artefact hunters in the UK, about a quarter of them are not NCMD members. So who are they insured with?

Interestingly, the NCMD have been accused by the local council of not being aware of the existing policies already in place for some years and trolling them by reminding them of the words of their own Code: Cleethorpes and the new PSPO for parks, open spaces and the beach 4:25 pm, Friday, 21st April 2023
Many of the restrictions detailed in the PSPO have been in place for many years and were covered by byelaws that are difficult to enforce. The new PSPO gives a fresh approach to enable the Council to enforce against the activities listed, many of which were already not permitted. For example, metal detecting has not been allowed in the area’s parks and open spaces for decades and has never been permitted on Cleethorpes beach and coastline as it’s part of the SSSI.[...] The Council are aware that in some circumstances individuals and groups may wish to undertake metal detection as part of a clearly defined archaeological or educational project and consequently the PSPO allows for metal detecting if prior approval has been granted. Under exceptional circumstances, prior approval might be granted to allow metal detecting as part of non-archaeological activities – for example, to locate underground services or for the recovery of lost personal objects. Officers are in the process of liaising with Natural England to ensure they are completely clear about how and in what circumstances prior permission can be given to bring metal detectors onto the coastline and beach area.
Once again, the ranting metal detectorists have shown themselves up for what they are. Irresponsible and not very bright of them.

And there's a petition... do read their justification, playing the victim, mental health, picking up the scrap metal (shopping trolleys etc.), the usual range of arguments (oh, they forgot the 'not in it fer money', a little bit difficult to believe in the case of beach detecting that regularly finds jewellery and coins lost in the sand. 1,912 have signed.

hat tip: Dave Coward

Friday 21 April 2023

Crimean Gold and China's View on Russia

The Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, asserts that the former Soviet republics have “no effective status in international law” as “sovereign states”. He thus seems to deny the very existence of countries like Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan etc. Despite what the Chinese official thinks, it shuld be noted that all of these countries have their status recognised by being independent member states of the United Nations. What's interesting is that one of the few international court judgements on this matter involves cultural property (Crimean gold lent by Ukrainian museums before the 2014 invasion now being withheld from returning to Crimea under Russian occupation) .

Thursday 20 April 2023

Crete: Search for weapons yields antiquities

ekathimerini, 'Search for weapons yields antiquities', 20.04.2023

Weird police photo
                   [Police Directorate/Intime News]                 
"The discovery of rare archaeological relics by law enforcement authorities on Crete earlier this month took place while tracking suspected gun traffickers. Police were working on information received in November about an individual preparing to bring a large number of weapons into the country via the island’s southern coast. The surveillance led them to uncover the antiquities trafficking ring, which involved, among others, a retired archaeologist and an ex-port officer, as well as an Italian would-be buyer who had arrived in Iraklio on Easter Sunday to assess the relics’ authenticity. Six people were arrested on Monday, while a case file was formed for their wanted accomplices. Police found and seized seven Late Minoan (1400-1300 BC) coffins and 88 vases from the same period and from Neolithic times".

Sunday 16 April 2023

Ancient texts in Academic Contexts Today

VARIANT SCHOLARSHIP: Ancient texts in modern contexts
Edited by Neil Brodie, Morag M. Kersel & Josephine Munch Rasmussen Sidestone Press 2023
Since the eighteenth century, many if not most ancient and medieval manuscripts or other text-bearing or associated objects have been procured through imperial expropriation or through the antiquities market with little or no evidence of findspot or place of original deposition and with no assurance of legal provenance or authenticity. The consequences of these questionable acquisition practices for scholarship and for our understanding of the past are the focus of much enquiry.

Recent high-profile acquisitions (and subsequent returns) of text-bearing objects by prominent private collectors and museums and the appearance on the market of demonstrably modern forgeries have resulted in increased scrutiny of the intellectual and commercial impacts of academic engagement. Scholarly research can abet the antiquities market directly or indirectly through identification, authentication and legitimation of illegally traded text-bearing objects.

These harmful complications of well-established academic practice raise important questions about how and even if the academy should engage with ancient texts and text-bearing objects of uncertain provenance. Through a wide-ranging set of case studies, Variant Scholarship focuses on the methodological, theoretical, and ethical dilemmas facing scholars when working with ancient texts in modern contexts.

This book is intended for those interested in the historical practices of research into ancient manuscripts, ethical quandaries in studying unprovenanced textual materials, and the unintended consequences of scholarly interactions with problematic text-bearing objects.
Variant scholarship: ancient texts in modern contexts Neil Brodie, Morag M. Kersel, and Josephine Munch Rasmussen

Disciplinary pitfalls: how good philology can mask bad provenance Nils H. Korsvoll

The provenance of the Dead Sea Scrolls: five examples Årstein Justnes

Performing papyrology: cartonnage, discovery and provenance Roberta Mazza

The Ilves Collection: a Finnish manuscript collector and the academic facilitators Rick Bonnie

Noxious scholarship? The study and publication of First Sealand Dynasty cuneiform tablets Neil Brodie

Consuming Palmyra Michael Press

Ethical guidelines for publishing ancient texts Patty Gerstenblith

The trouble with texts Morag M. Kersel

The value of forgeries for historical research Christa Wirth and Josephine M. Rasmussen

Someone else’s manuscripts: the ethics of textual scholarship Liv Ingeborg Lied

Between representation and the real: the forgeries of Constantine Simonides Rachel Yuen-Collingridge

Provenance: genocide. The transfer of Armenian sacred objects to art collections Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh

Digitizing manuscripts and the politics of extraction Raha Rafii
The book can be bought as an e-publication (pdf) for immediate consumption, as well as in more permanent paper form. 

Saturday 15 April 2023

Source of Zombie Artefacts Identified

Egyptian conservator Hassan Soliman, who works for the Supreme Council of Antiquities in
the Saqqara archaeological area, works to restore the fragile limestone
n the small funerary chapel of Yuyu. — Expédition Leyde-Turin

The source of some zombie-artefacts in the Musée de Picardie (sic), in Amiens has been identified as a result of fieldwork by an Italian-Dutch expedition in the necropolis of Saqqara, in Egypt (Mikaël Libert, 'Archéologie : Quand des fouilles en Egypte permettent de résoudre un mystère à Amiens' 20 minutes 14/04/23 ). The team has discovered a tomb and several funeral chapels dating from the time of Ramses II.The Leyden-Turin expedition, led by doctors Lara Weiss and Christian Greco identified one of the chapels as belonging to the family of a man named Youyou. It turns out that it was the source of looted doorposts One of these chapels was the one from which doorposts had been looted in the 19th century and which had ended up in the Picardy museum, which did not know their origin: “Since 1927, the museum has kept doorposts decorated with hieroglyphs whose provenance we did not know”, explains Agathe Jagerschmidt-Séguin, head of archaeological collections at the Picardy museum, in Amiens. "The only information given by the reading of these hieroglyphs was the name of the person, Youyou, and his profession, manufacturer of leaf gold", she continues.

It was through a legacy from the painter and collector Albert Maignan, at the very beginning of the 20th century, that the uprights of the door of the chapel of Youyou became part of the collections of the Musée de Picardie. “Albert Maignan had bought these pieces, and many others, from the Vendée Egyptologist Emile Amelineau who needed money. But what we still do not know is how he came into possession of the uprights of the Youyou funeral chapel, ”acknowledges Agathe Jagerschmidt-Séguin. The mystery of Youyou has not yet revealed all its secrets.

See also:

Jason Moore, 'When excavations in Egypt help solve a mystery in Amiens' UK News April 14, 2023 (compare with the French text).

Thursday 13 April 2023

Depletion of the British Historical Environment

Changes in the abundance of farmland birds between 1970 and 2021 in the UK (source, British Trust for Ornithology):
Richard Broughton 🇺🇦 @woodlandbirder · 12 g. New Woodland Bird Indicator shows worst ever result. Woodland specialists like Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Spotted Flycatcher & Wood Warbler are nosediving. Interestingly, in past 20 yr specialists tended to dip if generalists went up, but now both declining.
The historical environment is under similar pressure. With, now, 40000 metal detectorists currently thought to be active, the number of diagnostic metal artefacts remaining in accessible parts of the archaeological record probably looks like the lower two curves too. Birds have organizations like the British Trust for Ornithology and the archaeological record has... uh... ? Who is doing this public outreach, responsibly alerting the British public to the scale of the problem?

Detecting Finds Rates [Updated]

A bloke called Mark who "searches for medieval and Roman coins and artifacts with the metal detector in the northern part of the Netherlands" writes:
Medieval Digger @medieval_digger 19 g.
I had a two hour search today, ended up with 12 coins. One of them was silver! 😎👍🍀 #metaldetecting
So, a counter based on the estimate that the average number of recordable finds an active detector user will find in the UK in a whole year is 30.5 is not at all extravagant? Who'd 'a thought eh?   

Update 13.04.2023

Medieval Digger @medieval_digger 26 min
30.5? More, way more! I report everything that needs to be reported. I think 60-100 each year.
He'll be getting hate mail from UK detectorists if they see that... If there are 40000 in England and Wales and on average 80000 non-Treasure items responsibly reported to the PAS, how does that compare then? Two-each, what does that say about "British metal detectorists"? Certainly not the oft-automatically-mantric-repeated "the majority are responsible" [when reporting to PAS is a benchmark of that "responsible" behaviour]. In reality (denied by their supporters in archaeology, museums, law enfrcement and silly newspapers), whatever the situation in The EU (here Netherlands), in Britain, the majority of stuff just disappears into artefact hunters' pockets or onto eBay.

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Another Leominster Hoard

Object type: HOARD
Broad period: IRON AGE
County: County of Herefordshire
Workflow stage: Published Find published
A small scattered hoard of six or eight coins, said to have been found in the area of Leominster and Bromyard, in north-east Herefordshire, in or before May 2008 (NC 170 (2010), 408 no. 4; BMHF 2009 T392). The finder is uncooperative and only two of the coins have so far been recorded.
Treasure numbers associated with this hoard: 2009 T392
Subsequent actions
Current location of find: Unknown

Discovery dates
Date(s) of discovery: Saturday 31st May 2008 - Saturday 31st May 2008

Personal details
Recorded by: Dr Eleanor Ghey

Other reference numbers
Legacy hoard number: 2801
Treasure case number: 2009T392
[..] To be known as: Northeast Herefordshire Archaeological context
No archaeological context available.

Created on: Tuesday 13th January 2015 Spatial data recorded. This findspot is known as 'Northeast Herefordshire', grid reference and parish protected.
"Not in it for the money, though".

Dispersal of the Leominster Hoard Coins

The Viking period Leominster hoard of coins and jewellery dating to the late ninth century found at Eye, near Leominster, Herefordshire in June 2015 by metal detectorists George Powell and Layton Davies while illegally detecting on land owned by Lord Cawley. The finders did not report it and instead sold it to dealers, except a few individual pieces which were reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Some of the items frm the hoard went to antiquities dealers in Cardiff and London before the couple were caught and convicted.

The hoard originally contained an estimated 300 coins, of which 31 have been recovered along with a silver ingot, an heirloom rock-crystal pendant mounted in gold wire, a gold bracelet, and a gold finger ring. Much of the hoard is still missing and is presumed hidden or sold. One collector bought 16 of the coins (this is only mentioned in passing with no details in the NYT article, mirrored at Seattle Times - has something been hushed up here, and why?). The thirty coins which had been recovered were valued at a proceeds of crime hearing at Worcester Crown Court at £501,000. Five of them are examples of the exceptionally rare Two Emperors penny, valued at up to £50,000 apiece The missing 270 coins were also estimated to have a total nominal value of £2.4m. Five of the recovered coins had been hidden in the handle of a magnifying glass by Paul Wells who was, as he later testified, one of the men approached in summer 2015 by metal detectorists Powell and Davies to help release the coins to the market without attracting attention.

In an October 2022 article on a subsequent proceeds of crime hearing after the initial sentencing, we read that:
Powell claimed to have found only 51 coins, and sold the unrecovered 20 for just £10,000 according to the Mirror. He admitted to gambling it all away after telling the court he ‘had a bit of a naughty habit’. Powell, from Newport, South Wales, said he sold 20 coins to crooked antiques dealer Simon Wicks at a service station on the M4 and kept the remaining 31 to himself [...]. Powell, who was jailed for six and a half years, said in the new hearing: ‘We are metal detectorists, you want to become rich to get the payout, it’s a treasure hunting hobby.’
There now seems to be a consensus that the Operation Fantail material that is now being discussed in the court can be related to this case. Detector users Roger Pilling, 74, of Rossendale, Lancashire, and Craig Best, 46, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, are facing a jury trial at Durham crown court, they deny a joint charge of conspiring to convert criminal property, namely the Anglo-Saxon coins, for money. They also deny separate charges of possessing criminal property. They had acquired these coins from "somewhere" before 2018. The Crown does not allege that either of the defendants, who were both interested in metal detecting, made the find themselves. In 2018, Best and Pilling contacted a prominent US collector from Michigan. When he asked Best where they came from, in an email Best replied, 'near Worcester'. This collector declined to buy these items, but Mr Best was arrested at a Durham hotel in May 2019 (and Mr Pilling was then arrested at home) in an attempt to sell them to another collector (being unaware that this was an undercover police operation to entrap them).
Prosecutor Matthew Donkin told the jury [...] the coins were believed to be part of the Herefordshire Hoard [...] Mr Best took three coins to a meeting at the Royal County Hotel with undercover officers he thought were part of a team brokering a deal with a US-based buyer, the jury heard. The trio of coins included one of the exceptionally two-emperor style Alfred and Ceolwulf examples - which itself was worth £70,000. Uniformed officers then arrested Mr Best and a subsequent raid of Mr Pilling's home recovered a further 41 coins, Mr Donkin said. Jurors heard an image from Mr Pilling's home showed 46 coins in total, meaning two remained missing.

If these items were from the Leominster hoard, that's forty-one coins down, another 226+ still to be recovered. The person buying the coins from Pilling and Best, whether from this find or any other, should come forward.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Two Men Accused of Trying to Sell Anglo-Saxon Coins, but Nabbed by Undercover Police

Operation "Fantail" grinds slowly on. Two men (Roger Pilling, 74, of Rossendale, Lancashire and Craig Best, 46, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham), are currently on trial at Durham crown court accused of trying to sell rare coins from a Viking period hoard worth over a quarter of a million pounds. They have denied a joint charge of conspiring to convert criminal property, namely the Anglo-Saxon coins, for money. They also deny separate charges of possessing criminal property (Mark Brown, 'Two men accused of trying to sell rare Anglo-Saxon coins to undercover police' Guardian 11 Apr 2023 )

"Two amateur history enthusiasts (sic) have been accused of trying to sell ancient coins from a Viking hoard to representatives of a mystery American buyer who were in fact undercover police officers.[...] Matthew Donkin, opening the case for the prosecution, said the two men had known that the culturally important coins from the reign of Alfred the Great came from a Viking hoard. The court was told the value of one particularly rare coin had been estimated at £70,000 while the combined value of the coins, 44 in total, was about £766,000.[...] Donkin said the prosecution did not allege that the two men were the original finders of the coins. “But someone discovered them,” he said. “They are extremely rare, ancient coins and they have been dug up or unearthed by someone who chose not to declare them.” The rightful owner of the coins, he said, was the crown.
[on behalf of all of us]. This is the next stage in the court case resulting from Operation Fantail and a postulated "Durham Hoard" of Anglo-saxon coins. The case has been covered by this blog, primarily because of the lack of transparency on what had been going on:
'UK Knowledge Thieves Lose their Coin Haul', PACHI Thursday, 30 May 2019

In the recent part of court proceedings, it turns out that the conspiracy to sell the coins began in 2018, when Best had contacted a US collector (radiology professor at the University of Michigan, Ronald Bude). Bude suspected that the coins were fake. When that was raised, and then he decided not to buy them, he received an email from Best that contained an important statement
"They are a hoard as you know they are this can cause me problems all you had to do was say you didn’t want them and that was the end of it.” The court heard Best had also told Bude the coins were so good that he would need to fly over for them. In an email he had said: “These coins are big money I will send you a sim card with them all on if you want. I am looking at £2-250k for all of these that’s how good they are.” 

The coins were taken by Best to "an expert at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge" who pronounced them genuine and possibly as a result of this consultation, "news of the discovery had then spread through the community of coins professionals" [and archaeologists?]. Accounts are unclear, and contain nothing specific, about collector Bude's role in alerting authorities in the UK. 

One reason for the media interest in these coins are the ambitions of coin-fondlers to be seen, not as the barely-relevant nerds that some seem to be, but as representatives of an "exciting" discipline that can "rewrite the history books" . In this case what was exciting them was the presence among the coins  on sale dating from AD874 to AD879 was a “King Alfred two-emperors type silver penny” issued in Wessex and Mercia and representing Alfred, the king of Wessex, and Coelwulf II, the king of Mercia and had been (Coins like this: 'Ashmolean from Home: The 'Two Emperors' Coins'). Prior to 2015, only two coins of that type had been discovered. Then along came the Watlington Hoard found and correctly reported by metal detectorist James Mather in 2015, and the illegally-dispersed Eye (Leominster) hoard found by metal detectorists George Powell and Layton Davies also in 2015.  

The two men were arrested after an undercover police operation, the court heard. They had thought that a man, “Hugh”, was a broker and “Max” was a coin expert when they had in fact been police. The prosecution alleged Best took three coins to a meeting in a Durham hotel bar. [...] Donkin told the court Pilling and Best would claim that they did not know the coins were treasure.

After Best's arrest, correspondence fund in his phone led them to Pilling and when his house was searched, police found some 40 Anglo-Saxon coins  (and, it seems from some accounts, an ingot fragment) and he was arrested and charged too.  No information is given in accounts of the court case on where Pilling says he got the coins from. 


Monday 10 April 2023

Thessalonika Bust Raises Questions


       A group of Greek and Roman coins on display       

A 61-year old man was arrested in the northern port city of Thessaloniki in Greece over the weekend is due to appear in front of a prosecutor (Man arrested over antiquities smuggling in Thessaloniki ekathimerini Newsroom 08.04.2023):
over the theft of antiquities including a number of ancient coins and two ceramic vases that fall under the protective provisions of the legislation on the protection of antiquities. The suspect was identified in an area of Halkidiki after he had previously attempted to send via a transport company in Thessaloniki a parcel to a recipient in Germany, which contained 180 ancient coins, carefully hidden in a container with olive oil. In police searches carried out at his residences in Halkidiki and Thessaloniki, 16 additional coins, a bronze pendant and two ceramic burial vases were found and seized. [...]

Both vases fakes, how many of the coins? Are the nes across the right back row Athenian Athena tets (like for example from the so-called 'Parliament' hoard found in Turkey)? Who is he alleged to have stolen them from, can any of them be proven to have been found outside Greece? And how many can be proven to have been found in Greece? How many were acquired on the open market outside Greece before being imported? All very odd, many questions, but feelgood articles like this are never followed up by any details of the further development of the case (which I suspect in many cases never happens, because the evidence of a crime is missing/poorly gathered). And journalists don't know enough to ask the right questions. 

Hate Among UK Metal Detector Users

Guess what prompted this

W odpowiedzi do
Scum giving responsible detectorists a bad name, unfortunately like everything nowadays there's far too many people doing it

W odpowiedzi do @ChrisM_ASW
They are not metal detectorists. Whilst they may use the same tools, they are just stealing from a scheduled site. Detectorists know the law and abide by the rules.

"Not metal detectorists", what does that mean? I wonder, somebody who uses a metal detector (and be honest, a digging tool too) to remove hidden metal objects from the ground to take possession of them would be called a ... what, then? This is collection-driven exploitation of a site.

How do you do collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record "responsibly"? Is that how (British, mainly) people used to go bird-egging "responsibly" before the law changed?

Vignette: Responsible bird egg collection, accurate resin replicas to serry into rows in a cabinet, fondle, ogle and show off, like collectors do.

UPDATE 11th April 2023

W odpowiedzi do i
I don't understand your question

 It is quite a simple one, how does one do collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record "responsibly"?

It is a complex, fragile and finite resource. How would a private collector removing random items from it, altering it, depleting it, do so "responsibly"?

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