Wednesday 31 January 2024

The International Antiquities Trade and Corruption

Transparency International's latest index shows the clear difference in the level of corruption in most of the more prevalent source countries for antiquities and the exploitative countries where the most voracious markets are. This shows the degree to which the antiquities trade flourishes and takes advantage of societal inbalance and the exploitation of the weakest.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Self Reflection on the Study of the Past

The last number of the US journal Inside Higher Education has an article by Steven Mintz, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin ('Can an Academic Discipline-exhaust-itself?', Jan 29th 2024) that has aroused some discussion This is a reflection on the current state of U.S. history as an academic discipline and a consideration of whether it has reached a point of stagnation or decline. There are few breakthrough scholars, moreover there is declining research productivity, and a perceived absence of significant reinterpretations of major historical topics. Ultimately, the text suggests that U.S. history may be at the end of a certain phase but, once this phenomenon is regognised and diagnosed, hints at the possibility of a new, more dynamic, and theoretically attuned history emerging. The author advocates for a more integrative and interdisciplinary approach, strengthening links with social sciences and more firmly addressing conceptual and ethical questions. "If U.S. history is to remain relevant, it must do more to connect the past to the present in meaningful ways, to address big conceptual, theoretical and ethical questions; place U.S. history in comparative perspective".  

Christopher W. Jones has commented:
What if... dare I suggest it... U.S. history has never been a particularly methodologically innovative field? [...] There has never been an Americanist Braudel, because there cannot be an Americanist Braudel, because U.S. history as a discipline begins in 1776 or 1609 and therefore is incapable of considering the longue durée or even most of the conjunctures. [...] The solution, if anyone is wondering, is to re-define the 20,000 year history of human habitation of North America as "American history" and not self-limit the field to just the last 250 or so. [...] American history has a different purpose in the United States from other historical fields, and is more about creating and shaping national narratives as part of the constant re-formation and negotiation of group identity. American history doesn't ask the big questions and can't answer them. That's not its purpose. Its central question is "who are we?" [...] .

Does the main argument of the original essay apply to US [or any other] archaeology too? (not so much the digging up of ever-more new "discoveries", but the way enquiry is framed, conducted and presented)

Vignette: Archaeology as "Discovery"

Monday 29 January 2024

No Paperwork, no Design, no Fettling, no Explanation. The trade in Ukrainian Antiquities

US dealer vikingheritag (on eBay since  17 Feb, 2017 - 2.2K items sold, 97.9% positive Feedback) located in: Feasterville-Trevose, Pennsylvania, United States has for sale a: "Viking silver Pendant - cross Kievan Rus 9 century", yours for US $1,750 Buy it now
Found with a metal detector in a farmer's field. This field was inhabited by people during the Viking Age of the 9th century. Found in the ground as a complex - a treasure trove of jewelry. Item from a private collection. Material: silver, Weight: 11.32 grams, There are no defects or cracks.
ah, so you can wear it. If it weren't so damn ugly. It is a crap piece of casting. The outlinesa are blurred and 'soapy', there seems no understanding of the manufactureer of the motif, the interlace is very poorly done, the piece is 'as cast', has not been fettled. In my opinion, looking like that, this is not an ancient piece. "Foud in the ground as a treasdure trove (sic) of jewelry (sic)", in which country, even? A total lack of details which is highly suspicious. This item however was "found by a metal detector in Ukraine", and under the description of a "Viking Belt 9-12 century" is a photo of a diorama of early medieval Kyiv from the Historical museum in Kyiv. And lo and behold, the seller admits under some auctions (here, here [looks like brass to me], and here) that he is (also?) based in "Kiev" [disrespectful RUSSIAN spelling of the name of the Ukrainian capital].

Metal detecting, garnering archaeological artefacts, selling them off and exporting them without the proper permissions is all illegal in Ukraine. Perhaps Vikingheritag thinks it's a good idea to take advantage of the ongoing war to flog off some of Ukraine's archaeology to western collectors, maybe western collectors kid themselves that they are "rescuing" the items they bought. I'd ask both of them, what on earth is so specifically "Viking" about the majority of portable antiquities this guy is handling? Of course nothing. 

To my eye, this looks like a mixture of objects of different origins. there look to be locally metal-detected objects, some of which are in a bad state due to soil conditions, others less so. There are pretty bad fakes masquerading as metal detected finds, there are some that it's difficult to tell from the wuzzy photos which group they should go in, but all are claimed to be detector finds. 

The mixture in one sales offer of these three groups are pretty typical for Ukrainian sellers. This is what happened to Bulgaria, back in the day they were a massive source of artefacts, then the fakes began to creep in as the sites began to get depleted and less productve, then the fakes started predominating.  And then the whole trade collapsed, leaving gutted sites. Then the searchers shifted briefly to the Balkans... Macedonia ans Serbia mostly, now these areas are prolific fake-producers (coins in particular). Then Ukraine started to be mined, and this is ongoing on a massive scale. 

Lern Yer Brooches. Not Vikings at All.


Charles Edwin Puckett
(fair use for critique)

Charles Edwin Puckett, dealer of Akron, Ohoho, USA  is struggling to profit from portable antiquities. This is just bollocks:

Viking Omega Brooch c 8th - 10th century AD
 Bronze Fibula - VIKING Omega Brooch - Circa 8th-10th Century AD

(61 mm in Length – 2 3/8”)

A very fine Viking bronze “Omega “brooch (so called because of its resemblance to the Greek letter), embellished with a “dot and line” pattern. Remnants of the original silvering are visible. In excellent condition with a nice green patina and complete with the fastening pin. A similar brooch found in Norfolk, Great Britain is illustrated in Hattatt “Ancient Brooches,” figure 1688.

This wonderful Viking Age bronze brooch originated from Staraia Ladoga - Aldeigjuborg. On their journeys east, Viking ships sailed into the Gulf of Finland and up the river Neva to the huge Lake Ladoga and on to the mouth of the river Volkhov. Some kilometers up this river is the settlement Aldeigjuborg, known today as Staraia (Old) Ladoga. Finds from this area indicate a Scandinavian presence from as early as 750 AD. From an old Scandinavian collection, found as part of a hoard.

The fibula was in widespread use throughout the ancient world. Roman conquests spread the use of the fibula, which became the basis for more complicated brooches. In the severe climate of northern Europe, it routinely functioned as a fastening for a heavy cloak or tunic. The safety-pin type of fibula continued to be used up into the Middle Ages, serving both as decorative and functional elements.

Inventory# PA-3144 

All items are authentic and original as described - we do not sell reproductions. Each item is fully documented and in good antiquarian condition unless otherwise stated.
Here the old adage about never trusting an antiquities dealer further than you can throw one is well seen when you look up what Hattatt's fig 1688 actually looks like. NOT AT ALL like the series of brooches this comes from. Don't be a chump like Mr Puckett, read (Ásfríðr Úlfvíðardóttir 2012, 'The Mysterious “Omega” Brooches'). This is all true, so it is extremely unlikely that a piece of post-mdedieval jewellery found its way from a community 500km ESE of Moscow to an ealy medieval hoard near either of the Ladogas, 600 km to the NW of Moscow. Complete nonsense. The text in red about sprung bow fibulae of teh Roman period is totally empty-headed padding and has sod all to do with a penannular brooch.

So I want to ask the dealer how he can guarantee the object is "as described". What, specifically, is "Viking" and "8th century" about this piece? Eh? And "from Staraia Ladoga, found as part of a hoard"? Where is the documentation of that - and that the item was legally reported when found and disclaimed by the state? What is a "dot-and-line pattern" when at home? looks like this one has opposed triangular fields of pseudo-granulation (because cast) to me. Is this even the description of this object, or one cut-and-pasted from somewhere else? Bonkers. Yet, it was sold, somebody bought the pathetic amateurish spiel.

Saturday 27 January 2024

2022 Treasure Figures and an Update on The Treasure Blip

As the estimated number of artefact hunters with metal detectors reaches 40000, official figures released this week by the British Museum show there were a record 1,378 items of treasure found by amateur searchers in England, Wales and N. Ireland in 2022. It’s is the highest amount ever recorded and shows the increasingly unsustainable scale of depletion of the archaeological record by artefact hunting as archaeologists look on with folded arms.

I have already discussed the implications of comparing the current view of the numbers of metal detectorists and the way they have grown with the Treasure case numbers (in the Treasure Blip posts). I present here a new version of the graph of this, using the government's current figures for the latter from 1996 to 2022 (for some inexplicable reason, they change a little from year to year). The divergence of the traces can be seen very clearly here, and my interpretation is that the intact Treasures are getting harder to find, ven though the number of people looking for them is going up. 

Wednesday 24 January 2024

UNESCO Silent on Israel's Gaza Cultural Heritage Destruction

More than 100 historic and cultural sites in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli bombardment since the current genocidal phase of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians started in October last year. This seems more than simply collateral damage in a savage cam,paign of indiscriminate bombing, shelling and destruction of civilian infrastructure and people's lives, it has been going on since 1948 when entire villages mosques and cemeteries were razed in an effort to impose 'Israeli' identity on occupied regions, and it is still going on today. The USW is backing this, UNESCO has so far remained totally silent about this. The world is turning a blind eye.


Cultural heritage destruction: 1,500 year old buildings destroyed in Gaza
 Al Jazeera English posted on You Tube Jan 1, 2024

Critical Ancient World Studies on Palestine


In Solidarity with Palestine: A Roundtable with the Critical Ancient World Studies Collective and Everyday Orientalism

This event is a special virtual roundtable co-organized by Critical Ancient World Studies and Everyday Orientalism. It consists of a discussion about the destruction of heritage and its relationship with cultural genocide, and addresses the role that scholars of antiquity, archaeology and heritage should play in opposing the genocide and epistemicide of the Palestinian people, and how they can best stand in solidarity with them against the occupation.
Below the announcement are thought-provoking and helpful lists of 'Relevant resources and references', including 'Selected references on Gaza’s archaeological heritage', 'Recent publications on Palestine by critical Antiquity scholars'. Take a look.

PAS Warning About Magnet Fishing

"The British Museum has urged detectorists not to go “magnet fishing” to retrieve treasure after a Viking sword was damaged while being dredged from a river" writes Craig Simpson (Don’t use magnets to seek treasure, experts warn after technique damages Viking sword found in river) Telegraph 23 January 2024)
. This is typical of the woolly thinking that in Britain is applied to anything connected with artefact hunting. Detectorists are people who go artefact hunting using a specific tool that is called a (Mr Simpson, you taking motes?) "metal detector". Those who do not use a metal detector but a socking big magnet are, funnily enough, not called "detectorists". Funny that. Anyhow: 
experts are determined to persuade those seeking treasure to stop using the increasingly popular technique of “fishing” for artefacts in waterways using powerful magnets. They say the risks of the method include blowing up unexploded ordnance, and damaging artefacts. The warning from the PAS comes after a Viking sword was damaged while being pulled out of the River Wallers Haven in Suffolk. The remains of the hilt fell off and were lost in the river. 

The scheme experts wrote: “‘Fishing’ for metal objects with powerful magnets in lakes and waterways has become increasingly popular. However, there are many risks involved, including finding unexploded ordnance and possibly drowning. “There is also the risk of damage to the object and its archaeological context, particularly at sites of ritual deposition. The PAS advises against this activity, which is banned by the Canal and River Trust on its waterways.” The method also erases important archaeological context which offers clues as to the meaning of objects, and what they were used for. ”


Sunday 21 January 2024

Unpapered Junk Papyrus Sales

Worley Enterprises International (11395 99.9% positive) located in: Auburn, Alabama, United States has for sale:
For sale is this incredibly rare circa 4th to 7th century AD Coptic Christian papyrus manuscript fragment from Egypt. This piece was handwritten in Byzantine era Egypt by the Copts (Christian Egyptians) [..]. It is in incredible condition given its age. Still though, study photos for exact condition. It is still an ancient artifact, so will have flaws. It is only the fragment that you see in the photo. This would be a rare opportunity to add an incredible antiquity to your collection today! Provenance: ex 20th century private European collection (acquired mid century). Great conversation piece, display/ decor piece, teaching tool, gift, or addition to any collection! Don’t pass it up! [...] My items come from my personal collection, reputable whole-sellers, art/antique dealers, auction houses, old barns/houses, and more. Some are given to me to sell, found, or even items that I got here off of eBay (from reputable sellers of course;). Some is bought in bulk so I can offer you great prices, and some are rare and I only have one.
The starting bid is US $124.95, but the seller says it is appraised as being worth $3400. Wow, eh? I really do not see that, it's a completely bonkers claim, there are no coherent traces of writing on its really grubby and flaking surface. No mention of any kind of poper export documentation, so I'd say it was in fact pretty worthless to a responsible collector. This seller has a number of other rather ripped up and crappy pieces.

Abkhazian Museum Reported Destroyed

 In the Russian-occupied territory of Abkhazia (NW Georgia), a museum with thousands of paintings has completely burned down. The art gallery in Sukhum caught fire last night. More than four thousand paintings were burned: the entire picture collection was destroyed. According to one version, the cause of the fire could have been a faulty wiring. The burning down of an art gallery with thousands of paintings represents a tragic loss of irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Friday 19 January 2024

Barcelona: Dodgy Dealings Stopped

                                     Publisher's stock image .                                

The National Police has arrested six people and accuses them of being part of a criminal group and crimes against the heritage (Núria Juanico Llumà, 'Confisquen 71 peces arqueològiques espoliades a una galeria de Barcelona', Ara 19/01/2024).
The National Police has confiscated 71 archaeological pieces from the looting and most of them were found in a gallery in Barcelona, whose name has not been released. These are items dating from the Visigothic, Nassarite, Caliphate and Renaissance periods and which had been distributed irregularly through antique shops and specialist shops. Among the objects are columns, capitals, Islamic beams, an Arabic funerary stele, sculptures and four Visigothic belt buckles. [...] agents have arrested six people (five in Granada and one in Barcelona) for crimes against historical heritage, belonging to a criminal group and money laundering. [...] The agents have found private sales contracts in the hands of the manager of [a Barcelona shop], in which he stated that these pieces came from an old collection inherited by a family member. According to the police, the criminal group consisted of 10 people from the same family, some of whom have not been arrested because they are outside the country. Some located pieces of looted archaeology, falsified their documentation and introduced them to the legal market.

Thursday 18 January 2024

Israel Destroys Gaza Cemeteries

CNN correspondent Jeremy Diamond shows the damage left to cemeteries in Gaza after Israeli forces bulldozed and uprooted graves:
"Israel denies the allegations, but experts say that cemetery destruction could be evidence of Israel's genocidal intent: "there is huge symbolic meaning to the notion that not even the dead are left in peace. It suggests that disrespect towards the spiritual life of your enemy, their cultural property and heritage, it is evidence of an animus against your enemy that is unhelpful in this context".
Some readers might find the images of exposed human remains disturbing. Viewer discretion advised, but the topic needs to be discussed (and here in Poland the occupant's treatment of human remains contrasts heavily with the way we archaelogists and heritage professionals here in Poland are constrained to treat exhumation of Jewish human remains and Jewish burial grounds).

CNN witnessed first-hand results of Israel's bulldozing of graveyards in Gaza

Wednesday 17 January 2024

As We All Stand Idly By.

Campaigner in India ( vj @ poetryinstone 🇮🇳 #BringOurGodsHome Jan 18th 2024):
"India has done nothing. It has not accomplished even 5% of what smaller countries like Nepal and Cambodia have done. Cambodia has people visiting museums in America, taking a stand, and saying, ‘This is ours; give it back’. Our laws and our force remain weak."
but actually, when somebody sees unpapered antiquities just "surfacing" (from underground) somewhere, why should it be considered the resposibility of the looted source country (victime of the clandestine culture crime) to be the one to fight to STOP it's passage through the market? Do not individuals and institutions in the country where there is a demand for these items have no responsibility for the actions of their compatriots?

Chola art (on the market, mainly bronze or sometimes stone sculptures),  c. 850 CE – 1250 CE) in south India, almost exclusively Hindu in content.  

Only In it, of Course, For the history - Never the Money

David Tooley,'Too high': Council refuses to stump up for Medieval brooch found in farmer's field" Shropshire Star Jan 14 2024.
A metal detectorist is locked in disagreement with the county council over the value of a piece of treasure that she found in a farmer's field. Caroline Parkinson found the 700-year-old medieval brooch when she was using her metal detector in Richard and Isobelle Robinson's field at an undisclosed location near Hodnet. The discovery of the silver gilt brooch in January 2022 had both Caroline and Shropshire Council whooping in delight. They both agreed that they would like to see it displayed in a museum.
But now somebody also wants what the TVC says is market value for the haul. So how much is too high? The end of the article is behind a paywall. It seems everybody in the UK is out to make money from the digging up and flogging off of the nation's archaeological artefacts. Chunky annular brooch with thyick pin, looks to me more like something that'd be more at home in a Baltic coast town than a Shropshire field...

Friday 12 January 2024

Polish Archaeologist in Jail - for now


A Polish archaeologist, Maciej Wąsik, is at the centre of a political affair and provocation related to the fall of the right-wing populist and national-conservative PiS political party as a result of the creation of a parliamentary majority after the December 2023 general election. The former ruling party has given up power and its acquired stranglehold on the state media with very bad grace, and the country's President seems to be on their side. This has led to a disreputable political circus. At the same time as he finished his studies in the Institute of Archaeology University of Warsaw (in fact he began studying when I taught there, but I do not recall him), he was active in the right-wing anticommunist Liga_Republikańska.

        Maciej Wąsik        
After he finished wit this, he then became involved in a number of things, ending up with him aligning himself with Kaczyński's "Law and Order" party (PiS). This led to him being involved in the summer and autumn of 2007 as an official in the The Central Anticorruption Bureau in the so-called "afera gruntowa" [Land Scandal], a complex corruption affair, or political provocation involving accepting bribes for the declassification of agricultural land. Wąsik was charged, among other things, of exceeding his official powers "and committing crimes against the credibility of documents". Part of the fallout of the affair was the ousting and political downfall (and later suicide) of Andrzej Lepper a controversial ally of Jaroslaw Kaczynski [and a circus involving a dictaphone and politician Zbigniew Ziobro].  

       PiS wives of their
 on show

Things become complicated after that, Polish courts operate very slowly. In the  meantime Wąsik  became an MP, and thus had immunity, now that has been lifted. The guy has just been detained by police with a collegue in the same position (while 'taking refuge' (?) in the pro-PiS President's Palace) to serve the sentence passed down by a court in March 2015. At the time of writing they are in jail and one has begun a hunger strike. His supporters, anti-Polish Russian propagandists and their followers call both men "political prisoners". To me, the arguments supporting that label seem without foundation and intentionally divisive. Probably the President will issue them a pardon in the immediate future [the second time he's done it (!)]. In the meantime, his wife has been apperaring on TV, in a black dress, no makeup telling how his kids miss their father. 

Thursday 11 January 2024

Genocide case against Israel in The Hague

In the Netherlands, the genocide case against Israel is being heard in The Hague before the United Nations' International Court of Justice (Rob Schmit three things to know about the genocide case against Israel in The Hague NPR January 12, 2024)
In nearly three hours of testimony, lawyers and experts on behalf of South Africa presented evidence arguing that Israel's three-month-long military campaign in Gaza has gone beyond a war with Hamas — the Palestinian militant group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israel. The South African legal team argued Israel's offensive now includes all 2 million Palestinians who reside in Gaza. "The level of Israel's killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza," South African lawyer Adila Hassim said to the court. "As I stand before you today, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during the sustained attacks over the last three months," said Hassim, "at least 70% of whom are believed to be women and children." Hassim said the Israeli military dropped 6,000 bombs a week on Gaza in the first three weeks of its campaign and dropped 2,000-pound bombs onto areas declared safe by Israel, including refugee camps. As a result, she said, more than 1,800 families in Gaza have lost multiple family members, and 85% of all Gazans have been forced to flee their homes. "This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life," Hassim said. "It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared. Not even newborn babies. The scale of Palestinian child killings in Gaza is such that U.N. chiefs have described it as a 'graveyard for children.' "[...] In Israel's opening arguments before the court on Friday, Israeli lawyer Tal Becker said Israel is "singularly aware" of why the Genocide Convention was adopted, referring to the systematic murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, which gave birth to the convention invoked in these proceedings.
Two wrongs do not make a right.

Friday 5 January 2024

Confused by Soil pH? A Detectorist Explains All ("An Essential Bit of Kit")

  Soil pH map UKSO 2024   
Ooo needsta go to Skool to make an impresshun in merry tekkie-land? A notorious English tekkie old-timer on his arkie-bashing blog drags up, as a tip "for the less experienced", some half forgotten tekkie-lore from the 1970s and writes about "An essential bit of kit" (John Howland, 29th December 2023). 
Back in the late 70s and early 80s it was discovered (by a detectorist) that high pH (alkaline) readings in soil strongly indicated evidence of past human presence. As we know, where there’s been human presence or habitation… it’s highly likely there’ll be tangible evidence of such in the form of coins and relics. Unsurprisingly, there was a mad rush to get one of these pH gizmos from local gardening centres. They were back then, and still are today, available at nickel and dime prices. These pH meters are invaluable little gadgets for determining human habitation/activity in a suspected area. Using a pH meter increases your finds potential [...] – it will give you a definite edge and is probably the most useful bit of kit in your armoury after your metal detector.

So, you wander across the landscape and take measurements with a soil pH meter and these pH readings, he says, will guide you to the artefact productive sites. The results should be interpreted as follows:

"Acidic (Human habitation free)
Extremely acidic….3.5 – 4.4
Very strongly acidic….4.5 – 5.0
Strongly acidic….5.1 – 5.5
Moderately acidic….5.6 – 6.0
Slightly acidic….6.1 – 6.5
Neutral….6.6 – 7.3
Alkaline Readings
Slightly alkaline….7.4 – 7.8: Possible human occupation
Moderately alkaline….7.9 – 8.4 Probable human occupation
Strong alkaline….8.5 – 9.0 Likely human occupation site
High alkaline….9.0 JACKPOT!
Take several readings across the area your intended search area so as to ascertain its acidity or alkalinity, or to ‘outline’ the habitation area. Readings above ‘7’ are indicative of human existence. The higher the pH reading, then the higher the probability of extended human habitation in the form of settlements, turnpikes, and the like, all of which transmits to…FINDS. In effect, your pH meter suggests human occupation and your metal detector proves it by what it locates".

Simple, eh? And very "scientific", imagine how impressed yer farmer's going to be.... 

 * * *

This is a very good example why I am very sceptical of my Bitish archaeological colleagues and their wishy-washy ideas that "metal detecting" (artefact hunting) is done by "good ol' boys who just want to learn something", who want to find out something... and we should be encouraging (and even promoting) this. This is what they say (though I can guess after hearing such things how many of them have ever [like me] spent any time on a metal detctorists' forum to check out their impressions of who and what it is we are dealing with).

Let's skip this guy's faulty use of his own language (the word "potential"), and move onto those soil pHs... 

I think there are probably very few farmers in the UK who do not know about (or could talk about) pH. It is a pretty fundamental soil characteristic. It affects microbial activity and chemical activity, which in turn affects availability of elements, microelements to the growing plants (thus crop yield). Soil pH needs to be managed if it starts to shift outside a certain range. I once was shown a photo of what I was told was John Howland's house, he'd ripped up a large portion of the green bits and gravelled the lot, apparently not keen on the gardening. This might explain his total ignorance of soil pH (BBC 2020). Any gardener would know that a soil with a ph of 9 is not a "jackpot", it is a desert.  Duh. That takes an enquiring mind about 12 seconds mouse-work to find out. Howland apparently did not even have an inkling (what did they teach them about pH in his school?) that there was anything more to find out. 

A desert (Msimbira and Smith 2020)

How many tekkie-supporting archaeologists knew that? So, what is the mechanism by which, allegedly, "high soil pH strongly indicates evidence of past human presence"? Howland does not say, again, it seems not to be something he even thought of investigating. In fact there is quite a lot of literature on geochemical changes in soils caused by human activity, in the past (and present, understanding this is a vital part of soil chemistry). Actually, in most of that done on archaeological sites pH is not one of the main subjects of investigation. Without going into it in any detail, suffice to note that the chemical processes occurring in soils are very complex and there is no simple equation between soil pH and human activity. How could there be?

    Soil pH. Cranfield 2018   
But what beats me is the apparent total lack of awareness that soil pH is variable across the UK. See the vignette at the top - it has no key, but reference to the one of the one on the  right will show that according to Mr Howland's tekkie lore  rule-of-thumb, huge areas of the country were devoid of any kind of human activity because the pH is too low...  and the concentration of human activity was on the basic soild of the chalklands and limestone regions. That of course goes very well with a 1950s "Labybird Book of Prehistoric Britain" vision of the past - does not really tally with what we actually know about past and present settlement of the British Isles.  Also what Howland seems unaware of is that (as the Cranfield research that produced this map shows), soil pH changes with time due to a variety of factors. 

The issue here is not that some British tekkie has unreflexively posted something stupid. The issue is with the model that British archaeologists can lazily shrug their shoulders at the depradation of 40000 people just like Mr Howland emptying the archaeological record of diagnostic and other metal artefacts all over the country, day after day under the shallow pretence that they are doing some kind of "citizen archaeology" and "learning about the past". Time and time again, what the metal detecting milieu actually produce show that the majority of them are incapable of actiually learning anything. In the same way, we cannot rely on their "observations" of the context (or lack of it) of the objects they bring to us as some kind of ersatz archaeological information. The majority of people that go out with metal detectors are not equipped to produce it.



BBC 'Soil pH level explained', Gardeners' World Magazine, 10 January 2020

Cranfield University 2018, "Modelling national-scale changes in soils".

Msimbira, Levini A. and Donald L. Smith 2020. “The Roles of Plant Growth Promoting Microbes in Enhancing Plant Tolerance to Acidity and Alkalinity Stresses.” Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 

UKSO 2024, Countryside survey of topsoil in Great Britain UK Soil Observatory.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Metal Detectorist on Alleged Museum Storeroom Thefts

"my last post got deleted when I mentioned the name that can’t be mentioned mate, he gana walk free, his defence will be he took all the stuff home to “study” during lockdown, you would think a national institution like BM would have rules in place to stop stuff like that, but watch this space".
Yep. We are watching. Taking a long time too. AND the missing Oxyrhynchus pappys case - what's happening there? The things just vanish? And the missing objects from the British Museum, reportedly sold off on eBay? There seem to be an awful lot of antiquities that just become invisible in sleazy-old "Great" Britain when convenient among the 'old-boys' for institutional face-saving. I'm with the tekkies on this one. I think we all should hear what they know about this case.

Artefact Hoiking Endorsed by English Local History Society

                            Brexit biting      .                       

Uh oh... Filipa Gaspar, 'Man who found thousands of historical artefacts fundraises for new metal detector':
A MAN who has found thousands of historical artefacts is raising funds for a new metal detector to carry on with his discoveries. Josh Carr explained that the funds would help him get a more technologically advanced metal detector. "The better technology, the deeper it goes, and the more history I can find for our little town, Millom," said the 28-year-old. The Millom metal detectorist has been metal detecting for over five years and has found several significant artefacts in the area. These include six socketed axe heads, Room broochs, an Iron Age terret ring, as well as the Marcus Aurelius silver denari and numerous other finds, especially coins. He said that recently, he sent the six socketed axe heads to get analysed, cleaned and dated by the British Museum.
That's nice of them, the British Museum to analyse, clean and date "his" axeheads for him, he must e doing good then. Some lady who is "chair of the Millom and District Local History Society" (they've even got theor own "metal detectorists" subgroup - guess who's running that?) says that "by his findings and dedication, Josh has shown that he is a very important part of a joint effort to uncover the past of Old Millom" and "raise the profile" of its history.
"He is totally dedicated to his metal detecting and to uncovering the history of Old Millom. He is a credit to Millom and a wonderful role model (if I were dishing out awards, he would be at the top of the list). "He won his previous metal detectors, and when he told me he wanted to save up for a better model this year, I had no hesitation in setting up the fundraiser. With his skills, knowledge, dedication and a better machine, he is more likely to find more artefacts."
Yep, ripping artefacts up out of the ground is what it is about in Old Millom. They do not seem to have a conservation society.

With regard putting Old Millom on the map, I'll just leave this here - for comparison with camo-waif's claim to have found "thousands" of artefacts (here's 27 14 of them made in a few days in Jan 2023).

I think more of us should try to use these news stories as opportunities to set the record straight, so here's my Facebook comment protesting the tone of statement quoted in the article, let us see if they post it and reply:
Why would a group that cares for local history (and one presumes, the historical environment) endorse this kind of destructive artefact hunting that destroys contexts and associations of the archeological artefact that are removed blindly from the ground like this? Digging a narrow hole blindly down like the one in the photo, he cannot possibly see any archaeological context or associations (or lack of one). This is not any form of archaeology or "history hunting" it is just a hunt for trophy artefacts to pocket. Where is the documentation of this? If this gentleman has indeed found "thousands" of artefacts that add to our knowledge in the way you claim (how?), where is the evidence that he has been responsibly recording them with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, if in their database there are just 27 anonymous records from Millom and "near Millom"? Just "digging things up" is no more archaeology than shooting pheasants in a field is ornithology.
UPDATE: It was published and the history society lady replied:
Jan BridgetAutor
Paul, we are all entitled to our opinions and I am aware there are plenty of archaeologists who agree with your sentiments. But I also know some who accept and want to work with metal detectorists and acknowledge that their finds have often been the starting point for archaeological investigations, as indeed, is the case here. However, I would make the following points.
1. not everyone can complete the documentation necessary when submitting to PAS.
2. The scheme is not trusted by detectorists in our area as several detectorists have submitted finds and they have been lost, gone astray, nothing has happened. We are trying to build up trust with our local PAS and local detectorists as their new member of staff has been to one of our events and met with local detectorists and we hope to be able to encourage local detectorists to work more closely with them in the future. This is one of the reasons why we set up the Millom Detectorists group - to encourage detectorists to be responsible, although some already are.
3. No-one is interested in conducting archaeology in our area. It is really only through our local detectorists that the profile of the incredible history of this place has and is being raised (despite there being two grade 1 listed buildings here). We are trying to save the Old School next to Holy Trinity Church and Millom Castle and turn it into a Heritage Centre: many of the local detectorists have promised to donate their finds to the Centre. Many of them are taking part in our Community Archaeology Projects.
Hmm. "not everyone can complete the documentation necessary when submitting to PAS" what would that be? Showing on a map where they found each item? Showing they have the landowner's permission to take these objects? What documentation is causing this difficulty up there in Millom?

Now these reported thefts "from our region" that mean "the [Portable Antiquities] Scheme is not trusted by detectorists in our area" because "several detectorists have submitted finds and they have been lost, gone astray" really needs to be sorted out and if there has been a crime committed (see here), end very publicly in a naming and shaming and in a prison sentence. I am with the tekkies here.

But let us be a little wary of accepting this explanation. Millom was between 1974-March 2023 in Copeland Borough/District and the PAS records for this whole region contain 232 records. Apart from an outlier, a beach find from near a known Roman findspot, from 1999, the main series of records date only from 2004. So that's 20 years of reports. 232/20 is 11.6 reports a year... not impressive. The accusations about Preston Museum surfaced about the beginning of Dec 2022. After 10th Dec 2022 there were 21 reports from the region. So reporting has gone UP since those allegations.

But the point was that the news reports clearly say this guy has been finding "thousands" of finds from the Millom area... and I was comparing that with what was actually reported from the millom area. Some guy David Hartley on Facebook says of these thousands of finds I referred to: "Paul Barford he has recorded them they are with the flo".

Monday 1 January 2024

The New Year for Polish Metal Detectorists

Let us start by saying one has a choice whether on a particular day to go out or not go out artefact hunting illegally. Some people would avoid doing so. Also there is no rule mandating that one MUST have their metal detecting hobby facilitated by anyone. Having sorted that out, meet a smirking bobble-hatted Polish tekkie, Mr Piotr from the governing body of the Polish Explorers [metal detectorists etc.] Association [PZE] :
posted on You tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów31.12.2023
He eckons that 2023 was the "best" year for the PZE and its members. Why?
" Projekt ustawy trafił do Sejmu, finalnie zostal przegłosowany, a na koniec, Pan Prezydent go popisał. Ustawa wchodzi w życie w 2024 w maju. Pamiętajcie że nic raz dany nie trwa na wieki, przez nami ostatnie prosta, wdrożenie ustawy w życiu.
[The bill was submitted to the Sejm, was finally considered, and finally, the President signed it. The act enters into force in May 2024. Remember that once given, nothing lasts forever, the last step is to implement the law]".
Still smirking, he invites viewers to sign up to the PZE. What he did not mention is that the old team of the outgoing government who ran the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage as far as the information I have goes were so busy with other things in their last weeks of power that the tenders were not sent out for the construction of the application at the centre of this new legislation - let alone creating conditions to finance it. The new team in the Ministry has immediately been attacked by the (now) opposition about its attempts to sort out the mess left by the former regime of the state TV service. The opposition seek the Minister's dismissal. So conditions are not idea for the application to be created.

So, I do not see what Polish metal detectorists have to be happy about... or be grateful to the PZE that it got them into the situation that to go out into the field without using the mobile application first to register the search is illegal - but the application will not be available until several months later into the detecting season. So to stay legal, they'll all have to just stay home. 

It seems to me to place 30 000 Polish artefact hunters and collectors in a rather uncomfortable situation in 2024.

Ref: Barford 'An App, a Map, and a Reward: Promoting and Enabling Artefact Hunting in Poland' the European Archaeologist 78 Oct 2023. 

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