Monday, 29 February 2016

Academic Will Not Address the Question


Sheffield ornithologist Dr  Humphrey Willnot cannot contain his excitement, he's getting his name in print again and keen to express his appreciation and support of together with his solidarity with the hobbyists with whom he collaborated:
Looking forward to next week now as our new work in Lincs, only possible because of responsible nest hunting, will be in
The text of which he is co-author is apparently about 'Newly-found Osprey nesting sites in Lincolnshire', and the sites of the empty nests shown on the dot-distribution maps were reported by proxy by anonymous nest hunters with whom the university department has been collaborating in plotting nesting sites. "This kind of responsible collection driven exploitation is adding greatly to our knowledge of the distribution of bird nesting sites" said Dr Willnot, "we are all greatly indebted to our friends the collectors for the scraps of information they feed us about what they have taken". Collaboration with collectors and hunters runs in the Willnot family, his brother Ranulf working for a dealers' lobby group visits rhino slaughter sites in mid-Africa after notification by informants from the milieu of clandestine horn hunters. He claims these data are telling us a lot about the habitats to which rhinos attempt to retreat when feeling endangered. Ranulf dismisses the concerns of ecologists, conservationists and the public debate on the preservation of the richness of the natural environment from casual exploitation for personal entertainment and profit: "as long as I get material for my current research, or give impetus to find new ones, I am happy to collaborate with these people to allow me to do science and advance my career. The critics have misunderstood on every factual count what I am doing. It is easier for them to carp from the sidelines than actually contribute to my work". Dr Willnot then climbed into his litter and was borne off by four sweating native porters to the next blood-soaked findspot where he'd been notified of another brutal rhino slaughter to put on his map. 

"Responsible artefact hunting"? Can archaeologists and other academics using that term so freely now give us a precise holistic definition of what that means in a global, not local, context - and from the point of view of the conservation of, rather than promoting collection-driven exploitation of, the archaeological record?  Dr Willnot apparently will not, the rhino has got his tongue, maybe somebody else is better equipped to do the task. It's surely not all that difficult archies, you've all been using the term for two decades now, and dismissing those who question it as 'troublemakers', go on then, define your terminology.


MISSING-THE-POINT UPDATE 28th February 2016

  6 min6 minut temu
There’s boringly criticism of working with detectorists, still a Sceat from my trench [picture] we wouldn’t have without ‘em
Perhaps Sheffield's Dr Wilmott simply needs to learn better excavation techniques or hope science will soon come up with a "detector" to help them find other types of small artefacts, like glass beads and carbonised seeds? How do police forensics manage to find and document minute traces of organic evidence without metal detectors? I think this is the issue, it seems to me that this is simply laziness on the part of British archaeologists who want stuff handed to them on a plate. I wrote about this quite a while ago (PM Barford, 'Wykrywacz metali jako narzędzie archeologa' 1999).

It may be "boring" for some British academics to be asked to define the terms they use so freely. The dismissive Dr Willmott is"Senior Lecturer in European Historical Archaeology" , and as such would be aware that over here on the continent we prefer to replace such fogginess with more precise formulations of what we mean. I think defining the concept of "responsible artefact hunting" in wider-than-insular context could be more of a challenge than the British academic thinks. 

More Commercial Artefact hunts


Sal (sic) Guttuso and his wife Ashley run History Hunts, "a metal detector tour company for adventurous treasure hunters" (Andy Wright The obsessive treasure hunters who travel the world with metal detectors Atlas Obscura 29 Feb 2016). 
In addition to leading metal detecting tours in near his rural Virginia home, he has taken groups shipwreck detecting in Florida, gold prospecting in Nevada and relic and coin-hunting all over the southern U.S. He also leads international trips to Essex County, England. [...] Some of Guttuso’s “dirt fishers” (as hobbyists are sometimes called) save all year to go on one of his trips to hotspots where metal relics abound.
I guess that means known productive sites. Would Hugh Willmott, Ben Jervis and Lorna Richardson welcome this brand of "responsible artefact hunting"? They are avoiding saying. They are avoiding addressing the issue of what we can consider to be "responsible" use of the archaeological record when collecting it away is concerned. 

What is "Responsible Artefact Hunting"? Archaeology is not Rocket Science


"what do you mean by 'use a shovel'?",
"oh, oh, another horrible attack!!"

If you want to know what we should consider "responsible nuclear waste disposal" you can google it and get some pretty precise answers from the various government and watchdog bodies that concern themselves with that matter. As a stakeholder in that issue, not wanting radioactive iridium in my drinking water, I am thankful of that and that those who charged with the task of looking after this problem are not only up to the task, but are able to communicate the information to the public.

Now Google "responsible metal detecting" (in English) and see what the entire body of British archaeologists has managed to produce for you over nigh on two decades, gobbling up some 18 million quid on a PAS outreach programme (now Learning, Volunteers and Audiences outreach programme). It's a pretty pathetic showing by any standards. It's not really a concept you'll find being tackled much in any other European language either.

How difficult can it be to define what actually may be considered to be a "responsible" way to go about the collecting and personal use of artefacts in this day and age (assuming collecting ground-dug artefacts in the first place is accepted as something which is in itself "responsible" to do)? It seems British archaeologists find it awfully difficult to address this issue in anything but the most superficial and fragmentary manner. The attentive reader of this blog will know my opinion, that it is the Portable Antiquities Scheme that is the problem. I hold that for many British archaeologists (who apparently don't look far beyond it), it gets in the way of seeing the issue in its proper context (which I stress is quite obviously NOT the local, insular context).

A Sheffield academic wrote about a decontextualised hunk of metal found for him to admire "thanks to responsible metal detecting" and I asked a perfectly reasonable question - what should actually be meant by that term when uttered by an archaeologist? If we use a term to refer to some kind of methodology, then what is so difficult about defining what we mean by the use of the term? As archaeologists we work with specialists from other disciplines who are perfectly clear what is and what is not - for example - Raman spectroscopy and what we can expect from it. Why then can archaeologists not actually adequately define our own terminology? I find it difficult to accept that archaeologists are all utterly inarticulate bluffers loosely using words they cannot define.

The Sheffield academic apparently, and somewhat comically, cannot manage to define a term he's bandied about more than once. Preferring, as it would seem, to handle finds produced for him by artefact hunters, he dismisses the issue of the basis for archaeological collaboration in the collection-driven-exploitation of the archaeological record "boring". It may be less boring for some to fondle glomworthy ancient geegaws  than consider the implications of what they are doing, nevertheless that does not mean that some very real and important issues are being ignored here.

Dr Willmott gets some sympathy for his inability to address the issue raised from another British archaeologist who had earlier written on his blog a sycophantic paean in support of private collecting:
19.02    I think you get a badge or something...

Archaeologists Throwing Stones



Readers may remember some of the sock puppetry that went on last month around Battlefield Recovery and my discussion of some of it ('Łubu-dubu ...). One of the people discussed,  Samantha Sutton answered with a few comments of her own about another TV programme showing archaeologists investigating a battlefield site. I posted this up here as a separate post (Friday, 5 February 2016, 'Flanders Battlefield Excavations; Methodological Questions from a Member of the Public'). To this day all I have had is a few offline comments from one archaeologist - but not a single comment has been made online. That's rather odd, there was a lot of discussion when it was metal detectorists shown, then the whole archaeological world and its dog felt the need to say something about 'standards' and 'appearances'. So why not here too? Quite an eye-opener.

But then.... there is quite a lack of activity on the "Sam Sutton" twitter account after the one plugging the Nazi War Diggers remake and the somewhat androgynous correspondence with me. Sam or the person posing as Sam even forgot to note (or receive any greetings) on her birthday two days ago. Where were you Sam? Out metal detecting? Perhaps that is the reason nobody took the comments seriously, too obviously a sock puppet.

PAS Dumb-Dumb-Dumb-Talk-Down

"to raise awareness among the public of
the educational value of archaeological finds in their context"
And, the context is, it's a leap day (and it's not even a "Finds Friday")...
1 godz.1 godzinę temu 19-20thC 'leap frog' clicker toy for a recorded on
What, actually, is the matter with these people who feel the need to do something like that? "Its a Thursday so here's a Thor Hammer amulet", somehow I cannot imagine even the most puerile and mentally deficient geologist working for a public-funded Scheme who'd be tweeting "It's pancake day here's a stone that looks like a pancake! Yay!" This is just dumbdown narrativisation by people with nothing better to do than act as gatekeepers for other (anonymous) people's finds. Oh and Ms  Oakden, there are people out here who actually had these things in their childhood, you got them with bubble gum. Are you doing archaeology or an "All Our Yesterdays" Byegones show-and-tell? We learn that:
there at least four other examples known that [real PMB] FLOs have had offered for recording but declined since they are not 300 years old.
Yes, but obviously, SW Yorks needed something to bulk out their database quotas and metal detectorist Jack Coulthard (West Riding Metal Detector [sic] Group) apparently a karaoke self-recorder had an overwhelming desire to show he knew what it was.  For goodness' sake.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Seller Dartmoorpixie's got a Dead Body: Hundred quid to a Good Home



EBay seller dartmoorpixie (215) offers what he or she says is a complete human burial for sale on the auction site 'Extremely rare Prehistoric Iron Age Pottery Urn, British' (spotted by Graham Taylor @Pottedhistory ). Well, yes Iron Age burials from Britain are in general rare  Here's the description ("Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing"):
An extremely rare Iron Age Pottery Urn. Of typical Urn shape with feint vertical line decoration around the lower half. This wonderful artefact is virtually complete, the Rim is intact. Theres an area of roughly 7cm x 7cm that has been restored but otherwise intact. This piece was acquired from a Museum sale, I will provide details to the winning bidder. In line with EBAY POLICY, this has been shown to a Museum and a provenance of its recent history can be provided. Unfortunately theres no find spot but it is almost certainly South Eastern British. The contents of the Urn appear to be original and I see no reason why they werent there when discovered originally. 15cm tall, maximum diameter is 21cm. Rim diameter 19.5cm. Rarely is a complete large Pot like this offered on the market. Please see my other auctions for more Ceramics and early items.
The listing was reported to eBay - who seem rather sluggish in taking it down, there is one bid (a hundred quid for an ooo-ahhh dead body trophy and pot). Looking at what the photo shows that pot contains, I would suggest that the "museum" was not all that competent in saying what was actually in that vessel. It is difficult to be sure due to the way the material is presented but it looks to me as if the pot contains (also?) animal bones. I think one can see bird bones there. Like most eBay artefacts described by collector, dealers and amateurs, the seller's description cannot be relied on to be a proper representation of what is actually on offer.

Neither is "Iron Age" an adequate description of the pot. Looking at it with a critical eye, that squared off and inturned rim is neither very "Aylesford-Swarling" not "Little Waltham" in concept. I have a sneaking feeling that this is continental and quite a bit later than advertised, but you'd have to see the fabric to judge.

There really is no reason why the seller of the pot cannot supply upfront the details of the museum which deaccessioned the items, IF that was done in accordance with the law and Museum Code of Ethics. Presumably the museum has closed and nobody wanted the entire collection and there were no constraints on its splitting. I would say however knowing in advance of making a decision that these three conditions were fulfilled would be a requirement of ethical purchase (and or course sale). So why the coyness about the precise details? The buyer is being asked to shell out money for a 'cat in the bag', only when the buyer has pledged that cash will change hands will this seller reveal where the item came from. That should be illegal, and against eBay policy at least.

The seller has a rather eclectic collection of artefacts on sale alongside these human remains, ceramic lamps, post-Medieval glass, a Sumerian bone inlay figure ("has been shown to a local museum"). The seller asserts:
All the ancient Pottery pieces and Lamps have come from a private collection and in line with EBAY POLICY they have been shown to a local museum" 
- which "policy" would that be, and what did the museum say after the things were shown to them, that "Sumerian figure" for example? There is no such "eBay policy".  Why can that "collection" not be named?

What do people do with such things? Here's what I think will more likely than not be the fate of this one: 
Meanwhile in a sitting room in East Tilbury, the floor strewn with sports papers and crisp bags, Baz asks his mate Nobby and his little girl, "d'ya want ter see me Ion Age burialurn, wot I got th' other day, then?" "
"G'on then, let's 'ave a shuftie..."  say the other man.

As Baz draws out a battered cardboard box from behind the sofa, ash from the fag dangling from the corner of his mouth falls onto the lid. Baz flicks it onto the carpet. Placing the box on the coffee table among the empty TV lunch boxes, Baz opens it and with a dramatic flourish takes out the pot, after first removing from it a discarded sweet wrapper and doggie-treat that have found their way inside.
"I
t's got bones innit, I fink a kid's bones, look" he says, putting on his I-know-what-I'm-talking-about voice.
"C
or!" says Nobby, wishing he had one.
"
Eeeek! Is that real?" shreiks nine-year-old Chelsie, as she hid her eyes behind her father.
B
oth men guffawed as Nobby took another swig of beer from the can.  Nobby luvs 'istry.

Timbuktu Monument Destruction Trial in Hague


The war crimes trial of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, accused of destroying mausoleums in Timbuktu, will begin on Tuesday ().
The international criminal court’s first war crimes trial for destruction of cultural monuments opens this week against a jihadi leader accused of demolishing ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is accused of levelling medieval shrines, tombs of Sufi saints and a mosque dating back to the 15th century that formed part of the Unesco world heritage site in the northern Malian city.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Friday Retrospect: Moral Pygmyism among UK Detectorists


Heritage Action ('Metal detecting for money: Isobel, 7, shames the sham heroes') highlighted artefact hunting moral pigmyism on 5th May 2009. Actually nothing at all has changed since then, zilch, nuffink. That's despite another six expensive years of PAS "outreach" which has basically consisted of misleadingly highlighting the pathetic small percentage of times metal detecting finders have agreed to forgo their Treasure Ransom, or donated rather than sold items to public collections, without doing any proper public informing on the number of times the greedy oiks do not. Whemn are the PAS going to start informing the public about the real effects of current policies on portable antiquities rather than the tendentious hobby-protecting fluff they typically produce? That is just deceiving the public - and using public money to do it. Shame on you.

"Not Hard to Understand, Really"


A British university archaeologist who supports personal artefact collecting, apparently as a means of getting drool-worthy artefactual goodies plonked on his desk, decides to instruct me on sources of archaeological information. This is the one that earlier accused me of "not making a contribution" to the debate on portable antiquity collecting. The background is that one of the FLOs, gatekeeping, published one of those objectionably glib pieces of dumbdown Finds-Friday show-and-tell fluff:
13 godz.13 godzin temu
I would say "naming the beast" is the last issue we should be discussing in the context of the Collection Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit. I'd say there are far more urgent issues - in the public interest - that the PAS should be discussing and informing on. If the FLO wishes, we can call it a "jabberwocky" or "wyvern", it makes no difference. I made the point that I think we all should be instead concerned about the scale of the depletion of the archaeological record to private collecting in the UK and its effects on our present and future ability to use that record (a question the PAS has pretty well completely avoided until recently and still tends to dodge when it can):
9 godz.9 godzin temu
I guess we'll never know - yet another piece of Britain's archaeological heritage "Returned to finder"
As far as I can see, the FLO refused to answer (they apparently pretend I am an invisible man). That would require them to function in the public domain more of being a sentient and reflexive observer than servile head-patter, which (from what many of them churn out) it would seem to be what their job description requires. Anyhow the persistent champion of private collectors Hugh Willmott of the University of Sheffield patronisingly decides to instruct me, bless him. For some reason he copied that to the FLO based in my former home town (can I expect further outreach of this ilk from him too?):
To be frank, I do not understand that anyone who teaches at one of Britain's top universities (at least archaeology at Sheffield had that reputation when I worked in England) thinks this 210-word garble is a full record of an object:
Medieval (13th century) mount: The copper alloy mount is square in plan and has a rivet hole in each corner. There are traces of an iron rivet in three rivet holes. There is a fifth, slightly larger circular perforation in the centre of the mount. In the centre there is a motif of a bird-like beast with its head in profile which is similar to a dog/lion with an open mouth. The beast has a long slender neck which is curved and leads to the body of a bird, but the bird has a long tapering tail which curls upwards towards the back of the head. This beast motif is within a circular high-relief border. The low-relief field around the beast. In the low-relief field beyond the circular border there are traces of dark blue enamel. The reverse of the mount is undecorated. The surface of the mount is abraded and has patches of red copper corrosion, traces of a mid green patina.
It is not even in good English, with repetition and incomplete sentences; if it were properly edited, it would be even shorter and skimpier.  This is not even A-level archaeology because A-level students should be able to write proper English even in these dumbdown days in Britain.

In true collector-fashion, most of the account of this item concerns the picture on the object, rather than describing the object as a whole ("mid green patina" is also dealer-talk). The photo is small, muddy, poorly-lit and out of focus. The "central hole" is nowhere properly described, let alone explained (diameter, edges, wear?). This is quite clearly a description of a collectable "art object", rather than an archaeological artefact which would concentrate more on aspects of its manufacture and use, even if context of deposition and discovery are inaccessible to the recorder due to the manner of 'recovery'.

I understand FLOs have to rush through these records, in order to keep the numbers on the database growing, growing. But what kind of  'data' are rushed and incomplete records? This would be OK (perhaps) as a description in an accessions register of a permanent public collection where the object can be pulled out of the reserve store to re-interrogate. But here the object (which was the point I was making) has gone back to the anonymous finder and, indeed, lost to a personal collection and eventually the antiquities market - or a house-clearance skip. I think these are issues we should be discussing not dismissing Mr Willmott.

If Mr Willmott would stop looking at the prettiness of the objects and start looking at what is emerging from two decades of attempts to use information from the selective hoiking and hoarding of archaeological finds by collectors, he would find that others too are commenting on these issues. I recommend he looks at, among other things, Jane Kershaw's work on the Viking brooches found by metal detectorists ['Viking Identities: Scandinavian Jewellery in England', OUP 2013],* where she specifically mentions the problem that PAS (and HER) recorders have frequently not observed, or mis-observed, features on the metalwork which would prove crucial in the interpretation according to her own (later) work on them, but the original descriptions cannot be checked or modified as the objects are now scattered in ephemeral personal collections. Even if we knew where they are now (which we do not as PAS does not trace that) actually accessing a scattered body of finds like that would prove impossible to achieve for most researchers. This is of course the argument for physically gathering archaeological evidence into properly-maintained public archives. Now, I do not see why the Sheffield archaeologist finds that so hard to understand". Maybe he'd like to explain what he means by a "record" and to what extent he considers the PAS database real data.

* The book is in my office at work, I'll fill in the page references later.

Archaeology SOLD OUT: Lincolnshire "Celebrates" Pilfering of Archaeological record by Private Collectors and the Antiquities Trade


Bonkers Britain goes la-la over artefact collecting:
 "Oh look, everyone, they've used our coin on the poster!!", that's like the art-market speak "Some exceptionally fine twisted glass decorative rods used during the production of Anglo-Saxon vessel glass"  and all the rest of the artefact-drool PAS-supporter archaeologists come out with in public. Artefact porn is not archaeology. Uncritically presenting collected material as archaeological evidence is not any kind of archaeological outreach, it is archaeology exploiting collectors in the same way as collectors are exploiting the archaeological record archaeologists should be striving to protect. But you try to get British archaeologists discussing the issue and all you will meet is emptiness, superficiality and dragging it down to the personal level. Just like their metal detector using partners and protégées. Bonkers.

I do not suppose for a minute that the point behind my tweeted response to this will be grasped and will probably attract more dismissal than be discussed by archaeologists who are more concerned to be the recipient of effort-free goodies on their desks than debate what archaeology is:
20 min.20 minut temu
Would 'The Collections' do session "Celebrating private collecting, metal detectorists as collectors?"
My postulate is that artefact porn is not what archaeology is. I offer the comments box below for anyone who thinks otherwise, and here there is no 140-character excuse for not presenting the case properly. I rather think the real constraints are of another nature, but let us see...   British archaeologists celebrating private collection, the floor is yours (or write on your own blogs and post here a link).


Hidden camera shows how IS destroyed the Palmyra world heritage

Thursday, 25 February 2016

People Find Things without Metal Detectors


It's pretty obvious really, people find things without metal detectors (repeat please PAS):

Portable Antiquities Scam


More Pro-artefact-collecting fluff from the ever-subservient PAS:
3 godz.3 godziny temu S[am] M[oorhead]: '1000 new Roman sites discovered in Britain from finds - its not just about coins but what they can tell us'

Uh-oh. So, if 1000 find groups come from new sites, how many of the 270,859 Roman finds on that database in fact come from the targetting of KNOWN sites? Can the PAS tell us that as well? Why consistently slant what you tell the public to the benefit of the collectors? Who's paying you?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

"Wotta Luvverly Objick" Drooling from the Dumbdown PAS


Head-tapping oddness from PAS
Found by a builder, not artefact hunter, this 'description' (Tile BERK-8B90E8) could well have been written by an archaeology A-level student. Perhaps they soon will be. The claquiers are excited (J 17 godz.):
I am not entirely sure what makes the record lovely or unlovely. As I wrote on Twitter, the text accompanying the picture is less a record of that particular fragment which then went back into private hands than a mini-essay (without literature) on tiles and how they were made and used

Paul Barford@PortantIssues 13 sek.14 sekund temu Surely more "show and tell' than proper professional description of object now "returned to finder"
    Objects are not "square in plan", there is no proper description of the fabric of either the tile body or slip. There is no description of the edges, back (mould-made, wire/knife cut, trimmed, sanded). The manner of 'striking' the slip from the surface is not mentioned, nor the depth of the stamp as seen in the fracture. More attention is paid to the picture on the items than the technological and archaeological characteristics of the object itself. Surely the Museum-supported finds specialists of the PAS can do a better job of actually making a verbal and pictorial record of the object itself, its characteristics and state of preservation? No?

    And of course the PAS staff responsible for public outreach are pretending they did not see my response, or understood what I said. There was no reply explaining why in a professional 'database' its users are talked down to. Do all encaustic tile descriptions in the database include such waffle? Maybe instead of repeating waffle in each entry, the PAS could do on their website a block of "building ceramics" info pages like the ones they've spent huge amounts of loving (and expensive) time doing for COINS?

    Who'd have Thought it?


    To listen to the ad hominem comments of metal detectorist and coin collecting/dealing thickoes, a Brit that goes to live in Poland must be a real weirdo - it turns out there are six thousand of us:



    As Anita Damianowicz has pointed out recently, there are reasons to stay.

    Monday, 22 February 2016

    NCMD News


    It is being reported that Trevor Austin, General Secretary of the NCMD and combative promoter of collectors' rights has died. Here's what I wrote about one of his texts a few years ago:
    The text by Trevor Austin "Building Bridges between Metal Detectorists and Archaeologists" (pp 119-123) is a very interesting insight into the mindset of the detectorist, read "between the lines" the author says just a little too much. Please read it, the guy is priceless. He starts off by placing all the blame for everything on the archaeologists with whom "detectorists" had been pleading to cooperate with them from the very beginning and they were stubbornly refusing. The situation Austin describes (pp 119-20) however was on a different planet in a parallel universe. On this planet in this one, a search through the early archival numbers of UK hobby magazines such as "Treasure Hunter" or the (even rarer) newsletters and minutes of meetings of the ephemeral UK metal detecting clubs of the period would give a more objective picture of the source of the conflict. On page 120 Austin writes that the PAS "has been instrumental in awakening the general public and the media to our hobby of metal detecting" - but also it has "awoken" other organizations who ("not to be trumped by the PAS") are busily producing "reams of documents codes and guidelines" and sometimes - shock horror - "without consultation with the NCMD".
    Today[,] I want to send a clear message to these bureaucrats: 'get off our case', and leave the responsible hobby alone. Attempts to inflict (sic) archaeological controls prevent serious cooperation: matters that relate to the detecting hobby should be channelled through the PAS. The Scheme had already succeeded in gaining our confidence (sic) while other bodies were messing about formulating rulebooks! [...] We will not tolerate meddling in the hobby or the Scheme.
    Then a warning:
    providing the PAS continues to treat the detector users as 'customers' and does not become over-confident (sic), then customers will remain loyal.
    That is one of the purest expressions of the nature of the "partnership" seen through the eyes of the collector in "proper print", and we should thank Thomas and Stone for printing it. No rulez, gettoff are case, we'll arnser to th' PAS and not to the restof yer. But only if the PAS does not get "over-confident" about the loyalty of the detector users to the principles it stands for, and does not push its luck. So much then for instilling any of that "best practice" stuff, eh? This talk was based on an even more comical one he gave at a PAS conference a couple of years back about "empowerment of the detectorist" which had a memorable bit about the "Train to Liaisonville", remnants of which remain on page 123.
    As more and more of the diehards of the 'DIG-generation' leave the hobby, perhaps we may expect a decline of their outdated defensive facadism approach to best practice in artefact hunting to one based on genuine understanding and desire for truly responsible co-operation. Of course that would mean there being agreement just what is entailed by the use of the words "truly responsible". So far, there does not seem to be much chance of that.

    Vignette: time to get to grips with portable antiquity collecting issues.

    Sunday, 21 February 2016

    Portable Antiquities Collectors and an Alter-Archaeology of Viking England


    It's out... "Portable Antiquities Collectors and an Alter-Archaeology of Viking England" by Paul Barford pp 31-46 of Joanna Popielska-Grzybowska, Jadwiga Iwaszczuk and Bożena Józefów-Czerwińska eds Meetings at the Borders, Studies dedicated to Professor Władysław Duczko (Acta Archaeologica Pultuskensis V ISBN 978-83-7549-300-9) Pułtusk 2016 [in English].

    Why the PAS records are not archaeological data. This is part one of a projected series. It was actually written a year ago, just before the PAS underwent some (more) changes which makes my text not as up-to-date as I would have liked it to be, but then the mutability of the PAS is another of those issues which discredit it as a source of 'data' because their nature and quality depend on when they were collected.

    Let us see if any UK archaeologist is going to take that text and prove me wrong. Or rather are the Brits going to continue to pretend that there is nothing to discuss, and it is the critics that are the problem, rather than the issues they raise?

    Here is how I see the current situation in the UK regarding archaeology, the public and artefact hunting:



    Vignette: Baz Thugwit and the karaoke Vikings

    UPDATE
    I now have the pdf offprints, but have been asked not to put them online just now, as the Academy needs to sell some copies of the complete volume. I'll be sending a few copies to colleagues working in this area.

    I've decided to restrict the rest to just ten at the moment. I'll send them to the first six archaeologists from Britain and abroad who is supportive of the PAS/metal detecting. You have to undertake [see above] (a) not to send multiple copies out for now, and (b) react publicly - either on this blog (we can do it as a guest post) or your own. To be clear, I am not a bit interested in texts which say I am right/ have a point (I would not be doing this blog and putting my thoughts out there if I were not pretty clear on that already). I want - and want my readers - to hear proper, reasoned arguments from those who think otherwise, let's see them. Who's going to step up to the challenge?  PAS FLOs are especially warmly invited.

    I am not going to send copies to metal detectorists or collectors because (a) their opinion does not interest me, (b) most of them seem incapable of reading a text longer than eight sentences, they'll not understand a word of it and (c) they can pilfer one from somebody else. 

    Saturday, 20 February 2016

    The Bloody Antiquities Trade


    All those US collectors blaming looting of archaeological sites on the lack of guards should note this story. A custodian protecting the  archaeological area of Deir el-Bersha in Egypt has been killed by suspected antiquities looters, who killed one other person and injured a third. Do not buy smuggled antiquities.

    UPDATE 22nd Feb 2016
    The . Three people dead for trying to protect a site from Collection Driven Exploitation. Don't buy Blood Antiquities.

    Friday, 19 February 2016

    Syrian Antiquities Openly on Sale From the Garages and Attics of Middle England


    "Ancient Tell Halaf pottery
    idol fragments dating
    between 6100-5400 bc"
    E-Baywatch (1): 19th February 2016 another important post on Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction blog which the collectors and archaeologists alike will ignore. Here he looks at Halaf terracotta figurines. They appear on ICOM’s Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk
    Between 27 November 2015 and 17 February 2016, seven sellers between them sold 60 figurines for the total sum of £6099. The highest priced figurine sold for £720, the lowest for £12. The average price was £102. Six of the sellers were based in the UK, all in England. One seller, selling only one figurine, was based in the USA.  The breakdown for the English sellers was: Seller 1 sold 29 figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 2 sold 11 figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 3 sold five figurines, described as ‘Indus Valley’ [...]. Seller 4 sold one figurine, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 5 sold six figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 6 sold two figurines, with minimal description and no indication of provenance. Seller 7 sold five figurines, described as ‘British found’ (!). 
    There are nine of them on sale at the moment. Have a look:
    1)  'Rare ancient Tel Halaf terracotta fertility idol C. 6100-5400BC'
    sold by  mikes-artefacts (635) alongside a sorry assortment of decontextualised bric-a-brac. Then there are:
    2) ANCIENT TELL HALAF POTTERY IDOL FRAGMENTS 6100-5400 BC
    3) RARE ANCIENT TEL HALAF CERAMIC FEMALE GODDESS IDOL 6100-5400 BC
    4) ANCIENT TELL HALAF GODDESS IDOL 6100-5400 BC
    These three, of different fabrics and surfaces, are being offered for sale by ancient-artefacts-uk (4910) Didcot who also has pages ripped out of Islamic codices and ME coins. The owner's name is hidden from view: "ancient-artefacts-uk has been an eBay member since 22 May, 2006" . Note the offer of battered fragments looking like they've come straight out of the ground. One of them still has earth on it.
    5) Super Indus Valley 5500-6000 BC Tel Halaf Terracotta Fertility Idol. (A829C)
    6) Ancient Terracotta 6000 BC Tel Halaf Culture Decorated Fertility Idol. (A829G)
    7) Ancient Painted Tel Halaf Culture Terracotta Woman Fertility Idol. (A829G)
    8
    ) Large Tel Halaf Indus Valley 6000~5500 BC Terracotta Fertility Idle.[sic]  (A829)
    9
    ) Usable [sic] Ancient Tel Halaf Culture 6000 BC Household Fertility Idol. (A829H) 9
    These are being offered by "meridian-coins-sussex-uk (2084) based near Chichester, W Sussex.  Again the dealer's name is not given and customers do not know who they are dealing with. He says "
    From a UK reliable supplier. *Please note that we support the Eastern trade embargo unconditionally. All of these items are sourced from responsible traders and reliable sources.
    Interesting phrasing. This seems to be Brodie's seller three. Three of the four seem to be of similar fabric and manufacture, the other has an interesting surface effect - and has been rather oddly cleaned. Is that crust carbonate or chlorides or both?

    Brodie notes that
    As long ago as 2005, the on-line collectors’ community was aware of large numbers of Halaf figurines being sold on eBay, and believed that many if not most of them were fake. So well before 2011, eBay was awash with material that might have originated in ancient or modern Syria. The figurines being sold on eBay last December and in January and February might have been in circulation for years, or passed out of Syria a few months earlier. Who is to know? That is the gray market we talk about. But it is a very dark gray one. Fake or genuine, at least one law will have been broken on a figurine’s journey to eBay, even if it was only the ‘Eastern trade embargo’. [...] The figurines are being sold openly with knowing or unknowing impunity. There is no need here to postulate sinister hi-tech networks shifting material around the world on the Darknet. The suburban reality is one of open sale on eBay from the garages and attics of middle England. What else do these eBay sales tell us? Well, for a start, the figurines are selling, and selling well. Customers quite clearly are either unaware of or unconcerned about their origins. Funding Daesh? Who knows or cares? 
    As Brodie observes, "the Halaf figurines are on an ICOM Red List, are widely believed to include forgeries among their number, and the sellers do not include any evidence of provenance or legal sale". Yet nothing is done. UK's jobsworth archaeologists continue to sip coffee and look at the sports page. Collectors continue buying.


    Nefertiti bust 'stolen' from Berlin Museum


    Claire Voon, 'Artists Covertly Scan Bust of Nefertiti and Release the Data for Free Online' Hyperallergic February 19, 2016.
    Last October, two artists entered the Neues Museum in Berlin, where they clandestinely scanned the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the state museum’s prized gem. Three months later, they released the collected 3D dataset online as a torrent, providing completely free access under public domain to the one object in the museum’s collection off-limits to photographers. Anyone may download and remix the information now; the artists themselves used it to create a 3D-printed, one-to-one polymer resin model they claim is the most precise replica of the bust ever made, with just micrometer variations. That bust now resides permanently in the American University of Cairo as a stand-in for the original, 3,300-year-old work that was removed from its country of origin shortly after its discovery in 1912 by German archaeologists in Amarna. The project, called “The Other Nefertiti,” is the work of German-Iraqi artist Nora Al-Badri and German artist Jan Nikolai Nelles, who consider their actions an artistic intervention to make cultural objects publicly available to all.
    It is interesting to reflect on whether the manner in which this simulacrum was created does not make it a desirable 'trophy object' for collectors in its own right.

    Vignette: 'Stolen'(?) bust
     

    Walls Against Change

    Sources of Knowledge


    National Library Day


    but if a collector pockets artefacts from an archaeological deposit, nobody gets anything at all. Selfish knowledge theft is all that is.

    Lightweight PAS Finds-Fluff Alert


    It is what the Bloomsbury boys call for some reason "Finds Friday" and annoyingly we have more lightweight collectors'-Finds-Fluff-posing-as-"outreach":
    4 godz.4 godziny temu
    Another Saxon fabric impression on a lead pot plug- thanks to responsible metal detecting
    Here is the object, as illustrated rather uninformatively (how was it made, where are the edges that were in contact with the pot, what shape was the hole in the pot, where is the cloth impression in relation to the hole, was the cloth on the inside or outside of the pot, is the cloth an impression in the lead, or the corrosion products of the lead? ). I do not know about "responsible artefact hunting", instead of repetitive oooh-ahh head-patting, back-slapping show-and-tell, I think we all deserve to see, some responsible reporting and a more critical approach to the issue of artefact collecting from British archaeologists dealing with the decontextualised objects artefact hunters hoik-and-show.

    The plug, what in archaeological terms does it mean?

    Paul Barford asked "What does it mean? Why did the pot need "plugging"? What is "responsible" about artefact collecting?" Hugh Willmott did not understand the questions. I suppose like most British archaeologists he's got used to talking down to metal detectorists. Can we have some real archaeological outreach please, what does it mean, why did this pot need "plugging", and what is "responsible" about exploiting the archaeological record for collectables? Yes?

    UPDATE More PAS support for this approach, a FLO follows the herd and retweets the original fluff (Julie Cassidy here) but no further development of the glib pabulum has yet emerged from the 'Expensively-Public-Funded Gatekeepers to the Collected-Away Past'. Come on PAS, surely you can do better than that for all that public money?

    Vignette: Wotta lotta sheep we have in British archaeology, any of them care to explain to me why artefact collecting is such a "good"  thing? Baaaaaaah...



    UPDATE UPDATE 27 Feb 2016
    I see Hugh Wilmot is not really in the mood to actually tell us anything more about the find he so gleefully show-and-tell posted:
    Oh dear wrong assessment of me  on every factual count. Easier to carp from the sidelines than actually contribute.  
    Well, no Mr Wilmott, this is not about you and your ego. This is about the broader issue of the effects of current British policies on artefact hunting on the European archaeological heritage. I suspected that we'd have a long wait to see from you or any other PAS-supporting archaeologist a proper explanation of what "responsible artefact hunting" is in a Europe-wide context (not head in the sand insular one). You have, however, used the term and are still refusing to define what you think it means. There is a whole blog here which is nothing but a 'contribution' to precisely this debate - where is yours? I think we can all see who, in the broader context, is making the "wrong assessment" and whose approach is "on the sidelines". 

    Make a contribution by all means Mr W., give us a definition of "responsible artefact collecting" that covers more than complying with the current limp-wrist legislation of just two parts of the United Kingdom. Let's have one that applies to the global exploitation of the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit. Can you do that, before accusing me prematurely of having made a false assessment of your ability to do that? 

     

    Thursday, 18 February 2016

    Red Flag Lack of Commitment to Transparency in Australia Case


    Michaela Boland, 'Asian art losses have NGA in turmoil again', The Australian February 19, 2016
    The National Gallery of Australia is preparing to remove another seven antiquities worth more than $3 million from its Asian art gallery, the fourth rearrangement of the prestigious first-floor hall that once groaned with an ­Aladdin’s cave of riches from the continent. [...] The NGA’s latest provenance research redacts the identity of some dealers and former owners, in accordance with privacy agreements made at the time of ­purchase
    It is revealed that the gallery wasted $21m on dodgy antiquities discovered so far, racked up in just more than a decade.Surely any dealer insisting on a privacy clause in the accession records may fairly be suspected of having something to hide. Why did NGA agree to such a thing?

    Vignette: Red flag

    Wednesday, 17 February 2016

    Merovingian Queen's Seal Found in Norfolk? Unlikely.


    Detector find from Norfolk
    A gold seal matrix, originally attached on a swivel to a seal-ring, was found in 1999 by a metal detector in a field in Postwick, 7.2 km east of Norwich, in Norfolk. One side shows a woman's face and her name BALDAHILDIS in Frankish lettering. The other side portrays two figures embracing one another beneath a cross.

    This ring has been narrativised by supporters of metal detecting by associating it with a known historical person, Queen Balthild, the wife of Clovis II, king of Burgundy and Neustria (639-658). She was thought to have been an Anglo-Saxon of elite birth, perhaps a relative of King Ricberht of East Anglia (see  BBC 'Personal seal matrix of Queen Balthild'; David Keys, 'Erotic royal seal shows Anglo-French entente was once extremely cordiale', Independent Sunday 15 June 2003). The item featured on the controversial TV programme  "Britain's Secret Treasures". The seal matrix was acquired by the Norwich Castle Museum but it seems that this is another object which (though they do record Treasure finds there these days) seems not to be in the PAS database. Curator Tim Pestell is quoted as saying that if the seal belonged to the person they thought, "it is the most important object in the museum, because it is the seal of a queen and a saint".

    Paul Fouracre, professor of medieval history at the University of Manchester discusses this find ('Unravelling the mystery of Queen Balthild: Professor Paul Fouracre on a ring that sparked a lot of head-scratching...' History@Manchester February 15, 2016) 
    East Anglia is a good place to find things.  Since metal detectorists came on side, as it we[re], we have lots of what are called ‘singleton-finds’, that is, object seemingly found at random without archaeological context [...] East Anglia [...] has big open arable fields which turn up stuff through ploughing, and it is sparsely populated, so that objects have not been buried under urban settlement.  I have been told (though I may have been being teased here) that literally busloads of people from round here go on metal-detecting trips to East Anglia
    Fouracre is sceptical about the association of this loose object with the queen
    Firstly, I think we came on too strong in 1996; there were circumstantial connections between Francia and England but no concrete correspondence between the two.  Although Balthild’s ‘Life’ said she was a ‘Saxon from beyond the sea’ this could be from anywhere.  No other source says she was English. Although the ring is for sealing, no-one sealed documents without a title (king, queen, count, bishop etc.) [...] the man is bald and bearded, and Frankish kings always had long hair and generally no beards.  [...]  the execution of the design is very crude for a figure depicting authority [...] we simply can’t know that there weren’t other Balthilds, even though the name is unique to us.  [...]  So I think I will have to stick with the odds and say that the ring is very unlikely to have been our Balthild’s ; all the pieces of the jigsaw don’t quite fit around it.  And there is a very serious lesson here, in that we tend to manufacture contexts to fit artefacts, and are often in danger of then using the artefact to confirm the context.  So we must stick with hard forensic reasoning and not be to over speculative when we meet a weird and wonderful object. 
    And that is the real problem with trying to use the loose finds selected by collectors to 'write history'. Too often the supporters of collecting indulge in uncritical text-driven 'artefactology'. As Pestell unwittingly says in the context of the portrayal of the object on Britain's Secret Treasures:
    One of the points of the programme is to tell the stories of the significance of these finds [...] It is about what these objects tell us about ourselves and our past. That’s why the Balthild matrix is so important. When you look at an object like that it may seem mute but you have to put yourself in a position to understand that someone commissioned that item, because it was worth such a lot of money, and they wore it in everyday life.
    It is worth reflecting on what the way this item has been treated tells us about ourselves. The easy association with a notable lady of the past is nothing more than a dumbdown reflection of our own fixation on celebrity society. In fact, this loose item tells us very little about 'our past' - and certainly nothing about land ownership and social relations in Postwick or the Norwich region whenever the item was dropped or deposited. The object is indeed mute, it has some pictures and writing on it, but they mean virtually nothing without somebody "putting themselves in a position to understand them". I do not see how one can actually do that and not fall into the trap of speculation, as was done here.

     
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