Tuesday, August 28, 2012

28 August 2012: How Many Treasure Convictions?

In recent years there have been upwards of ten thousand artefact hunters out in the fields of the UK looking for Treasures. Some report them, others do not. Two years ago British authorities made an attempt to bring a case against one of them but it failed on appeal (' Two Years Ago: UK Treasure Convictions Down'). Has this discouraged them from making any more attempts? All sorts of things have gone through eBay.uk in the intervening weeks and months. How many charges have now been made?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

24 August 2012: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"

One of the benefits for the pro-collecting lobby in the use of terms like "nighthawking"  (as in "we are not nighthawks, nighthawks are not bona fide metal detectorists") is that the term is so vague. We recall explanations like the classic "I'm notta night'awk cuz I go out in the day" and so on. For the past few weeks in the UK there has been a counterpart to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the public debate about portable antiquities. Glasgow University's "Trafficking Culture" project. This has recently produced a new definition of "nighthawking" ('UK Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"). One of the four definitions jives perfectly with what Heritage Action have been saying for a long while about finders' agreements etc all along. According to this new definition, among other things, a metal detectorist is guilty of nighthawking when they have:
  • Searched on private land with permission from the landowner, but then failed to disclose what was found, especially items of financial value or items of Treasure, constituting theft from the landowner and/or the Crown.
I think quite notable the differences in the UK codes of ethics/practice/conduct on this point. While the Official Code says: "Report[..] any finds to the relevant landowner/occupier", the one most tekkies adhere to - the NCMD one - says "Report all unusual historical finds to the landowner". The FID code is a cracker "Report all your finds to the landowner, even those that must be declared to the Coroner as well" (surely it is primarily the planned removal from their property of potential Treasure finds of  which the landowner must be appraised from the earliest moment!). How often, though, does it happen that tekkies get blanket permission (in writing say) to turn up on remote fields whenever they want, do some artefact collection, and take the stuff home without showing how many buckles, hobnails and Roman grots and pieces of lead they've taken each time? How many after detecting then seek out the farmer, perhaps engaged in activities the other side of an extensive farm? Or drop in at the farmhouse each time to say 'thank you' and lay out their finds? How often does "wellying" take place (showing the farmer the finds in the finds pouch when leaving the field, but avoiding showing him the find concealed about the person - here metaphorically dropped down the top of a wellington boot)? Never happens even though the practice has a name?  

Basically what this is saying is that anyone, whether or not they have an agreement with the farmer, who leaves the site of a bout of metal detecting without showing the farmer exactly what they are taking is a nighthawk. Obviously in the light of such a definition, to make everything clear, it would make sense for the finder to get some kind of itemised release form signed at the end of each search. That would then sort out problems about on whose land something which subsequently is sold on eBay or to a dealer was actually found, whether it was licitly obtained, or was 'nighthawked' according to the new broader definition now being proposed by the Glasgow team. Obviously a find being sold on the open market in the UK which has no release form signed by a landowner that he has seen the object and approves its removal from his land is, by the new proposed definition, potentially nighthawked.  A finder wishing in any way to profit from the exhibition, lending or commercial use of such items would have to show such a form for each of them in order to prove they were not nighthawked. This new definition from Glasgow indeed makes the differentiation of licit from illicit finds in the UK (English and Welsh primarily) context much more precise. 

Does the Portable Antiquities Scheme fully endorse this definition? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18th 2012: Archaeological Asset Stripping in Cambridge

In two posts on another blog:
Detecting Under the Microscope: Eleven Rings from Avebury
Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: Vandalising Artefacts

I describe how I was alerted to an eBay seller of dug-up artefacts by a reader (who coincidentally also happens to be a pal from Heritage Action) who was doing some Internet trawling (or is that "trolling", eh, BM?). The name of this Cambridge-based internet dugup antiquity seller is "decorativehandpainted2010". The first post discusses eleven quite clearly metal detected objects all for sale by this individual, and all stated to be from Avebury.
The second post describes what this seller is doing to metal detected archaeological artefacts. Items such as this 'Stunning Medieval Bronze Ring Cleaned &  Polished'. "Stunning" is not a word I would use, but certainly "cleaned and polished" it is, so much so you can see the seller's reflection in it and it's not a pretty sight.  
Polished at my local jewellers with a jewellery polishing machine. Bright. Circa 15th century AD. Found in Eynsham,Oxfordshire. Lovely condition. Inner diameter 19mm. Ref 2003.
Funnily enough in the PAS notes for conservation of finds made by "members of the public", no mention is made of the use of a "jewellery polishing machine". I doubt whether there are many archaeological conservators trained in their use. If you look at this sellers current offering of 126 antiquities on sale, 79 are brought up be searching the description for the word "polished", and only 25 for the word patina (five of those refer to all traces of patina REMOVED). This seller has transformed the artefacts he is selling into glittering geegaws. Glittering wearable trophy geegaws for showing off  ("Oh that? Yes'it's quite unusual, isn't it? Medieval you know, isn't it just so cute?"). But that is not all this (Cambridge?) jeweller can do to ancient artefacts, oh no! Read the original post.

Once again, is Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme going to take an interest in any of this and take a stand against this kind of treatment of archaeological material? Don't hold your breath.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

9th August 2012: DIY Best Practice Guide

Concerned about the damage to the reputation of their hobby, a UK metal detectorists' forum has attempted to fill the gap with what the CBA and PAS between them could not manage to cough up in association with their television "Secret Treasures" show: UKDN "Britain's Secret Treasures" Beginners' Guide. This starts off rather inauspiciously:
With the long awaited start of the detecting season coinciding with the Britain’s Secret Treasures ITV programme we can expect a rush of people joining the hobby, if that programme has not wetted (sic) peoples (sic) appetites to detect[,] then nothing will. Well done to the finders of all those Treasures for unearthing our past, filling our Museums with tourists, raising the Nations (sic) esteem and to the Portable Antiquities Scheme for all their hard work in their outreach, recording, conserving, researching and on occasion getting down to earth excavating the hoards. 
There's clearly been lots of value in those fifteen million pounds worth of outreach if the result of their involvement in a TV programme results in a "rush of people joining the [site-depleting artefact hunting] hobby"!  This 25 page guide is obviously well-intentioned, but it is a shame that it was not consulted with their PAS "partners" and elsewhere.  Where was the PAS version?