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by Nigel Swift


They’re making a second series of Britain’s Secret Treasures? “Are you all completely insane over there?” asks my archaeologist friend in France. Here are 5 questions on the matter. No-one will answer of course but the silence will tell all and I’ll tell Philippe.

1.) Has anyone heard archaeologists disputing last Summer’s statement by Diana Friendship-Taylor, chair of Rescue: “We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of a method of historical inquiry which belongs in the distant past, and which has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.” No? So where did the push for a second series come from?

2.) Has anyone made an effort to find what effect the first programmes had on sales of detectors? Apart from us, that is. We visited Britain’s largest metal detector retailer and asked them. They said sales have rocketed since the programmes, especially of starter machines. So another question arises: if PAS was set up to mitigate the damage that metal detecting does, how can that purpose be served by increasing the number of people metal detecting?

3.) Cui bono? Who are the two big gainers out of these progammes? Metal detecting manufacturers and PAS, very clearly. Is that a good reason for making them?

4.) Have you seen CBA’s statement (retweeted by English Heritage) about the first programmes? “Archaeology is about knowledge, not treasure…..The best way to extract evidence from the ground is via controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation….. it is best to join up with a local archaeology group if you have a passion for history and heritage…… if you are thinking of rushing out to buy a metal detector to seek out your very own ‘treasure’ you should think again” …. and so much else, all expressing views that are far from supportive of the activities the programmes are inescapably encouraging. So it seems the programmes have had unintended consequences – they have widened the fault line within British archaeological opinion to a degree where it can no longer be concealed. Good. That at least is a plus.

5.) So will EH or CBA say they welcome this new series? I’m betting not. If they believe their own joint survey they’ll reflect that in the ten days the programmes are jubilating over 50 objects we’ll lose another 10,000 bundles of archaeological knowledge. It’s a juxtaposition that just can’t be represented as tolerable. CBA say it all: “Archaeology is about knowledge, not treasure.What other message should Archaeology be sending?

On the other hand, will they be tempted to lend their names to the programmes in exchange for being allowed to deliver a few home truths to camera – which will then be left on the cutting room floor? We’ll see.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



Archaeologist goes deaf!
An archeologist was declared clinically deaf the other day after giving a speech in which he rejoiced that the Ashmoleon Museum had raised the necessary £7.83 million to save Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus for the nation. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey had placed a temporary export ban on it and made it available to be bought by a British public institution for just 27% of its market value of £28.4 million.

The archaeologist was halfway through saying it might be a good idea to reduce Treasure rewards by the same amount when he was knocked off his feet by a mighty shout of “NO!” from almost eight thousand heroic artefact hunters.

“Sorry, no can do” Mr Vaizey later shouted down the poor chap’s ear trumpet. “We’d love to, but we have to settle for policy inconsistency when it comes to national treasures. It’s horses for courses, see? There’s heroics, and then there’s hero-oiks. Get it?”


QR at the BM
We’ve featured the idea of iBeaken QR codes in the past, so kudos to the British Museum who are using the codes to run youth workshops in their Anglo Saxon gallery gallery.

Groups of young people, guided by Digital Learning Programmes Manager Shelley Mannion, whirl through the exhibit with Samsung phones, scanning iB codes in order to fulfill a variety of challenges. Shelley creates iBeakens in the morning, prints out the codes and runs her sessions the same afternoon. It’s that easy and fast!

How long now before we see these more widely used in the UK?


National Trust to allow “intellectual baboons” to retain a toe-hold!
There has been an unholy row over the National Trust having given in to pressure to mention creationism in the same breath as science when presenting its exhibition on the formation of the Giants Causeway. (Richard Dawkins said they shouldn’t have given “any consideration whatsoever to the intellectual baboons of young Earth creationism”!)

Under massive public pressure the Trust said it would review its presentation. Its taking an age and confidence it will do what is needed isnt high. Professor Brian Cox has neatly signalled how they should approached the issue: “I don’t mind creation stories presented as mythology, but to suggest there is any debate that Earth is 4.54 billion years old is nonsense”. Yet its hard to see how the Trust can go back on their claim that the Giant’s Causeway has been and still is a focal point in the debate about the age of the earth. Their Project Director has even “refused to classify creationists in the category of those who believe in Finn MacCool mythology

So its official, for everyone, forever (unless they say they were entirely wrong), The National Trust believes there’s a DEBATE about whether the earth is 6,000 years old, just like there’s a debate about the existence of fairies. And the idea of the Earth being created in seven days isn’t to be categorised as mythology and isn’t to be put in the same category as “myths” about giants!


For more Cheers and Boos put Cheers in the search box.

The decorated horse jawbone fragment from Kendrick’s Cave, Wales (BM 1959,1203.1)
Dated as about 14000 years old, the jawbone of a horse decorated with zigzag patterns from Kendrick’s Cave, near Llandudno in North Wales, is the oldest known work of art from Wales. While it was on loan to Llandudno Museum as part of the British Museum’s UK Partnership Programme, the opportunity arose to reproduce it as a hologram using the most accurate currently available imaging technology. This contribution describes how the jaw fragment was reproduced using the latest techniques in three-dimensional colour holography, developed at the Centre for Modern Optics (OpTIC) at Glyndŵr University, St Asaph.
The Kendrick’s Cave horse jawbone
In 1880 the lapidary Thomas Kendrick found a decorated chin fragment from a horse jawbone in a cave on Great Orme, Llandudno, Wales which was then named after him. The bone has a pattern of incised zig-zag lines on the underside and is the oldest work of art known from Wales. Dated to about 14000 years old it is one of only a small number of decorated Late Ice Age objects found in Britain. After Kendrick’s death the object disappeared but came to light again in London in 1959 when a new owner brought it into the British Museum and it was identified as the missing piece from the cave. As there was no museum service in Llandudno at that time, the British Museum acquired the object and it has been on permanent display ever since.
From Volume Four in the British Museum’s Technical Research Bulletin series.
The Staffordshire Hoard by Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland
On 5 July 2009 a metal-detector user started to unearth some gold objects in a Staffordshire field. Thus began the discovery of the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found. Consisting of over 1600 items – including fittings from the hilts of swords, fragments from helmets, Christian crosses and magnificent pieces of garnet work – the Staffordshire Hoard is set to rewrite history. This is just the beginning of the story.
The British Museum has launched a rapid-response book on the hoard… One pound from each copy sold will be donated to the appeal to acquire the treasure for local museums, to keep the extraordinary objects on display in the county whose history they have transformed.
The Guardian
The Staffordshire Hoard. Authors: Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland
ISBN: 9780714123288
More here.


June 2015
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