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Can Detectorists be Archaeologists? News by Roy Goutté of an upcoming conference.

The author ‘sweeping’ the line of a long lost track-way
Image credit and © Roy Goutté

 

On the 21st November 2016, PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) are staging a conference at the Museum of London. It is headed ‘Can Detectorists Be Archaeologists?’ and features many speakers during the day.

Nowadays most archaeologists recognise that responsible metal-detecting has a role to play in archaeology, though there remain concerns about the (seemingly) haphazard searching techniques employed by most finders. This conference explores the various ways in which detectorists (working alone or with archaeologists) have undertaken archaeological fieldwork, and looks to a future of further cooperation for the benefit of archaeology and public interest in the past… Dr Michael Lewis (British Museum).

As a detectorists myself and an amateur archaeologist that has worked with qualified archaeologists where my detector was called upon, this promises to be a very interesting series of talks. Any form of education, as long as it is a balanced appraisal of the subject, is most welcome as irresponsible detecting without giving thought to the archaeology is without doubt a serious matter and hopefully will be discussed at length.

There are two types of detectorists apart from the many thousands out there that, in my opinion, are irresponsible in respect of their lack of concern for our heritage and unseen archaeology. One is the blatant ‘night-hawk’ who purposely sets out to steal artefacts from areas of known ‘hot-spots’ and the other is the genuine beginner/casual user of a detector who seem totally unaware that they could be damaging the archaeology as they have not followed the Metal Detector Code because, on the whole, they are not recognised metal detector club members. As a member they would have been well versed in the rights and wrongs of metal detecting.

This doesn’t make the latter a bad bunch – just an uninformed one that are venturing out for a day’s enjoyable and relaxing detecting with thoughts of finding the odd coin/ring/watch on a beach or local scrub land. They are by far the majority – the ones that have a day out occasionally and not the day in day out detectorists.

To return to the subject matter – Can Detectorists Be Archaeologist? – well of course they can, just as well as anyone else if they are interested in the subject… which undoubtedly some will be of course. If they used their obvious knowledge of our heritage for the good and not just for personal gain as a night-hawk would, then fine. But let’s be quite clear on this – the major hoards and finds in the UK are being made by your bog standard detectorists who report their finds and not night-hawks who don’t and in places not generally being looked at by archaeologists because that is not in their remit.

Another heritage website doesn’t seem to allow for this and offers no credit to the ‘good guys’ seeing the majority of all detectorists as stealing our heritage and the vast number of them not declaring their finds. So where do they think all the hoards and other antiquities found came from if not reported – out of fresh air! The dark or negative side is always highlighted by them and virtually no credit given to the huge amount of detectorists out there doing the right thing! They need to wise-up and smell the roses!

However, not wishing to linger on this negative side, I believe this conference is perfectly timed by PAS and should open up a few eyes and minds with the range of the talks they are encompassing at the event and the quality of the speakers enlisted for it. I hope it is well attended and appreciated by a level-headed audience and hopefully gives the naysayers something that will pacify them a little – but don’t hold your breath!

Here are some more details and the table and time of events:

Can Detectorists Be Archaeologists?

Portable Antiquities Scheme Conference – Weston Theatre, Museum of London. Monday 21st November 2016. 10am – 5pm.

10:00 Roy Stephenson (Museum of London): Welcome
10:10 Dr Michael Lewis (British Museum) & Dr Pieterjan Deckers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel): Working Together.
10:30 Dr Felicity Winkley (University College London): A Font of Local Knowledge: Metal-detectorists and landscape archaeology.
11:00 Dr Phil Harding (metal-detectorist and self-recorder): Metal-detecting in Leicestershire: Insights from detailed recording.
11:30 David Haldenby (metal-detectorist from Yorkshire): Detecting the Landscape.
12:00 Lindsey Bedford (erstwhile metal-detectorist): Detecting a Path into Archaeology.
12:30 Lunch (not provided).
14:00 Faye Minter (Suffolk County Council): The Use of Systematic Metal detecting in Suffolk as an Archaeological Survey Technique.
14:30 Carl Chapness (Oxford Archaeology): Metal-detecting and Archaeology.
15:00 Samantha Rowe (University of Huddersfield) Archaeology of the plough-zone.
15:30 John Maloney (National Council for Metal Detecting) The Future of archaeology and metal-detecting.
16:00 Dr Mike Heyworth (Council for British Archaeology) The Future of archaeology and metal-detecting: Building or burning bridges?
16:30 Finish.

Worth noting that there will be no refreshments provided. If, like many others, you are contemplating taking up this wonderful hobby, the following link to a very informative Beginners Guide to metal detecting is a real must. Check it out!

 

 
The Stone of Many Faces (or The Makapan Pebble)
Image credit and © Brett Eloff (University of Witwatersrand)
 
Writing in The Art NewspaperMartin Bailey, reports –
 
Some three million years ago a humanoid in southern Africa stumbled upon a naturally formed stone in the shape of a head and carried it to a nearby cave. The Makapan Pebble, also known as the Stone of Many Faces, was most likely found by an Australopithecus africanus, an ape-like species with some early human characteristics, which became extinct around two million years ago.
 
The Makapan (or Makapansgat) Pebble, which has never been displayed, will be exhibited for the first time at the British Museum in London this month in a show entitled South Africa: the Art of a Nation (27 October-26 February 2017). The stone belongs to the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, where it is kept in storage. John Giblin, the British Museum’s co-curator of the show, says the pebble “is the perfect size to hold in the palm of the hand”.
 
Full article here.
   

Replica of the early 8th century Anglo-Saxon Franks Casket by sculptor Andrew Lilley
©
Trustees of the British Museum
 

The British Museum has commissioned two replicas of the early 8th century Anglo-Saxon Franks Casket by sculptor Andrew Lilley. “One option presents the casket in similar colours to the whalebone we see today, while the other has been hand painted in colours that represent how experts believe it may have looked when made.”

The original is on display at the British Museum. The right-hand side of the casket is a replica; the original is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.

More on the Franks Casket here.

 

Coins dating from 286–293ce from the Frome Hoard. The coins depict the usurper Roman emperor Carausius

A new exhibition now running at the British Museum focuses on the practice of hoarding in prehistoric and Roman Britain –

People have been placing metalwork and valuable objects in the ground and in water since the Bronze Age (c. 2200–800 BC). These prehistoric hoards are widely accepted as having been deposited as part of ritual practices. Later hoards were traditionally seen as a response to invasion threats and economic upheaval – riches buried in the ground to be retrieved at a later date. The 2010 discovery of a huge Roman coin hoard in Frome in Somerset raised many questions about this traditional interpretation, suggesting that ritual practices also played a part in the burial of Roman hoards.

This display showcases some recent discoveries of hoards reported through the Treasure Act and studied at the British Museum. It begins with the large metalwork deposits of the Bronze and Iron Ages such as the Salisbury hoard and weapons found in the River Thames at Broadness.

The exhibition will run until 22 May 2016 and can be found in Room 69a of the Museum. Admission is free. More here.

  

 
 
Daesh vandals destroying part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud
 
Martin Bailey, writing in the The Art Newspaper, reports that –
 
The British Museum is to set up a training scheme for Iraqi archaeologists to tackle the aftermath of Isil destruction. A museum spokeswoman said the programme, which has been awarded a £3m grant from the UK government, would help Iraq to document the damage and start the process of reconstruction and preservation.
 
Full article here. See also our earlier feature here.
    

The Huge History Lesson
©
Trustees of the British Museum
 
 
 
The British Museum has just announced plans for a new exhibition entitled Egypt: Faith after the pharaohs.
 
The exhibition begins in 30 BC, when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire after the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and continues until AD 1171 when the rule of the Islamic Fatimid dynasty came to an end. The remarkable objects in the exhibition have been uniquely preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, and many have never been on display before. Their survival provides unparalleled access to the lives of individuals and communities, and they tell a rich and complex story of influences, long periods of peaceful coexistence, and intermittent tension and violence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
 
The changes in people’s private lives are shown through everyday objects – delicate fragments of papyrus preserve some of the earliest surviving Jewish scriptures and lost Christian gospels. Colourful garments and accessories show what people wore, and soft-furnishings show how they dressed their homes.
 
Together, the objects in the exhibition show how the shift from the traditional worship of many gods to monotheism – the belief in one God – affected every part of life. Egypt’s journey from Roman to Islamic control reflects the wider transformation from the ancient to medieval world, a transition that has shaped the world we live in today.
 
The exhibition runs from 29 October 2015 – 7 February 2016. More here.
 
Images_shield_banner
 
Detail of the Battersea Shield. Iron Age, 350-50bce
©
The Trustees of the British Museum
 
This is the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity, and is organised in partnership with National Museums Scotland. The story unfolds over 2,500 years, from the first recorded mention of ‘Celts’ to an exploration of contemporary Celtic influences. Discover how this identity has been revived and reinvented over the centuries, across Britain, Europe and beyond.
 
Organised with National Museums Scotland
 
Supported by –
In memory of Melvin R Seiden
Sheila Streek
Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald
Fund for the Future donors
 
CeltsArt and identity exhibition runs at the British Museum from 24 September 2015 – 31 January 2016. More here.
  

 
 
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum
 
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has announced his intention to resign. Neil MacGregor is perhaps best known to the public through his outstanding and highly entertaining Radio 4 A History of the World in 100 objects series (and its accompanying book). The series consisted of a hundred 15-minute episodes based on objects from the British Museum’s collection. This morning, however, Neil MacGregor, announced to his colleagues at the British Museum that he has decided to step down as Director at the end of December 2015. Part of the British Museum press release reads –
 
Neil MacGregor said, “It’s a very difficult thing to leave the British Museum. Working with this collection and above all with the colleagues here has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. But I’ve decided that now is the time to retire from full-time employment and the end of this year seems a good time to go. The new building has been completed, so we at last have proper exhibition space, new conservation and scientific facilities, and first class accommodation for our growing research activities. We have built strong partnerships with fellow museums across the UK, and are rapidly expanding our programme of loans and training around the world.
 
The Heritage Trust would like to thank Neil MacGregor for his outstanding work as Director of the British Museum and to wish him the very best in his new life.
 
Full British Museum press release here.
   

 Egyptian sculpture of a cat dating from the 26th Dynasty (approx 600bce)
 
An Egyptian sculpture of a cat, dating from 600bce and perhaps once owned by archaeologist Howard Carter of Tutankhamun fame, would have ended up in a rubbish skip but for the sharp eyes of local auctioneer David Lay based in Cornwall, England. Realising that the bronze sculpture might be something special, Mr Lay consulted experts at the British Museum who confirmed it originated from 600bce. The Head of the Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan said he was thrilled to see such a finely modelled and beautifully proportioned piece, and dated it from the 26th Dynasty (approximately 700-500bce).
 
According to Mr Lay the sculpture had belonged to a Mr Liddell, the late father of the family who were selling the house where it had been kept. Mr Liddell had spent his career working at Spink & Son, a once famous London auction house that regularly handled sales of Egyptian antiquities. When Howard Carter died it was Spink and Son who handled the sale of his estate and it is thought that Mr Liddell bought the sculpture at one of Spink’s sales.
 
The sculpture may achieve as much as £50,000 in auction.
 
 
Nineteenth century Kapa Kilohana (Barkcloth) from Hawaii
Image credit: Honolulu Academy of Arts. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing is an exhibition now running at the British Museum until the 16 August 2015.
 
In the islands of the Pacific, cloth made from the inner bark of trees is a distinctive art tradition. Probably brought to the region at least 5,000 years ago by some of the first human settlers, its designs reflect the histories of each island group and the creativity of the makers. Spanning the region from New Guinea in the west to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east, the exhibition will show a selection of 77 garments, headdresses, masks and body adornments from the Museum’s collection. Dating from the 1700s to 2014, the pieces on display include those worn as everyday items and ceremonial costumes linked to key life cycle events such as initiation and marriage.
 
More here.
   
 
 
Paul Coleman holding one of the thousands of Anglo-Saxon silver coins he discovered in Lenborough, Buckinghamshire last year
Image credit Yui Mok/PA
 
Maev Kennedy, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports that the internationally admired British Portable Antiquities Scheme for recording treasure is under threat from central and local authority budgetary cuts –
 
A heap of Anglo-Saxon coins glittering as if newly minted, and a small gold cross still containing a fragment of a relic that was literally kept close to the heart of somebody who clung to the outlawed Roman Catholic faith, are among the treasures found by metal detectors and unveiled this week at the British Museum.
 
The most recent year covered by the Treasure report, 2012, was another bumper year for precious objects – including 3,000-year-old golden bracelets belonging to a child, a Viking hoard of ingots and chopped up arm rings from Cumbria – and for the more modest but historically priceless archaeological objects voluntarily reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
 
The mapping of the two schemes has unlocked a wealth of new information, identifying thousands of previously unknown sites including bronze-age burial grounds, Roman campsites and Viking settlements. In 2014, 113,962 finds were reported, from scraps of horse harness to lost buttons, and well over 1m objects have been recorded since the PAS was established in 1997.
 
The Treasure and Portable Antiquity schemes are run together from the British Museum, with the finds recorded by a network of archaeologists based in local museums covering England and Wales. However, the PAS has been hit by a 6% budget cut at the British Museum, and has only been kept going for the next year by an emergency grant from the private Headley Trust charity.  Almost a third of the 31 local authority museum partners have said they will not be able to afford to keep the scheme going if their funding is cut further.
 
Neil McGregor, the director of the British Museum, said he could give no guarantees that the scheme would be protected from the full impact of future cuts in his museum grant. He said: “The PAS is an integral part of the British Museum, and we will just have to see what happens.”
 
Full Guardian article here. See also our earlier features here  and here.
    
 
Beginning on the 23 April, and running through to 2 August 2015, the British Museum will be hosting an exhibition  focusing on the remarkable story of one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures –
 
The show will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, and will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. This culture has continued for over 60,000 years in diverse environments which range from lush rainforest and arid landscapes to inland rivers, islands, seas and urban areas today. Hundreds of different Indigenous groups live across this vast continent, each with their own defined areas, languages and traditions.
 
Indigenous Australians developed sustainable ways of living from the land and sea using objects of great beauty and efficiency. From the deadly precision of a boomerang to bags and baskets for carrying water and food – essential for survival – these objects require supreme skill to design and make. In the exhibition, examples of practical objects such as spear-throwers (the ‘Swiss Army knife of the desert’) will sit alongside magnificent works of art, such as Uta Uta Tjangala’s Yumari (1981) – a masterpiece now featured on the Australian passport. The oldest continuing art tradition in the world, Aboriginal art tells stories of the great ancestral beings who created the land and the people, and gave the law and lessons for living which still continue today. In contrast, the objects from the Torres Strait Islands reflect the centrality of the sea and its creatures to the Islanders’ beliefs and way of life, including spectacular turtle-shell masks used in ceremonies before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Together, the objects in the exhibition will give an overview of Indigenous Australian culture throughout the continent, both remote and urban.
 
More here.
   

The British Museum’s new state-of-the-art World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre
 
 
Alice Fishburn, writing in the Financial Times, reports on the British Museum’s new state-of-the-art Conservation and Exhibitions Centre –
 
 
The improbably large centre, slotted between classical buildings, resituates conservation at the heart of the museum. It also unites a team that was previously spread out across London, housing scientists, stone experts, organic specialists and more under one roof. “We’ve got two studios next to each other that used to be 5km apart  . . . Over a cup of tea people bounce ideas off each other and it’s brilliant. Everything they say about open plan is true,” says David Saunders, keeper of the department of conservation and scientific research.
 
Inside the stone conservation studio, staffers are still blinking in their newly acquired daylight. “That’s the one thing we’ve never had,” says Tracey Sweek, senior conservator. “The history of conservation for us has always been in sub-basements or basements. We’ve had windows but they were so frosted or barred that it didn’t really give us any daylight.” They now have floor-to-ceiling glass — the ceilings high enough to accommodate the loftiest of sculptures and the floor capable of supporting several tons of marble.
 
Tours of the facilities will open for booking later in 2015. This programme and the WCEC are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
 
Full Financial Times feature here. See also the British Museum’s feature here, and our earlier feature on the Centre here.

“The Parthenon sculptures raises the bar for all of us… and it includes everybody all over the world… and is for all of us, all over the world.”

 

Playwright, author and British Museum trustee, Bonnie Greer celebrates the enduring beauty and humanity of the Parthenon Sculptures

The Parthenon was built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was the centrepiece of an ambitious building programme on the Acropolis of Athens. The temple’s great size and lavish use of white marble was intended to show off the city’s power and wealth at the height of its empire.

For our earlier features on the Parthenon sculptures type Elgin Marbles into the search box above.

 

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