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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: Feast your eyes on this!

From:

John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 17 Jul 2003 10:24:53 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (192 lines)

John Clark writes:

>> Collectors hear archaeologists say that an artefact
>without provenance or the context of other artefacts is worthless.<
>
>I certainly don't say that.

I am sure that there are many archaeologists out there that also do not say
such things. The problem is that those that do are usually more vocal than
those that do not. Some make the fight against collectors and dealers their
raison d'etre.

>The object MAY be of interest in its own right
>(I'd certainly be interested in seeing more medieval horseshoes to clarify
>my typology of the things - though in the absence of dating evidence it
>becomes a typology without a chronological dimension).

As a typologist, though, you will presumably be creating an internal
chronology for medieval horseshoes. I imagine that this would be a
difficult task because of the lack of features -- unlike coins where you
can have a vast number of symbols, stylistic variations, lettering styles,
die links, weight and alloy changes etc. often regulated by some central
authority.

The internal chronology of Coriosolite dies that I worked out could not be
improved by any conceivable archaeological discovery. Absolute dating is
possible through the historic record and a little detective work -- I can
be fairly confident in saying that one group of coins was minted in 57/56
B.C. and I can presume (without hard evidence) that it was likely the early
months of 56 rather than the late months of 57, but that is far less
certain. The divisions in the chronology of the dies are numbers of hours,
and no archaeological method can date to that narrow a range.


>  But some location
>evidence adds immensely to the significance even for those of us who study
>objects divorced from sites (I'd like to be able to spot regional variations
>in horseshoes and shoeing practice!).  I don't demand a grid reference -
>just something that can be plotted on a small-scale distribution map (so a
>county name alone is usually pretty useless).

This is where a liason with metal detectorists can be useful. How about
drafting a letter to all the MD clubs within your study area to enlist
their help? I presume that the location to a parish level would be adequate
for your purposes. I don't think that even the most secretive of
detectorists would object to disclosing that. People like to contribute and
feel that their contributions are both worthwhile and reflect their own
interests and skills. Call it "The Horseshoe Project". Offer
acknowledgements in the publication. You could widen your search by
enlisting dealers who would know independent detectorists.

>  For example, there's no point
>in collecting (or possibly even noting) every single variety of a common
>type of Henry VI pilgrim badge (any more than varieties of postage stamp)
>but distributions in space may be significant - Henry's shrine was at
>Windsor - how far afield did pilgrims travel? - a Henry VI badge NOT from
>London is much more significant than one from the London area - were
>particular images of the king more popular with pilgrims from different
>parts of the country? etc.

I know nothing of pilgrim badges so I can't answer to that, but if there
are iconographic differences then these varieties could be important. Also,
a careful stylistic analysis could determine the number of people
reponsible for these dies (or is it molds?).

>>This is what one would expect if traditional (c. 19th. cent.) collecting
>and recording habits have been maintained. Collectors have recorded most
>find spots of stone tools and write these on either a gummed paper label or
>in ink directly on the tool.<
>
>Unfortunately metal-detectorists don't necessarily follow traditional
>collecting practice.  I've spoken to some who a few years after the finding
>of an object that is still in their collection have very little idea where
>it came from.  And a collector's information can be no better than his
>source.  We were recently able to tell a collector when and where an object
>in his collection came from because we recorded it when it was first found
>twenty years ago.

This could change if it is handled correctly, again, the key is to enlist
and not to punish. Punishment, laws, force and violence are the last resort
of the mentally incompetent. They become fanatical and do more harm than
good. Personally, I don't believe they are even trying to do good. It has
become a personal thing with them. They should all find some other work
before they do more damage.

>>Vilifying collectors and dealers, instead of trying to work with them is
>the real problem.<
>
>No need to preach to the converted.  But I still prefer to see the objects
>before they get into the trade, and meet the finder face-to-face - that's
>what the new finds liaison schemes and old traditional museum curatorship
>are about.

I agree, but the people who meet the public should present a friendly and
helpful face at all times.

>>[re PLA by-law about reporting finds] It would not surprise me that few
>would know of this by-law, or even
>imagine that something found at low tide on Canvey Island, or dredged out
>of the Thames in Oxford would be subject to a Port of London Authority
>by-law.<
>
>Ignorance of the law is no excuse - in any case any serious
>metal-detectorist working on the Thames foreshore knows of this regulation
>(which incidentally DOES include Canvey Island, which lies within the PLA's

>jurisdiction - though not Oxford) and any dealer buying from them SHOULD by
>now be aware of it.  And after twenty-five years experience of looking at
>finds from the Thames I can assure John that the badge in question, if from
>the Thames, almost certainly comes from a limited stretch of a mile or so of
>the City of London or Southwark foreshore. (And once again - if it doesn't
>it is even more significant!)

Is this by-law widely disseminated by MD clubs of the area (on their web
sites, in their newsletter etc.?)

Here's a question for you regarding Thames finds. I bought a brooch about
fifteen years ago that was with a number of insignificant, mostly late
medieval objects such as buckles that all shared a similar patina (smooth,
greyed green) and these objects were all said to be from the Thames. The
brooch was something very out of the ordinary. It was a Pannonian Kraftig
Profilierte type (see Hull's type 84) BUT, it was either La Tene II or
pseudo La Tene II, thus exceedingly rare. These would have fallen out of
fashion long before the Claudian invasion and would most likely date to the
time of Caesar. As the even later Hull 84 had a narrow range in its
homeland, and appears not to have been traded very far, British examples
are believed to have arrived with members of Legio IX who had served in
Pannonia. This brooch would have been brought to Britain by one of Caesar's
soldiers, so knowing the exact location of the find in the Thames is rather
important. Is it recorded? it might be recorded by type name, Hull's
number, or as a La Tene II brooch. It might also have been misidentified as
a dolphin brooch. If you have a record of it, I'll send you the brooch to
go with it. I wouldn't want to contribute an unprovenanced item to a
British museum ;-)


>>The other points are fears, worries, etc. without any justifying evidence.<
>
>Agreed -  that doesn't make them less real. IF I personally collected
>antiquities I'd be very dubious about the provenance of some of the items
>that are advertised on the web and the legality of their sale; and when the
>museum I work for buys from a dealer we have to be very sure that we are
>happy about provenance and title - and that can depend on a curator's gut
>feeling...

Agreed -- a bad provenance is worse than no provenance as it skews the
data. I take given provenances with a grain of salt if I don't know the
reliability of the source. Sometimes bad provenances are obvious. My
favorite example was an American dealer who proclaimed that a British item
was found "near Norfolk". (he obviously though Norfolk was a town, like it
is in the U.S.).

>But I notice JH doesn't comment on my concern:
>>that (unlike the eBay site we discussed earlier) there seems to be nothing
>to remind foreign buyers that if any of these objects have been dug out of
>the ground in the UK (and by their appearance most of them have been!), then
>taking them or having them posted out of the country without an export
>licence is illegal.<
>
>Perhaps JH would like to reassure us that all the dealers he knows are
>scrupulous about applying for an export licence for even the smallest least
>valuable 'archaeological' object from UK soil, when they sell to buyers
>abroad, and informing foreign buyers in this country that they will need a
>licence if they subsequently take it out of the country?  And that
>collectors based abroad are equally scrupulous (for their own peace of mind)
>about confirming that UK and European law has been adhered to?

It is the job of British authorities to ensure that regulations are
followed by British dealers. We do not ask the grocer to prove that the
water content of the beef is within governmental standards, or that the
butterfat content of the cheese is what it claims to be. Perhaps Britain is
inefficient in that area -- perhaps the government does not really care.
That is not my problem. It is between the dealer and the laws that he is
supposed to follow. If I can see something on Ebay, I assume that the
British police are also able to see it. If a collector pays for an item and
then finds that the British government has denied it an export permit, that
is his problem. Some dealers of important items (like Sotheby) mark lots
that might need an export permit. I presume that the authorities find that
issuing a permit for every cruddy-looking 15th century bronze harness ring
is a waste of their resources. Perhaps they have more important things to
be concerned about. I certainly do.

Regards,

John

http://www.writer2001.com/
Hooker & Perron, Total Project Coordination
Database-Web...Graphics...Custom Maps...Colour Suites...Expert Systems
Building the Celtic Coin Index on the Web:
http://www.writer2001.com/cciwriter2001/

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