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Subject:

Re: Feast your eyes on this!

From:

"Clark, John" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Thu, 17 Jul 2003 12:46:41 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (92 lines)

John Hooker corrected me:
>Findspots are mentioned for about 17% of the artefacts (I didn't look at
the coins). One of these is said to be "recorded" (AS buckle, Kilham, E.
Yorks). Sometimes just a county is given in the ad. There might be more
info on the ticket.<

OK so my 'almost none' should have been 'so few'.

> Collectors hear archaeologists say that an artefact
without provenance or the context of other artefacts is worthless.<

I certainly don't say that. 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).  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).  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.

>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.

>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.

>[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!)

>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...

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?


John Clark

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