Monday, 30 June 2014

The Didcot (formerly Oxfordshire) Mirror

Didcot (formerly Oxfordshire) Mirror
photo stated as "free use" since 2009
(image rotated)
Celtic decorated mirrors are the quintessential British La Tène object. Only rarely found with other objects, they are notoriously difficult to date with precision but their date range is from before the middle of the first century BC to about the middle of the first century AD. This one (No. 23) was found by a metal detectorist in 2007 and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, although it does not seem to be on their site after a search for "mirror" or "Didcot".  The handle was found in three pieces and the mirror was restored at the St. Albans Museum.

Decorated mirrors fall into two broad chronological divisions: the earliest (such as this one) have a round plate with no binding on the edge of the plate. The later mirrors have a kidney-shaped plate with a binding strip around the edge of the plate.

They also have two dominant plate decoration types: first is the "diffused" type, the other is "tri-lobed", often resembling an abstracted woman's head.

In order to better define these mirrors, two parts of the mirror must be taken into consideration: the design of the handle, and the applied decoration to the plate.

Shillington, Bedfordshire, Mirror
photo stated as "free use" since 2009
The closest parallel, taking into consideration both features, is the Shillington, Bedfordshire mirror (No 26) which is another metal-detector find that was found in November, 2000, in association with a silver knotenfibel brooch and pottery shards, and was thus dated 70 - 20 BC.

The main difference between the two mirrors is that the on the Shillington mirror, within the delineated decoration, are circled tricorns, whereas this element is replaced, on the Didcot mirror with roughly circular shapes in association with pairs of opposed diagonally set leaves.

The earlier plain mirrors from the Arras and Garton Slack burials in Yorkshire have, respectively, a straight handle with a ring at the bottom, and a double-baluster handle with median band and a ring at the top and bottom. In the Didcot and Shillington mirrors, and in the plain mirrors from Portland, Dorset (Jope, 2000, plate 256,c) and Bulbury, Dorset (ibid, plate 256,d) the top of the handle is bifurcated showing, I think, influence from earlier anthropoid-hilted swords with the top ring indicating the head and the bifurcated top section of the handle, the arms. On the Bulbury handle, the bifurcation does not end in "arms", but appears to continue to form the plate edge, perhaps a later development.

The development of the anthropomorphic swords is seen to the right. Note the occasional use of a median band. Another direction that the handles take can retain the bifurcated top but omits the top ring. The most famous example of this is the Mayer mirror (No. 20) where the arms taper wider at their terminals and the metal extends to form the start of the binding around the kidney-shaped plate. This seems to me to be possibly an early version of the late type of mirror, but chronological matters must also be tempered by the existence of different workshops and skill levels for roughly contemporary mirrors.

The other direction that the handle design takes is a series of rings, or a pair of opposed loops joined by a band, the latter seen, most famously, on the Birdlip and Desborough mirrors.

The use of opposed leaves in the mirror plate design is quite rare but can be seen (in association with a couple of circular forms) on the Bromham, Bedfordshire, Mirror (No. 6, and illustration below). It has the earlier round plate and no binding.

Bromham Mirror
 designated as "free use" since 2009

Most interesting of all of these examples is the smaller mirror from Dordrecht, Netherlands (No. 13) and illustrated below. It shows influences from both broad types of handles, and has a roundish plate leaning toward the kidney shape with (apparently) traces of binding. Here, the diagonally opposed leaves have a circle between, a design different, but reminiscent of one of my strap junctions that I date to about 20-40 AD. The plate design is a rather "diffuse" version of the "tri-lobed" type

Smaller Dordrecht Mirror 
photo stated as "free use" since 2009

Taking all of this into consideration, I place the date of the Didcot mirror more in keeping with the Shillington Mirror, but at the end of the cited period of 70 - 20 BC. or possibly even slightly later. Such an estimation must remain provisional for the time being because of the different workshop/varying skills factor.

Friday, 27 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 10. The big picture

The reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets
over the dead bodies of Romeo and Juliet.
Lord Frederick Leighton, 1855

Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet,
Act 5, Scene 3 (the Prince)

Survivors of the New Archaeology of the seventies when Science was going save all, have clung to one of it's last tenets: contextual archaeology. It was a technique, untested and unscientific, that was supposed to deliver an objective "archaeological record", but many cracks started to appear in that model, not the least of which was the importance of the observer. Things were starting to change. In Thinking From Things, p. 6, Alison Wylie says:
"In some quarters practice-minded archaeologists declared a plague on all houses and withdrew from theoretical debate altogether. It held nothing for them and had manifestly failed to deliver clear-cut answers to their quandaries."
More cracks started to appear in the model and by the mid eighties it was understood by many that the archaeologist was just as an important factor in archaeological interpretation as anything found at a site. People started worrying about whether objectivity was even a possibility. In 1983, the American philosopher Richard J. Bernstein published Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis in which he resurrected and added to Charles Sanders Peirce's pragmatism, saying:
 "Peirce criticizes the picture of scientific reasoning that represents it as a linear movement from premises to conclusions or from individual facts to generalizations. In its place he emphasizes the multiple strands and diverse types of evidence, data, hunches, and arguments used to support a hypothesis or theory. Any one of these strands may be weak in itself and insufficient to support the proposed theory, but collectively they provide a stronger warrant for for rational belief than any single line of argument ― like a strong cable that is made up of multiple weak strands. This shift in characterizing scientific argumentation is one of the reasons Peirce so emphasized the community of inquirers ― for it is only in and through such a critical community that one can adequately test the collective strength of such multiple argumentation." (p. 69)
Shortly after this, I was applying Darwinian ideas to the chronology of Celtic coin dies, seeing their ongoing changes as evolutionary and was the first person to apply evolutionary cladistics to an archaeological subject. Moving on from that interdisciplinary action, I started to embrace transdisciplinarity where different realities can be connected by turning classical logic on its head ― substituting an included middle instead of an excluded middle. It had been seen that this action had resolved the wave/particle duality in quantum physics. For a long time, I had seen that there was something between opposing ideas, something that I could not put my finger on. I first noticed this at about the same time that I had just read Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. I had thought that I had just made contact with the secret of the universe, but glimpsed it as if through a glass, darkly.

Goya, The sleep of reason
produces monsters
Meanwhile, aficionados of the New Archaeology, sensing their imminent demise as members of a viable theory, started to put their wagons in a circle in order to claim the subject. Some of them became very vocal. In part, this was because many of their bosses who were weaned on the New Archaeology were now in positions of importance. Gains made by Tony Gregory in uniting the interests of metal detecting and archaeology started to erode under their relentless proselytizing. What had started as a theory had turned into a cult  ― actually a very common occurrence wherever reason is replaced with dogma.

Many plants, sensing the end, set unusually large amounts of fruit in the hopes that some of their progeny will survive. This is why you do not overfertilize peppers, with enough nutrition, they are quite happy to make lots of new leaves and create more roots to use it. If you cut back the fertilizer, you get more peppers. Every time that a fisherman in the Sea of Japan hacks apart a large jellyfish and throws the remains back in the sea, each part of that jellyfish eventually makes yet more jellyfish to clog their nets.

So these proselytizing remnants of the New Archaeology apply a different sort of fertilizer to get more leaves on the plant and grow more roots: Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit, p. 65ff, says:
"One response to this lack of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. ... Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial ― notoriously less able and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit."
Their unwillingness to embrace the Zeitgeist, and to move archaeology onward, thus bears no fruit. But how can we all clearly see this Zeitgeist? I think that Google Books Ngrams give a good indicator about what people are talking about. I set the following Ngram to start at 1930 (around the time of the first commercial metal detectors. It ends in 2000 which is the default setting picked, I believe, because many more recent books have yet to be digitized. It is possible to set it as late as 2009, but I feel that the results might be misleading:

You can see that some public interest in amateur archaeology has been taken up by metal detecting. We also know that, currently, professional archaeology is facing an uncertain economic future. More mainstream archaeology is starting to look at what metal detectorists have to say. It was good timing that as I was talking about metal detecting from the conservation perspective (which I was informed about by some detectorists), a Ph.D opportunity was being promoted by Huddersfield University to study the effects of modern farming practices on archaeological evidence. If you are a detectorist, you might even contact them about what you have observed, show them the evidence from certain fields, perhaps even let them study those fields to compare the ground conditions on ploughed land with those of nearby grazing or heath land where there has been less impact. While this might be a pioneering project for archaeology, the effects of fertilizers and pesticides has already been studied for things like underground copper piping etc. If you have the prerequisites, or can convince them that experience can account for the lack, thereof, you might even go for that degree yourself.

This is the last episode of this series, I hope you have enjoyed it and my apologies for including some of the more esoteric stuff. I wanted all of my ideas about the subject to be represented. I'll be back on Monday with something else (if I can think of a subject!). Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 9. PR matters

Grandma's ring
photo: Pat David
I have been defending metal detecting, collecting and dealing in old coins and artifacts and independent archaeology for almost twenty years. The term "amateur" can carry negative connotations for some, but it really means someone who does something just for the love of it. A professional might do something for the love of it, too, but they also make a living by it. Neither of these terms address skill levels so you can have a professional who is far less knowledgeable than an amatuer and vice versa.

Some years ago, my next door neighbour lost her engagement ring (she thought) in the snow outside her house. It was an heirloom ring and she was very upset. I had an idea, and contacted the local metal detecting club. That very morning, a metal detectorist came out to her house and found the ring in just a few minutes. She offered him a reward, but he refused, telling her that she could make a small donation to the club, if she liked, and he gave her the details. I have also noticed that members of the club have aided the police in looking for criminal evidence in large search areas. These are not unusual activities for metal detecting clubs.

I was in the shop of my friend Robert Kokotailo (Calgary Coin Gallery) when a farmer came in with his wife. They had a few coins to sell. Most of them were Canadian silver coins that were being sold for the silver content as they were very common and not in the best condition, but they also had a few base metal coins like small change from holidays abroad and things found in the back of some drawer. Robert noticed two Alberta tradesmen tokens, the sort of thing that used to be issued by local dairies or bakers -- good for one loaf, or a pint of milk. That sort of thing. He knew that these two tokens were not listed in the current catalogue and he also knew a major collector of them. He made a quick phone call to the collector, calculated a small  profit for himself (about 20%) and offered the couple $200 for the tokens alone. These unimportant-looking tokens were the most valuable things the couple had brought with them. They were amazed.

The above deeds get you very good PR, and word of mouth is about the best advertising you can get. But there is much more to know:  some people have, as their raison d'être, web sites and blogs where they will criticize all of the things I have been defending. In all of the years I have been doing this, not one of these people have ever modified their views. It stands to reason, thus, that you can waste an awful lot of time trying to convince them otherwise. Some of them might not even publish your response unless they think that they can "one up you" in some manner. You will also notice just about the whole catalogue of logical fallacies in what they write. Don't think, for an instant, that they are just misinformed about a few things and you can set things right -- they have probably heard it all before and will have their stock answers all ready for you. For their other reader's benefit, they will also know ways to make you look uninformed, instead. They might even then attack your relatives, lift pictures from your web site to attack you with, and so on. For most people, this is such an unpleasant experience that they will stop trying to set the record straight. Remember, these hate-mongers identity is all wrapped up in what they do, and they are not looking for solutions. If that actually happened, what on earth would they do then? I'm not saying that it is always a waste of time replying to them. If you are good enough, you can slip a few things into the reply that you know that they will not pick up on, but some of their reader's might. Just be aware of the difficulty of the task and the sort of things that could then happen.

If you are being libelled, if they are taking images without permission, then you can launch legal proceedings against them if you wish. If the court finds in your favor, then whatever company hosts their site or blog, will then take it down and prevent them from just starting a new one. You usually will need a court decision, but some companies might just help you without one. Some of us hold such actions in abeyance if we think that what they are doing is actually harming them more. A method that I have used in the past on other sorts of matters is to lure someone into doing something actionable, and then nail them for it at that point. My wife used to say I was very good at "poking people with sticks". When we had our company, difficult client's phone calls were often transferred to me. After a while, some of these (especially "project managers") would change their tune as soon as my wife told them "I should let you speak to John about that". One of my employees once suggested placing a "Beware of John" sign on the front gate.

Metal detecting clubs (and individuals) can do much more to get the public behind them. I (along with many other people) have spoken at schools. Once, I took some of my collection to my daughter's class, giving them a talk about what I do and passing things around fro them to handle. For weeks afterward, kids that I didn't know would say "Good morning Mr Hooker", as they passed me on the street.

A number of teachers, collectors, and dealers contribute in different ways to the Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) organization. (one rabid anti-collecting archaeologist compared them to "drug-pushers" which must have been very funny to most people who heard that!

There are many other things that metal detectorists can do as individuals or clubs. If you have no local museum, why not start one? I don't mean start up another Guggenheim, perhaps it might take the form of a display case at a local school or community or church hall where local finds can be displayed with descriptions. You could get a bit more ambitious, but if it involves dealing with bureaucracy, then the following video should be seen first. It is an excerpt from a one man play series that starts with "Letter from Wingfield Farm" about a stockbroker turned farmer. In this episode segment, Walt Wingfield wants to start a local museum, and is hoping for some council money. It's also a great example of Canadian humor and Rod Beattie's acting is incomparable as he transforms himself into each of the characters:

Tomorrow's episode will be the last in this series.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 8. What's next?

public domain photo

I always hold in having it if you fancy it
 If you fancy it, that's understood
And suppose it makes you fat?
I don't worry over that
A little of what you fancy does you good
Chorus from  A little of what you fancy does you good, lyrics by Fred W. Leigh, 1915

 My grandmother used to say "A little of what you fancy does you good" as she brought out the treats. As a small boy, I thought this was grandmotherly wisdom and  didn't know that it came from a British music hall song. From the songs she sang, I now know that she must have been a Fred W. Leigh fan in her younger days.

The boy made his usual rounds of the London junk shops. He knew he would find some ancient coin for his collection, but he was always hoping for that rare coin to appear that he could sell to the British Museum. That could have been me when I was young, but I'm writing this about Sir William Flinders Petrie before he became an Egyptologist and one of the fathers of modern archaeology. A few years before William was born, a young man was searching the shops for Celtic coins for his collection. He didn't have a lot of money to spend. Although his brother had gone to university, he was working in the account department of one of his uncle's paper business, and the uncle had not been keen to give him the lowly job in the first place. Mother had worried that if he had gone to university he would just end up as a clergyman like his father. We know that young man today as Sir John Evans, the father of British Celtic numismatics and also another father of modern archaeology. From little acorns...

I have spoken to a few metal detectorists, collectors, and small-time dealers who, after some years of pursuing their interests, began to gain a deeper understanding of those things and wished they could do more. One of the detectorists told me that he regretted not being able to write about all, but he wrote fairly well in his email messages to me so I think it was just his perception. The best way to become a writer is just to write. It helps if you know someone willing and able to edit your first things, but after a while (and a few arguments with your editor) you not only welcome the corrections, but need far fewer of them. Some people think, "I'm just a ..." and don't try, but if you have a passion for something then the chances are that you will become very good at writing about it if you just give yourself the chance.

If you go to university in order to get a good career and make lots of money, and you pick some subject that is not going to be terribly difficult  and might be bit of fun then don't expect to be overly passionate about it later, and above all, don't expect to father much except children. With the passion, though, it doesn't matter at all where you go to school, how long you stay there, or what menial jobs you might have to start with. Perhaps even Einstein wondered if he would amount to much as he trudged to his job at the patent office some mornings. You will meet others with that same passion that are always willing to help you along. Passions can sometimes be a lonely place and you are always hoping for company and that requires no qualifications other than the shared passion.

 A little of what you fancy does you good.

Now, there are those who will always be telling you what you should be doing and that certainly has nothing at all to do with fun.  They might criticize you as a detectorist for not reporting things to the Portable Antiquity Scheme. Perhaps they do not know the meaning of "voluntary", but they certainly do not understand why it should be voluntary. If you are an "outsider" of any sort, you probably don't like being ordered around much. It is only the outsiders, though, that ever do really great things. If you are an explorer, you will get better at it over the the years. If you are a follower, you will get better at that too.

Some of these advisors, followers all, don't like the idea of you getting full retail price for something you find that is declared "treasure". Well, it was Sir John Evans who originally pushed for that reward. He knew that if people were not given full value for what they found, then many of them would not report anything at all. I'm sure that both Evans and Petrie really loved getting coins that had a recorded find spot -- I mean, who wouldn't? But they were experienced and steeped in realities. They both knew that most coins have no provenance. They still don't.

They also knew that if you limited yourself to buying things that only had recorded histories then you would not end up with any sort of real collection, just a few souvenirs of other's collections. Not only that, but you will never learn the subject either. Even the British Museum has a great number of coins where they only know where they obtained them and nothing of where they were before. But those advisors have had no experience at all and they don't know that they are wasting their breath. Doing something original is something they just know nothing about at all -- being followers, they hardly ever even witness the process of discovery, they just read of the results and never wonder why. It's all a black box to them.

I have heard from  few detectorists who seem to have listened a bit too much to these followers, because they also condemn trade. Think about it. Do you hate the person who sells you a pair of shoes? Do you always check to see if those shoes were not made in by children in some far-off sweat shop. Is your butcher just greedy when he asks you to pay for those chops? Should great books just be read in public libraries and never bought in bookshops because they are "cultural heritage". I like trees and I prefer to pay my bills online and get emailed invoices. It saves paper. But I'm not going to stop buying books.

I don't believe much in sacred objects, and have no personal fetishes or talismans about the place. I also think that it is admirable to reuse, repurpose and recycle. In fact, I'm thinking about making a few sculptures out of various fragmentary metal detector finds. I hope this does not offend anyone's religious sensibilities, but that is what our forefathers did with stuff. It is history. It is what comprises many archaeological objects: a stone in a wall came from an earlier building -- even the decorated stones of Newgrange. Why is a broken fibula now a fetish object, fit only to be hidden away in a storage cabinet in some university in some box with other bits and pieces from an excavation by one of the high priests of the archaeology department? I'm an iconoclast who studies iconography. How funny is that?

The funniest thing of all is that here are  few people who think that the only British antiquities sold on Ebay should be those that have a Portable Antiquities Record, yet not one of these same people ever sell such recorded objects on Ebay! I happen to think that people should practice what they preach, but followers want to make other followers and think that this will make them leaders. It never does.

You might be familiar with Richard Hatttatt's excellent books on ancient brooches. They are better than what had been published before on the subject. He was a businessman and a collector. Once he had recorded his collection with one of his books, he would sell all of the brooches and then buy more brooches and write another book.

Sooner or later, metal detectorists will get various insights about things, it might be about certain types of things that they find; it might be the history of a place; it might be an interest in a particular period: it can be anything. It might even be an interest in archaeology. For those people, find yourself someone with the same passion and go where it takes you. Don't ask a follower for advice, though. That would be silly. If it is an interest in archaeology, then become a member of the Council for Independent Archaeology. There are no followers there, or wagging fingers, just friendly people with a passion just like yours and it's infectious.

Wherever it takes you, go there, and don't worry about "not being qualified". As Joseph Campbell says: "Follow your bliss". That is the only sort of following that can end up making you a leader. I'm not going to tell you where to go, you will discover that for yourself on the journey. Bon voyage, and bonne chance!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 7. And what not to share

Lao Tze on his donkey
Bronze incense burner,
 China, Ming dynasty.
George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum
photo: Daderot (public domain)

According to legend, when the sage Lao Tse
was about to leave town on his donkey and
never return, the gatekeeper asked him to,
first, record his wisdom for posterity. This was
the origin of the Tao Te Ching
Clare reminds me, this morning, of an important distinction I did not make yesterday. When I talk of sharing, I refer to raw data and not to personal hypotheses and theories. The former would include written data and images of the things we use to form our ideas for the latter. The decision on whether to share our theories and techniques is always a personal matter and no one should be made to feel guilty about such decisions. If you are good enough, there is no need to prevent others from learning by making raw data unavailable, besides, it pretty well identifies your weaknesses if you have to resort to stopping others. We know who you are, we know your lack of any real skill.

I developed a method for making printed maps with more layers of clearly understandable information than was previously thought possible, and maps that were able to actually calm people down in emergency situations. When we were producing such maps for flood evacuation purposes, the utility company with which we had a contract thought that they could save a lot of money by violating our contract and then attempting to produce the maps themselves. As it was far more difficult than they imagined, they failed in the latter, but as we sent them an invoice, they were able to convince the Canadian Government to harass us for taxes on money we never received. This, after the company first demanded that we hired more staff and got more computers to do the work faster and then cut back on their map orders leaving us cash poor. A government agent told us on the phone: "We know what we are doing, we are putting you out of business." They seized our bank accounts, harassed our other clients and eventually forced us into bankruptcy.

So after spending more than eleven thousand dollars on lawyer's fees in the contact/intellectual property case we could no longer pursue it. Our bank manager had been so confident that we would win the case. It seemed so open and shut to him that he had granted us a large line of credit. My poor wife fell apart at the seams with the stress of us having to live by our wits and losing our company after having to lay off all of our devastated staff. Her breast cancer that had been "cured" eight years earlier came back as a result of this intense stress and it killed her four years later. The stress from both of the events let me off lightly with a mild heart attack . I swore to myself never to have a business in this country again. My map process will die with me. Essentially, the Canadian government killed my wife as surely as if they had put a gun to her head. I view such government employees as sociopaths with no sense of personal guilt or responsibility. Such people are drawn to bureaucracy as a convenient vehicle for their personal madness.

My health is much improved, and I no longer even take any medication as I prefer to follow Linus Pauling's  more natural methods. I have not had any symptoms of heart disease for many years now. There are a number of potential projects that I do share on this blog as they might well take longer than my remaining time, as I am nearly 65 years old now. Also, my daughter will be able to better know about what she will inherit, and my grandchildren can learn more about grandpa once they can read. This is my "Tao teh ching". Now, I'm not claiming that this blog has anything even approaching that level of wisdom, and I hope that some of my hypotheses will be disproven in my lifetime as we can only really learn well from our failures while our successes can lead to psychological inflation!

Nowadays I am a poor, independent, scholar. I'm very fit and I have never been happier!

If you are a metal detectorist, you are a prospector. How you set up your instrument, your favorite fields and more is your intellectual property. Don't allow anyone using the "cultural heritage" excuse to make you feel guilty about not revealing certain things. It is vitally important that any reporting is voluntary. Provided that you are following the laws where you live, the ball is your court and you should follow only that which you believe in yourself.

You can still share, if you want to, but this can take the form of showing your finds on websites or blogs (and allowing people to use such images in their own research). If you want to sell some things in order to buy other things, there is nothing wrong with that either. Don't be lured by academia into thinking that trade is immoral. They, too, are often mainly taking care of themselves with what they do and they often don't have the honesty to even admit that.

But don't also think that archaeology and archaeologists are the enemy. Seek out the best in that field for advice. In all of my years, some of the top archaeologists have helped me greatly and not one of those ever criticized me for being a collector. Often, they are far too busy to waste their time criticizing detectorists and collectors. If you get any criticism, simply ask what they have published, and what they have done, other than being critical of others. The best archaeologists will like you if you share their passion, and that is how you will know them.

Thanks, again Clare!

Tomorrow, some advice for those detectorists who want to take things further.

Monday, 23 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 6. Sharing

Ambresbury Banks, Epping Forest, London
photo: Petr Brož

Often, Iron Age earthworks are less obvious than this,
some are virtually invisible now. Many have been
reported by metal-detectorists.
One of my readers is a Korean researcher also associated with Beijing's most prestigious university. In acknowledging some of my posts by email, she usually starts by saying "Thanks for sharing". So this one's for you, Clare.

Whenever there are warring camps, people don't share things and information is lost. Sometimes it goes to extremes and verbal bullets are the only things shared. I would like to link to blogs that I enjoy but some people have used such connections to even attack family members of those whom they do not approve, steal their graphic work and worse. I do not even have a Facebook page for this reason. I would hate to see my daughter and my friends victimized by such bullies (I don't have a Twitter account either, but that's mainly because I am far too long-winded for that medium!).

A recent comment by an English detectorist about how farmers could be frightened off if asked to sign a "finds agreement", preferring things to be by verbal agreement, reminded me that there is a lot of information that does not become public knowledge because of hostile environments. This detectorist shared, but others are just as likely to mutter under their breath about some lack of insight uttered by an opponent, and not try to correct it. Not that such a reply always resolves the situation, and it seems that some are in it only for the conflict and do not even wish to resolve the problems (they would be out of a job if they did!).

Archaeology and metal-detecting in England both suffered a great loss with the death of Tony Gregory who could champion both sides equally as well. The clue to his success is in the biography to which I link: "...which was aided by his ability to communicate with all manner of people,...". In my own small way, I hope that I am doing something similar in this series. I am equally at home talking about Chinese ceramics in a swank St James's, London shop as I am drinking with loggers in a bar in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  No one has replaced Tony Gregory. Perhaps no one could.

One early morning, we followed the trail of a "nighthawk" to a stubble field and then saw all of the holes he had left. I was with a British antiquities dealer who commonly bought things from detectorists. He shared with me one of his greatest concerns: he could also communicate well and the detectorists would often share their exact findspot location knowing that as he was an honourable man, he would not profit from these locations, himself. Over the years, he had built up a knowledge of the Iron Age tribe who had lived in that area which far exceeded that of local archaeologists.

The field we were looking at was one of two separated by a small Roman road which was now hedgerow (unknown to archaeology). The two fields occupied an area that had contained an Iron Age settlement (unknown to archaeology). He knew its industry and he knew what coins they used. He knew all of this because he understood the local market, and he saw what showed up that the local metal-detecting club members and their friends had not found. They also knew about the nighthawk, but not his identity. Of course, they did not approve. A few can give the many a bad name.

The farmer wanted neither metal detectorists nor archaeologists on his land. He thought that if he allowed his fields to be detected, the finds would be reported and then he might need special permits to build even a cow-shed. Of course, he could not report the nighthawk either. He could not share.

My friend's consternation was extreme. He wanted to share his knowledge with the world, but he could not. "Perhaps after I die, I could will this information.", he said. He told me all of this because he knew that I would not reveal that information either. I wish that I could share it too.

More tomorrow...

Friday, 20 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 5. Antagonistic cooperation

William Hogarth, Scholars at a Lecture
In 1999, I was invited by Andrew Selkirk to speak at two archaeological conferences in England. It was the first time that I had been back to England since my family had emigrated to Canada in 1966 and I allowed some extra time to take care of some other matters including my plan to put Oxford's Celtic Coin Index on line, meet up with some acquaintances, and to visit Hengistbury. At the first conference (the annual meeting of the Council for Independent Archaeology at Sheffield University) I was to give a talk on the construction of expert systems in archaeology. Not long before that I had assisted a Ph.D student studying artificial intelligence at Hofstra University on the same subject.

As I rode the train to Sheffield, I was not only nervous about the talk, having had only a little experience with lecturing, but I also knew that Sheffield University had been centre in the Celtoscepticism fad of a few years earlier. It turned out that my worries were ill-founded and everyone I met there was not only very friendly, but also very passionate and knowledgeable about their particular interests. I felt quite at home. I was shown a book manuscript about an excavation of a Roman site by one member of the Council and it impressed me deeply. Not only was it informative and interesting to read, but as an object, it was nothing short of a work of art. It was quite different from any archaeological report that I had ever seen. The passion came through on its pages. It was not written to impress a professor or advance someone's career. It had been a labor of love. You cannot fake such a work.

I sat listening to the speakers and waiting for my turn at the podium with my paper in hand. Only one speaker had read from his paper, as I had planned to do, but I noticed that by reading, it was difficult for him to engage with his audience and having had some acting experience with a two month experimental theatre in the round/haunted house production: The Black Castle designed and directed, and with makeup and special effects by Charles Porlier, I knew how important that was. Accordingly, I left my paper talk on the chair and ad-libbed the whole thing, instead. It worked very well. After the dinner that evening, Andrew had invited me to stay at his house in North London that night before I was to head off to Norfolk the following morning and in the car ride back to London, he told me about his interests in Libertarianism, which I found quite fascinating. It was all a very pleasant experience.

Being catholic in one's interests is a distinct advantage in the twenty first century: subjects have become connected and intertwined in ways we had never expected and I look at transdisciplinarity as a new renaissance.

Metal detectorists have a wide range of backgrounds and their cultural frames combined often with a deep understanding of the landscape in which they work enable them to be aware of things that a visiting archaeologist might miss. In Wednesday's post, it was the metal-detectorist who had seen significance in the amount of animal bone remains at the site. There is more to that site than what is revealed in the paper, and I wonder if the detectorist had noticed it too. Some of what had appeared to the excavators as a "plough-scattered hoard" might well be something quite different, but the explanation of that will have to wait for some other time. It connects with a few other sites I have been studying for a few years, but there is more research to be done. Let me just say that it was a multi-functional site where a festival to the Celtic god Esus had also taken place.

The biggest problem with a discipline as an isolated entity is not just that it lacks the association of other disciplines, but that it's intellectual environment is largely kept within academia which is another cultural frame with its own ways of doing things. The repeated use of the same methods sets up neural pathways in the brain and also allows for an easier transmission of memetic contamination. The problem is not just eliminated by having people from diverse backgrounds within an academic environment as Aaron Lynch envisions to increase the chances of original ideas, but that the environment, itself, will have the same leveling effect. If one person has an idea, it is not going to be terribly difficult to dislodge it, If it is shared by one or two other people, the difficulty increases exponentially. If the idea spans an entire cultural frame, it becomes a "reality" which even warfare cannot resolve.

Antagonistic cooperation is defined as "the suppression of minor differences by two or more persons or groups to achieve a major common interest." However, achieving such an "ecosystem" can take a very long time.

My second talk was at the meeting of the European Archaeology Association at Bournemouth. I was told that it would be round-table discussion about Unidroit, but what I found were discrete talks in a largely hostile environment. I doubt that anyone left it with modified ideas at all. Its sterility was palpable.

On Monday, ways to move forward instead of backwards.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 4. Internecine struggles


Les dovze clefs de philosophie
de frere Basile Valentin
1st French ed. 1624, p. 179

A thousand kinds of men, each differing in desire:

Each has his own intent, each burns with different fire.

Persius, Satires, V.52-3

I was unsure of what I was going to write about this morning, but in looking through various blogs of the day I saw the following quote from an American archaeologist:
"...the reduction of artifacts to a monetary value or conversation pieces deteriorating on fireplace mantles wastes a non-renewable resource.  Unless done as part of a professional study and under the supervision of trained archaeologists, it deprives the many of their past for the benefit of the few. It steals our history, robbing our citizens of that which inherently belongs to all; our cultural heritage."
 Preferring to attack the idea rather than the man, I will leave it uncited.

Joseph Campbell noted an important change in religious practices when the priest, instead of facing the altar, turned around and faced the congregation. Previously, the priest exhibited a characteristic of the Greek mystery cults where everything of importance took place, literally, in the inner sanctum, and very little was ever seen by the public outside. The priest was the intermediary between man and the divine and everything had to be interpreted for the masses. Many people do not know that in past times it was actually illegal, in Ireland, for the public to own a Bible.  Prior to the mysteries, the Greek religion was much like many other more primitive religions in that it was propitiatory ― people made sacrifices in order to gain favor from their deities. Alan Knight, in Primitive Christianity in Crisis, p. 4, says:
"Pythagoreans and Orphics saw the material world and religion in a radically new light. For them, the purpose of religion was not so much to gain material blessings in this world. They believed in the immortality of the human soul and its repeated reincarnation in the human body. Spirituality no longer centered on material issues. Instead, man should control the material passions in order to focus on the spiritual development of the inner spirit. Thereby the soul will escape from the cycle of rebirth and ascend to eternal rest in the heavens."
While giving other reasons to the public, the Roman Imperial authorities first suppressed, or demoted, mystery religions as they saw that their leaders were having an adverse effect on the power of the state. Later, when one of these mystery religions became dominant (Christianity), it was both the propitiatory pagan religions and also the earlier Greek mysteries which were suppressed. In the early sixteenth century, Martin Luther (and Henry VIII of England, in a rather different manner) worked to separate Church and State which would bring things back, in a manner, to the mutual participatory nature of primitive religion. This gave rise to further internecine conflicts which have lasted to this very day.

In reading what the archaeologist had to say, I was reminded of many similar attitudes coming from atheist archaeologists. Now, I have no idea what religious beliefs, if any, are held by this archaeologist. The situation is not a simple one when looked at from  Jungian perspective. Affecting the core psychology, we also have to be aware that memes can impart a conflicting attitude by being taken up through epidemic means which lack intellectual judgement. So I will have to shelf the meme idea because of my lack of knowledge of the specifics and just concentrate on the Jungian aspects, assuming that these ideas are generated by the individual's psyche and not the collective consciousness or a group mind.

Let's start with the sliding scale of Mythos to Logos which I see as being comparable to the Jungian sliding scale (respectively) of Introversion to Extraversion. States along this scale are expressed as differing strengths, but each individual has a certain dominance to one or the other. Perhaps we will evolve (if we survive as a species long enough) to find an equilibrium, a patina of sorts that will mark the end of conflict. More likely, I think, is that as individuals, we will still retain that dichotomy but each side will be expressed far less strongly with one being respectful and tolerant of the other. This would seem to be the recipe for world peace.

My lead graphic is an illustration of Azaroth from an alchemical work. Instead of explaining it all here, I would recommend that you read The AZaroth ritual. It was the fourth stage ― the conjunction. which was the basis of Jung's psychology and his Mysterium Coniunctionis is considered to be his seminal work. It is here where the reconciliation of opposites starts.

In the archaeologist's statement, we see Mythos suppressed in favor of Logos, but the natural outcome of such is that Mythos starts to be expressed as the shadow. He criticizes the monetary aspects of artifacts and in the next breath says that such things should be "part of a  professional study". In other words, only undertaken if paid. When you see excuses given for inaction by many archaeologists it is invariably because of "lack of funding" which is the passive voice of "I am not being paid". The passivity is the conscious expression of the unconscious drive which is being suppressed. Furthermore, he includes "under the supervision of trained archaeologists", which puts the latter (unconsciously again) in the role of the priesthood.

No scholar today, thanks to Jung's extensive work in decoding alchemy, thinks that alchemy was a primitive sort of chemistry or an attempt to just turn lead into gold. The latter was the way in which the alchemist could get his own funding from the prince, but he knew that the process was really not the transmutation of the metal, but the transmutation of the alchemist himself. The goal was the Philosopher's Stone in its Hermetic sense. In Jungian terminology and technique this is individuation.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, the great scholars were independent to a very great degree. Think of Darwin, who came into wealth, or Sir John Evans who was a businessman. Their advances were mainly due to their lack of confining associations, but had their circumstances been different, we must wonder if they would have achieved much of anything. After this time, it was the university environment which supported the scholar, but we see far less action taking place and advances are more cumulative than expressed in single individuals. The need for money requires a certain subservience and this impacted negatively on the scholar and his passion and fervor waned. There can be little discovery in the absence of passion.

That sort of archaeologist has become out of tune with today's democratic and humanist leanings. Sitting in his tenured tower, or hoping to occupy one, he suppresses his need and whenever he sees trade and profit, the shadow comes out of its kennel, barking and snapping at all who pass. In such a democratic and humanist society we no longer have the Roman emperor who can arrange for an appointment with the lions in the arena, all we can do is to write about it and try to defend ourselves from the dogma that threatens to consume us and bring an end to any independent thought. That which is said to "belong to all" is not actually expressed by any single human being in the world. It is nothing but a projection.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 3. How things are discovered

Volvo front end loader
photo: Jason W. Edwards, U.S. Air Force
As there can be conflicts between metal detectorists and some archaeologists regarding the discovery of artifacts, I thought it would be a good idea to present some statistics about how artifacts are discovered. One might get the impression from such sites as the Portable Antiquities Scheme that apart from a few accidental surface finds such as through gardening etc., most other finds are either through metal detecting or through archaeological excavations (that are not included in the PAS).

Information on the subject is not easy to find, but thanks to Colin Haselgrove's Iron Age Coinage in South-East England: The Archaeological Context, Oxford, 1987, p. 104, there is information about British stray finds of Celtic coins. As coins are very small objects, they seemed to me to be an ideal subject as one would think they would be easy to miss and that most finds would be made through prospecting (metal detecting or archaeologists' field-walking). After all, what are the chances of the driver of a front end loader on a construction site spotting a patinated Atrebates silver minim while at work? The answer might surprise you. Haselgrove gives the following figures:
Mode of discovery Total %
Large-scale earthmoving eg.
extractive industries, railway cuttings
11 4%
Building and construction works 39 14%
Cultivation and ploughing 46 16%
Digging eg. allotments, drainage
trenches, pits
38 13%
Gardening in grounds of house 30 10%
Finds dislodged through coastal or
riverine erosion
56 20%
Finds dislodged through erosion or
other disturbances to the ground
36 13%
Archaeological prospection and
metal detecting
30 10%
Total: 286
These percentages today will be slightly different, of course. However, there is no easy way to calculate them apart from duplicating Haselgrove's study as it will depend on too many factors. A critic might say that metal detecting has become more popular than archaeological field-walking, but as these are grouped together anyway, we cannot differentiate these agencies even by the 1987 figures. Archaeological field walking certainly was carried out long before the first metal detectorist appeared on the scene. Similarly, we would have to know the current figures for various sorts of construction, and even the popularity of gardening. The exact means of discovery, apart from MD finds is not recorded in the Celtic Coin Index, but the latter also includes coins seen in the trade that might or might not have a recorded find-spot. There is only a very slightly greater percentage of Celtic coins in museums with recorded find spots but this is mainly due to the fact that many hoards of similar coins often end up in museums while a miniscule percentage of collectors collect by die varieties instead of by type.

Erosion and other natural ground disturbances account for 28.67% of the finds and this is nearly three times that of any sort of prospection. Gardening (apart from that done on allotments) shows the same percentage as archaeological field walking and metal detecting combined, but of course gardening has been taking place far longer than archaeology. I say this for the fear that a few anti-MD archaeologists might start trying to ban gardening! When I was eager to buy some Celtic coins at the age of fourteen, the only find that I was ever told about was from a school friend whose uncle had found a small hoard (8 or 9) of gold staters while removing a tree stump in his garden. To my horror, I learned that he had four holes drilled in each of them to be made into a bracelet for his wife. I told my friend that what would have been a very financially valuable find that he would have obtained full retail value for because of the Treasure Trove laws of the time was now little more than scrap gold. Of course, the find was not reported at all. From the description, the location of the find and the relative rarity of types, they were most likely Gallo-Belgic C. Gold coin finds are reported far less than coins of other metals, of course.

I would be remiss if I did not finish with giving you an example of the sort of thing that can happen when archaeologists and metal detectorists can work together with mutual respect. It comes from Ian Liens, Coins in context: coinage and votive deposition in Iron Age south-east Leicestershire:
"In November 2000 a community fieldwork group, one of many set up in the last thirty years by Leicestershire County Council, began finding late Iron Age pottery whilst field-walking on a hilltop near Market Harborough, in south-east Leicestershire. Although the pottery was not unusual for the area, the discovery of a quantity of animal bone aroused the interest of one member of the group, Ken Wallace. A keen metal-detector user, he sought the farmer's permission to return to the site with his detector and over several days recovered more than two hundred coins. These were subsequently identified as late Iron Age silver coins, of types traditionally attributed to the Corieltavi 'tribe', and contemporary Roman Republican and early Imperial silver denarii. Wallace reported his finds to the Leicestershire County Council heritage team, the Coroner and the British Museum, commenting there were plenty more coins still in the soil. English  Heritage agreed to fund an archaeological evaluation, which was conducted by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) in 2001. Only now, however, after more than four years of excavation and many hundreds of hours of conservation and identification work at the British Museum, is the unique nature and significance of the site and its finds assemblage beginning to emerge."
Tomorrow, part four in this series.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 2. Conservation

Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde,
 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

photo: Ralf Roletschek

A sight rarely seen today, the horse-drawn plow and
other earlier agricultural practices which are
impracticable today had far less impact on the land
than the heavy machinery and monocultures of our
Henry Mossop's passion for conservation and his interest in metal detecting are thoroughly interwoven. Today, detectorists on agricultural land see diminishing returns in the same fields year after year. This is not simply that they are exhausting the finds, but what they do find becomes ever more fragmented and corroded as time passes. Some archaeologists, pedantic in their views and unable to experience systems are heavily critical of the activity. Others of more modern (but not modernist) intellect seek ways of aligning their interests with that of the metal-detecting hobby. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is the best example of this attention and it has been noticed that criticism of metal detecting is the one of main reasons that finds are not reported. People are basically good and like to contribute to worthwhile activities. That attitude, however, quickly becomes soured in the presence of hostility.

When people become enmeshed in organizations, their individuality is lessened and it can be seen (by others) that their awareness of other points of view and the very nature of the individual is also lessened. The dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat is the classical example of this outlook and it was a favorite topic of writers like Kafka and Orwell. It came as only a slight surprise to me to hear, many years ago on CBC's award-winning science program Quirks and Quarks, that no important discovery in science had ever been made by anyone funded to do such. An American philanthropist, whose name escapes me, sought to rectify this situation by giving money to independent researchers solely on the basis of their passion and not on any foreseeable practical application. Good research follows its own whims and cannot be defined at its outset. One cannot say if a particular application will take two days, twenty years, or beyond the lifetime of the researcher. It does not matter, it is not the destination that is important to the researcher, but the journey. I was reminded, today, of a favorite saying of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: "Needs must when the devil drives" and I find it interesting that its definition is widely misunderstood.

A patina finds equilibrium between its internal matter and its external environment. Nature finds harmonics even in human behavior and this is expressed in the previous paragraph about the inability of many to see outside of their own frame of reference. A good researcher is an outsider, and it is his or her's task (in order to be successful) to develop that patina between themselves and their society just as it is societies task to develop its own patina to their presence also. No one has ever been remembered as a successful follower, but the label of boot-licker will at least take them to the grave.

Even since the adoption of the tractor, agricultural machinery has been getting much heavier and this has resulted in speedier soil compaction. A hard layer will form in the earth where water will not drain easily. Any ancient metal objects above this layer will thus lose the equilibrium of the patina built up after hundreds or thousands of years. As this build-up of moisture increases, the farmer will try different approaches to the problem: seeking ways to drain the land or break up the hard layer, itself through deep plowing or subsoiling. The patina will then be attacked and will, again, seek equilibrium with its new environment. However, it cannot possibly catch up to the farmer's actions and the corrosion becomes an ongoing, live process, until nothing remains of the metal but a stain in the ground. I have seen Roman coins become nothing more than corrosion products after being exposed on the surface. Sometimes. an image of the original coin remains but any attempt to clean it results in nothing at all remaining.

Many agencies change the position and status of objects in the ground, it is not just agricultural equipment, but worms, ants, rabbits, and various sorts of erosion. All of these create new environments where metals seek new equilibrium. About the most famous example is the Sutton Hoo burial where rabbits had changed the very proportions of the mound and the position of the grave goods was not obvious.

Once an object gets closer to the surface, the plow blades can break it up further. Silver and copper alloys can become crystalline and brittle over the centuries. If you drop an ancient silver coin on a hard surface it can even break in two (this once happened with an extremely valuable ancient Greek dekadrachm!).

If all of this was not bad enough, the actions of fertilizers and pesticides also destroy the equilibrium between the interior of an object and its environment. A British metal detectorist told me that he had observed this process to be far slower on organic farms. Also, in certain environments, freeze and thaw cycles can also attack the integrity of the object once it gets to within five to three inches of the surface. I have seen this crazing on the more porous fossil remains in the Alberta Badlands. It only takes the impact of a foot or hoof or sliding rock to turn it all into loose fragments. Monoculture and the absence of allowing fields to fallow adds to the problem.

Thus, the detectorist automatically becomes an environmentalist and conservator by their very actions. The idea that the archaeologists will eventually save everything, and do this faster than nature can destroy it is an absurdity and we must wonder about the mental state of those who would make such claims. Is it a knowing lie, or something akin to functionaries disease?

For more information, see: