A Case of Mistaken Identity

17th April 2017 — 15 Comments
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© JW

Sometimes even the ‘experts’ in the archeological world can be wrong in their assessment of metal objects. Such mis-identifications make one realise that often the person with the real edge on determining the past use of a find is the detectorist with years of experience. The moral of this tale is that we mustn’t take for granted that everyone in the archaeological world (or indeed the hobby) knows everything about everything. If in doubt, seek a second opinion.

I was reminded of this fact in a book read recently, A Personal Memoir of Aylesbury in the 1920’s by WR Mead, who had spent an idle day with friends during the summer holidays excavating in the garden for ‘likely treasure trove.’ The childhood incident had stuck in his mind but, in fairness, I think the details are of doubtful authenticity and may have been embellished in the retelling. Professor Mead says:

“Nothing materialised during the morning dig save for some inconsequential oyster shells (there were many others in our own New Street garden). However, during the lunchtime, absence of the principal digger enabled a broken spearhead from some nearby railings to be concealed the bottom at the bottom of the excavation.


© John Winter

Our companion rapidly discovered it when he returned to the dig. We immediately pronounced it to be a Roman relic and he was persuaded to take it to the museum. Appropriately wrapped, it was deposited on the museum steps, the bell was rung and the discoverer retracted.”


The following week, a short paragraph appeared in the Bucks Herald inviting the anonymous discoverer to report to the curator. He was congratulated on his find and the spearhead was dispatched to the British Museum for identification.

In due course, it was returned, and described as ‘the head of a Napoleonic cavalry lance’. Subsequently it was placed in a glass case complete with a descriptive card and the donor’s name.”

The reference to the bit about ‘inconsequential’ oyster shells is an illuminating fact – could the garden have been a Roman site anyway? I understand that the Romans were very fond of oysters and the discarded shells could indicate a site worth detecting. Famous Roman Colchester Oysters.


Professor William (Bill) Mead died in 2014, aged 98. He was a student at the Aylesbury Grammar School in the 1920’s. Here’s what the Headmaster had to say at the time of his death.



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15 responses to A Case of Mistaken Identity

  1. I LOVE RAW OYSTERS, cant believe the museum would make such a error

  2. Thank you for the chuckles John… and a good lesson on the so called ‘expertise’ of some authorities!!

  3. The finders name was…………………………………………………Spike

  4. Yes the experts do occasionally get it wrong. I have seen objects on the PAS database incorrectly attributed. The worse examples are people selling objects on EBay and you have to be really sure what you are buying!

    • Great news. We’ve been Barfordised, Paul.
      The Warsaw scribe with superior attitude even picked up a typo in my text! I wonder if he’d consider a post as unofficial sub-editor?


      • Obviously ‘Warsaw Wally’ recognises talent when he reads a superior blog. You are indeed honoured.

        He often uses the words ‘Tosser’ and ‘Tossers’ in the text of his own blog (a very downmarket effort, it has to be said), to describe internationally famous numismatists, renowned collectors, and detectorists in general. Unsure of their meaning, are these words in common usage in academia?

        Would it be correct usage to describe him as a ‘Tosser’, I wonder?

        • Hoiker John … I would never stoop so slow as to call him a ‘tosser’… even though I think he is! 🙂

          Mr. Barford also calls detectorists:

          “smug arsed twits
          two-faced slimeballs
          gawping proles
          heritage pilferers
          half-brain thugwits” … and much more.

          What a nice man! 🙂

          • Indeed, he is a wonderful warm human being!!!

            However, judging from his endless child-like name calling, abuse, and personal attacks, I’m slowly edging towards the opinion that it’s highly likely other issues may be at work, fully deserving of sympathy and understanding.

      • Like a bad smell given time it will disappear. Sometimes it’s best to ignore him John and not provide ammunition for him to use. You are not going to change his attitude and like a martyr he will continue to fight his corner!

  5. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 20th April 2017 at 4:14 AM

    I frequently see people claiming to have found the holy grail of whatever, so it doesn’t surprise me to see a “specialist” get caught up in the moment.

    Once I thought I found John Cabot’s gold ring, but it turned out to be a Labatts ring pull…….it was touch and go for a while there. LOL……..

  6. An interesting blog John, it makes you wonder what else is sitting in Museums with a totally wrong description and dubious Origen.

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