Welcome to all my new subscribers!
I’m about to board the WinterTransport time machine and travel back over eight years to the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Treasure Annual Reports held at the British Museum in January 2007. They showed that there had been a huge increase in the recording and reporting of both treasure and archaeological finds over the last few years, a statement that caused a little bit of a furore in some ‘archaeological’ circles.
David Lammy MP, the then Minister for Culture, said in his introductory speech that the number of finds reported “is a direct result of the PAS.” He also referred to metal detectorists as “… the unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage”, and “detectorists are finding more than ever before and more of it is ending up in our … museums. That’s a fantastic thing for our heritage, our history and for those people who are doing a lot to bring our history across to generations of younger people.”
That was our finest hour. In a magazine article at the time, I made a full report. What follows is a small extract:
… I had an interesting conversation with detectorist Michael Hyman who has been discovering hundreds of objects from the prehistoric, Roman and medieval periods near Hambledon in Buckinghamshire. These finds include an Iron Age torc terminal and coins, Roman and medieval coins plus various pieces of jewellery.
The PAS hand-out described him thus: What is most important about Mr Hyman’s work is that he records everything . . . and it is assemblages like this that are providing enormous information about the rural occupation of Britain through the ages.
In several media reports of the launch, metal detectorists had been variously described as ‘Treasure Hunters’ and “Amateur Archaeologists.” Many detectorists object to both of these terms. One well-known broad sheet even referred to ‘Amateur Indiana Jones.’ So, it was refreshing to hear the Minister describing those who contributed simply as ‘finders’.
I said later on, and repeat again: There are those who lambasted these reports as a gross distortion of the truth and continue to write about detectorists in an abusive and disparaging manner. Unfortunately they don’t have the same level of government and influential media support! Shame.
That comment from me only merited a 600 word vitriolically fuelled essay and provided another opportunity for the guy to lambast me [again] for what I said at the time. Sorry, I cannot bear to utter the man’s name and there will be no links here to his site. My friends Dick Stout and John Howland regularly refer to him as Warsaw Wally, but there are other epithets alas, totally unsuitable for this forum.
‘Bazza Thugwit’s’ Continuing Contribution.
The aforesaid Warsaw Wally refers to all detectorists as ‘Bazza Thugwit’. That name is an unfair and unwarranted stereotype and tells us more about the author than the detectorist. I’d like to enlarge on what I said earlier, to explain what has happened in eight years and how our understanding of our history owes a lot to the metal detectorist. I’ll take numismatics as an example … it will take far too long to mention everything.
The huge number of casual losses and hoards of coins [millions] found by detectorists since the hobby was established forty years ago has helped – and is still helping – to build up a new numismatic history. I attended a lecture recently by Sam Moorhead, Advisor for Iron Age and Roman Coins at the BM, who implored detectorists to record even the Roman ‘grots’ that they found, for they were an important part of his studies and reliable assemblages for study and research purposes.
What happened before this and was it a distorted picture? There were coins collected by the wealthy, but they told us little of our history. Now we have ordinary folk like detectorists – people who have been the target of severe criticism remember – dedicating themselves to painstakingly search the rich topsoil of Britain to find the true circulation of coins and other material evidence that would never have emerged otherwise.
The ‘new history’, which is coming to us through the detectorist finds’ is based upon circulation patterns and much more. All this has been accomplished not because of archaeologists or academics but in spite of them. This is summed up admirably in a detecting magazine article published in 1999 by a writer with the pseudonym Horsfordian:
… ordinary folk, now and in the past, make up the vast majority of the population. Surely then, as most detectorists are themselves ordinary folk [and part of the majority] they have a perfect right to search [with permission] for the material possessions lost by … their ancestors. Whose history are we unearthing? Most of it is our history! Now that, to me, sounds like common sense!
A Selection of “Nationally Significant” Detectorist finds of the last few years …
… from some of the coin stories I have covered. Just a representative example and not in order of importance. A picture is worth more than a thousand words … or so they say!
1 – First, a hoard consisting of 17 gold staters and 9 silver units. These are of types originating in the Northern area [this territory is thought to have been inhabited by people known as the Trinovantes]. They were issued under the ruler Cunobelin and date to the period between 10 and 40AD.
2 – A ‘nationally significant’ hoard of Roman gold coins found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire. BBC report HERE.
3 – The Shrewsbury Hoard (also known as the Shropshire Hoard) is a hoard of 9,315 bronze Roman coins discovered by a metal detectorist in a field near Shrewsbury, Shropshire in August 2009. The coins were found in a large pottery storage jar that was buried in about AD 335. See HERE.
4 – The Silverdale Hoard is a collection of over 200 pieces of silver jewellery and coins discovered near Silverdale, Lancashire, England, in September 2011. See HERE
5 – The Jersey Hoard or the Grouville Hoard is a hoard of an estimated 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins reported in June 2012. They were discovered by metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles in a field at an undisclosed location in the parish of Grouville on the east side of Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is the largest hoard ever found in Jersey, and the first major archaeological find made by metal detectorists on the island. See HERE
6 – The Lowside Quarter Hoard was discovered by detectorists Justin Bell and Daniel Boakes.
7 – The Lenborough Hoard is a hoard of more than 5,000 late Anglo-Saxon silver coins, dating to the eleventh century, that was found at Lenborough in Buckinghamshire, England in 2014. It is believed to be one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins ever found in Britain.
8 – The Frome Hoard – A British Museum spokesman said the 160kg find was the largest single coin haul found in one pot and was probably intended as a religious offering. Most of the coins, which are made from debased silver or bronze, are currently at the British Museum in London and includes examples from AD286 to 293 during the reign of Carausius who was the first Roman emperor to strike coins in Britain.
10 – The Big Scottish Coin Hoard. More than 300 ancient coins were uncovered in the small village of Tywnholm, perhaps the largest ever hoard found in Scotland.