The Staffordshire Hoard has thrown up a problem. It is it is all very well to say the finder or the landowner should receive an award, but when that award is £3.3m, who is going to pay for it? The museum that receives the hoard? The British Museum has already declined any interest, but local museums have avidly taken up the challenge to keep it in Staffordshire, or, if not Staffordshire, at least in Birmingham. But can they afford it? Where are they going to raise the money from?
The answer, surely, is simple: the hoard should be split and divided between several museums. After all, most of the objects (pictured above) are, if not quite duplicates, at least very similar and it would be easy to split the hoard four ways and make four excellent displays. A quarter of the hoard could then go to Staffordshire, a second to Birmingham, another to the British Museum — and why not sell off the final quarter to America? There are, after all, numerous Americans of Midlands descent who would rejoice in seeing the regalia of their ancestors in United States.
The dinosaurs of the museums profession will, of course, be horrified by these proposals: they have long had a wholly absurd prejudice against splitting up hoards, let alone seeing British material go abroad –though we are happy enough to have foreign material in our museums. I have always believed that the past is universal, and is too important to be treasured simply in one place. Let us declare the dinosaurs extinct; let us split the hoard and allow as many people as possible see it.
HADAS parts company with Birkbeck
HADAS (the Hendon and District Archaeological Society), my local archaeological society, has broken off links with Birkbeck University over its courses for archaeology. Several years ago Ted Sammes, a long standing Vice-President, died, leaving us a legacy of £70,000 along with his unpublished excavations of the 1970s. We thought we should do something about this. So, I went along to Birkbeck College, saw my old friend Harvey Sheldon and persuaded him to set up a course for us whereby we could study the finds from the excavations carried out by Ted Sammes in the vicinity of Hendon Parish Church in the 1970s and write them up under the supervision of some suitable expert.
Harvey found us Jacqui Pearce, the Museum of London’s top expert on post-Medieval pottery, who just happens to live in North London, and the courses have been very successful. One volume of the excavation report has already been published — The last Hendon Farm — whilst a second is on its way. Thanks to Ted’s donation, we can afford to publish the reports ourselves, in full colour.
But — and it is a big ‘But’ — the courses have been getting too expensive. In 2008 they were already £300 a year, but now the Government is telling Birkbeck it must increase its fees yet more. The big bugbear, and the thing that is going to finally destroy adult education, is called ELQ, which stands for Equivalent or Lower Qualification. This means that the government has decided to stop funding students for a qualification equivalent to or lower than their current higher education qualification. Since most members of the course have already got at least a BA, and the course itself is only for a diploma, the fees must increase to the full value — which includes a hefty overhead for the university providing the course.
Birkbeck, therefore, proposes to raise the fees to £400 a year for ELQ students (the majority) and £300 for the rest. This seemed excessive so we have (very reluctantly) parted company with Birkbeck; now we are paying Jacqui ourselves and renting the same room directly, and all for £275 per year. (A full degree costs between £4,725 to £5,975, compared to £3225 for the standard tuition fee).
In our case, the actual diploma is beside the point — the members of the course are doing the course to learn about post Medieval pottery and to do some valuable research and they will get their names as part-authors of the published report. Birkbeck has priced itself out of the market, or rather it is being ordered by the Government to price itself out of the market. The archaeology Adult Education departments at Manchester, Bristol, Reading and Cardiff are said to be teetering on the edge. An opportunity for the independent sector to step into the breach?
Rescue archaeology at Mucking
One of the great excavations of the early days of Current Archaeology were the rescue excavations at Mucking in Essex carried out by Mrs Margaret Jones and her husband Tom — who inevitably became called ‘the Mucking Joneses’. These were the heroic early days of rescue archaeology. Mucking has been described as being the first hill, or rather the first slightly high ground, that you come to on the right hand side when sailing up the Thames. Here the Saxon invaders made an extensive settlement where the first pottery was identical to the last pottery found on the sites they had abandoned in Germany. It was a bleak site, with wind whistling in straight from Siberia, but the gravel diggers were busy quarrying it all away, and it was here that Margaret and Tom spent some 13 years rescuing the archaeology from the jaws of the bulldozers.
They were an odd couple. They lived in a caravan on site. Margaret was big, brusque and one might almost say bossy, whilst Tom always appeared to be henpecked, though he took very good photos. It might have been a formula for disaster but Margaret was, in fact, a brilliant archaeologist — she was one of the first people to understand burials where only the shadow of the skeletons still remained; she also recorded brilliantly and understood what she was digging. Consequently her archive is still being published.
First to be published was a description of the Saxon village with nearly a dozen posthole halls and 200 sunken huts which were published by Helena Hamerow; now we have the publication of volume 3, The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries in two massive parts, written up by Sue Hirst and Dido Clark — two cemeteries in all. Cemetery one had 64 inhumations, while cemetery two had 282 inhumations and 463 cremations, making it one of the largest and completely excavated Anglo-Saxon cemeteries.
There is yet more to come. The archive is with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and the report on the Roman site is now nearly complete and should be published in a year or so. Then they can begin work on the prehistory, including some very important Late Bronze Age semi-defended sites. Both Margaret and Tom have since died, but they have had the last laugh: everyone had assumed they were as poor as church mice, squatting in their caravan, defying the Siberian storms outside. But now they have emerged as one of the more lavish benefactors in recent years, leaving, as they did, their entire estate to the Society of Antiquaries which, to everyone’s surprise, came to half a million pounds!