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Saturday, 22 March 2014

What have we learnt from all of this ?

After the recent cross blog debates I think there have been a few valuable lessons to be learnt. We were challenged by Paul Barford to question the members of the bajr archaeology forum on the subject of if metal detector is at are adding or subtracting to the historical record by removing metallic finds from the topsoil layer of a site.

Paul had always based his arguments around the fact that we take finds out of their context and also that we take away part of the picture if archaeologists were to ever do a professional dig on that site.

Well as it turns out Paul was very wrong,  over on the bajr forum I was told that archaeologists do in fact skim the up too 50cm of topsoil off the site before commencing with the dig. This top layer is then put in a spoil heap and often left as there is not enough time to sift through it all. He also said metal detecting is a great thing as long as we record the items we find, items that would be generally scraped away with the topsoil.

For anyone interested the link to the bajr forum answer is here

It feels great to be be told by an archaeologist that we are doing a good job. It also puts to rest any argument Paul and Nigel throw our way.

I have also noticed how quiet Paul Barford has been about this whole subject, almost as if his smugness has been taken away. For a long time he has though people believed the lies he spouted and his twisted versions of how things are. Well now the proof is here we are doing a good thing and as long as we keep recording our finds and find location spots we will continue to be doing a good thing.

I Also noted Paul has not linked my posts too his blog for a change and tried to ridicule me. I guess this is a sure fire realisation that he knows he is wrong and has been spreading a lot of bs, something he won't want his dedicated readers to witness so he can carry on twisting things for their gullable minds


  1. Steve did make some valid points with regards to the topsoil in some commercial digs. I myself have witnessed this practice numerous times however it does not make it right. It's the nature of the beast on commercial excavations as they have to keep to a strict ever decreasing budget!
    That said though, how many detectorists know where the topsoil stops and when they are hacking into valuable archeology? I can take a guess at less then 20% which is being generous. Take the recent hoard that was discovered, I think it was named the "sweetman" hoard, did the club stop digging once past the topsoil? Did they heck.....

  2. Top soil and sub soil are both disturbed contexts either from many years of direct ploughing of the topsoil or the periodic disturbance of the subsoil by mole ploughs or drainage works. Either way you have a variable depth of soil which has been in effect homogenised with respect to any context laying over another layer which has been compromised to some degree. This is why commercial digs have in the past and in many cases continue to remove it on mass. It is usually done in two layers because the topsoil has a good value to the developer whilst the subsoil is more often used as a bulkfill material elswhere. In some cases where the soil layers are shallow over bedrock, it is often easier to take the whole section off in one go and dump it. As such all small finds are lost as once they get diluted in the dumps they are difficult to recover and really only tell you what has been missed from somewhere on the graded area.
    The transition between top and subsoil is usually pretty obvious with a change in colour and texture of the horizons so most detectorists should be able to recognise that transition when digging. On an excavation the machining process requires skill to recognise where the subsoil ends and the natural begins, a zone which may be highly variable across the site. The temptation is to just overcut a little to give a clean interface and remove all residue of any overburden and expose archaeological features with definable edges for excavation.Once the digger has been off hired any soil residues from poor machining will have to be removed by hand or by getting a smaller machine to recut high areas. That costs money and time so the job has to be done correctly in the first place hence the temptation to overcut just to be sure. However having looked at excavation plans undertaken over a period of several years over a large area such as a gravel quarry, the competency of the different machine watchers ( and machine operators ) who may also have been from different companies, can be glaring with linear fills of ditches clearly plotted in one section only to be absent or intermittent when entering the adjacent section where the machine excavation work has been done a bit too hard.
    So in reality back to the question of layers i would suggest that unless a detectorist actually digs into the natural they are unlikley to be disturbing previously undisturbed layers in an arable context.However there are exception as i will describe.
    As i have said the soil layers are of a variable thickness because of natural/manmade processes such as hill wash or plough drag which will increase the layer thickness downslope and in some way protect any archaeology that lies there. I have seen situations where over 1.5 to 2.0 m of overburden covers the archaeology at the base of a slope whilst on the upper slope/hilltop areas the soil layers have been reduced to less the 25 cms.In the later situation the archaeology will be damaged by the plough and once machined off tprior to excavation there are frequently deep plough scars cut into the natural. So really in that situation there is little archaeology to damage except that remaining in the fills of any deeper features such as ditches. As to the competency of a detectorist to be able to deal with finds made in shallow soil areas ? i agree that there are some who simply have no interest in considering this and the "sweetman" hoard is a case in point

    1. Just to edit an error in my post i meant to say in the question of layers paragraph that "unless a detectorist actually digs into the natural " should read "digs into stratified archaeology below the plough soil or to the natural". Just a point which could be misinterpreted by some and my apologies for a piece of text which got lost in cutting and pasting onto the reply section.

    2. Thanks for the comment and for the correction Steve

  3. Yes i see Mr.B has used your blog to launch yet another attack on a highly respected archaeologist and sadly using my observations as well. You can see why i chose to be anonymous "Steve" as i had been warned that with a name Barford will then give you his special treatment reserved for those who say thing he does not agree with.

  4. I see Paul has pointed his accusing finger at David now and is trying to drop him in it, you know Paul could have been one of the top paid reporters for the Sun newspaper the way he twists a story and creates sensationalist headlines.

    No doubt Paul is enraged that any archaeologist apart from himself of course has any discussion with ourselves because he can't control the situation.

    I thought this would happen when I mentioned Davids BAJR forum a few weeks back so my apologies to David and the forum members for the unintentional result.


  5. Yes its a shame. But someone was bound to take some flak when any truth comes out that Paul does not want anyone to know. He would make an amazing dictator!

  6. Amazing how quiet it has gone on this topic.


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