Monday, August 29, 2011

"Gaining Points" and "Lies and Libel" about King Arthur?

For several hundred years people have been trying to fathom out the true facts behind the multi-layered mystique of the arthurian legends. Sometimes it has been professional, trained historians having a bash at the problem, other times internet-amateurs. These attempts vary from the erudite to the downright nonsensical, and some fall half way between. There is some very competent writing on the subject by amateur historians trying to sort their way through the confusion.

Two individuals Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett, aided by metal detectorist Alan Hassell claim to have solved the "mystery", and have created a huge conspiracy theory worthy of the daVinci Code to explain why (apart from the fact they clearly regard themselves as immensely more clever than anyone who has ever looked at the subject) the interpretation has not been accepted by modern scholarship. they see this as due to the same reasons why what they see as "the truth" was "covered up' in the nineteenth century. For what they propose in fact is virtually the same as had been proposed in eighteenth and nineteenth century historiography. They are moreover using exactly the same arguments and material as those earlier historiographers. A muddle of various "old" texts, some suggestive placenames handled with home-grown philology. The main novel element in the argument they have introduced is their conspiracy theory. One in which I was vaguely amused and then annoyed to find I was implicated.

My blog's interest in the whole affair was in the involvement of Mr Hassell the metal detectorist in the whole enterprise. In commenting on this I expressed my views on the "historical research" the metal detecting was intended to bolster. In response Wilson, Blackett and Hassell launched an attack by You-Tube video (see my post on the main blog for this, but here are some screenshots):

In what way I am "lying" (or clowning) is not explained. I presume its because I do not believe their interpretations I am labelled a liar. It is, however, entirely true, I truly do not believe their interpretations and I will attempt to set out just SOME of the reasons why below.

"Ignorant" liar now... Certainly I do not set out to "mislead" about what I think of these gentlemen's "research". Of course the whole idea of scholarly discourse is not name-calling, but discussion of facts and their interpretation.

Well, who is now being deceitful? First of all I did not and do not claim they use "only this source". What I said can be seen in my original post by anyone able to read and understand English. Secondly we will see (below) that in their presentation of the evidence, these gentlemen manage to slip in Geoffrey under another name...

"Constantly" is a word which means more than once. Until this appeared I wrote one post about Wilson, Blackett and Hassell's "researches" - so it's hard to see the justification for the first comment. As for the second... the only one of their half a dozen books to be commercially published (Holy Kingdom - the rest are what we call vanity publications) has been translated into Polish and I not only have a copy (I keep it with my Von Danikens when its not being used to level up a wobbly table leg) but have read it and scribbled all over it. In addition, the maps look like they've been drawn with sharpened sticks. It is a dreadful book.

"Gain points" with whom? Wilson, Blackett and Hassell apparently flatter themselves that mainstream academia is a bit interested in their theories. I imagine most scholars would feel that they belong on the shelf with the Von Danikens and the crystal healing (which geologists and minerologists do not take much interest in either). I am not particularly known for my ability to "toe any line".

It seems to me that Wilson and Blackett have a mania for putting out You-Tube videos and other internet promotional material for their views (read: for their books) there is a flood of this self-promotional stuff under a variety of pseudonyms. Many of the videos have 30-odd views and no comments underneath. interest is flagging. So very probably these guys decided to attempt to stir up some controversy to attract attention to themselves and their views by attacking somebody else.

OK, let's give their views a little more attention. In the post below, I will set out what I think is wrong with their approach to the documents they use to "prove" that the Arthurian legends are based on a particular king of south Wales and that he is buried in a church near Llanharen, mid-Glamorgan. I am not going to go into the other stuff like their claim that they are the next seekers who have (also) found the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the Welsh discovered America and all the other stuff. Take it as read that in my opinion it is all nonsense for exactly the same reasons. Let's just take a look at the way they present the case for the burial site of King Arthur of the legends. The other stuff falls into exactly the same pattern.

Have a look at a couple of definitions of pseudoscience and we will find a number of these traits appearing in the writings of Wilsdon, Blackett and Hassell
Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience Rory Coker
UK Sceptics etc...

Just for the record, I do not have any particular personal favourite "candidate" for the "real Arthur", though if I were to consider that a real figure lay behind the stories, I would think it likely that he'd have been based somewhere one side of the other of the Bristol Channel, rather then further North, but that's just a surmise.

Wilson, Blackett and Hassell: "Finding" King Arthur

In an insulting You Tube video amateur treasure seekers Wilson, Blackett and Hassell claim I am part of some vast English conspiracy to cover up the "truth" about King Arthur, and that I misrepresent the sources of their information. Given the manner in which this was presented I feel motivated to discuss their "findings" in more detail than had been my original intention. I do not intend to devote too much time to this, so instead of going to the libraries (I'd have to visit several in Warsaw) to compile a deeper response, I feel it is enough and more time-efficient for me to use the same Internet resources that these gentlemen direct their readers. They say that the "Wikipedia" pages and other resources on the internet all "lie about Arthur" (part of the same "conspiracy" you see?) so please if you want to be sure of the information, check these sources in real books too. But lets start with the internet and see how far we get.

Here is a typical video produced by the Wilson, Blackett and Hassell team presenting their views that Mynydd y Gaer was the centre of the kingdom of THE King Arthur of the legends and his burial place.

Artorius Rex & the Ancient Monuments the first ancient TV show is interesting (what document describes the hills?) but the second segment (from 1:18) is a significant bit.

The other Arthurs
There were many (about a dozen) rulers in the Dark Age kingdoms of the British Isles that have names sounding like “Arthur”. They are listed and championed in a variety of books, articles, and internet sites. In a search for "the historical one”, obviously what is being sought is one living at the right time to be associated with at least some of the events associated with Arthur. Like for example the battle of Badon (that Arthur was the commander here is accepted by Wilson and Blackett, so for the purposes of this essay let's accept it was so). The date of Badon however is famously unclear, most people accepting it was in the decades at the turn of the fifth and sixth centuries (perhaps in the 490s). Badon cannot be later than the lifetime of Gildas, more specifically the completion of his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. So any “historical Arthur” would have been at battle-winning age around about this time.

The genealogies of the ruling houses of the sub-Roman and post-Roman kingdoms of the Celtic west are extremely amorphous (those of the Anglo-Saxon ruling houses are not much better) and often exist in several versions. Their chronology - and sometimes even sequence - is also unclear. Wilson and Blackett take the chronological uncertainties of one of these to extremes to make their "Arthur" fit (though the way they manage this is not closely argued as far as I can see). It is with this aspect of their work that many scholars who specialise in the area take issue.

Here's the map from Wikipedia to help get some orientation about what areas we are dealing with. The Saxons are way off to the right in the period (very beginning of the sixth century) we are discussing:

Wilson and Blackett focus on the kingdom of Glywysing (more or less modern Glamorgan) between the Afon Llwyd (which has Caerleon at its mouth) and the River Towy. They also refer to Ergyng (later referred to by the English as Archenfield). Let's start with that. The most likely sequence and approximate chronology of the rulers of Ergyng (Ercing) can be reconstructed as in, for example, to take the first version to hand - the Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles (though other versions are possible, my choice here is not because I think the webpage inherently more reliable than any other source, it's just to give an overview of why Wilson, Blackett and Hassell's identification is problematic). The most important point here is that the chronology based on various sources including Welsh genealogies places the marriage of Onbrawst (the mother of Athrwys ap Meurig) in the 630s, in other words 140 years after the conventional date of Badon, making it just a tiny bit difficult for Athrwys to be commanding the troops at that battle.

The non-Wilson and Blackett chronology of the kingdom of Glywyssing is also given in the Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles in two places, here and here. The sequence of kings that interests us here:

? - c.625 St Tewdrig ap Llywarch ("Theoderic"),
c.625 - c.665 Meurig ap Tewdrig King of Gwent, Glywyssing, & Ergyng.
[by marrying the Onbrawst, the daughter of King Gwrgan Fawr (the Great) of Ergyng, Meurig effects a union of the two kingdoms]
c.680 - c.685 Athrwys ap Meurig [This is the man Wilson and Blackett see as THE historical Arthur behind the legends].
c.715 Morgan ap Athrwys
c.735 Ithel ap Morgan
Now of course the problem with all this is that in order to make Athrwys ap Meurig the Badon-fighting Arthur, you would have EITHER to shift the date of Badon forwards (rather impossible since Gildas really cannot be brought forward with it and he mentions it as having been fought in the year of his birth) OR you'd have to find a reason to shift the date of this whole dynastic sequence back 190 years. This though would create problems in that St Tewdrig ap Llywarch is recorded in the histories as having died fighting the Saxons, but there is no evidence for Saxons this far west in the 430s (which is when he would have been active if we shift the whole lot backwards in order to make Athrwys contemporary with Badon). You'd also end up with a bunching up of rulers in the immediate post-Roman period and an embarrassing gap at the other end of the chronology. If the only reason to shift them is because "Athrwys" sounds a bit like "Arthur" (it should be noted that the identification has been challenged on linguistic grounds by most of those who specialise in such things who have examined the issue), then that is not really sufficient reason for such jiggery-pokery with the most likely sequencing of the - admittedly scant and difficult - records which place Athrwys almost two centuries later than the Arthur of Badon.

One Uther Pendragon?

In order to make the claims they do, Wilson and Blackett claim that the legendary Arthur is based on two different kings called Arthur, one fourth century one, the other (Arthur II) living latr who is the subject of this text. They also feel that "Uther Pendragon" is not a name, but a title (like the Saxon "Bretwalda"). Hence in the video we hear Wilson dismissing the "other pendragons" whose burial places are known only to conclude that the "only pendragon" who can have been buried at Llanharen "must have been Arthur". This is a huge leap of logic. The term Uther Pendragon is known only from the literature where it always appears as a personal name of a character well known. There seems to be very little support from the sources, either early or late to treat this as a title. Indeed such a usage would make a nonsense of the hero-tales where the name appears alongside other personal names. As far as I can see a case has not been made by Wilson and Blackett for treating three generations of the ruling house of titchy little Glywysing as each bearing this title one after the other (never happened with the bretwaldaship). As we shall see in the literature Wilson and Blackett use to "prove" their case, there is only one Uther Pendragon mentioned and that is the father of Arthur, and in some of the texts they use he is said to have been buried at a place the documents call "Caer Caradoc".

The site at Llanharen.

The identification of the hill (Mynydd y Gaer) above Llanharen as the site of Arthur’s burial is a misunderstanding. In the video we looked at above Wilson can be seen expounding his theory. He says that in some early documents somebody called Uther Pendragon is buried at Caer Caradoc, and he has set out to find out where that was (allegedly “nobody appears to have bothered to find that out” before him. That is not exactly true).

I want to start with the second alleged body of evidence he mentions first and get that out of the way. He says that the information that somebody called Uther Pendragon is buried at "Caer Caradoc" is mentioned in "sixth century Welsh poems", but does not cite them. Well, there are not many sixth century Welsh poems, but Uther is mentioned in other "early" examples. One of them is the "Marwnat Vthyr Pen" The Death-song/Elegy of Uther Pendragon from the Book of Taliesin does not mention a burial place (and is not 6th century). He is mentioned in the 10th century Arthurian poem Pa gur yv y porthaur ("What man is the gatekeeper?"), but again without any reference to his burial place. Uther is also mentioned in the Welsh triads but in none of them is mentioned he burial place. Unless I have missed something obscure the claim that the burial place of Uther Pendradgon is given as "Caer Caradoc" in these early Welsh sources appears to be misinformation.

The first group of texts that Wilson cites as evidence that Uther Pendragon was buried at a place called "Caer Caradoc" are a series of texts called the Brut (the Brut of England). The problem is that he does not mention that the texts he refers to as the Bruts of England are a translation into Middle English (by a bloke called Layamon) of the Roman de Brut poems (c. 1155) of Wace. According to Wilson, this burial place is “confirmed” (ie repeated by somebody he calls “Matthew of Westminister” – see here,he means the Flores Historiarum (Flowers of History) written some time after 1188 in far-off St Albans and Westminister, which as one of its authors noted selected "from the books of catholic writers worthy of credit, just as flowers of various colours are gathered from various fields". Wilson also says it is also confirmed (repeated) in the Brut y Tywysogion compiled after 1164 at Strata Florida Abbey AND [the name he gives is significant] – “Gruffudd ap Arthur,” That of course is none other than Geoffrey of Monmouth, the author he says they do not place any reliance on. Just a little sleight of hand there I feel...

So, in fact all of these "sources" are taking their material from Geoffrey of Monmouth (which is what I said when Wilson, Blackett and Hassell accuse me of "lying"). we remember that this the source the authors say everybody should be "wary" of, but in fact the SOLE "evidence" on which they base their case is in fact Geoffrey. Sneakily referring to an author called Gruffudd Ap Arthur who allegedly "confirms" what the others say is extraordinarily wobbly logic. Wace translated Geoffrey from Latin to French, and Layamon translated it into English, and the Flores Historiarum and the Brut y Tywysogion are rehashing the same Galfridian material.

So, basically, the question hangs on how reliable a historian Geoffrey of Monmouth was, and where he got the information (inspiration) for what he was writing. For most of us, it is clear he was making up vast chunks of his story, or extrapolating them from some single disconnected facts. On the one hand Wilson and blackett seem to pay lip service to this idea ("be wary of Geoffrey of Monmouth") but on the other hand appear to treat whole chunks of his narrative as a true reflection of events...

That actually is irrelevant to what I am discussing here. We need to consider what Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us about the burial place of Uther Pendragon.

A whole section of Geoffrey's narrative centres around a specific region. The monastery of Ambrius appears in book VI, 15 the Night of the Long Knives (when Hengest killed all the British nobles by treachery), and the bodies of the slain were buried nearby at “Kaercaradene” "now Salisbury at a burial place near the monastery of Ambrius, the abbot, who was founder of it”. In Book VIII, chapter 9-12 describes the removal of the stones of the “Giant’s dance” to the “Mound of Abrius” erected by Merlin over the burial place of the nobles slain in the Night of Long Knives massacre at the “convent which maintained 300 friars”. Then we come (Book VIII, ch. 24) to the burial of Uther (here the father of Arthur) who died in Verulam (St Albans) and was buried with “regal solemnity” in the ”convent of Ambrius” close by the tomb of Ambrosius Aurelianus “within the Giant’s dance”, while mortally wounded Arthur (Book XI, chapeter 2) goes to Avallon “to be cured of his wounds” and is not mentioned again. His successor Constantine however is buried alongside Uther “within the structure of stones which was set up with wonderful art not far from Salisbury and called in the English tongue Stanhenge” (Book XI, 4).

This is pretty unequivocal. Geoffrey is quite clear where all these ancient kings were buried, and identified this place with important features in the landscape. Writing of Salisbury, Geoffrey had in mind the earthwork known as Old Sarum, with its cathedral (here and here). New Sarum was founded after Geoffrey's time c. 1216)

Old Sarum (English Heritage)

The massive circular earthworks surrounding the hilltop are of prehistoric origin, and contained a densely built up town and cathedral. It is unclear whether calling it Caer Caradoc was a tradition in the 1130s (one which seems not to have left a trace), or Geoffrey;s conceit (Caradoc was a duke of Cornwall roughly contemporary with Arthur in Geoffrey's narrative). Again, the name of "Ambrius" is not known in any other sources and it seems Geoffrey made it up from the name of the town of Amesbury five kilometres to the NNE of Old Sarum. Stonehenge is 11 km to the north of Old Sarum. It seems that in Geoffrey's mind these places were all in the same general area, Caer Caradoc (the walled area of Sarum), the monastery of Ambrius (Amesbury?) and the Giant's Dance (Stonehenge). There is no clear evidence he was ever in the area and it was here he set some of the important events of these times. What is significant is that Geoffrey may have still been been intent on flattering the Alexander of Salisbury, bishop of Lincoln (for it was for him that he had translated the Prophecies of Merlin).

Nevertheless the point is it seems pretty clear that all these elements were an artificially constructed narrative around the existence, obviously known to Geoffrey of the Giant's dance (Stonehenge) and adjacent features to which had accreted various stories - whether in folk or scholarly tradition we cannot say, and Geoffrey had woven them into a whole adding material of his own inspiration.

What is equally clear is that one cannot take isolated elements OUT of that literary construction and simply apply them to another location, just because it has the same name as the place mentioned. There are several hills called "Caer Caradoc" in the west of Britain. There is no tradition of an Ambrius at Llanharen, no evidence of a monastic house of 300 friars, no stone circle on a postulated burial site (let alone one which is called Giant's Dance and was brought from the West). Neither is this a place one can imagine being set as a meeting place at the end of the fifth century between "Hengest" and "Vortigern" and his 300 or so nobles (Saxon territory finished far to the west at the time of the Night of the Long Knives, whenever this no doubt wholly imagined event would have taken place).

A final point, if this Arthur was the all-powerful monarch of half the British Isles, why is the church he built in the alleged "centre" of his kingdom, and in which stands his pathetically inadequate memorial stone, so pathetically small that it was replaced by the equally small Norman church. Why did this "Arthur" not found a royal monastic house here? Where are the archaeological traces on Mynnydd y Gaer of the splendours of (any) Arthur's court?

Whether or not this church is the burial site of a local king Athrwys ap Meurig is dubious - the memorial stone said to have been found here seems not to be authentic. No traces found in the excavation seemed to suggest a seventh century royal burial (his grandfather had it seems from antiquarian accounts been buried in a stone coffin, so why not Athrwys?). Certainly there seems little real reason to see St Peter's Chuch above Llanharen as the burial site of "an" Uther pendragon, still less link that with the burial of the King Arthur of the later legends.

Wilson, Blackett, Hassell: Archaeology and Mynnedd y-Gaer

Wilson and Blackett in some insulting You Tube videos claim that I am wrong criticising their interpretation of Medieval written sources and locating the burial site of the King Arthur of Medieval legend in a ruined church above Llanharen near Bridgend in Mid-Glamorgan. I've dealt with the documents and their interpretation (and where mine differs from theirs) above. I want to look at the archaeological evidence they claim supports their interpretation in the same way. Here's a sketch map they made of the hill for their videos:

Now compare it with Google earth. The circle on the left is at 51° 33′ 77″ N, 3° 28′ 86″ W while the church is at 51° 33′ 27″ N, 3° 27′ 61″ W

There is a church on the hill they promote as the scene of so many historical events, let us note three things, these guys want to sell their books and lecture tours, they actually own the church (bought it from the Church Commissioners) and they think that their 'Arthur Mystery Resolved' story will promote tourism and economic growth.

The church
An isolated upland church on Mynnedd y-Gaer (Mynydd Portref / Mynydd y Rhiw) - no village earthworks visible in the vicinity. It was the church of Peterston-super-Montemparish. The standing building is believed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (RCHM) of Wales to be twelfth century Norman and was still in use in the 18th century. Here's the Google earth image (source Google Earth):

It is (measured from Google earth) some 21 m long inside, and 5.6m across the nave. Now the church we are looking for is the "monastery/cloister of Ambrius" with 300 friars. The building we see could not comfortably contain 300 clergy. There are no traces of monastic buildings around it capable of supporting a community than size, nor of any service structures as would be present even in an early Celtic monastery. More to the point, the cemetery is not of a size which was planned to contain even one generation of a 300-strong monastic community. From that point of view the church does not fit the documents.

The building has been excavated:
In 1983, Wilson and Blackett discovered what they believe to be King Arthur's memorial stone at the small ruined church of St Peter-super-Montem on Mynydd-y-Gaer in Mid-Glamorgan, which they owned. (There are doubts about the authenticity of this stone as it has never been made available for testing either by independent experts or academics.) Following this, they employed the services of two archaeologists, (Professor Eric Talbot and Alan Wishart) in 1990, to lead a dig at the same place. During the excavations, which were authorised by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, several highly significant artefacts were discovered including an ancient axe, a knife and a small electrum cross, comprising 79% silver and weighing two and a half pounds, that reads "Pro Anima Artorius" ("For The Soul Of Arthur").(This cross in whole has never been independently tested and there are grave doubts about its authenticity.) This was no surprise to Wilson and Blackett who had already identified the church as an ancient and vitally important historical site dating to the 1st century.
(see also here, text by Alan Hassell)

There are reputed to be two earlier phases of buildings underneath. The Britannia website summarises them thus:
Subsequent excavations undertaken in 1990 by Dr Eric Talbot of Glasgow University and a team of professional archaeologists, with the permission of the RCAHMW, have revealed that below the present church (of 13th century origin) lie the remains of at least two earlier building phases: A solid rectangular building covering an earlier "beehive" hermitage and rectangular paved (possibly) wooden erection. Significant finds included a small electrum cross bearing the inscription, "Pro Anima Artorius".
No proper report of these remains has been published - and seems unlikely to appear, Professor Eric Talbot has left the university, and
agreed, in 2004-5, to be a witness against Wilson and Blackett in a libel court action taken by the men against a website operator, Howards Kimberley, who disagreed with them. Talbot, in his court statement, told an entirely different story to that proposed by Wilson and Blackett.
Sadly, we do not know what that was. The other excavator, Alan Wishart has left archaeology and now sells stamps on eBay.

There is an unattributed interim report of the excavations in the Holy Kingdom book (in the Polish version pages 275-277). This raises more questions than it answers. The alleged rectangular building under the church is in fact a platform 10x5m. There was burnt material on it, why was no radiocarbon dating done? The circular building was beside it, not over it, and was interpreted as a cill-wall for a leather "tent". It was only c. 3.4 m in diameter. Again there were traces of burnt material associated. Hardly therefore a church in which a powerful king was buried. The first phase of the Norman church ("level 4") had in it a window of Early English style. A total misunderstanding is dating the window to "650-850 AD" when this style is well-dated from its use in well-documented buildings in England and Wales in the period 1175/1200- 1300, gradually replaced by the Decorated style 1275 onwards. The "tombstone of Arthur" is said to have come from the northwest corner of the chancel added to the building, the report says, about 1400 AD and here were two stone slabs under the floor 120x75cm, under which was "sandy earth without any bones". Here was where the stone of Arthur II, and a niche in the wall shows where it was kept". In the fifteenth century chancel.

The Memorial Stone
The circumstances of the "finding' of this stone are not really clear, nor the date. It figures in some of their earlier books.

The stone and the authors c. 1988(?)Source: Book cover photo/Treasure one hunting)

The stone on a blanket (Source: The Holy Kingdom)

According to the Britannia website:
Blackett & Wilson undertook a private excavation near the altar of St. Peter's Church. Here they claim to have discovered a large sword-shaped memorial which reads, in very faint 6th century style, "Rex Artorius fili Mauricius" (picture below - text outlined). Beneath this was a grave which they hurriedly sealed for future investigation. [...] As the initial discovery of the memorial stone at St.Peter's Church there had no official supervision, this major find has thus come in for considerable criticism. It is true that Early Medieval Latin is so corrupt that it is difficult to claim any particular inscription to be incorrect, but still something like "Artorius Rex filius Mauricii" would read much better, and surely the letters are much too regular for a 6th century context.

The excellent "Bad Archaeology" website deals with this stone (and the cross):
At an unknown date between 1983 and 1990, they claim to have unearthed the tombstone of Arthur, which reads REX ARTORIVS FILI MAVRICIVS. [...mentions cross - see below ...] Wilson and Blackett translate the stone as ‘Arthur son of Mauricius’, which to them confirms the identity of Athrwys ap Meurig with the “King Arthur’ of the inscription. The problem is that the inscription should actually be translated ‘King Arthur Mauricius, of the son’. [...].
The Electrum Cross
This was found in the excavations carried out - by all accounts - in appalling weather conditions. Again the "Bad Archaeology" website just about sums it up:
A subsequent excavation in the church, carried out in 1990 under the supervision of Eric Talbot, at that time with the University of Glasgow, revealed earlier structures and a silver cross, again with an inscription (PRO ANIMA ARTORIVS), was found. If genuine, these inscriptions [memorial stone and cross] would be good evidence for the existence of someone whose name could be written as Artorius in Latin in early medieval Wales. However, neither inscription has been submitted for analysis by acknowledged experts in the field and even to an outsider, they appear curious. For a start, both are ungrammatical, if they are meant to mean what they are claimed to mean. Wilson and Blackett [...] would like to see the cross inscription as being ‘For the soul of Arthur’, it is actually ‘Arthur for the soul’ (which is probably not as effective as chicken soup). In other words, these inscriptions are, at best, crude forgeries by someone with a very poor knowledge of Latin and certainly poorer than we would expect in early medieval Wales.
Indeed contemporary with the Llandaff charters (in Latin) which are used to support the authors' identification and the excellent if turgid Latin of Gildas. Surely a ruler as important as THE King Arthur would have had at least one scribe, clergyman or scholar in his court able to get a three word inscription for his grave memorial right.

The Llanharen Electrum Cross (Dissident archaeology)

The actual place where this cross was found is not described in the interim report in the Holy Kingdom book.

The form of the cross is "curious" for something supposed to be sixth century. I happen to know a little about Dark Age goldwork (actually once gave a lecture in Cambridge University on the subject many many years ago) and there really is nothing like it - but in a bad way. The form is unlike anything one would expect, its more like a 1920s/1940s celtic cross war-memorial in miniature. The authors do not indicate what they think the function of the object was, a grave marker, casket mount, processional cross, liturgical equipment. It is difficult to see how this object could have been used. It is chunky, as though the founder thought if he tried something finer it would not be a success - in other words maybe made by somebody who did not have a lot of practice. It's made of electrum, which is hugely odd for sixth century metalwork in the British Isles where there was obviously a fair amount of pure gold available for royalty at least from melting down Byzantine solidi which were being shunted up to Northern Europe by various mechanisms (Procopius in his Anekdota spitefully tells us Justinian was even paying the Brits a tribute for something or other, but do we trust Procopius?). So why low grade gold when THE Arthur with a Kumrhic kingdom covering half the island, according to Wilson and Blackett (so drawing tribute from a huge area) could have had the real thing? Finally just look at it, lumpy, unfinished (its called fettling) as cast, straight out of something like a casting sand mould and not the lost-wax moulds used by jewellers in the sixth century. Compare this with the average hanging bowl mount and consider if this really is a product of a royal workshop in sixth century Britain? The shape is wrong, the material is wrong, the inscription is pathetically wrong. How difficult would it be to 'plant' something like that in an excavation when the latter is carried out in rain and gales? How difficult would it be down in industrial south Wales for somebody who wanted to 'plant' something on Mr Wilson's and Mr Blackett's site to find somebody who with a fairly primitive workshop conditions who could knock off something like this and get the Latin wrong?

"Mynwent y Milwyr "
There is a large roughly circular earthwork on the west end of the ridge. On older maps it is apparently labelled Mynwent y Milwyr but other names include Coedcae Gaer and apparently on some old maps as "Caer Caradog". The site has never been excavated, and its date is unknown, neither is there any evidence that it contains burials. Wilson, Blackett and Hassell interpret this as the circle within which were buried those slain at the Night of Long Knives. In the literature however the place was later sanctified by the construction of a circle of stones (brought from Ireland as war loot) which Geoffrey identifies as Stonehenge (of course the opposite is true, he knew of Stonehenge and this is the story thought up to account for it). There really is no evidence, except for the name, to link this particular monument with the Matter of Britain. In order to do so, the name would have to be shown to have an ancient pedigree, and not an antiquarian interpretation (like so many "Swedish forts" in Poland which popular folklore associated with the seventeenth century deluge, when in fact they were prehistoric and early Medieval). Wilson, Blackett and Hassell see a "conspiracy" behind the removal of the name from 1980s OS maps, but the actual explanation is that when OS started producing the landranger series, many names were verified and it was found that names that nineteenth century surveyors had given some features had little basis in local toponymy and they were removed, as were a large number of archaeological sites such as earthworks of "celtic fields" and the suchlike. This phenomenon is country-wide and nothing to do with any Anti-Arthurian conspiracy of the English establishment. In any case the evidence survives on many archived old maps. That is precisely what archives are for...

As for the humps and hollows these gentlemen point out as "graves" in this general area, take a look at Google Earth, they can be seen to extend over a large part of the hilltop and are obviously a geomorphological feature rather than archaeological ones.

Wilson, Blackett, Hassell: More Searching for Lost "Secrets"

The treasure seekers and popular writers are now after other "Lost Secrets of the Past". Like the Ark of the Covenant. According to this webpage:
Wilson and Blackett began a search for what was known as The Greatest Work of the Cymru' - Cifrangon. This is a massive, hollow, man-made hill concealed somewhere in Wales (similar to Silbury Hill). Treasure hunters in Wales have long sought this fabled hill in which, it is believed, lie several objects of tremendous historical and archaeological value, many of which may be covered in gold. For centuries, the old Welsh knew themselves to be descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel , and Cifrangon is believed to be the place in which the Ark of the Covenant - containing the broken slabs on which the Ten Commandments were written by Jahweh - was concealed. The men first discovered the site in 1981.
The bit on the use of the Google Earth terrain model is quite amazing (guys take a quick zip over to Hatshepsut's Temple in Luxor and see what the terrain model there shows).

They apparently also have published their ideas about the ancient Welsh discovering America, summarised here:
Research into claims that the Welsh settled in mid-western America in antiquity led to Wilson and his colleague, Baram Blackett, accepting invitations from American supporters to visit US sites of historical significance in 1994. The visit led to several television appearances and the deciphering of alphabetic inscriptions claimed to be in the old 'Coelbren' alphabet. Wilson also concluded that the many snake mounds in the American Mid-west were of ancient Khumric-British construction. Whilst in America, the two men were also commissioned to produce a detailed genealogy for the Bush family (friends and supporters of President George H. W. Bush).
This is also discussed on the bad Archaeology website: Madoc in America Bad archaeology

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Steve Confides in Dorothy

Although there could hardly be a greater contrast in lifestyles, PhDiva Dorothy King is apparently hugely entertained by the toilet humour of Steve Taylor, she gave a plug for him and now she has even published his manifesto on her blog for him. "Anonymous" said...
Hi Dorothy, Thank you for highlighting my blog on Paul Barfords site. After he has spent the last 6 weeks attacking me on his blog, I thought I would give him a little of his own medicine, the hunter has now become the hunted. I have tried to reason with the guy, but he is on a one man mission to evoke as much trouble as possible.

I hope to force him down the ratings when you google Paul Barford, and put him on the second page where people won't look. He certainly won't want to copy and paste pieces from my blog onto his, so I will make them a crude as possible, as I know it is slowly getting to him. Regards Steve
Do please look on the PACHI blog what this bloke thinks is "attacking me for the past six weeks". He seems to think the whole blog is about him. He has been mentioned, and when he has replied, I have commented on his replies. A look over the portion of his responses that were fit to print will show that Mr Taylor seems to consider abusive language and threats "reasoning".

I do wonder about whether writing like a twelve year old schoolboy who thinks words like "shit" are "funny (tee hee)" really is "giving Mr Barford a taste of his own medicine". I do not recall writing about Mr Taylor (or any other collector) with reference to his alleged sexual preferences, excretory organs or with the use of any such language.

Yet Mr Taylor seems to have had objections to what I have been writing for well over "six weeks". These two jumpy and indistinct videos from May 2011 make that point clear with the reference to "the Barford Song", and also notable is the way these three represent themselves online as "nighthawks" followed by a nervous girlish laugh.

Here is another one from the same author, very similar in tone to Steve Taylor's blog:

Do I feel "hunted"? Not a bit of it, I think in his vulgar blog Mr Taylor is doing an excellent job exhibiting the sort of emotional and intellectual immaturity that abounds in metal detecting milieux (see above). His "one man mission to create as much trouble as possible" has already attracted some seven hundred page views and as far as I am aware no adverse comment in metal detecting fora. It seems Mr Taylor has struck a chord with many metal detectorists (and with Ms King) which I think says something about that milieu.

Taylor informs Dr King:
I hope to force him down the ratings when you google "Paul Barford", and put him on the second page where people won't look.
Mr Taylor apparently expects them to be so enthralled by his prose style that they will stay and browse his blog, rather than try and find what they were originally seeking, there being quite a few "Paul Barford"s on the Internet apart from his fictional impersonation. I can't see them being as chuffed by Steve's smutty literary efforts as PhDiva.

Mr Taylor is not quite right when he says that I "certainly won't want to copy and paste pieces from my blog onto his", on the contrary I think he provides critics of current policies with a lot of ammunition. I'll be discussing a few items (probably here more than on the main blog) if I see something useful. At the moment its mainly about anal and oral sex, excreta and rectal orifices. Not a lot there to discuss really. Taylor assures an expectant Dr King that
I make them a crude as possible, as I know it is slowly getting to him.
Not really, just confirms my opinion (and that of most other people that see it) about the whole sorry lot of you. It also looks like Taylor's infantile brain is beginning to run out of ideas, he is repeating himself and relying on making crude copies of well-known internet jokes.
T-rex spanner = Smithsonian Barbie
It's all a bit pathetic really.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dealer Dave not Happy

It's still a dark Sunday over in the States while we have progressed to a lovely sunny Monday morning over in Europe. Bungalow Dave seems unhappy with my reply to his "inquiry" (read: "interrogation"). But instead of deciding that discretion is the better side of valour, still seems determined to get his boot in.

Nevertheless, whatever this guy wants to think, I do hold degrees in archaeology ( last time he asked I answered on his Unidroit-L forum, I really do not feel inclined to repeat myself). Frankly I do not think it matters, I could be a burger flipper in a well-known syndicated US junk-food chain and it would not make any difference in whether I say is logical or not. I think an argument hangs on its internal logic, the facts that are used to support it and how they articulate with other facts. Not who said it and how many exams they passed.

I think we all have a right to question how resources are used on this planet, and in a demiocracy a duty to question how a government's policies affect those resources, I do not think one has to come to the question always from the same angle and I certainly do not believe that to be conservation-aware you need a degree.

Mr Welsh is a strong supporter of individual liberties, I claim my individual liberty to criticise the trade in dugup antiquities without first being subject to Mr Welsh's requirement to first get a Masters' Degree in "Criticising-Antiquities- Trade-ology" .

That's not "evading the question" it is stating a belief that no "qualifications" are required to blog about Ms Spears' latest hits or J-Lo's Butt, the fate of Polar Bears or why the antiquities trade needs to clean its act up. Yes, it is a "rant". That's what blogs are for. If you don't like my blog, Mr Welsh, or don't think that I know what I am talking about, DON'T READ MY BLOG. Simple.

But allow other people their individual liberties to decide whether they want to read it, and leave them their individual liberties to decide for themselves whether they want to believe some, none, or all of it. OK?

Somehow it is important to Mr Welsh whether or not I want to learn more about something he calls "numismatic science" (in which he claims to be a proficient "professional"). Frankly, I do really not care what "numismatic science" is if its source is illegally obtained material illegally exported from a source country at the expense of the illegal destruction of a finite and fragile resource which I happen to care about. In the same way as none of us care what "results" Jozef Mengele obtained from any of his immoral "experiments" in concentration camps. These are data that no ethical scientist is going to use (though I believe some in the US military have been known to do so).
"Coin dealing" (as Mr. Barford puts it) can indeed become a scientific activity, to the extent that one involved in it goes beyond simple commerce and becomes involved in making numismatic discoveries and educating collectors.
Then we obviously differ at the fundamental level of what actually constitutes "science". Making a commercial website is not "science".
One example is this monograph, published on the Classical Coins website: Lathe Machining of Bronze Coin Flans [..] /flans1.html Another example is this compilation of diagnostic and conservation methods for coins and other artifacts suffering from "bronze disease" :
Oh, pleeeease.... the shopkeeper is merely making a buffoon of himself. "Monographs", "white papers" - no. I do have a little bit of an idea what an academic paper looks like, written quite a few myself, edited even more. These are not academic publications by a long chalk (and there's only two of them!). This is pseudoacademic, one is "an untested idea I had" webpage, the other a compilation of other people's work - though no sources are given. Welsh is talking chalk and cheese. Where is the bibliography to this so-called "monograph", the literature survey?

Dealer Dave's Numismatic Qualifications

Welsh also claims that his period as a professional numismatist (ie selling coins) is longer than my archaeological career. His two years at Willoughby's, then two years freelance, that's four, then a break and then 2003 - the present, nine years. I make that thirteen years selling coins. He says 13 years is twice as long as 37 years, so with calculating abilities like that I think we can see why Welsh is no longer an engineer.

I also seem to remember when the ACCG was attacking numismatist Nathan Elkins because he was talking about the less salubrious side of the ancient coin trade Welsh and Hooker coming out with the statement that you could not be considered a "real" numismatist until you'd "at least twenty years experience" under your belt. Well, thirteen years as a "Professional (i.e. commercial) numismatist" falls below the standard he himself considered adequate.

His own answer to the first question he posed me, applied to his own "qualifications as a professional numismatist":
1) No, he does not hold a degree in numismatics, archaeology, art history, classical history or philology, anthropology or any of the humanities. He has an engineering degree gained from a Jesuit university.
And yet he claims the right to judge what archaeologists do and say nevertheless.

2) He has no numismatic or historical publications to speak of, a few articles in trade magazines, two texts on his website which he - but few others I suspect - considers "scientific". He claims "my qualifications in that field are as good as Mr. Barford's qualifications in the field of archaeology."
no, no they are not. Not by a long chalk.

3) He has in fact no qualifications which would entitle him to represent himself as being an expert in numismatic science alongside those who work in academic institutions and museums with many publications and books to their name. Not even a scholarship. He is a coin seller.

4) He says that although he has no real academic qualifications in the field he has "the same right any professional does to criticize those who engage in unjustified innuendoes and accusations regarding my profession". Absolutely, we can agree on that. I justify my accusations (I think I pretty well say what I think rather than using innuendos, don't I?), I have a blog full of them. I'll be having some papers and a book out soon, so perhaps Mr Oh-So-Professional can get beyond mere "criticism of the person" and get on with countering their arguments.

Otherwise you are no better Mr Welsh than the "Candice Jarman"s and "Frettening language farmhand Steve Taylor" and " Spammer Personal Coach Norman Kennedy" and all the rest that figure on the pages of this ghetto blog.

The "Science" of the Clean Trade ?

Scott Semans makes some comments about how ancient coin dealers in the US will "have to" get around US customs by misrepresenting the contents of packages with coins in them, I comment that they could instead just import the coins legally, and in reply Californian coin dealer Dave Welsh calls me out:
Well, Mr. Barford, it now seems appropriate to inquire a bit further into the question of who you are, to presume to instruct US coin collectors or dealers as to what we may or may not ethically do?
I am not clear why you think it "appropriate", the word is "enquire", which introduces an indirect question (so no question mark), but I thought we'd been through all this "Barford's qualifications" stuff before.
First: Do you hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in archaeology from any accredited university?
yes thank you.
Second: What have you accomplished in the field of archaeology qualifying you to pronounce upon matters regarding numismatic science?
Coin dealing is not a science. Neither is shopping for coins a science any more than buying or selling fashion shoes, house plants, Agatha Christie books or old Beatles LPs. We are talking about "clean" commerce in the public interest.
Third: Apart from your brief archaeological career, what qualifications do you claim, to represent yourself as being an expert in numismatic science?
None whatsoever, but we are talking about a commercial activity, not any kind of "science" [37 years is not really all that "brief", its longer than you've been a coin seller]
but you said "three questions"!
If you do not (as I believe) have significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, why do you venture to assert that you have any right to criticize and instruct those who do have such significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, as to what they may or may not ethically do?
Because we are not talking about a "science" of importing coins legally. There is no such discipline. I think we can all agree that the archaeological heritage is not something to be squandered for the entertainment and PROFIT of a few who get their hands on it. Like tropical hardwood trees, green spaces in our cities (not many left where you live), pandas, whales, rhinos and oil. I believe the protection of the cultural heritage is everybody's concern. We only have one archaeological record, when it is trashed by looters there'll be no more. So let's stop the looters looting, the smugglers smuggling and the no-questions-asked coin importers aiding them by passing off their packages as something else, as ACCG member and supporter Semans advocates. After all, the ACCG itself warns AGAINST such practices here and here as does Dave Welsh here.

I have as much right to disapprove of a form of commerce in archaeological artefacts which is leading to damage to sites and monuments as I do to express my disapproval of the form of commerce, exploitation and consumption that endangers whales, rhinos and our urban green spaces. In other words, every right since I live here on this planet and I belong to a generation which because of the increased pressure that is placed on resources is one of the last who will be able to do something about these things, and I think we all of us, even you, have a duty to look after its resources as best we can. And that we all have a duty to discuss how that can be achieved. Don't you?

Now shopkeeper, although I do not think it appropriate to pry, since you have done me that discourtesy, and since you not infrequently use the term "professional numismatist" to describe yourself, I think we have the right to enquire a bit further into the question of who you are, to presume to instruct others as to what ethical or conservation concerns they may express. I'm going to ask the same four questions of you, "not that I really believe there is any possibility you would respond with an honest factual reply".

First: Do you, David Welsh, hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in numismatic science from any accredited university in the US or abroad?

Second: What have you, David Welsh, accomplished in the field of numismatic science (publications in accredited peer-reviewed numismatic journals, book chapters, conference papers not cribbed from Wikipedia) qualifying you to claim the academic authority to pronounce upon matters regarding numismatic science?

Third: Apart from your brief career as a part time numismatic dealer, what qualifications do you claim, David Welsh, to enable you to represent yourself as being an expert in numismatic science?

Fourth: If you do not (as I believe) have significant demonstrable academic qualifications in the field of numismatic science, why do you, David Welsh, venture to assert that you have any right to criticize and instruct others as to what conservation concerns they may or may not raise about the no-questions-asked commerce in dugup ancient artefacts of any type?

I think there is a great difference between a professional numismatist working for a museum, such as the British Museum, or the Fitzwilliam, or Yale University and a string of peer reviewed and academic publications to their name, and somebody who merely sells dugup coins. That's like calling somebody who sells dead horses to the glue-maker an "equestrian".

[If you like, you can replace the words "numismatic science" in the questions above with the word "archaeology" or "the theory and practice of the conservation of the historic record". I suspect it would make no difference whichever you choose.]

But let's hear the answers please.

Or stop your nonsense.

I've got an idea, what about a blog called "Ancient Coins" discussing ancient coins and not "Paul Barford"? Give us a chance to see what you know about ancient coins by blogging about ancient coins on an ancient coins blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Discrediting Tactics Instead of Open Discussion

Now there are people who ignore the issues I raise in my Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues blog, there are those who enter into the spirit of the debate and try to refute my arguments and opinions. Then there are the metal detectorists. How do they react? A glance through the comments section reveals none of them uses their real name, they send abusive posts full of aggressive phrasing and threats or just generally set out to be abusive and disruptive. I think I am right in saying that there is no more than a handful of comments written by UK metal detectorists ("passionately care about the past") that does not fall into that category.

Outside we see the same thing. The infamous photoshopped faux gay-porn photo send by metal detectorist "Belzoni" to the public access Portable Antiquities Scheme Forum which was one of the last of a series of disruptive events in response to broader discussion of the Scheme and its activities which led to it being closed down. Then we had the "Barfordisation" blog by "Steve Welton", author of a libellous "Wikipedia" page about me - mercifully gone. Now we have "Candice Jarman". Then within the last weeks the promise we'd soon see "hundreds" of metal detectorists opening blogs intending to "swamp" my blog and get it closed down "one way or another". So far the only new arrival on the cultural property blogosphere is by the sender of those words.

Now to give the bloke his due, this is the first one to actually use his real name, the rest have been hiding behind pseudonyms ("Candice" has even changed his gender to further throw people off the track). Steve Taylor is a real metal detectorist, well-known and not only in Gloucestershire, it seems. So anyway after finding that threats don't really work, he has set out on a one-man mission to save the reputation of English metal detectorists by swamping out what one bloke in Poland is saying about them in the wider context of collecting issues. So what arguments is he offering? Well, obviously, he wants people to think he is me, got himself a blogger URL similar to mine to maybe capture some of the traffic which might otherwise go to my main blog:
Spot the difference. Here's the profile of the "author" of this blog:

Now apart from the scatological "humour" that betrays this person's general educational level ("educated to 11+ standard but has fallen back ever since") he also accuses me of involvement in an illegal activity - "Interests: nighthawking". Passing on to the "content", the first post and the picture accompanying it sets the tone of the whole endeavour:

"Belzoni" all over again, and why not, they are old metaldetecting partners together. Please note the author managed to get all the way through a British school without lernink the diffrense between "there" and "their". Nor the difference between good and bad taste, or why normal people don't go around accusing somebody of an act which is illegal in the country where they live. "Strike two", Mr Taylor. "Antiquities" is spelt with an "i". A post made last night manages to insult my father, my wife and again accuse me (and her) of an act illegal in the country where it is alleged to have taken place (here stated as a 'fact' and not an allegation). "Strike Three" Mr Taylor. You are out.

So far, just four posts:

I commend a reflection on the contents of this new blog to any supporters of the Portable Antiquities Society, and any supporters of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as an excellent example typical of the mentality and lack of intellectual and emotional maturity of many a metal detectorist in the UK. These are the people current policy rewards for digging up the fragile remains of the archaeological record for entertainment and profit. These people are not, as ex-Culture-Minister Lammy once implied "alienated" and disinherited from society, here we see the process of alienation and the expression of self-centred entitlement operating in the other direction. Take a good look at this crudity, and then turn back to my blog and consider whether there is anything inherently unreasonable in what I say there about the need to reassess current policies on artefact hunting in the UK. And if there is, whether the metal detectorists' way of dealing with the problem as seen in Mr Taylor's blog is the most publicly acceptable one.

This rather looks like the way an English inner city hoodie would talk about somebody who gets in the way of doing what he wants to do, rather than an expression of views by a member of the community of people "caring about the heritage".

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Morning Paul"

This morning metal detectorist trouble maker, stalker and spammer Steve Taylor wishes me to believe he is now waiting for me outside my house:
Lovely house you've got, must be wanting to pick up a morning paper soon!
Well, there are certainly less binbags and skips and white vans on the driveway here than outside the houses on the back-to-back council estate with the pokey overgrown back gardens that the above email was actually sent from. There are no hoodies walking past my front door.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More [Spam] About New Portable Antiquities Collecting Issues Blogs

Metal detectorist, stalker and vindictive email spammer Steve Taylor initially decided he would threaten me with this kind of stuff (23rd July 2011):
I don’t get banned off every detecting forum for being a nice guy, I’m more hated than you and that takes a lot of doing. I think I might write a blog about you Paul, and zero in on you house, with x marks the spot. You won’t get far with me because most of my houses are rented out. Maybe I should move out to Poland, we could be neighbours, I could even look after your kids, that would be nice.
Then more recently his aims got a lot more ambitious:
Hi Paul, the Paul Barfords blogs are coming on fine, should be on line soon. Trying to get several 100 detectorists to start one, so your site is swamped and falls onto the back burner where it belongs. [...] One way or another Paul, I will close your site down. Have a nice day.
Steve Taylor
One hundred literate detectorists writing about portable antiquity collecting issues, eh? That should be an interesting spectacle. Why don't they just open all their forums (like Mr Taylor's Portable Antiquities Society one) to public view so people can see that nothing untoward is being discussed by all those thousands of "responsible detectorists" out there?

So keep your eyes open for the "Orl Archie's R Tosser's" blog by Baz, "Finder's Keeper's Its Are Heritidge" blog by Shazzer the Shovel, and the NCMD blog "Archie Toffs, Get Orf Are Case" by Trev. Then of course from Surrey there will be the "Detecting Solicitors in Defence of Personal Artefact Accumulation" by a former High Court judge who has taken up metal detecting with the lads in his retirement; there are probably lots of those in metal detecting clubs up and down the country.

(If Mr Taylor's house near Cheltenham is rented out, that would explain the state of the former estate manager's garden).

Vignette: Who need's a spellcheck?