Fifteen months have gone by since I last posted about the forthcoming book The Public Archaeology of Treasure. As this book constitutes a further collaboration with students, heritage professionals and academics to spotlight critical and original themes in the field of public archaeology, I’m very pleased to share an update on where things are at!

The conference poster, designed by one of the students

In previous posts I outline the journey of the 5th University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference held at the Grosvenor Museum on 31st January 2020 and joined by a Twitter conference on 1 February 2020. Remember, this all happened under 2 months before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns were implemented:

The event itself incorporated a fabulous and insightful series of talks but students. It also comprised two keynote presentations – by Dr Adam Daubney and Gail Boyle. The event concluded with a far-reaching discussion led by Peter Reavill. The entire event was recorded on video by the University of Chester’s learning technologists and edited and made available on the University’s Vimeo account. The Twitter talks created an additional and welcome digital dimension. We are grateful to CWAC’s Grosvenor Museum for hosting the day conference as a public event: open to all.

Circumstances for modest delay

For me, the global pandemic and its associated workload hike, the challenges of home-working, a redundancy process, the crisis in UK archaeology and sickness have together hampered (and at times impeded) the production schedule of this book project.

Unfounded defamation instigated and circulated by a series of UK archaeologists and heritage professionals (including those working at the time at the universities of Swansea, Oxford, East Anglia, Bournemouth and Cardiff as well as individuals then employed in local government and professional archaeologists operating from London and Wales as well as a freelance podcaster) disrupted the conference on the day itself. Their actions resulted in my students witnessing the baseless insinuations and accusations circulated on social media even before I did and caused untold damage to my reputation and those of my colleagues and students. This was a particularly further vile, unethical and upsetting turn of events which subsequently directly impeded the book project in multiple fashions, not least because a selection of planned contributors withdrew as a result.

Moreover, the toxic digital climate of relations between some archaeologists and sections of the metal-detecting community over recent years has also impacted on the book project in a series of ways, even if the book itself has not been targeted with criticism in any regard to my knowledge.

For my co-editors it has been a challenging 2 years too, not least because of the pandemic and workload challenges, making it near impossible for us to make the progress we had wished on the timescale we had hoped.

In addition, the two initial student editors joining the project – Tash and James – have found it impossible to continue in their roles alongside their other personal and academic commitments. Their contributions will be duly acknowledged in the final publication, of course.

Even if things had gone fine on the editorial side, authors and interviewees have had their own challenges over the last 2 years and a host of delays in progress have resulted. A few authors sadly could not contribute as a result, including students, amateurs and professionals.

The show must go on!

Still, we firmly believed in the originally and distinctiveness of the book project and we have never stopped working on it over the last 2 years. In fact, despite the aforementioned challenges, the project has made very good progress by any estimation and I’ve worked tirelessly through 2020 and 2021 to keep the project moving forward. It is now in a very healthy position and only c. 6-7 months behind the initial schedule we set up. In fact, from my experience of editing, this is pretty normal. Thanks to all the authors and interviewees for their hard-work, dedication and patience with this project!

We have appointed a new student editor to join Peter and myself: Samuel Clague. Note: I recently talked with Sammy on a Let’s Talk Random Archaeology podcast. Sammy and Peter together have made the project positive and constructive, offering insights and labour to push the book towards publication on multiple registers.

Samuel Clague is currently finishing the MA Archaeology of Death and Memory at the University of Chester

As a result of all the efforts of editors and fantastic efforts of the contributors themselves, the book is now approaching the final stages before publication. We only have to mop up a few image permissions and editorial details regarding a few chapters, rectify a few proofs, edit one interview and produce the Introduction, and off to the publishers the whole thing goes!

What’s in the book?

It promises to a 13-chapter book – an Introduction, 3 interviews and 9 original chapters. As with the previous edited collections stemming from University of Chester Archaeology Student Conferences, these comprise both experts in the heritage and archaeology fields plus students, including those who presented at the 2020 event. Here’s the draft contents of the book (although details of title and authorship might shift in the final few months towards submission to the press):

  • Introduction – Howard Williams, Samuel Clague, Natasha Carr and James Raine
  • Going with the FLO: reflections on the Portable Antiquities Scheme for England and Wales – an interview with Peter Reavill
  • ‘An Unlikely Ally?’ Archaeologists and Metal Detectorists in England and Wales Today – Pauline Magdalene Clarke
  • Stór mo chroí – Reflections on Treasure from an Irish Perspective – Sharon A. Greene
  • From Golden Eggs to Trampled Treasure: the 2019 Cadbury Chocolate Scandal – Aisling E. P. Tierney
  • A National Strategy for Treasure? – an interview with Gail Boyle
  • Green Bling – Kenneth Brophy
  • The Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Program – an interview with Pieta Greaves
  • Audio Bling: Innovation and Accessibility in the Museum Display of Archaeological Treasures – Edward Antrobus
  • Early Medieval Treasures Online: Strategies for Engagement – Caitlin R. Green
  • Rest in Pieces: ‘Treasure’ and the Public Perception of Grave Goods in England and Wales – Adam Daubney
  • The Public Archaeology of Tomb Treasures in the Media – Sophie Brown
  • Destroy the ‘Sutton Hoo Treasure’! – Howard Williams

Together the book explores a host of timely themes and perspectives on the public engagement with, and popular receptions of, archaeological ‘treasures’, as well as critiques of concepts and deployments of ‘treasures’ by professionals, academics and in contemporary society.

A draft book-cover design

I’m also delighted to share the draft of the front cover to whet your appetite for this 2022 open-access book to appear in the Access Archaeology series with Archaeopress. This cover may well change in terms of detail and images, but it sets the tone for the contents: illustrating key debates regarding looting and the trade in antiquities, liaison with metal-detectorists past and present, public engagement with conservation processes, museum displays of ‘treasure’, and digital public archaeologies of treasure. Running through these, inevitable both given the theme and my mortuary archaeological interests, is a rich seam of early medieval archaeodeath, relating to the contexts from when these items derive and how they are treated and perceived in archaeological work, heritage contexts and more broadly in our contemporary society.

Watch this space for the book’s release during mid- to late-2022!