Monday, September 28, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard: Dr. Roger Bland Offers Corrections

Dr. Roger Bland

Yesterday, I criticized use of the expression "Dark Ages" on the Staffordshire Hoard website, which displays in bold letters the following words on its homepage:
"It will redefine the Dark Ages."
Based on the Yahoo article by Raphael G. Satter, "Largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in UK," I cited the original quote as the following, more modest statement:
"It will make us rethink the Dark Ages."
Here is the fuller passage from Satter's article:
"This is just a fantastic find completely out of the blue," Roger Bland, who managed the cache's excavation, told The Associated Press. "It will make us rethink the Dark Ages."
Based on this report, I inferred that Dr. Bland had directed the excavation and had used the term "Dark Ages." Neither of those points appears to be correct, as Dr. Bland himself explains to me in a comment that he posted to yesterday's blog entry:
I did not utter the comment that the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver would redefine the Dark Ages: that is taken from the press release issued by Staffordshire County Council, which is reproduced on [the Staffordshire Hoard site]. I would not make such a general statement and cannot claim to be an expert on the Dark Ages -- my role is to have oversight of the adminsitration of the find under the Treasure Act.
To be precise about this, I didn't attribute to Dr. Bland the quote on the Staffordshire website, that the discovery "will redefine the Dark Ages." I characterized that as a misquote of what I'd read in the Yahoo article, which purportedly quoted Dr. Bland as stating that the discovery "will make us rethink the Dark Ages." Dr. Bland hasn't specifically denied uttering that statement, but since he emphasizes that he "would not make such a general statement" as the one on the Staffordshire homepage, then I presume that the Yahoo article also misquotes him.

As for my statement that Dr. Bland "directed" the excavation, he explains:
I did not direct the excavation of the hoard: that was carried out by Birmingham archaeology under the direction of Staffordshire County Council, with funding from English Heritage.
I stand corrected. I misunderstood the Yahoo report's statement that Dr. Bland had "managed the cache's excavation." Apparently, the already excavated cache was sent to the British Museum and was there "managed" by Dr. Bland . . . unless this inference is also incorrect.

At any rate, Dr. Bland offers the following summary of the Staffordshire Hoard's significance from Mrs. Leslie Webster, formerly Keeper at the British Museum and leading expert on artefacts of the period in question:
This hoard is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh and early eighth century as radically, if not more so, as the 1939 Sutton Hoo discoveries did; it will make historians and literary scholars review what their sources tell us, and archaeologists and art-historians rethink the chronology of metalwork and mss; and it will make us all think again about rising (and failing) kingdoms and the expression of regional identities in this period, the complicated transition from paganism to Christianity, the conduct of battle and the nature of fine metalwork production -- to name only a few of the many huge issues it raises. Absolutely the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.
This is nicely expressed, though it doesn't easily reduce to a sound bite of the sort posted on the Staffordshire Hoard's homepage.

I've learned two lessons from this experience. First, don't trust quotes in the media -- not even if the Associated Press backs it up. Second, my blog occasionally gets read by some of the people mentioned in my posts, which means . . . not very much, probably, except that I need to keep that in mind when composing a blog entry.

Anyway, thanks to Dr. Roger Bland for corrections and clarifications.



At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

I, for one, have been following all of this with great interest.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, it is very interesting . . . and somewhat confusing. I might post more on the Old Testament citation, for another blogger has some interesting thoughts on that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Daniel Pett said...

With regards to the quote on the homepage of the site that I constructed for the hoard, this came from the marketing exercise that accompanied the hoard. I queried it (I studied this period at Cambridge) and got told to keep it. I don't think it actually has that much bearing on the content of the website itself.

At 2:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Daniel Pett, for your visit and information. I think that you were right to query the quote. I understand why the higher-ups wanted to keep it -- it makes for a great sound bite (or would, if it weren't so unsound) and is therefore great for publicity -- but I would rather that you had prevailed.

I still wonder where the Associated Press got the quote attributed to Dr. Bland.

Jeffery Hodges

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