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There’s to be a conference on “heritage ethics”. Good. But one discussion topic is “the rights of “disfranchised groups” to access heritage”. Disfranchised is a much used term and it’s no secret it’s a coy way of referring to artefact hunters. But are they truly “disfranchised”, i.e. locked out of conventional archaeology? Personally I don’t see it. In Britain literacy is high, books and websites are numerous, training, museums, community projects and local societies are open to all. So where’s the barrier? Isn’t it that detectorists make a free choice to interact with archaeology in their particular way?
Moshenska and Dhanjal (Community Archaeology: Themes, Methods and Practices) describe two perceptions of archaeology. “Closed” which “should only be carried out by trained professionals” (or at least, in ways they approve) and “Open”, based on the idea that the public have an absolute right to experience it on their own terms with or without professional guidance. The latter version, the idea that the archaeological record is “a common treasury for the population to enjoy, exploit and interact with” is self-evidently what every artefact hunter acts upon – by deliberate choice, not disfranchisement.
So who started the disfranchisement rumour? Probably Culture Minister Lammy (in PAS’s 2005/6 Annual Report) saying PAS had “helped to break down social barriers and to reach out to people who have often felt excluded from formal education and the historic environment” and “almost 47 per cent of people recording finds with the Scheme are from groups C2, D & E.” The intended implication (else why mention it?) is that detecting is for those too uneducated to do Archaeology properly. Patronising, yes. But worse, very damaging because PAS (despite knowing full well detecting is inferior to Archaeology in terms of knowledge-loss) has adopted a core message of “please detect more responsibly” when it should have been saying “please join your local archaeology group and do Archaeology more responsibly”. It would be great if THAT was discussed at the University of Kent.
Dear Fellow Landowners,
You’d expect a TV series showing detectorists incompetently “digging up dead bodies” (as one termed it) would be universally condemned. Yet many detectorists still haven’t done so and the overall hobby “verdict” seems to be settling down to a comforting “they were stitched up by National Geographic”. But the question is: “would bus drivers or bank clerks have been?” It seems unlikely. Anyway, one of them is also excused on the grounds he’s well respected and has “many Youtube videos showing how to detect properly”. However, that’s not what his website reveals.
It recommends a letter to send to farmers which contains not a word about reporting finds or the code of conduct together with a contract to get him to sign which also says nothing about those subjects, Tellingly, he also advises people to talk to the farmer “about history not treasure” and not to show him the contract straight away “in case it scares him”. Friends, they are YOUR artefacts. The ONLY “contract” you need is to assert that fact and that access must be on YOUR terms. The authorities have no right to have damaged your interest by advising you to sign anything else.
Friends, professionals clearly enjoyed a few days of fury over a telly programme but why aren’t they shouting permanently about the misbehaviour in your fields by huge numbers of people who fail to report finds and get you to sign contracts that benefit them, not you or history. You’re on your own about controlling that, the expendable victims of a failure to tell it how it is. Terrible, innit? If you doubt it, write and ask the Culture Secretary or PAS why they recommend you to sign a finds agreement and how it won’t damage your interest and that of the country. They won’t have an answer and won’t admit who insisted on it being said as the price of their reluctant signature on the official Code but I think I know. In fact even my pig Tanya knows that. “Cui Bono?” she seems to ask with her come-to-bed eyes every time she finds a truffle.
Grunters Hollow Farm,
Update, 20 April 2014 The cheery “digging up dead bodies” boast has now been hidden. (Or laundered, like much else, both in forums and fields.) The hobby can now carry on telling the public the participants were fine fellows, tricked into taking part by wicked National Geographic!
At long last an academic has said about detecting: “a disjuncture exists between law (which defines activities that are illegal) and morality (which identifies behaviour that is wrong).” Morality, see? We’ve been obsessing about it for years while academics and archaeologists haven’t. Now it’s in the academic mainstream and hopefully archaeologists will start saying it too, the simple proposition that wantonly not reporting finds is immoral.
In addition, plain speaking has just broken out among detectorists. A very senior member of the Detecting Wales Forum has just said, rather elegantly: “The often recited old mantra of “we save history” is laughable at best we don’t save history we dig up pieces of metal from history which are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle picture of history, for every detectorist who records ALL their finds over 300 years I’ll show you at least 10 that don’t so in fact we steal history by taking away parts of the full picture.” At almost the same moment another self-evidently thoughtful detectorist has said on his blog that although detectorist find many hoards … “it does not in my opinion justify the wholesale failure to record 1000′s of other items as maybe society has lost more with these unrecorded items?”
We ought to sue all three for plagiarism. Like us they risk personal abuse but what’s been said can’t be unsaid. It IS immoral to deliberately avoid reporting all your recordable finds and the vast majority of detectorists DON’T report all theirs. Sad that the Portable Antiquities Scheme still avoids saying either. Once, back in 2001, it was happy to say “The Scheme believes that people have a moral obligation to their heritage”, but that was quickly dropped to conform with the wishes of those who want reporting to be a purely voluntary matter, not a moral obligation. It’s been a bad choice, damaging to heritage, unfair to the public and in the end embarrassing to the Scheme.
It has also been insulting to many reasonable detectorists for it is surely not true they’d record less if it was now said to be morally obligatory? Only people who are already determined not to record would react like that. If that is the case – and it seems very likely that it is – it would have to be said that the policy has been based on a massive misjudgement and needs to be amended. Which is why we see the three quotes as encouraging. A few more and we could be speaking of early cracks in the prevailing paradigm. The sooner the better. Perhaps academics hold the key. Institutions like Glasgow University’s “Trafficking Culture” focus on illegal activity. Maybe in the case of Britain they should study the impact of immoral activity, the knowledge loss from which is demonstrably vastly greater?
Update 7 April 2014
There have been some interesting reactions to the above article elsewhere, none of them clear, so perhaps it would be reasonable to invite archaeologists (particularly those who the public are likely to hear) to respond to the core question to which the public is surely owed an answer:
Is wanton failure to report recordable metal detecting finds immoral? Or not?
Update (2) 7 April 2014
By happy happenstance this year’s Conference of the Institute for Archaeologists (“Setting standards for the study and care of the historic environment”) starts on Wednesday in Glasgow, the very place where the “metal detecting is a matter of morality” issue was flagged up. As a result we’re perfectly entitled to fantasise, nay ask, that the event kicks off with an emergency resolution…..
If the timescale proves too tight perhaps other events could address the issue? Next month Egham Museum is holding what looks like a fascinating one day “Collections and Identity Conference” which would surely be ideal, especially as one of the themes is “What do objects tell us about their collectors”.
Failing those two, surely some archaeologists, curators or academics will address the subject very soon? Won’t they?
by Nigel Swift
We’ve had some clues lately. We now know Responsible Detecting is NOT digging up German soldiers using unqualified people and disrespectful behaviour to make a crass TV show called “Nazi War Diggers”. Nor is it digging up treasure from what was perceived to be a grave in Kent instead of leaving it to professionals. (Although, bizarrely, PAS is yet to condemn the latter and many detectorists have said both incidents were “fine”!). Personally I think I know exactly what the term means. It means working for the public’s benefit, not your own. I’m confident every archaeologist thinks that too but in Britain there’s a political and tactical need to avoid offending artefact hunters so most of them don’t express it, not in in public anyway. Eight words unsaid, that’s what makes Britain’s portable antiquities policy bonkers for it lets anyone claim “responsible detecting” is whatever it suits them to say it is.
Three detectorists have just illustrated the fact. The worst says a responsible detectorist simply “adheres to the letter of prevailing laws“. (Yeah right, the laws that leave you free to not report 99.9% of finds and indeed to put them into a crusher!). Another says you should report your finds but that the NCMD code is fine (even though it doesn’t require you to report 99.9% of finds!) The third says you should avoid damage and report your finds – and to signal that belief he has resigned from NCMD. So he’s the only one of the three that comes within a million miles of responsible but he’s hardly typical. It’s the same with detecting clubs. All say they favour responsible detecting yet all but one don’t insist on Members adhering to the official Code or reporting 99.9% of finds. They tell farmers their Members are code-bound and responsible but they don’t tell them that!
Thus the claim “I’m a Responsible Detectorist!” acts as a magic open sesame at farm gates. All the farmer knows is what he is told in the press ad nauseam, that there are just two sorts of detectorists – a tiny minority known as nighthawks and all the rest, who are “responsible”. If only, if only officialdom and more archaeologists would stop saying that and tell landowners the real truth (an article in the farming press perhaps?) that “the rest” comprise every shade of responsible and none and that the term can only mean protecting the public’s interest. How about “The deliberate recovery of buried portable antiquities always involves the unearthing of knowledge and no-one should annexe, conceal or destroy it.”? Which bit of that should landowners not have been officially told all these years? It would make such a difference to conservation if they were. But not upsetting detectorists seems to outrank conservation or telling farmers the truth in many official quarters in Bonkers Britain.
Keep calm and carry on. Nothing to see here. Agenda driven amateurs eh? Tsk!
Dear Portable Antiquities Scheme,
It seems to me that your “Advice to finders” is waay out of date, ooh arr.
“Removing finds from the plough-soil does not usually disturb the archaeological layers below”
But the latest machines can detect targets 15 inches lower than most plough depths and you must be well aware that many people keep digging if they get a signal. Since you wrote your advice technology has rendered the claim that detecting on plough soil is harmless increasingly false. The proper advice should now be “There is no responsible reason for using the new deep-seeking machines on plough soil” – and indeed since many plough soils are extremely shallow it should always have been “Don’t detect on plough soil that’s less deep than your machine can go”.
“…. but on unploughed land the archaeology can lie close to the surface.”
But archaeology can lie close to the surface on some ploughed land too whereas that wording implies otherwise. The advice should surely be amended to say “on unploughed land and some ploughed land the archaeology can lie close to the surface” ?
“If you think you have located a previously undiscovered archaeological find beneath the plough-soil, tell the landowner and your Finds Liaison Officer (FLO)”
As recent events have shown, that advice is hopelessly inadequate and therefore damaging. You need to add “there should be no exceptions” and “here’s a list of ways you can protect important finds in situ if an archaeologist isn’t available …” and “failure to comply may result in a reduced reward”.
Shouldn’t those things have been added long ago – and certainly in the wake of the Crosby Garrett scandal or any of the subsequent ones including the recent Kent one? Why haven’t they? And why does it fall to an octogenarian Salopian farmer to call for it to be done? It’s not me who is being paid to give advice to finders. Anyway, can you please make the changes without any further delay – before another spade-happy hero digs up what he shouldn’t and comes asking the poor taxpayer for even more money and saying the state financed advice bureau hadn’t told him what he should have done? As a taxpayer I’m not sure who annoys me most, him or you, but I think probably you as you know I’m right.
Grunters Hollow Farm,
Update: The new detectors won’t go that deep claims a newby detectorist who appears to know so little he doesn’t realise how little he knows. (It’s a problem, blogging. Anyone can claim they are knowledgeable and responsible. But it’s all downhill, daily, from then on if they aren’t!)
Anyway, infinitely more experienced detectorists (than someone who has only ever found two recordable finds in their life!) have settled the depth issue http://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/a-second-open-letter-to-the-heritage-forum/ entirely in Farmer Brown’s favour. (“Hello there, Neil Jones here aka slow_n_low, i can now get 24″ on the same small coins as i know the machine inside out and a lot lot deeper on the larger finds”.)
Incidentally, he also chirps that the Farmer Brown device is “childish”. On the contrary, giving farmers information other than what they are told at a farm gate by someone with a massive vested interest in him letting them onto his land is inarguably beneficial. It’s a shame that PAS can’t give farmers the proper advice. They have tried but are bitterly opposed by the NCMD unless THEY are allowed to dictate what farmers are told. One wonders why, but not for long.
Soon after the recent sad demise of the proprietor of the Federation of Independent Detectorists comes a worrying development. FID was already no friend of either conservation or landowners – its “Code” doesn’t require members to report to PAS and its “finds agreement” leaves farmers wide open to abuse by crooks. But things have now got worse – Central Searchers has taken it over.
That organisation repeatedly holds rallies at venues opposed by archaeologists. In addition it maintains a notorious rule: farmers get no share of any find worth below £2,000, as secretly judged by the detectorist! Both issues, their rally venues and rules have now been hidden from public view for the declared purpose of avoiding them being repeated by “troublemakers”! The organisation isn’t small – last year 500 detectorists (i.e. 12.5% of all detectorists) paid it £30,000 to attend its Summer Rally. Unsurprisingly, it demonstrably attracts many of the worst characters in detecting – and indeed in Society. Now it controls the second largest metal detecting body in Britain with many thousands of members.
Will FID’s already awful code and finds agreement be retained (despite its controlling body being regularly in breach of both)? Or will new, worse standards be imposed? Who knows? Either way, it seems that after 16 years of expensive public outreach a major portion of “metal detecting” has fallen prey to what some might see as kakistocracy – government by the most unqualified or unprincipled citizens. It often happens in states which lack a comprehensive network of governing laws and no-one could deny that metal detecting in Britain with it’s reliance upon laissez faire and voluntary behaviour is akin to a lawless state. It’s profound food for thought for The Establishment. If Britain’s portable antiquities policy was working as originally intended or currently claimed, Central Searchers would have withered away long ago for lack of support.
Update 17 March 2014
It seems Central Searchers may have been holding an inappropriate rally in the face of official opposition just before the above article was published. Here’s the Comment that has been posted:
“This is awful..I found this blog after searching for info on what I observed just yesterday..15 march 2014…driving along the A14- almost exactly the same place by the looks of your photos…at least 150 people across a ridge field, all with metal detectors..I wondered if it was an organised search for something so googled it and found this article…I cannot believe that the profit of a few has overridden the good sense of so many, our heritage is truly endangered…”
What will it take for there to be official condemnation? We’ve had threats sent to us by Central Searchers rally attendees and the people who stopped on the A14 layby to photograph the previous rally had to drive away as they were approached by an aggressive group led by this fellow.
When will the authorities break their silence about what is going on along the A14 corridor and elsewhere?
The Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded over 936,000 objects. Hurrah! But here’s a screenshot from our site taken at 4.09 pm yesterday afternoon….
Some people say the Counter can be safely ignored: “Ludicrous” (say Detectorists), “Lacks credibility” (Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme), “based on nothing but presumptions and inaccuracies” (Detector retailer), “should be viewed with contempt” (National Council for Metal Detecting).
Maybe. But all it is saying is that on average each active detectorist finds 0.69 recordable items a week (a lot less than the 0.99 that CBA/EH estimated previously) and that the great majority don’t get reported. If true, it’s a lot of knowledge loss, and a shame. Bad, aren’t we!
As you were. Nothing to see here.
…. almost literally, for it is now a week later [actually, ten days to be precise] and the Counter is showing nearly 7,000 more recordable artefacts dug up. Bear in mind that during that time PAS has only recorded a derisory number.
It’s massive theft – of knowledge, from you and everyone else. Can it possibly be right? Please support compulsory regulation of artefact hunting to secure maximum public benefit. (If you come across ANY artefact hunter who opposes it, ask yourself why.)
by Nigel Swift
To summarise: last week at a club dig Medway History Finders unearthed Anglo Saxon artefacts and crudely dug the whole assemblage out on the pretext they couldn’t contact an archaeologist and if left there it might be stolen overnight. They say they were subsequently told they’d acted correctly: “The BM and our FLO said we done the best thing by taking out what we could”.
Failure to stop digging is actually common (though usually brushed over by PAS). In 2011 the Salisbury Museum director was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but said “you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”. But PAS saying it’s sometimes OK is brand new. If true it’s a damaging triple mistake: it asserts bad practice is good practice, it slams the door on scope for reducing the reward as a warning to others and it gives all irresponsible detectorists a perfect excuse for digging up hoards or graves in future: “I was alone, my phone battery went flat, so I got out my long spade and “did the right thing” OK?” The bits are in this bag!”
The realty is that there are numerous options for protecting artefacts in situ if archaeologists can’t be contacted. It’s hard to credit these finders didn’t know that but since PAS hasn’t listed them on their website they’re free to claim they were unaware – and thus to claim a full Treasure reward despite trashing the site. As amateurs we’re used to PAS ignoring us but the grim truth is that we’ve had the precise advice they should have been giving detectorists about this situation on the Heritage Journal for several years! If they’d not ignored us (I know they’ve seen it) or if they’d given me, a know-nowt extremist obsessive amateur, a couple of column inches on their website there wouldn’t have been a Medway History Finders scandal would there? I’m thinking haughty collective pipe and smoke it. They have things to learn. Anyway, here’s what we said in 2011:
“There’s NO excuse for digging out a significant hoard, and people that might be looking for one shouldn’t be given one. It’s not rocket science so I’m emboldened to draft below the advice PAS should be giving (if only they weren’t both constantly frit of the way it would play in the cheap seats):
“From the moment you become aware you have found a significant hoard you should treat it as what it is – State Property – and if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen,you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State, and cause no further disturbance whatsoever to it or it’s context or the associated knowledge. That means always stopping digging, whatever the circumstances, and doing everything you can to protect it until archaeologists have attended. You should do this in conjunction with the landowner if they can be found and necessary actions could include camping out nearby, getting a lighting hook-up into the field from the farm, spending the night in a parked car, asking a couple of colleagues to help guard it in exchange for a small share of a future reward or even hiring a security guard (you and the farmer could go halves on the cost out of the reward money).”
There are other options that could be added no doubt and I’m sure PAS (and thoughtful detectorists) can come up with many more to put on the PAS website. Ideally it needs to be published within days so as to quickly counter any wrong and Kentish ideas that may just have taken root. Plus, “detectorists as guardians of Treasure on behalf of the State” is a concept that needs promoting. (They ARE guardians! If they took a spade to that Treasure when on their kitchen table they’d be jailed so how is it different in a field?). Any true history lover would do it right without demur. You can’t be a history lover and an anti-social, over-hasty, self-serving acquisitive yob as well, you have to decide which. Whether you keep digging will determine that.
Someone on a detecting forum who I had better not describe in the way I’m thinking has said about the Kent behaviour: “Absolutely no need for any justification .. There’s not many who would stop digging”. Anyone like that has no business on the fields and PAS should make that crystal clear – especially to landowners. Let’s see if they will.
Update, same day:
I’ve been looking at this stuff every day for more than a decade then up pops an archaeo on the BAJR Facebook page and puts it better than I ever could! Grrr!
“And I have to say that while I know there are many responsible people who care about archaeology AND own metal detectors, one cannot escape the reality that those persons are few overall, and the kamikaze treasure hunter yahoos are not merely a majority, but the standard. Pretending that the few who care means that we cannot castigate the many is to duck the issue entirely. The only way to prevent wholesale destruction-for-profit is to license and police. Maybe this seems harsh – but if the public understood that it is they who are being robbed, they might feel differently about seeing metal detectoring as a handy get-rich-quick scheme.”
Update 3 March 2014
From Rescue’s Facebook:
“Nope, no denying these self justifying dolts acted apallingly stupidly, need to be told they acted apallingly stupidly (removing what looks very much like a grave assemblage) and given no comfort whatsoever by the Treasure Act. The fact archaeologists have working hours and that these particular detectorists don’t trust each other enough to turn their backs is a pisspoor whimper of an excuse. I see no sense of personal responsibility here – just personal entitlement. That said, two separate issues have been very cynically conflated in this article, and it’s a shame, if no actual surprise, that the main purpose of the piece is to use the episode to attack PAS – a scheme HA clearly believes is corrupt and immoral, and insufficiently proscriptive.”
No. Just insufficiently proscriptive. It’s the system. It stinks. FLOs are prisoners of it and we all lose by it. Know it by its net results, unspun. C’est tout.
Update 4 March 2014
I confess I found the above a bit upsetting as we’re well used to detectorists misunderstanding or misrepresenting what we’re about but not archaeos. However, I’ve perked up with the news that the author may be related to a FLO so it looks like we’ve had 18 “likes” on the Rescue FB and just one criticism, from a FLO’s relative. It’s what I would have expected and it’s encouraging (although from now it will change radically no doubt!). BTW it would be a mistake to think we don’t talk in confidence to lots of archaeologists, including FLOs. We may be amateurs but we’re not operating in the dark.
Update 5 March 2014
On a lighter note …
Augustus Pitt Rivers, dubbed the Father of British Archaeology for expressing the importance of thorough site excavation through stratigraphic observation and recording. His most important methodological innovation was his insistence that all artefacts, not just beautiful or unique ones, be collected and catalogued.
Subsequently in Britain those principles have been held to be unnecessary for work involving non-archaeologists. No-one has ever explained why.
Update 8 March 2014
A message to all my fans in metal detecting: there’s an awful lot of “most people would have done the same through excitement” sentiment flying about. Please desist, it encourages future bad behaviour. Even if true it is no excuse. If you’re going to play in Society’s back yard AND take rewards AND expect respect you have to play by Society’s rules, OK? You see, it’s theft, plain and simple. Knowledge theft. “Excitement” is not an excuse for shoplifting and the magistrate would take a dim view of anyone that claimed it was. Just behave, OK? No excuses, no cover-ups, no telling each other (as some have) not to video the discovery of future hoards. Just behave, OK? And certainly don’t steal. If you feel you can’t trust yourself in Tesco’s don’t go in there, even if you know the security cameras are switched off.
Finally, we live in a VERY peculiar country where not only are there very few laws prohibiting the cultural theft of the knowledge attached to portable antiquities but also where the authorities are pretty frit to condemn it out loud. It’s still wrong though and while you may think you don’t do it yourself, making any excuse for your colleagues that do it or indeed having any truck with them is aiding and abetting them. Nearly 12 miles of artefacts laid edgeways, mostly not reported! Get a grip. Thanks.
Update 14 March 2014
It seems to me it is detectorists themselves who are often the most eloquent advocates for legal regulation of their activities. Yesterday one of them wrote: “I do the best I can do, maybe I don’t abide by the rules that Nigel Swift thinks should be made but who in their right mind would? The man is relentless in being a killjoy.”
So it seems beyond dispute that doing things in a way that maximises public benefit not their own is simply not an option for him and most of his colleagues – even though tens of thousands of amateur archaeologists constantly do exactly that without complaint, reward or expensive outreach. What clearer case for legal regulation of artefact hunting could there be?
The admirable student-run archaeology journal The Post Hole has a poll this month. It asks a good question, how can relations between archaeologists and detectorists be improved, but it offers some strange options:
1. Better education about detecting for those who want to get involved?
Well! We’ve been paying PAS millions to do that for 16years! Should we ask for our money back?! Maybe, as most detectorists still don’t report all finds. Interesting that 23% of respondents answered YES to that option.
2. Make it easier for the public to report finds?
Eh?! How could it possibly be easier? PAS has a national team you can take finds to. They’ll even come to you or your detecting club or rally and give you a free ID to boot. What other hobby is so mollycoddled by the state?
3. Acknowledgement of the good that can come from metal detecting?
But everyone acknowledges that already! It’s the downside that matters. How can yet more praise and talk of heroes make non-reporters start reporting? (A wild thought – did a detectorist advise on the contents of this survey?!)
4. Find common ground, i.e. projects that all parties can work together on?
To clarify: random, selective, unstructured searching for personal benefit is antipathetic to archaeological ethics so the ONLY “common ground” possible is in projects under strict archaeological control as defined by EH in Our Portable Past. That may shock endless bangers-on about common ground (detectorists and PAS) but it’s true!
5. Stronger regulation of metal detecting
Yep, that’s the one certain way – for how could relations NOT be improved if all detectorists were compelled to behave instead of being given a choice about it, as now. (BTW I see only 13% of respondents went for that option – could that be a clue to which group is piling in to answer this survey?!)
If the York Uni students don’t know how archaeologist-detectorist relations can be improved (which I doubt) they could pop over to CBA HQ where they’ll be told this (in no uncertain terms). It adds up to: “Metal detecting is fine providing it’s conducted in the public interest”. To which I’d add: “since after 16 years of persuasion it mostly isn’t, it’s high time regulation was used to ensure it is!” The effect on relations will be that every archaeologist will then adore every metal detectorist (as will I) and it don’t need no poll to see that’s true!
Update 24 Feb 2014
A metal detectorist asks “Is it not time that he came to the conclusion that his work too force his own thought out regulations upon metal detectorists is not working and could actually be having a negative effect on what he aims for?”
The claim that we (and Paul Barford) are the cause of detectorist misbehaviour is more than a decade old and turns out to be decidedly irrational when examined – so doesn’t need discussing. As for forcing my own opinions, the above-quoted summary of the CBA’s opinion – “Metal detecting is fine providing it’s conducted in the public interest” is one that is shared by just about every archaeologist on the planet so he’d better take it up with them.
(Yah boo to PAS for not explaining it to him!)
by Nigel Swift
You’d think by now the artefact erosion counter would be accepted by all as a sensible evidence-based estimate. But no, a detectorist has just said it’s “a load of tosh”. Amusingly, the next day his forum colleague told him: “One wonders at the percentage of all detectorists who get the FLO to record non-treasure related finds. I’m guessing at about 15 pct” (i.e. half of what the Counter says!) That apart, the problem with calling it tosh is you’re also having to say the same about the 3 surveys it’s based on (by EH/CBA, an achaeologist and a detectorist) which are the only sources of evidence on the matter that exist – so I’m disinclined to spend time defending it other than to make two points:
First, a remarkable fact: the only people who have ever said it’s nonsense are those with a vested interest in doing so and there are no exceptions to that so far as I know! Whereas those without a vested interest take another view. Thus the CBA’s Director, Dr Mike Heyworth, says it “provides a reasonable basis from which to consider the scale of the loss of knowledge caused by metal detecting” and Professor David Gill (Volume 20 of the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology) has posed the crucial question that defeats all who claim it is too high: “how far out would this estimate need to be before it became a matter of marginal concern?”
Second, I’d like to stress the sheer scale of the loss of cultural knowledge the Counter is implying. Here’s one of my previous attempts. Viewed edge-on a typical artefact such as an ancient coin is about a sixteenth of an inch wide:
On that basis the Counter says if you lined up edgeways all the artefacts legally dug up and mostly not reported since 1975 they’d stretch for about 12 miles. That’s not tosh but it’s hard not to see it as a national shame – and yes Professor Gill, it would still be so if it was only one mile.