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As if failing to regulate artefact hunting isn’t embarrassing enough there’s now further humiliation for Britain: the French are complaining that increasing numbers of English people are travelling to France to metal detect. Jean-David Desforges (Head of “Stop the Pillage”) says they come “in search of  a nice little earner” despite it being a crime in France. The French Culture Ministry has a very clear opinion on the activity: “These uncontrolled digs are a real problem because it is a catastrophe for science.”

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Ed the hero

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Makes yer proud to be British don’t it?! Last month the nation was informed by Country Life magazine (briefed by the Portable Antiquities Scheme?) that critics of the British system are “scholars of the old school” (in other words, out of touch and wrong) and that Dr Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS, “actually welcomes” the activities of metal detectorists. Stupid French. And Irish.  And indeed every other country on the globe. They just don’t understand the lack of need to regulate artefact hunting like the British do (“a catastrophe for science” indeed! Damn fool French Culture Ministry!) so us sending our artefact hunters over to impose our Truths – a bit like we used to send missionaries – is exactly what they all need.

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V SIGN

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Dear Colleagues,

Tolstoy ploughing

A while back a farmer said about a detectorist: In 3 years he has amassed a fine collection of habob and baler tines, mower blade, rotaspreader flails, hedgetrimmer flails chinese lanterns and drinks cans, but nothing of even minimal value“. This week a detectorist showed his finds from a field to another farmer who responded: “Do you know, I’ve had about 16 detectorists on that field over the past twenty years, and not ONE has showed me a thing. I thought they weren’t finding anything.

None of them has ever found anything? Sure! But the big question is how many others are there who have been systematically ripping off farmers and the public? Two things suggest there are lots: first, the Erosion Counter is massively higher than the number of artefacts reported to PAS and second the NCMD “Model” finds agreement asks farmers to agree to let detectorists not show a lot of finds if they alone judge them to be not very valuable. Hardly a sign of straight dealing is it? In fact you’d have to question the motives of anyone who wrote or offered you such a blatantly unfair contract.

So please be careful. Insist on nothing being taken home without you seeing it and let no-one onto your fields without solid documentary proof they’ve been reporting lots of finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme for a number of years (which is a basic indication at least of whether they are acquisitive and dishonest yobs or not). If you ask any archaeologist or PAS or DEFRA they’ll say that’s a very, very good idea. I’d heed their opinion if I were you.

Best wishes,

Silas Brown
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,
Worfield,
Salop

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Yesterday the Artefact Erosion Counter passed 12 million. “Nonsense!” many will say. No matter, it’s a lot. More to the point, Professor Gill’s famous question, “by how much would it need to be wrong to make the losses acceptable?” remains unanswered. Indeed, it is not the Counter but the ongoing failure to answer his question that hangs over the whole debate. On what basis of thinking can a country “compromise” with a damaging activity yet fail to specify how much damage it will settle for?

In any case, Dr Bland of PAS dismisses both the Counter – it “lacks credibility” and us (witheringly!) -“How impressive to be so certain on so little evidence”!  He’s right to say it is simply an estimate but it’s worth bearing in mind why we’re pretty sure it’s not wildly wrong. It’s because it has highly respectable constituent parts. It simply takes just 70% of the finds rate per detectorist revealed by the official CBA/EH survey and then multiplies it by Dr Bland’s own estimate of the number of detectorists. That’s all it does! So let no-one be in doubt: you can dismiss it as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” but you should be aware it’s effectively a tale told by CBA, EH and Dr Bland.

Update 19 August 2014: Spin it how you like, a PAS database approaching one million reported objects looks pretty limited compared with 12 million objects (i.e. 11 million unreported objects) on the Counter. And even the one million has been liberally boosted by data that has nothing to do with those to whom it is constantly attributed, the metal detectorists. Here’s the latest instance of that: 30,000 items from a card index founded in 1913 but including much earlier objects. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/18/volunteers-british-museum-crowdsourcing-archeology As the dodgy PR announcement says:

“The information will be added to the huge Portable Antiquities database – recording archaeological finds made by members of the public, mainly with metal detectors – which will soon record the millionth object since it was launched as a pilot scheme in 1997.”

Hmmm.  Doesn’t that sound just a tad like a taxpayer funded organisation fiddling with reality for the benefit of itself and detectorists? Meanwhile, the eleven million are still missing, possibly under the beds of people who don’t give a damn about all that “please report what you find” malarkey.

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by Nigel Swift

One of Satan’s pals – Belial I think it was – recommended that they should just sit tight in Hell as in due course they might all become inured to the fiery pain. I think that’s what has happened in Britain over artefact hunting. Because it is so ubiquitous the authorities no longer worry about the damage it causes. Nevertheless sometimes Reality comes knocking and can’t be ignored, as has just happened. An important group of Archaeological associations (the Australian, Canadian, European, Pan African and Indo-Pacific ones plus ICOMOS and the World Archaeological Congress) have produced a statement on “The Excavation of Archaeological Material in the Popular Media” expressing concern over TV programmes that celebrate destruction of the archaeological record and have said what every British archaeologist knows:

“Excavating an archaeological site is an unavoidably destructive process. Archaeologists mitigate this destruction through the use of careful excavation techniques, documentation, preservation, and reporting procedures that have been developed over the past century, and are updated as new technologies become available [...] To excavate a site without following such protocols is unmitigated destruction of the archaeological record…

That’s all I have to say really. Just banging on, lest anyone forget. All those archaeologists abroad say excavating without following archaeological protocols is unmitigated destruction and shouldn’t be on the telly. Yet here in Britain you can legally target, damage and denude any non-scheduled site (which is 95% of them) and if you simply say you report what you find the authorities will (a.) pat you on the head, (b.) the Culture Minister will come metal detecting with you and (c.) a specialist quango will make peak time TV programmes about Britain’s Secret Treasures, jubilating to the public about what you find.

Awful innit? Still, you don’t think about the loss if you keep looking at the shiney-shiney. Oooh, and soon there’s to be a metal detecting sit-com. Yes, a comedy. Metal detecting is something to smile about in Belial’s Britain. But as Milton said of Belial, he “counseled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth,  not peace”.

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Here is one of the holes that appeared one night last year 40 yards from the Staffordshire Hoard findspot.

Here is one of the “detector accessories” on sale less than 10 miles away in Regton’s, Britain’s biggest metal detecting shop.

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Out of 8,000 detectorists only ONE has responded to the Journal’s invitation to tell us they have complained to Regtons about them selling products which are useful to nighthawks. On the other hand, one has taken the trouble to write: “Regtons is a buisness, it needs to make a profit to survive, if they can make extra income selling such accesories good luck to them I say.”

What can landowners deduce? Well, two things for sure:
1. Some detectorists are not very bright.
2. Despite their loud talk about hating nighthawking, a lot of them aren’t overly bothered about it (or, presumably, about history or conservation).

If you’d like to know who is really at your door as opposed to who someone at your door says they are you could use this terribly simple “Detectorists’ IQ and Morality” test (DIM):

Please provide me with a complete list of everything you’ve had recorded by PAS.

If there’s ANY hesitation, or if the list looks a bit thin you might wish to draw some conclusions. By the way, the Government and every archaeologist and archaeological organisation bar none will approve the use of a DIM test (ask them) so no worries there.

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by Alan S

The Twittersphere was busy yesterday, trying to identify the ‘gentleman’ in a YouTube video, allegedly caught red-handed metal detecting on land without permission in the Purbrook Heath area nr Waterloovile, Hants (PO7 postcode area). PC Andy Long, Heritage Crime Officer for Essex Police (Twitter @PCAndyLong) is keen to speak with this individual if anyone knows who he is.

Apparently a complaint has been raised to YouTube, and the video may have been withdrawn by the time you read this, although stills from it are available on a number of websites. Interestingly, whether he was “dayhawking” or not there has been outrage from all camps over his yobbish behaviour and ignorance, an uncommon ‘coming together’ so let’s see if he can be identified and hopefully given some muscular outreach.

On the other hand it’s worth keeping in mind that thousands of detectorists get farmers to sign agreements under which they alone decide if tens of thousands of finds are to be shown or shared. If you think people who do that have the least right to lecture that bloke on treating farmers fairly we’d have to disagree rather strongly.

Update & clarification, 11 August 2014:
There really are none so blind as those who will not see. A detectorist has responded to the above article by writing:
“Some of the publicity the clip received from a certain few archaeo-bloggers is disappointing to read. It just seems that at any opportunity they will use something like this to make out that all detectorists behave like mindless, thuggish, oafs such as the chap on the video”.

He has it wrong, but not in the way he thinks. Our assertion is not that thousands of detectorists act like “The Muppet” but that a lot of detectorists act worse than him by treating farmers’ rights with the same contempt as him and in addition by collectively causing vastly more cultural damage than nighthawks through non-reporting. Deliberately contracting to give yourself the formal right to decide what you show and share with the owner and what you don’t cannot possibly be interpreted as otherwise. If it could be it would be but it can’t. Being “disappointed” about us saying it is neither here nor there. That must be clear enough to anyone that hasn’t a personal motivation for denying it is true.

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by Nigel Swift

You’d think a country that hasn’t regulated metal detecting would at least be vociferous about what is and isn’t acceptable. But no, it seems not……

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Night vision.

What do YOU think?! Is it OK to sell night vision items in Britain’s largest metal detector shop? Are they (as the makers say) just a ” must have’ for Treasure Hunters who need to scout out sights at night“? or (as one detectorist says) “for  guarding my metal detecting sites from night hawkers“?  Or is their main use likely to be for nighthawking itself? I think we all know the answer!

But how can it be happening? Well, it’s because this is Bonkers Britain and hardly anyone has complained about it. How do I know that? Because if they had, Regtons would surely have desisted.

So here’s a wide open opportunity for ordinary members of the public to get involved in community archaeology and make a contribution towards site protection. Please contact sales@regton.com and tell them what you think. Let’s see how long it is before those pages are deleted. We’ve previously demonstrated to The Establishment that muscular outreach can be more effective than limp-wristed appeasement. A second demo straight from the community would be good.

[Update: NB, the correct email address is sales@regton.com]

Update 1 August 2014 : The night vision equipment so beloved by nighthawks is still being advertised by Regtons

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Last month we suggested Glasgow University’s Encyclopaedia entry on nighthawking is incomplete as they quote only four categories: Not declaring potential Treasure finds, Searching without permission, Detecting on scheduled monuments and Not disclosing finds to a landowner (except if prior-agreed). In our opinion they’ve missed a fifth, very significant one: Not disclosing the true value of finds to a landowner (constituting theft).

It really matters. Consider this: The Establishment encourages each landowner to sign a “finds agreement” giving away much of  his property in advance “to avoid future disputes over ownership” even though he already owns it all so there can never be a dispute. Worse, they have left it to detectorists to compose the agreements and unsurprisingly they’re mostly excruciatingly unfair, decreeing they alone can rule whether to show and share each find depending on whether they alone judge it worth over £300 (or £2,000 under the awful rule used by Central Searchers.)

Incredibly, that’s the basis on which most artefacts, tens of millions of pounds worth a year, end up 100% owned by detectorists with the landowner never having seen them. It beggars belief why anyone would think it was fair to ask a landowner to agree to such a system. The detectorist may be honest but some are not and the agreements are a perfect way to steal, simply through grossly undervaluing  finds (just in their own minds, not even out loud!) as a means to avoid showing or sharing them. Who could doubt that false valuation is likely to comprise the dominant (and most convenient and lucrative) element of nighthawking and the one that causes most cultural damage (for having stolen the items the culprit is hardly likely to report them to PAS!). Well, Glasgow University, it seems!

Moral philosophy at a Central Searcher's Rally....

Moral philosophy at a Central Searcher’s Rally….

Their Encyclopaedia stance certainly looks pretty irrational: not disclosing finds is nighthawking, not disclosing value isn’t! Explain that to the poor old landowner! It also has damaging consequences for the rest of us as it renders comfortable The Establishment’s silence-cum-complicity in the whole unregulated finds agreement system and causes the knock-on consequence of finds not being reported to PAS. Maybe the University will reconsider. The omission isn’t merely academic it has real-world negative consequences in real-world Bonkers Britain. Everyone knows that scrofulous behaviour often gets ignored for political reasons but surely academia is above all that?

Update 18 August 2014
French thieves should have followed the Glasgow University line!
Three French builders who stumbled across 16 gold bars and gold coins worth £700,200 while working on a house in Normandy are to stand trial for keeping the trove without telling the owners ….

Numbskulls! If only they’d got the owners to sign a finds agreement like thousands of British metal detectorists do, sayingIf we find something and we alone judge it is worth less than £300 we can keep it and tell no-one about it! In Britain the authorities don’t say a word about such contracts so they must presumably be OK.

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On Friday a detectorist wrote:
“recently i went to a 2-day all expenses paid conference at York university dedicated mostly to pre and early medieval coinage. The archies were praising the efforts of detectorists big time, as the finds recorded on the PAS database are giving a insight into our history that simply would NOT be possible with conventional archaeology. Me and my fellow detectorists came away very proud of our hobby and the recognition it was receiving by the academics. There was also talk of adding MD training to archaeology degrees!!!”

For the avoidance of doubt amongst artefact hunters:
1. The archaeologist is yet to be born who thinks the way most detecting happens – collecting for personal benefit and not reporting – is praiseworthy. So please don’t confuse utilising the data that a minority produces with being supportive of the behaviour of the majority.
2. Any talk of  “adding MD training to archaeology degrees” would have been about the use of detectors in structured archaeological surveys, NOT about training undergraduates to exploit the common inheritance in a “random”, “selective” or “secretive” fashion for personal fun or profit.

It’s likely the academics made that clear at the time – or thought they did. However, the lesson to be learned is that it’s important to explain things VERY clearly to artefact hunters. If they come away from an academic conference (an academic conference, for goodness sake!) feeling “very proud of our hobbythere must have been a pretty dire communication failure.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

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Update: Actually, Paul Barford has just pointed out the list of speakers at the Conference (including a number from PAS and a US dealer for whom provenance tends to be too unimportant to mention on his website). Judging by that perhaps I was too hasty. It’s quite possible the detectorists who attended were told that metal detecting was a fine hobby and no downside was mentioned. Britain isn’t just barmy it’s stupid and deserves to be ripped off to the tune of nearly 12 million bundles of history.

Update 2: Paul asks “Now, why is a dealer offering unprovenanced artefacts  with no indication upfront of either licit origins or licit export, invited to speak at a professional conference in Great Britain alongside archaeologists and museums people?” I don’t know Paul. I also don’t know why a metal detectorist went there “all expenses paid”. Nor do I know why none of us who are taxpayers and stakeholders who think the behaviour of most detectorists stinks and is causing great damage to history weren’t invited to attend. All I know is something is very wrong and it doesn’t happen abroad.

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BTW, I was unable to get out and about for Friday’s “Day of Archaeology” – but I spent most of the day composing and tweaking the above article. They also serve who sit and moan. Someone has to.

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by Nigel Swift

It’s usually safe to ignore anything US detectorists say about UK detecting as their lack of knowledge is obvious. However, I’d like to correct a blatant piece of misinformation just offered to them by an English detectorist as I suspect it refers partly to us. He talks of “the dictum of archaeology’s ‘Hard Left’ faction” (that’ll be us no doubt, we’re often portrayed as commies or Nazis) “who promote the notion that all land, artefacts, and collectibles should belong to the People”.

Now if you’re in Britain you’ll know that’s nonsense as neither we nor anyone else advocate nationalisation of land or artefacts or collectables, but for the avoidance of doubt: we don’t advocate nationalisation of all historic artefacts! We don’t even advocate the nationalisation of historical knowledge – for the simple reason it already belongs to the public! All we want is for detecting to be regulated so that thousands of people stop stealing the public’s knowledge by not reporting their finds. How Hard Left is that!

And, until the law changes, here’s another crazy left wing idea: let reasonable detectorists join with archaeologists to declare that just as nighthawks are artefact thieves, so non-reporting detectorists are knowledge thieves – who cause far more cultural damage – and that neither group should be allowed into detecting clubs or onto the fields. Any takers? No? (There weren’t the last time I proposed it!) So Britain will no doubt remain bonkers and history-taking will continue on an industrial scale despite both sides knowing perfectly well it’s avoidable and profoundly wrong……

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The two types of heritage thieves. Only in Britain are the public not told they are equally contemptible.

The two types of heritage theft,  one criminal and relatively small-scale, one legal and massive …….  Communist propaganda or the plain truth?

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