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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……
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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?
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 hobby” there must have been a pretty dire communication failure.
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.
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.
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……
Dear Fellow Landowners,
I was struck by this this recent forum exchange regarding “negative view of metal detecting” : Artefact Hunter 1 :“I guess my question is how do you guys think we can do more to change the perception some people have?” Artefact Hunter 2 : “Easy….. show the landowners everything….. from the rubbish to the identifiable finds”
He’s right, it’s easy! They can instantly improve their image by just accepting everything belongs to the landowner and acting accordingly. In particular, bringing the finds to him, like anyone else would. Suddenly, there’s no need to get farmers to sign away half of what they own before even seeing it and no need to look dodgy by claiming you’re only interested in it as history while suggesting he signs a contract making you joint owner! It’s pure genius: if you don’t want to look dodgy don’t act as if you are!
PS…. Mind you, Artefact Hunter 2 doesn’t apply his own advice to himself. He’s actually the “detecting liaison officer” (it’s true!) for Loughborough Coin and Search Society. They’re merged with a coin collecting club and they take their finds back to club HQ to “finds tables” and flog them at their meetings to their coin collector members. The hapless farmer isn’t shown it but is later sent “a brief resumé of what was found”! Hmmm. As Goethe said – “First and last, what is demanded of genius is love of truth”.
by Nigel Swift
English Heritage has announced it is setting up a study of “the rates, reasons for and conservation implications of metal artefact decay in the ploughsoil“. Metal detectorists will be hoping it will validate their claim that they are engaged in rescue archaeology (“saving artefacts before they rot”). I suspect they’ll be disappointed. The study is prompted by English Heritage’s interest in Measure 4 of the National Heritage Protection Plan (management options for ploughsoil archaeology), not by a wish to justify a hobby.
It’s not the first such study (e.g. see Factors Influencing the Long Term Corrosion of Bronze Artefacts in Soil by Nord, Mattson and Tronner 2005) but the inescapable reality is that no matter how many studies are undertaken one obvious truth prevails: artefact corrosion is always in direct proportion to the strength of factors causing it so it’s bound to vary greatly from place to place. That being so, this new study may well finally show, definitively, that detecting, since it takes place not just where there’s an urgent conservation need but anywhere and everywhere permission can be gained, is not rescue archaeology.
Could that be why allies of unregulated artefact hunting (such as PAS) have never undertaken a survey? For fear of an own goal? As we’ve all just seen, it doesn’t matter who scores it, a decisive goal is still a decisive goal and it looks as if English Heritage is about to deliver precisely that ….
“Why must you tar us all with the same brush?“ complains a detectorist. An excellent question. Let us explain: we don’t! Artefact hunting is a very broad church, that’s one thing we can all agree about so just because we complain about intellectual scruffs who steal knowledge it doesn’t mean we complain about everyone. On the other hand, just because you tell yourself and others you don’t steal knowledge it doesn’t mean we have to accept it without question. That’s not tarring with the same brush, it’s proceeding with caution. A few platitudes on a detecting website aren’t enough – sainthood is hard-earned not self-proclaimed, yes?
By way of example let’s take at random the Crewe and Nantwich Metal Detecting Society, a typical group who might complain about being tarred with the same brush as irresponsible artefact hunters. They run rallies “for charity” (hooray!), they don’t hold them on land that is “a scheduled site of archaeological importance” (hooray!), all their members practice the NCMD code of practice (hooray!), they verbally mention to the landowner and charity representative details of the day’s finds (hooray!) and at a later stage a report with photographs of the day’s events and finds (hooray!). How could they possibly not be doing something truly beneficial to everyone?
But what they don’t appear to tell themselves or the landowners or the charities or the public is that:
1. Archaeologists (including PAS) are pretty unhappy about the potential archaeological damage from detecting rallies and say running them for charity doesn’t make them any more justifiable.
2. PAS also says: “Landholders and rally organisers should also be aware that there can be considerable cost implications for both PAS and Local Authority staff in ensuring an adequate archaeological response to a rally”. How come that’s not mentioned on the website?
3. Not running rallies on scheduled sites is no big deal (as it’s illegal!) Not doing it on land of archaeological importance would be a big deal but there’s no sign of that. Holding events only where the County Archaeologist confirms it’s OK is the obvious responsible action and yet….
4. Following the NCMD Code sounds OK but isn’t. It’s completely inferior to the proper, official Code of Responsible Detecting. How come there’s no mention of following that?
5. Verbally mentioning what was found and later sending a photograph …. It hardly needs saying that’s an almighty cheek considering it’s the landowner’s property and it’s potentially to his and the charity’s great disadvantage not to have the finds revealed on the day.
6. There are official, detailed Guidance Notes for organisers of detecting ralliess to minimise the archaeological damage they do. How come there’s not a word about following those?
The Crewe and Nantwich metal detecting society is about to hold a rally that will raise £400 for St Michael and All Angels Church in Middlewich and is getting lots of praise for so doing. But does the church understand what that £400 has cost (about £1000 on average to provide archaeological cover and who-knows how much in archaeo-damage and loss to the landowner) and does the club? Are we wrong to suggest the funds would be better raised in another, less damaging way – or not at all – and to reach for the tar bucket?
To: The Trafficking Culture Department, University of Glasgow
cc. Mark.Harrison@english-heritage.org.uk; email@example.com
[Sent Sunday 8 June 2014]
Your Encyclopedia says nighthawking (in England and Wales) can be 1. not declaring potential Treasure finds, 2. searching without permission, 3. detecting on scheduled monuments or 4. not disclosing finds to a landowner (except if prior-agreed). But isn’t there another: 5. Depriving a landowner of his entitlement by knowingly failing to disclose to him the true value of finds (which constitutes theft)?
Since in most cases the operative judgement on value lies with the detectorist alone this fifth scenario cannot be safely dismissed as negligible. It is equally possible that it dwarfs the other four, no-one knows. So shouldn’t it be added to your definition (a.) for the sake of completeness (b.) because it’s likely to be associated with non-reporting to PAS and (c.) to properly inform landowners, the public and the police?
The Heritage Journal
Update 10 June 2014
Lest anyone thinks I’m unjustified in suggesting some detectorists with permission to detect think it’s no more than a bit of fun to knowingly deprive landowners of their property, this comment appeared on a detecting blog just after the above letter was published.
“I acknowledge that all finds of gold, silver, copper, brass, lead, in fact all materials found in the soil belong to the true landowner. The true landowner is entitled to it all and if the landowner finds it in his heart to let me have a few quid out of it that’s fine and dandy by me. As God made the heaven and the earth, (I assume earth means soil), he is the true landowner so its him who is entitled to all the cash. So from now on, once a month on a Sunday, I will take all this cash I make from metal detecting to our local church. I will throw it all up in the air and what God wants he will catch, what drops to the floor is mine………… sorted!”
Ho, ho, ho! And next week this chap (who, share or not, would go to prison in many countries for what he does) will be smiling at another farmer’s door. Would YOU let him on your land? Since archaeologists in Bonkers Britain won’t warn landowners, is that a reason for academia not to?
Dear Fellow Landowners,
Remember the free metal detecting rally I was going to hold at Grunter’s Hollow using “the Surrey Council Premise“? …. “Applicants will be considered to be part of an ongoing archaeological survey and will in particular be expected to have a proven track record in reporting and recording. Finds would normally remain the property of the County Council.”
It was a total disaster. No-one turned up. Not even anyone from PAS. (My mate says they’re biassed against farmers but I suspect they only like people with tattoos). Anyway, I was left with scores of prawn sandwiches and not a history lover in sight. It’s a mystery. Like the Marie Celeste but less explicable.
I had such high hopes too. A proper archaeological survey along lines approved by English Heritage, lots of knowledge gained, perhaps an invitation to a PAS function in London to be fêted as an example of selfless partnership – maybe even a lecture tour of France to show them how foolish they are. Oh well. I think next time I’ll advertise it like others do – “twenty squid a day, undisturbed pasture, lots of crop marks, loadza dealers on site, teeth optional, no sharing finds with the farmer (unless you’re daft enough to admit to anyone you’ve found something worth more than two grand)”.
That way I’ll make oodles, the artefact hunters and dealers will make even more oodles and the PAS will claim they know for sure that nearly everything was recorded and nearly nothing was held back as they have X-ray glasses. And I can go on that lecture tour after all. Sorted. Everyone wins.
(OK, EH will be privately scandalised but they can hardly claim publicly that PAS don’t have X ray glasses can they, so there’ll be no-one in the whole of bonkers Britain saying it except a few, and one of those is fictitious aren’t I?).
Grunter’s Hollow Farm
PS – Oh dear, oh dear – again.
People have started saying I made it all up – and indeed that I make myself up. Well no, the rally was real – see here – and so am I. It’s just that I and my whole world only take material form when an artefact hunter tells a fib to a farmer so the times when I’m not in material form are rare. In fact I haven’t de-materialised for forty long years.
For many years we’ve been trying to “promote awareness and the conservation of the incomparable but often-threatened prehistoric sites of Britain, Ireland and beyond” and because of our particular preference we’ve always put a particular emphasis on stone circles.
Consequently, the above image used in an advert for a metal detector which appears in the latest edition of The Searcher metal detecting magazine hasn’t gone down very well with us. It may or may not be photoshopped, we’re not certain, but it’s awful for sure, showing someone metal detecting right in the middle of a stone circle. Even in Bonkers Britain where you can mine for artefacts to your heart’s content on 950,000 unprotected archaeological sites, you can’t do it at stone circles – so what the blazes were the editors of The Searcher thinking of? Who knows?
We await with interest to hear what excuses some of their colleagues concoct to minimise it, as they minimise everything bad that happens in their activity. Our betting is “whoops, administrative error, why make a fuss?” or perhaps they’ll take the standard “not us guv” line that’s taken about so many instances of bad behaviour “Don’t judge us by that. Only a very tiny proportion of detectorists are as stupid and uncaring about heritage protection as The Searcher’s editors”!
[Thanks to Paul Barford for tipping us off about this]