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by Nigel Swift
As the CBA says, the best way to extract evidence is via “controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation“. So it follows that the proper role for archaeologists to adopt towards metal detecting is to encourage people to mitigate their damage, nothing else. Yet the Welsh Museums (aided by PAS and the Lottery Fund) have just launched a project that effectively promotes artefact hunting providing it’s done well (or in their words, creates “a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting”.) The law of unintended consequences needs noting. Promoting detecting done well also promotes detecting as a whole, so what they regard as applying a conservation brake is actually pressing an exploitation accelerator. There are better actions they could take. For example:
“Images show hundreds of people, including gunmen, taking part in the excavations from dawn until night in many cases. Dealers are present, and when they discover an artefact, the sale takes place immediately.”
That’s a press report about Syria of course but apart from the guns it describes exactly what has been happening in Wales (and England) routinely on unprotected archaeological sites for donkey’s years. PAS outreaching hasn’t stopped it (at rallies PAS often has a stall next to the artefact dealers, for goodness sake!) and nor will the latest stance by the Welsh museums. Welsh archaeologists and heritage professionals might be better employed persuading the Government to put a stop to that before they try to “create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting.”
So why have we gone all Canadaphile? Well, it’s because they’re so refreshingly keen to protect Canada – see above. And they really mean it, for look at this ! Doesn’t that sound great?! Two Americans targeting Canada’s archaeological sites for a populist, far from professional reality show and Canada’s archaeologists stepping in and saying no, you can’t do that without an archaeologist being present! Basically they’re saying Canada’s buried heritage belongs to everyone, not two people. As one of them puts it: “We need accountability and we need an on-site archeologist appointed by the province and for the treasure hunters to cover the cost.”
Meanwhile, back in Britain, not two but hundreds of Americans target our archaeological sites annually without archaeologists being present (they come on organised detecting holidays specifically catering for them) and other detectorists from scores of countries across the globe attend detecting rallies here, also without archaeologists present. (One wonders just how much of a United Nations gathering the recent archaeologist-free rally to remove objects from the site of Weyhill Fair was?!) And of course relentlessly, week after week, thousands and thousands of British people are out (legally) targeting (unprotected) archaeological sites either in groups or on their own without an archaeologist being involved or even informed.
But have you heard lots of British archaeologists demanding “We need accountability, we need on-site archeologists and we need treasure hunters to cover the cost”? Nor me. Canada stands on guard for its buried heritage. Britain doesn’t.
Well, it happened. See here – Now hidden!
Weyhill Fair sorted!
Lots of good finds (wot a surprise!) but lots of complaints about too much iron on the site (that’ll be some of the History then!)
Also lots of complaints about fellow detectorists misbehaving (surely not, they are legally obliged not to aren’t they? No they aren’t. Everything is “voluntary” in Bonkers Britain!)
Oh and here’s a good one:
“unfortunately our FLO could not be with us because she was returning from her honeymoon in Italy”
Still, every one of these 90 sensitive souls will still report everything they found, won’t they? And I’m sure PAS made every effort to send other FLOs to such an important venue, what with us writing to Dr Roger Bland in advance telling him it was happening and asking if anything could be publicly said or done!
Incidentally, if you want to read about it you’d better check out the link soon. The final irony is that soon these people will twig that just maybe they didn’t done good and the literate public can see so, and the thread will disappear, along with a chunk of the history of Weyhill Fair. Luckily we’ll all still be able to read about it in the Mayor of Casterbridge, albeit a fictionalised account!
UPDATE 29 September 2014: Rather than deleting the thread, further discussion appears to have been taken into a cyber cellar where 65 million stakeholders can’t see it. The last visible words on the thread seem to be an attempt to justify a farce: “Hope the charity is grateful”….
Maybe not if they knew the official Guidance for Organisers of Metal Detecting Rallies says:
“If the FLO is unable to attend, organisers should make alternative arrangements to have adequate archaeological presence on site throughout the rally”
…. but somehow I doubt the charity has been shown that!
UPDATE 30 September 2014: And now our prediction that “soon these people will twig that just maybe they didn’t done good and the literate public can see so, and the thread will disappear, along with a chunk of the history of Weyhill Fair” has come about. (Although another thread, not mentioning the misbehaviour etc but jubilating about wotalotwegot has been left visible!). Bonkers. Britain.
by Nigel Swift
Just announced: “For reasons that we need not concern ourselves with, the location of our charity rally on September 28th has changed. The new location is right on the site of the famous WEYHILL FAIR….. We have been given two fields totalling 60 acres, which I am assured by the farmer to be “undetected” they are split by one of the 8 drove roads…. Sites really don’t come better than this!“
If true that it’s right on the Fair site it’s surely unacceptable? I used to pass there daily and thought of it as history personified: 750 years of almost continuous gatherings including the country’s largest sheep fairs (100,000 sheep sold a day at the peak), mentioned in “The Vision of Piers Plowman” (1326) and held on land partly owned by Chaucer (it being quite possible he heard some of his tales from characters at the Fair). Thousands turned up for all sorts of other reasons including hiring workers and all manner of entertainments – probably jousting, sword fighting, dog-baiting, bear-baiting, cockfighting and strolling minstrels. There were also Mystery Plays and mummers. By the sixteenth century it was so large it had an on-site court to settle disputes and deal with lawlessness and thereafter it expanded further to include a horse fair, cheese fair and hop fair. There were even said to be cases of wife-selling there as immortalised by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge.
So the announcement is spot-on if you’re one of the lucky 90 artefact hunters: “Sites really don’t come better than this!” But what if you are one of the other 65 million stakeholders? Everything dropped on those 60 acres forms an almost unique whole, a continuous record of social and commercial interaction in one small place over seven and a half centuries and crucially, “undetected”! So it’s just crying out for a comprehensive archaeological field survey one day – including, by all means, the use of metal detectors, but conducted entirely in accordance with EH’s “Our Portable Past” standards for professional investigations so as to maximise the intellectual yield for us all. How can that not be a better option?
Yet instead tomorrow (Sunday) it will be dug over by who knows whom from who know where with a propensity to report amounting to who knows what, using no survey methodology but instead a totally random approach followed by irrational selectivity. So by Monday the site’s uniqueness will be gone forever as multiple holes will have been punched in the record and an unknown number of material and abstract components of history will have been respectively quietly pocketed or destroyed and hence put beyond the reach of science. No doubt many will bring finds to PAS if they are there but of course that “mitigation” can only ever be limited at best and then only to the unknown degree that 90 randomly selected individuals allow.
So it’s a fact, isn’t it, that tomorrow Britain will suffer major damage to a research opportunity to die for. And not moan publicly. On Britarch for instance! It’s a bloody shame really. I’m no archaeologist, just a no-account amateur, but I know when something irreplaceable is being needlessly destroyed. Weyhill Fair was more than three times as old as the United States of America and is the last place for this crass British spectacle. It’s scandalous. I’m left with two angry thoughts:
1. How much more would we know about the past if someone had stood up to the barrow-digging vicars?
2. If PAS’s alleged millionth find had come from Weyhill would it have been trumpeted? I think not.
Detectorists fear a new detecting sitcom will “belittle” what they do and portray their hobby as “dysfunctional“. Heaven help Channel 4 if it does, for just look what detectorists have said about us in the last 2 weeks:
“Sad and lonely Luddites ….second-rate, down-market, repugnant, malicious, ignorant, hare-brained nutters and psychos…..wilfully ill-informed numpties….. ill-mannered specimens of the human race, guilty of gangrenous propogandist claptrap…. like predatory homosexuals….. loathsome, vocal, single-issue culture weirdo’s using cheap drugs….the kind of souls who pull wings off flies….”
So …. if you dig stuff up for your own benefit you expect (and generally get) kid glove treatment but if you simply advocate legal regulation of the activity for the public benefit you’ll be attacked in the crudest fashion imaginable!
If you visited your Granny and she showed you this flyer and said two nice young men had emptied her loft for her last Tuesday how would you feel?
You’d be angry no doubt, especially if she said they told her there was nothing but rubbish and she hadn’t heard from them since. Yet it’s a fact that the wording of that flyer encapsulates the essence of the National Council for Metal Detecting model search agreement which thousands of detectorists get landowners to sign!
If the flyer is intolerable so is the agreement. We’ve been saying as much for years but very recently we’ve gained an ally. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is to advise landowners to “ask to see all archaeological finds” . It’s the equivalent of the Government or police warning old ladies not to agree to let someone take things away unseen from their loft.
So, if you’re a landowner who has ever signed an “I needn’t show you everything” agreement we suggest you cancel it now. Ask for a “PAS compliant” one instead. It’s an inescapable fact that not showing everything before going home is unacceptable behaviour – both we and Tesco’s have said so for years and now PAS says so too.
PAS is to revise its Guidance for Landowners, substituting its weak comment “landowners may wish to see the objects” with a strong warning: “ask to see all archaeological finds”. We (and Farmer Brown) have called for this for ages but they’ve been frit to upset detectorists. Well, they will have now! The NCMD model contract has 4 magic words, “over the value of” which allow detectorists to mentally “value” finds and on that basis take most home unshown.
So the hitherto obliging cat is about to inconvenience the pigeons. Thousands of detectorists have got farmers to sign away their right to see most of what’s found but PAS will now be telling farmers to ensure they see everything! Interesting times. Will NCMD amend its contract in line with PAS and say members must now show ALL archaeological finds? Or will they (and their members) say “no, we prefer things just as they are”? We’ll soon see!
What we won’t see is PAS estimating how many artefacts (some cumulatively very valuable, some individually very valuable) have been taken home unshown during the time it hasn’t grasped this nettle. Nor will we see it saying we amateurs were right all along (although this change is a clear admission of that). But it would be nice if they at least acknowledged that notional, octogenarian farmer Silas Brown was correct. It would be consistent with this new (and actually historic) stance of protecting the interests of farmers not others.
Update Paul Barford has highlighted an intriguing additional aspect of this significant change of heart on the part of PAS…… “They’d do even better if they were to advise them [landowners] also to sign off each object, so that the new owner’s title to sell is documented – something nighthawks cannot do. This would be in line with the recommendations of the April 2009 Oxford Nighthawking Report (page 110).”
In fact it seems to me this affair has a very intriguing implication: since PAS is now saying it wishes the landowner to see all archaeological finds then it is also saying it now wishes its database to comprise fully provenanced finds……
Paul suggests that: “to establish legal possession of the artefacts they bring along to the PAS, the searcher should in each case present for checking a signed agreement (a) to access and search a given area and (b) a signed document releasing the individual find under consideration. Otherwise the FLO could be handling stolen property, and in the event of false data getting placed on the public record, laundering an illicit antiquity, also be liable to charges of fencing”.
There’s little doubt FLOs unwittingly record stolen and falsely attributed artefacts – and hence launder them – but I’m personally no fan of finds agreements as a solution. Their advice to landowners that agreements “avoid future disputes” is without foundation as agreements add nothing to the landowners’ rights under the good old law and actually act as an opening to bamboozle them, nothing more. A simple “bring all my archaeological artefacts to me, irrespective of value” is all that’s needed – and THEN, once items are found and delivered, a signed release of any item the farmer is willing to give up (after he has checked them with a third party). Only then need a valuation or share be discussed and also at that point the artefact hunter should pay for (or sign a document confirming he will pay for) whatever he is being given.
This might seem revolutionary, something detectorists would furiously reject and PAS would baulk at recommending to landowners – but the funny thing is it is how normal, educated honourable people would behave in any other sphere outside metal detecting. It is how YOU would behave without doubt, is it not dear Reader? Of course it is. The fact it doesn’t happen within metal detecting and hardly anyone complains is a measure of just how bonkers Britain has become with regard to this lucrative “hobby”.
Let artefact hunters start acting like the rest of us and let PAS wake up and make that central to how they define “best practice”.
Oh dear!! In response a detectorist writes:
“Speaking of the anti detecting squad, over in the world of stupid there has been a barrage of blog posts aimed at destabilising this beneficial and fun hobby. One topic that has got the anti’s a bit moist is the PAS stating to landowners that they should ask to see all finds that have been made on their land. Here are a couple of blog posts from the anti’s, one on Paul Barfords blog and one on the Heritage Journal blog.
I love the way they portray it as some BIG thing, however i don’t agree, it seems quite minuscule if I’m honest.
I don’t see why any metal detectorist who cares about what they do would have any problem showing the landowner who very kindly granted them permission to search on their land. In fact as far as I’m aware the vast majority of honest metal detectorists do show the land owner everything they find…. “
No big thing is it? Well it’s not your property is it! If it was, maybe you’d think otherwise. Anyway, if you and all your mates show the farmer everything you all won’t mind calling for the thousands of finds agreements that allow you to not show most of the finds to be ripped up forthwith.
An affirmative answer from thousands of detectorists is not anticipated. Talk is cheap.
Not a single word about giving up the dodgy clause of course, but oh dear, oh dear, oh dear another artefact hunter has popped up to say farmers are too busy or too uninformed to report finds so it needs to be the detectorist that does that, and then the farmer can be shown his property later!
But they are HIS finds. Only a crook or a twerp would find excuses not to hand him his property. In any case, if we’re talking competence, it’s politically incorrect but clear to anyone that cares to look at their respective forums that MOST farmers are intellectually and educationally far better equipped to ensure PAS has access to finds than MOST detectorists.
Not that competence comes into it. It’s ownership and the minimising of opportunities for dishonesty or neglect of obligations that matter – how many detectorists at rallies take stuff home, report it to PAS and then bring it back and give it to the righttful owner? Almost none. Where are the owner’s rights in all that? If you find something on someone’s land you take it straight to them. That’s normal behaviour in the whole of the rest of society. Anything else is indefensible and the rest of us don’t need to hear fallacious reasons justifying anyone acting otherwise. These people really are a pain. Anyway, here’s the bottom line. Let detectorists read it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y:
Now that PAS is to advise landowners to ensure they see all archaeological finds, artefact hunters have been stripped of any justification for continuing to act under the provisions of the current NCMD contract which provides for them NOT to show all finds. Oh, and of course that means showing him all finds before they leave his premises. That’s how Tesco’s like it. Why shouldn’t farmers have the same rights?
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.”
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.
Update 14 October 2014:
This has just been posted on a metal detecting forum …..
“Trip to Normandy detecting:
Morning Guys and Girls,
I muted [sic]last year a possible trip to Normandy to detect on my permissions. Currently i have permission to dig on over 1000 hectares of pasture and ploughed land. This is what i am thinking:
* go and stay at my house (sleeps 10 people)
* 2 cars co across on the ferry from Poole (Dorset) to Cherbourg (5 in each car)
* all costs shared (money in the kitty for grub etc etc)
* couple of beers each night and a possible talk on what ever subject by who ever wants to do one
* have a general laugh!!”
So, is that an exciting ten-person lost tractor parts hunt (which is legal under French law) or is it something else? And will the British authorities, including PAS and the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage be having a conversation with their French counterparts or will they pretend they haven’t read this or that it’s not their concern? Are we Europeans or dog-in-the-manger Rosbifs with piratical standards?
More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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.
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,
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.