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Remember Mumbo, Schrödinger’s jumbo, who has his tusks both conserved for the community and hacked off for personal gain simultaneously? Well Suzie Thomas (of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research) has mentioned him in Internet Archaeology 33, saying disagreement between detectorists and archaeologists is “symptomatic of an ongoing ‘elephant in the room’ – the fact that archaeologists and metal-detector users view the issues differently”.
That’s not new in itself but what is new is that she lays out with unprecedented frankness exactly what needs to happen for the differences to be resolved: detectorists need to accept that “as long as they engage in a hobby that has a direct effect on the physical remains of the past, they too have a responsibility to record their finds openly and honestly, and to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research.”
Note, there’s no reference to a compromise standard or exempting thousands of them from their obligations or declaring a draw on how the resource should be treated. The only situation archaeologists can or will consider acceptable involves artefact hunters, all of them, recording what they find to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research. Artefact hunters must do the right thing by the public to the satisfaction of archaeologists. It’s as simple as that.
The significance of this revelation is that no way is that situation achievable. After 15 years of persuasion only about 30% 0f artefact hunters aspire to reach even the grossly emasculated version of responsible behaviour their representatives have negotiated and it’s arguable that not 1% works to the standard deemed acceptable and useful to archaeological research for archaeological investigations as laid out by English Heritage. Why would they? They have fundamentally different aims and consequently, as Ms Thomas says, they view the issues differently”.
Worst of all, is something else she says: “The debate might continue for many more decades”. That’s worth thinking about. It means people may continue for decades to do in our country what they’d go to jail for elsewhere without British archaeologists having even persuaded them to do it in an acceptable fashion. Persuasion is clearly not the answer, statutory regulation is. But for how much longer must that not be publicly admitted? Many more decades?
Cui bono? Non-recording detectorists, no-one else.
Another open letter to The Archaeology Forum email@example.com
We have been writing to you since February 2011 about the threat to archaeology posed by the new deep-seeking metal detectors – see here and here. We have even suggested they may well have been used to steal part of the Staffordshire Hoard – see here. We wonder whether you have decided to make representations to the Government?
Please be aware there’s a current TV series, Hoard Hunters, that appears to be aimed at promoting Minelab’s new deep-seeking models. It features two detectorists (one of whom runs Minelabowners Forum and Minelab TV) who visit known hoard sites with “the latest technology” in order to find any “treasure” that may have been missed. The detector in question is the Minelab GPX 5000 which is shown being used while it’s virtues are spelled out: “I’ve got new equipment” …. “the latest technology that can go deeper“ …. “mineralisation is invisible to this machine so it gets a lot, lot deeper” …. “coins further down are in better condition with this deeper machine and that extra depth is thanks to this machine” …. “I’m going to encourage everybody to find Roman Coins” …. “one in ten signals like this is a hoard”.
It’s hard to see it as other than an extensive sales pitch, one that will generate sales not only to those who might use them illegally but to a far more numerous and therefore damaging group – those that would use the machines legally but unethically, ignoring the official code with it’s caveat about not digging below the plough soil. Since “Britain’s Secret Treasures” created a sales boom in ordinary metal detectors it seems probable that this series will do the same for the GPX 5000.
Official silence about deep-seeking machines is hard to understand. Is it that there’s a concern that if detectorists are displeased those that co-operate will cease doing so? If so, perhaps it’s time the issue was confronted. The National Council for Metal Detecting recently issued the seventeenth threat of a recording strike. How much longer must conservation policy be dictated by artefact hunters?
Sadly the Western Black Rhino has just become officially extinct. But why are we mentioning it here?
It’s because it highlights that conservation isn’t just a vague liberal aspiration, it truly matters for the only alternative is total loss. Once something’s gone it’s gone and won’t be coming back. That also applies to knowledge, which is why we’re so critical of those who don’t report their metal detecting finds to PAS, despite being asked to for 15 years. We express it more strongly than archaeologists, Government and PAS, so maybe we’re all just cranks and should take the far more temperate line that others do?
We think not, for here’s what 15 years of “lo-criticism” policy has delivered to Britain. Nine empty Wembley pitches. That’s what you’d need to lay out the ten million recordable items that artefact hunters haven’t reported.
Recently someone called Roger (the Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme we assume) complained on-line about an “aggressive attacking tone towards a lawful legitimate hobby”. We’ll hold up our hands to that Roger. The thing is though, our tone expresses contempt about ten million packets of knowledge that have been lost (and there will be hundreds more today). Shouldn’t you be condemning that in the same way as we do rather than endlessly jubilating over the far smaller number of items that are reported? Artefact hunting without recording might be lawful but it’s also completely inexcusable – and not saying so is surely helping it happen? We won’t be dropping our “aggressive attacking tone” towards non-reporting metal detectorists any time soon – and nor should anybody, that’s the truth of it Roger.
We grumble about PAS but it’s only fair to distinguish between the organisation and those who have to carry out the policies – sometimes with distaste, no doubt. Take the upcoming Central Searchers Summer Rally where 500 people will pay £30,000 to dig. The FLOs aren’t fans of large rallies anyway but they have extra reasons to dislike this one as it’s being run under the notorious Central Searchers “rule”: all non-Treasure item worth up to £2,000 are owned by the detectorist alone.
Everyone knows that’s designed to be grossly unfair to the landowner yet the FLOs have to pretend they don’t know what is happening. In addition, they can hardly fail to know it guarantees a lot of stuff won’t get reported – the sort of person that thinks such a rule is OK is hardly going to be scrupulous about what they (alone) assess as worth less than £2,000 and is unlikely to reveal anything really valuable lest people point out it’s worth more than the threshold and needs to be shared with the farmer!
And there’s more. The advert says FLOs will be there yet incredibly there’s no rally rule or even request to report finds to them. Thus we have FLOs as educated, cultured people having to attend a mass, self-seeking event in the humiliating role of supplicants on behalf of the public, having to appear grateful for whatever limited favours acquisitive people with Lilliputian moral comprehension deign to bestow. And always to smile.
Were you shocked by Somerset Metal Detecting Club’s rule that everything they find that isn’t Treasure is entirely THEIRS? History lovers, eh? History locusts more like. Of course, hours after it was highlighted on the Journal they acknowledged they’d been banged to rights by deleting the “all ours” rule and substituting words saying the finds belonged half to them and half to the farmer, which is half true. But you just wonder, now they’ve admitted the previous rule was an outrage, how many tens of thousands of pounds that should have gone to farmers have gone into their Members’ pockets over the years. And crucially: what they’re going to do about it. A lot of farmers in Somerset are now owed a lot of money, surely?
I rather doubt those farmers will ever see their money though judging by the very next rule: “Please show your finds to other club members at the end of each dig. The club may wish to photo record some items and feature them on the clubs website and the Farmer/land owner may wish to see items found on their land”. So, Friends, even though they now openly admit that you own 50% of what is found they tell their Members you only may wish to see it (and then maybe only a photo!!!) How utterly dodgy is that? Is it likely that you or anyone, anywhere has ever NOT wanted to be shown exactly what complete strangers from Liverpool or Latvia in cammo gear were busy taking out of their field, house or pocket? Unless of course they were told nothing but junk was normally found in a gathering of scores of detectorists and no-one from the Government bothered to make public the fact that that is almost never the case ….
It’s a crying shame, isn’t it, that the Government and the Portable Antiquities Scheme don’t issue us landowners with warnings against all the dubious and self-interested and deliberately imprecise wording contained in detecting club rules and finds agreements.*** People are endlessly warned about unfair marketing ploys coming though the post but not about this – some of which is said to be “clarified verbally”, a sure sign of someone wanting to disadvantage someone without the world knowing. Multiply Somerset by hundreds of detecting clubs and you end up with vast amounts of stuff in the wrong hands. Yet aren’t landowners taxpayers too (and on a vastly greater scale than artefact hunters)? Don’t we have a right to be expensively outreached to and to be adequately informed and to have our interests protected by the government?
*** Here’s PAS’s advice to Landowners.
Not a word of warning about the danger of being ripped off. Plus, a recommendation to get a finds agreement (why, when it all belongs to him anyway ???!) which is a wide open door to being conned and deprived. NEVER sign a finds agreement friends. You decide if you give anyone anything ONCE you have it in your hand. See my letter on why finds agreements should never be signed.
For more from Farmer Brown put Silas in the search box.
The stewardship of archaeological knowledge by the Crown Estate is a sort of metaphor for British portable antiquities policy – fine talk but no effective action. You can get a license to metal detect on the foreshore in 5 seconds. It’s purely automatic. Here’s one we got earlier (it’s completely genuine) ….
So applicants aren’t vetted at all, they are just asked to “undertake” to keep to best practice rules. And recently they’ve started allowing metal detecting on their inland holdings too, which prompts some ticklish questions:
1. Gentlemen, how come you allow metal detecting on your inland holdings when organisations with similar curatorial roles such as the NT and many landholding public bodies don’t?
2.) How did allowing a Polish detecting club to hold a rally on you land recently serve the public interest?
3.) Did you know PAS say large rallies are “a challenge” with “considerable cost implications” (which is their code for they hate them?)
4.) For the past year there have been a series of “charity” detecting events on land “opened by The Crown Estate for buried treasure” but did you know that official Advice for such things makes clear that “charitable purposes” don’t justify avoidable damage?
5.) Don’t non-Treasure items from Crown land all belong to the Crown? If so, do you have the right to share them or sell lucky-dip tickets for people to find and keep them?
Dear Fellow Landowners,
This is just bonkers! On Rally UK detecting forum they’re discussing the Twinstead rally. That was where perhaps £100,000-worth of gold sovereigns were taken home without the farmer or anyone else being told and the police were called in and the organiser announced “If you all think your getting away with it think again….the offence carries a custodial sentence”. Many were returned and declared Treasure but it seems museums don’t want to buy them so finally the farmer will get them. You’d think. But the detectorists hope not:
“The farmer will be contacted and unless he has any objection the coins will be returned to their original finders. Seeing as he has a half share agreement in all the coins collected two days later when the top layer of soil was removed hopefully he will not mind letting the few honest detectorists who handed them in have their coins back!!!!”
So despite the fact they took them home without telling him they now think he should give them the ruddy coins! Amazing! Do Tesco’s have that policy? And bear in mind, according to the police at least 100 other sovereigns were taken home by other detectorists at the rally and have never been returned (forum talk at the time said one of them had 70) so if he gives away the returned ones he’ll be ending up with NONE of the coins found that day. Detectorists will have had them all!
(PS, I’d love to know what this “half share agreement in all the coins collected two days later” is all about. An agreement with whom? And why?)
For more from Farmer Brown put Silas in the search box.
Yesterday’s article might have given the impression we think Central Searchers have the dodgiest rules in the whole of metal detecting. That isn’t so. That honour goes to The Somerset Artefact Seekers Metal Detecting Club whose rules include this:
“Any items found that are not Treasure Trove become the property of the finder/s unless otherwise stated.” (Changed the next day! See below).
Can you imagine the extreme degree of fiction regarding what might be found that would be needed in order to induce a farmer to agree to that? Keep in mind, inter alia, that the Crosby Garrett Helmet, valued at £3,600,000 was a non-treasure item and if found under the above arrangement would have become the property of the detectorist alone.
PAS (and indeed EH and CBA) are very welcome to use our Comments section to indicate if they support artefact hunting on this basis and whether it is possible that outreach to farmers is a neglected element of outreach. It would also be interesting to hear from Glasgow Uni criminologists (thanks, Paul Barford) and the police and members of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage about whether such an arrangement, if shown to be ill-understood by one of the parties, could even be illegal. A fascinating topic indeed. Not one that should engender profound silence perhaps.
Update: Ho ho ho!
An April Fool’s joke on a detecting forum this morning: “Metal Detecting ban announced!“
But the real irony is this: Britain is the only country on the planet where such an announcement would be seen as a joke!!
NB, not that we’ve ever called for a ban, we’ve only ever suggested there should be a law to compel artefact hunters to behave – for which PAS has called us trolls – and thugs have threatened us with violence. Happy 1st April, PAS and all detectorists.
Another Update (April 2nd): Well, well, well!
The crook-helping Rule of The Somerset Artefact Seekers Metal Detecting Club – “Any items found that are not Treasure Trove become the property of the finder/s unless otherwise stated” has now been changed, thereby delivering a confession of how outrageous it was. Non treasure items now become the property of the finder and farmer on the basis of 50/50!
That’s yet another lesson for PAS: if you criticise people for oikish and exploitative behaviour, sometimes they’re shamed into changing it. Why has it taken a bunch of amateurs like us (like happened in the case of Regtons) to bring about an improvement? It’s not us that are paid and instructed by Parliament to outreach, it’s you. How about you now criticise Central Searchers, as you are duty-bound to do? Maybe you can get a similar result? But please, do it in public, that’s the only thing that works, as we have shown – and of course, it would show you give a damn for the interests of farmers more than artefact hunters, something that’s not at all obvious at present.
Central Searchers’ Summer Rally is expanding. This year, 500 people over 3 days, grossing nearly £30,000. Yet sadly, although FLOs will attend, there’s still no rule saying people must show finds to them. But then, it would be ticklish in view of Rule 11 which says anything worth less than £2,000 belongs 100% to the detectorist. Nice. But since it’s the detectorist who decides if it is or isn’t worth less than £2000 it would be awkward, shall we say, if he was told he must expose it to the public gaze. Or that of the farmer.
Now let’s not talk in code, Dear Reader. We all know that rule isn’t there by accident and that the only people who would find it useful are the acquisitive and the dodgy, not lovers of history. Yet there it is, bold as brass, on full and insolent display, with no-one saying a word against it. Certainly not the four FLOs that attended the event last year, And not supposedly rational detectorist John Winter (who attends and praises these rallies and has given them a glowing write-up in The Searcher). So there we are, something bad for heritage knowledge and bad for the landowner is happening and no-one is saying a word. Still, in the immortal words of “Barry Thugwit” uttered at the Near Avebury Rally eight years ago, “it’s legal, innit?” and that no doubt is the very excuse the Portable Antiquities Scheme would cite in defence of their silence, even though it’s no excuse at all.
Update: We are very sorry about this article. See our apology here.
Unsurprisingly, the publication of the Erosion Counter in visual form prompted renewed attempts to rubbish it. A detectorist contacted CBA hoping they’d do so but was disappointed and has had to fall back on misrepresentation, quoting Mike Heyworth saying the Counter is “regarded with scepticism and even hostility” but omitting Mike’s crucial next four words: “by some vested interests“! So it’s very clear: CBA does not regard the Counter with scepticism!
Indeed, Mike went further by saying: (a.) “the key question is whether it provides a reasonable basis from which to consider the scale of the loss of knowledge caused by metal detecting when finds are not reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (in England and Wales). I think it serves its purpose in this regard, though inevitably the methodology behind the Counter is open to debate.” (b.) “I regret that it appears to be a minority of metal detectorists who follow the Code of Practice” (which of course is the Counter’s key message!)
So there’s we have it. It’s both funny and important: an attempt to get CBA to say the artefact counter is tosh has resulted in the opposite, two clear declarations by CBA: it considers the Counter “a reasonable basis” and it believes most metal detectorists don’t follow the Code of Practice! We’ve spent many years trying to show how outrageous are the countless press releases and articles that perpetuate the calumny that “the vast majority of detectorists are responsible” and at last it has paid off – thanks to the efforts of a single artefact hunter. Isn’t life funny?
Update 28 March 2013:
Mr V Interest has just informed his readers of what really happened:
“We finally hit the spot with the exposé of the dishonest Artefact Erosion Counter (AEC) and its ramshackle computation. The chief (and most unintentional) scalp was the Council for British Archaeology’s Director, Mike Heyworth. I was somewhat taken aback that he’d thrown his academic weight behind such twaddle. I’m sorry he was made to look a lemon…”
No comment needed.