When it comes to “engagement” with metal detectorists you’d be forgiven for thinking some archaeologists don’t read the detecting forums much. If they did they’d know that 90% of detectorists oppose licensing and are violently opposed to rules other than their own – why else do you suppose they’ve invented their own substitute reponsibility codes? So licenses would have two certain outcomes:

  1. ANOTHER five years of misbehaviour and damage, on top of the previous 23, until the authorities finally realised they were dealing mostly with artefact hunters not amateur archaeologists.
  2. Thousands of people resentful of authority or any diminution of their “freedom” to act as they wish will find their new notional role of PAS paymasters an ideal opportunity to tell PAS how things ought to be not vice versa!

So please, let archaeologists who think licensing will work get themselves onto half a dozen detecting forums. Rather than fiddling while Rome burns for another five years let them look through the window.

Our next Antiquarist is Thelma, also known for one of her previous canine companions, “Moss”. Thelma was an early supporter of both Heritage Action and the Journal, and was involved in the early discussions before their formation.

Here are her answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

Retired

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

Many, many years ago when I lived in Calne near to Avebury and did an Archaeological A level course.

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

Academic to start with and then a spiritual interest and a need to understand why it became spiritual to Pagan groups.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

Iron Age, though the Neolithic/Bronze Age is also important.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

Prehistoric Avebury by Aubrey Burl, though Cope’s TMA book encouraged the interest later.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

No, my interests have always been near to where I live, or holiday places.

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

Pentre Ifan for its beauty.  I love the Pembrokeshire landscape and find the Presilis a good starting point for contemplation of prehistory.

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

I had great difficulty, still do, with the dating methods of the three prehistoric phases and slotting them in.  I was married to an archaeologist lecturer, so books were always to hand.

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I am constantly astonished about the similarity of Neolithic long barrows all over the world.  The use of stone and movement of stone as a primary material.   Take most theories with a degree of scepticism, till the next one comes along.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

Lack of good discussion about subject material. Having said that I did join Standing with Stones but found the chat too long and the call on time to listen to lectures not being able to fit in my day.


Many thanks to Thelma for sharing her megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)

Many people have been fighting against damage to the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape for more than 20 years, sometimes publicly and sometimes behind the scenes.

Words have been the chosen weapons, not annoying farming allies by camping illegally, not alienating archaeologist allies by intruding onto archaeology, and not infuriating the rational public by virtue-littering the landscape with so-called “clooties”.

The only opposition to the tunnel that will have any chance whatsoever of succeeding and not lessening the chance of success and not being seized upon and welcomed by pro-tunnel advocates is the continued use of words and logical argument and those will continue to be employed, including by us.

Want to take the family to Stonehenge today?
Go for it!

Today: Family (2 adults + 2 children) £50.70 (and from next month £59.30!)

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From the website:

Q: “WHY IS TODAY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN WHEN i VISITED PRIOR TO MARCH?”
A: “At 13 of our sites we’ve introduced peak, standard and off-peak tickets to help manage visitor numbers at the most popular times of year, and on the most popular days of the week.”

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However, there are currently no overseas visitors and the site is running at ONE THIRD of visitor capacity.
If you think that indicates a money-grabbing quango which can’t be trusted with the public’s interest, just wait until English Heritage gets a virtual monopoly on even seeing the place!

Once you find the right farmer, you’d be daft not to keep going! 69 heritage heroes are about to start trying their luck metal detecting this morning (and tomorrow) near Moreton in Marsh. “A re-visit to the farm we did sunday gone but on 5 different fields this time , Prev detected also but always produce

Will there be an Iron Age settlement on it, like there is at the massive 4-day event this company is planning on Exmoor in June (exact location not yet revealed)? We don’t know, all we know is that previous finds in Moreton have included “Saxon, Roman and Celtic”. We’d tell you more if we could but as always with Let’s Go Digging events, the exact location is only revealed the night before to those who have paid. It avoids “troublemaking” by local archaeos and busybodies, see?

Please hurry up with the reforms, Portable Antiquities Advisory Group. Isn’t a decade long enough to have allowed this sort of event to have gone on? Why must Britain be the conservation ruffian of Europe? Or indeed the world? Where else is such an event going on this morning? Nowhere, as in other places these people would simply be locked up.


by Nigel Swift

This week a detectorist asked Prof Michael Lewis if Tuesday’s portable antiquities advisory group meeting would be “positive” about rallies and was told “To be honest, not really“. About time! It’s been a whole decade since Mike Heyworth of the CBA called for “more research to be carried out on the damage to archaeological sites and lost knowledge due to rallies“.

The very low “reporting yield” from perhaps a million man-hours of searching at rallies in 10 years is there for all to see, despite efforts to boost it (PAS attending rallies, issuing guidance and publishing a rally code, all now abandoned). The only other possible solution, licensing the events, can never work since rally organisers have zero control over what their customers pocket.

The elephant in the room is that it takes you 3 years of hard study to be an archaeologist but you can buy a detector today and be digging randomly for gain at a rally tomorrow and that’s no way for a country to conserve history. Why shouldn’t archaeologists simply say so? We’ve never met a professional who doesn’t think pay-to-dig rallies aren’t destructive and a national humiliation.

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It’s no secret that here at Heritage Action, we are no fans of the vast majority of metal detectorists. Whilst there may be a legitimate place for such instruments (sorting through spoil heaps on a dig, used as legitimate geofizz tools for analysis with no digging), it’s our avowed belief that on balance their use does more harm than good, and we make no apologies for our stance on the issue. 

Indeed, this stance is hardened when we hear the same propaganda being espoused by members of metal detecting clubs, and so we proudly present: the top 5 lies detectorists like to tell:

5. “I’m only in it for the history”

Headlines make history. Large payouts for treasure finds make headlines. Of course they’re only in it for the history, just not in the way they want us to think.

4. “It’s been in my collection for ages”

Of course, if it had been dug up recently, then it should have been declared as treasure…

3. “I got it off someone who’s had it in their family for years”

See above. Of course, lack of provenance makes an object less valuable, particularly for those studying the distribution of such objects…

2. “It’s only a piece of grot”

To a detectorist, possibly, probably only because the Ebay price is so low. If it’s only grot, why do so many detectorists have buckets full of the stuff? (Ref: YouTube)

And the top lie told by many detectorists:

1. “Of course, actually we’re saving the history before it corrodes in the ground” 

No, what you’re doing is damaging the context from which an object came, thus destroying the history. It’s not all about the shiny geegaws. A lot of detecting takes place on undisturbed land and even plough soil is a context – ask the Battlefields Trust! Corrosion is actually not a major problem in many soils, and gold wouldn’t corrode in a million years.


So what porkies have you heard from/about detectorists? Tell us in the comments.

Way back in 2012, a contentious post on the Modern Antiquarian forum was discussing the perceived reticence of academics to accept new ideas. One of the comments on that discussion has stuck with me all these years:

Archaeology (certainly pre-historic archaeology that is entirely dependent on the field evidence) is just about interpretation. Nothing is proven ever, there is only the prevailing orthodoxy… 

Taking that idea a step further, I’m sure that we’ve all seen archaeologists on TV stating “This is what happened” as opposed to “this is what WE THINK happened”. Assuming such archaeologists are speaking their own thoughts, and not those of a scriptwriter (which would make them just paid puppets), one has to wonder how much personal bias is involved. When definitive statements are made, it’s always best to consider how much the speaker’s pet theories and interests may be clouding their vision.

With that in mind, here are some potential ‘mistruths’ that have been heard in the past:

5. “This is a unique find!”

Usually stated in the initial excitement of discovery during excavation. Often rescinded once the post-excavation research uncovers similar/identical finds elsewhere.

4. “This changes our entire viewpoint of the past”

Not necessarily. It may provide illumination on a particular practice or culture, but the entire viewpoint? Please!

3. “This is a previously unknown God/Goddess”

Usually spoken when a figurine (usually dated to Roman times) is found. It couldn’t possibly just be a trinket, bought at a bazaar to remind the owner of a loved one at home? Or a child’s poppet (think Sindy/Barbie or Action Man)?

2. “Arthur was at Tintagel”

This is a difficult one. It’s not an outright lie, as it can never be proven one way or the other, but a scratched name on a piece of slate can’t be considered evidence of such a royal presence.

1. “It’s Ritual!”

Now, this one isn’t a lie. To the layman, ritual signifies religion, occult, finery or other mysterious practices. To an archaeologist, having breakfast and washing the afterwards dishes is ritual. Brushing your hair before going to bed is ritual, wearing the same colour underwear on match days is ritual.

(With thanks to Calvin and Hobbes)

What porkies have you heard from archaeologists? Let us know in the comments!

Introducing Chris Brooks, otherwise known as ‘Scubi’. Chris has been a stalwart supporter of Heritage Action and the Journal since its earliest days. He famously documented his travels to the far north in our 2011 series “Scubi’s Scottish Adventure”.  

Here are his answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

I am an Electrical Engineer in the Railway Industry

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

I studied Archaeology at college as a fill in subject and was introduced to our prehistoric monuments through that.

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

I do feel an air of excitement around our structures but I do not let that get in the way of facts so under it all I suppose I am an academic in the first instance.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

I am definitely interested in Neolithic more than any other time period but do enjoy learning about the late Mesolithic leading in to it and the early middle Bronze age that followed it.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

When studying Archaeology at college I had a book on almost permanent loan from the library which was called something like ‘The A-Z of Prehistoric Sites in Britain’ and which had about 20 sites around Wiltshire in it.  I used the book and my push bike to cycle around the county trying to find the sites listed as well as others outside.  I gave the book back at the end of my studies meaning to buy it later but have never been able to locate a copy.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

I still use The Modern Antiquarian website if I am looking for prehistoric places near where I am travelling to for work. 

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

The best sites that always stay in my mind are on the Orkneys and in particular Taversoe Tuick, a double decker Chambered Cairn on the island of Rousay. I am still to visit Carnac in Brittany which is still on the top of my list because it looks so strange in photos and I need to be there to see it first hand and get my head around it.  

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

Ritual associated with sites!  I understand ritual being a repetitive event but I cannot understand why it is always associated with sites in a ‘religious’ context and especially where there is no real evidence. it always strikes me as a convenient answer and infers all our ancestors built the megaliths with some sort of ritualist context.  I do not think this is the case. 

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I continue to ponder the theories of Silbury Hill, being such a large structure with no real evidence of its intended use.  My thoughts are still that it was taller than it is now when first put to use, that it marked the gathering point of various activities and most likely had a beacon on top such as a very large fire that could be seen by its flames at night and by its smoke in the day.  the flattening of the top in the Roman period as resulted in the removal of evidence of this.  It’s a theory as good as any I suppose.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

I have two pet peeves;

1. the deliberate destruction or damage of ancient monuments including that by landowners through neglect or by vandals.

2. Claims by certain fraternities of their knowledge of the use of these sites and powers contained within, with no evidence whatsoever… oh…and the votive rubbish they constantly leave behind.


Many thanks to Chris for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)


It has been suggested to us that the two Lets Go Digging commercial metal detecting rallies cancelled yesterday and today and the replacement one in Moreton in Marsh happening right now aren’t damaging or unciivilised and are actually a glorious search for knowledge by worthy amateurs. As to that, citing the two recent announcements by the organiser are sufficient answer:

The value of finds not needing to be shared with the landowner has been increased to £3.000 because thats “only fair”.

If a “treasure” reward is payable the farmers “should only keep half of anything over £3000 so if it’s under and they get paid they should pay the finder the money they received.”

What does PAS say about that? We can’t tell you. On Facebook some elements of PAS interact with some of the most blatantly self-seeking individuals in Britain but have blocked us.

The only sort of people (a couple of them could be us, we’re not saying!) who ought to be visiting Moreton in Marsh today. Sad, isn’t it?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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