Dear Friends,

silas 67

This week a bloke with a plastic halo and a large finds bag asked if I’d host a detecting rally “for charity”. I pointed out that he wasn’t the first and that every other detecting rally is now pitched to landowners and local communities as “for charity”, clearly to increase the likelihood that people would allow them to be held. But the truth is, although a footling entrance fee goes to the charities, they don’t get a molecule of what is found so it’s actually acquisitiveness dressed as altruism and I told him to clear off with his “for the love of history and charity” claptrap..

Scandalously, neither the Government nor PAS say a word about these charity rallies (and PAS even attends them!) Here’s what they ought to be saying out loud, if they were honest and acting like the rest of the world, something the Journal said back in 2011 ….

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“If communities are dead set on allowing the digging up of their local archaeological record to raise charity money (and they shouldn’t be – let them ask PAS or any archaeologist in private what they think) they’d be vastly better off hiring a few detecting machines for their local amateur archaeology society to do it (although their ethics would hopefully preclude it).

That way, 100% of any government Treasure rewards could go to the charity, 100% of all the other finds could go to the charity and 100% of the finds would be willingly and accurately reported to PAS (making the exercise less damaging than any metal detecting rally in history!

Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow
Worfield
Salop

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.Simon Thurley, defending the Visitor Centre against criticism said:.

I think this building is elegant, beautiful, and above all fit for purpose. I think it is a great work of art. But amazingly, it is also reversible: if somebody thinks we got it all wrong in 30 years, it could be dug up, taken away and rebuilt somewhere else, or crunched up and sold off as scrap – and the field would be again as it was.”

So if somebody in 30 years thinks they got the new mile long dual carriageway and cuttings wrong could they be dug up, taken away and rebuilt somewhere else? Or crunched up and sold off as scrap leaving the field and the archaeology as it was?

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Reversible?

Reversible?

 

petworth.

Actually, that’s a mistake. They’re supporting a new dual carriageway over their World Heritage landscape at Stonehenge.

Sorry.

By all that’s right and rational the Stonehenge tunnel should have been conceived, proposed and designed by a ẁide panel of respected archaeologists. But no, it was all down to this bloke, looking for votes…..

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cameron-at-stonehenge

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He and his team wanted it cheap. Which means short. But that gave them a PR problem because “short” also means “horribly damaging to the WHS”. However, that wasn’t insurmountable. All they needed was a sufficient number of archaeologists in receipt of Government funding or patronage to say such damage is acceptable. Which, as is clear to all, they’ve obtained.

So just so you know, it’s a political tunnel.  It was neither conceived, designed nor blessed by the likes of Aubrey Burl, Martin Carver, Carenza Lewis, Francis Pryor, Colin Renfrew, Tim Darvill, Josh Pollard, Vince Gaffney or Jim Leary. In Tom Holland’s words, Stonehenge has been “offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of electioneering“. It’s as simple and shameful as that.

by Alan Simkins

“Can Detectorists be Archaeologists?” You’d think the answer would be a simple “Yes, assuming they adopt the habits and ethics of professional archaeologists“. After all, every year thousands of people do exactly that, getting involved in the many community digs organised around the country by archaeologists and local societies.

However, given that in the past some of my colleagues have been intimidated and threatened by some in the metal detecting community (to the point that police have been involved on more than one occasion), it was with some trepidation that I attended this year’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) conference on the above theme earlier this week at the Museum of London (MoL). As it happened, I needn’t have worried as the conference was very much preaching to the converted as far as the audience was concerned. And despite our stance here on the Heritage Journal, I tried to approach the event with an open mind, being neither a detectorist nor qualified archaeologist.

As the start time approached, I estimated that the Weston Theatre was about half full, so around 100 or people present with a good mix of ages but fewer people than I would have expected. Roy Stephenson from the MoL opened the day with the statement “Detectorists are de facto, archaeologists”, which set the tone for most of the day.

Michael Lewis from the PAS then outlined the work being done to kick off similar recording schemes in Flanders, the Netherlands and Denmark in order to combine datasets, and an interesting slide showed examples of similar finds from the four areas.

northseafindsproject

The other morning sessions were, as expected, full of praise for the work that recording detectorists do, with specific examples from a couple of detectorists as to the lengths they go to in order to meticulously record findspots and analyse the resulting data:

Felicity Winkley told us about her survey of Detectorists, and how she accompanied a dozen or so into the field for extended interviews, looking at their motivations and relationships to their local landscapes. Local knowledge was a major factor in deciding where to detect, and much was made of a comparison between detectorist’s research methods with Archaeological `desk-based’ research techniques, including gridding a potential site to ensure full coverage. Interestingly but unsurprisingly, of those interviewed only a third admitted to actually recording their finds with the PAS.

Dr Phil Harding (no, not that one!) then related his 25 years of detecting in Leicestershire, resulting in over 2000 finds. Due to the volume of his backlog, which the FLO could not cope with, he decided to become a self-recorder, and attended a photography course to improve his records. He then explained how finds scatter analysis could indicate the growth of a settlement, but despite his research and analysis many questions remain unanswered.

Dave Haldenby highlighted his collaborative work with archaeologists which has led to several published articles, once again based upon accurate findspot recording at Cottam B in Yorkshire, a site which traversed the Middle Saxon and Viking periods.

And finally before lunch, Lindsey Bedford described her path from detectorist to archaeologist which led to a degree from Bristol University and told us about her work with the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group (BARG).

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The afternoon session opened with Faye Minter from Suffolk saying how working with detectorists using a (systematic) survey technique at Rendlesham produced results. An effort of some 174 man days detecting over a few years over 4 years, resulted in each detectorist finding an average of 3 recordable items per day.

From over 100,000 finds in total on the site, only around 4000 were pre-1650 metallic artefacts. In total, 27% of the finds at Rendlesham were Anglo-Saxon, compared with just 5% across Suffolk as a whole (I can’t help wondering if this is due to under-reporting elsewhere). We were then told about a site at Exning, where use of detectors could potentially have helped identify Anglo-Saxon graves which were otherwise only found accidentally during trenching, having not been spotted on the geophysics results.

As a result of these findings, Suffolk have now amended their requirements in archaeological briefs, specifying that only experienced/known/published detectorists should be used when surveying sites for development.

This point was raised again by Carl Chapness, who admitted that commercial units often only have access to the cheapest detectors, and very little training or experience in their use, mainly due to being commercially driven. Which lead to him raising a counter-question for the conference: “should archaeologists be detectorists?” There was some discussion of night-hawking and the lengths which commercial units sometimes have to go to in order to protect a site under investigation, and Carl suggested that cross-fertilisation of skills and knowledge between detectorists and archaeologists can only be a good thing.

whatcanbedone

detectorists-archaeologists

Samantha Rowe then explained her work looking at the archaeology of the plough zone – examining lead bullets from civil war sites and comparing the erosion against the land use, concluding that over cultivation can exacerbate erosion of metallic objects (a real NSS moment there!)

John Maloney from the NCMD then spoke on the ‘Future of Archaeology and Metal Detecting’

I have to say he came over as an unpleasantly smug Trump-like bully – someone who is used to getting his own way and seeing no possible reason for that status quo to change. He started his talk by disparaging the efforts of the likes of David Gill and Paul Barford to debate some of the issues behind artefact collecting, and implied that figures used by critics of the hobby (such as those used by the Artefact Erosion Counter) have no substance in fact (as we know, the counter is based upon figures supplied by the NCMD, CBA et al). I suspect he came away from the conference very pleased with the cap-doffing shown to the metal detecting fraternity during the talks throughout the day. Very much a ‘you couldn’t do it without us’ attitude which was not pleasant to see. When questioned, he declined to tell the conference how many members the NCMD has, but someone in the audience proffered a figure of 11000 members. John said there had been no analysis done regarding ‘active’ members, but that it was thought there was a degree of ‘churn’ in the figures as people tended to buy detectors, join the NCMD, then get disenchanted when they don’t find anything, and fail to renew.

Thankfully, Mike Heyworth from the CBA, speaking on the same subject brought some common sense to the debate, saying that in the end a metal detector is just a tool that used in the right hands can be a boon to archaeology (as some of the talks highlighted). However, if the person using it has the wrong motives, or lacks the necessary archaeological skills and knowledge then no good can come of its use. “People using a detector as a tool to study the past in a responsible manner are archaeologists”

He is very interested in pushing for a redefinition of ‘treasure’, and a potential system of abatement of rewards to pay for conservation and preservation of finds, with additional penalties if the finds have not been uncovered in a responsible manner (I’m guessing Lenborough would have qualified for such an abatement). Sadly such a change would be dependent upon an overdue review of the Treasure Act, which the DCMS are dragging their heels over. However, the much vaunted ‘Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting’ is undergoing review for a second edition. This will very much be a case of ‘evolution rather than revolution’.

So what did I make of the day overall? As I said at the start, it was very much preaching to the converted – everyone there had a vested interest in building bridges between the two camps. Sadly, those who could learn most from the day were the very people who would not attend – the ‘Barry Thugwits’ and first-time detectorists of this world.

I would have liked to have seen some of the talks recorded, and made available to metal detectorist clubs so that the message of how the two sides can and should work together can be more widely spread.

Next year’s conference will be held in York, and will cover the subject of ‘Treasure’ (in all its forms, apparently).


Overall impressions:
I left the conference with the same thought that I had before I arrived (and indeed the conference strengthened my feelings): Of course detectorists can be archaeologists, providing they do it for public benefit and in accordance with archaeological methods and morals and they don’t pocket the stuff for themselves. Set against the selfless benefits which thousands of amateur archaeologists quietly deliver in exactly that way, cheerleading for artefact hunting looks bizarre, to put it mildly. PAS could have saved their money and breath, cancelled the conference and announced a replacement one titled: “Hurrah for amateur archaeologists!”

The National Trust has just commissioned this gingerbread model of Waddesdon Manor (a French style chateau built for Baron de Rothschild in the 1870s to entertain his fashionable guests). The model is six feet tall, took fifteen months of preparations and 500 hours of work and used 33kg of butter and sugar, 240 eggs and 216kg of icing.

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gingerbread.

Meanwhile, it is supporting massive, irreversible new damage to our national icon.

The abiding message of the 30th Anniversary Conference is that the whole Stonehenge landscape is very special. So logically you’d think everyone would want to keep it from harm. But no. “Desecration by short tunnel” must still be considered acceptable for no-one said otherwise and Tom Holland’s 2 minute 27 second video saying otherwise couldn’t be shown as the programme was “too full”!  

It all makes zero sense. But perhaps most puzzling of all is the attitude of the National Trust. By what mechanism has “Preserving special places for everyone, for ever” become “we support what the Government wants”?  We think we may have found the answer buried in an article in The Independent back in 2003 :

It is the largest conservation group in Europe and the third-biggest landowner in the country. But, a senior official admits on screen, it does not know exactly what it is meant to be doing. What disturbs about The National Trust is not its concern with fine buildings and natural landscape but its inconsistencies and distortions and its clod-hopping, bureaucratic megalomania in dealing with them. Tyntesfield must be frozen archaeologically, but Lennon can be imagined. Cliveden can be developed, but Orford Ness must remain a desert.”

And the Stonehenge WHS must be valiantly defended. Or not. Depending on which decade the question arises.

 

PAS is holding a Conference tomorrow titled “Can detectorists be archaeologists?” Why ask a question the answer to which is obvious: Of course they can, providing they do it for public benefit and in accordance with archaeological methods and morals and they don’t pocket the stuff for themselves!”

Set against the selfless benefits which thousands of amateur archaeologists quietly deliver in exactly that way, cheerleading for artefact hunting looks bizarre, to put it mildly. PAS should have saved their money and breath, cancelled the conference and announced  a replacement one titled: “Hurrah for amateur archaeologists!”

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Oooh look, no Treasure rewards, no EBaying, no secrecy, no selfish motivation, no flattery. no dodgy stats, no cammo, no pockets, yet all the funding and praise and promotion is being dished out elsewhere!

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The Irish President has just said that teaching philosophy in schools, and promoting it in society, is urgently needed to enable citizens “to discriminate between truthful language and illusory rhetoric”. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of British portable antiquities.

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brass-neck

Today Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage will be taking to the platform of the conference celebrating 30 years of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site – why?

Historic England are endorsing their employer’s wish for a short tunnel that would devastate the Stonehenge half of the WHS.

The National Trust has opened a fast food outlet in the centre of Avebury’s henge, amidst the largest stone circle in the world, and also support a short tunnel that would devastate the Stonehenge half of the WHS.

English Heritage have summarily failed to protect Stonehenge from damage during annual solstices, and also support a short tunnel that would devastate the Stonehenge half of the WHS.

The question this collective act of bare faced cheek should leave on everyone’s lips is whether they can be trusted to truly care for our greatest prehistoric monuments?

 

This weekend a Stonehenge & Avebury conference is being held. No-one will be allowed to oppose the short tunnel.

It’s up to you. Please sign the petition.

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