“We believe that the current levels of delay are unacceptable. They are severely testing the goodwill of finders and undermining the provisions of the Treasure Act by introducing a disincentive to reporting”

[National Council for Metal Detecting Policy Statement January 2009]

Churlish, certainly – British metal detectorists are already uniquely privileged as their activity is legalised and even encouraged whereas elsewhere it would land them in jail. As if that wasn’t enough, if they get lucky they can be paid large rewards for “Treasure” items. What arrogance to complain that delays in paying them are “unacceptable“?!

But it is more than that. Since it is criminal not to report a Treasure item then payment delays cannot be what NCMD claims them to be – “a disincentive to reporting”. Except in one way (that the NCMD doesn’t spell out) – if you conceal your find from the authorities and sell it illegally on the quiet you can get your money faster. Thus they are issuing both a confession and a threat, effectively saying unless rewards are paid more promptly some detectorists will sell their finds illegally and they will never be reported.

Thus Britain stands in a practical and philosophical quagmire. Not only is it permitting recreational and entrepreneurial erosion of its archaeological resource; not only is it paying millions to buy its own treasures; not only is it rewarding people for not breaking the law….. it is being warned in unmistakeable terms by the main representative body of metal detectorists that unless it pays up fully and promptly it can forget about seeing some of those treasures at all as they will be disposed of illegally elsewhere. It is being warned that it is being blackmailed by an unspecified number of metal detectorists.

To borrow a phrase from the NCMD, it is not the delay in making payments to its members that is “unacceptable” but the delay in rectifying the whole situation.  Just over the Irish Sea  no metal detectorist is blackmailing the government, metal detecting is illegal and anyone doing it would have to wait till hell freezes over for a reward (although ordinary members of the public wouldn’t) and of course Ireland’s archaeological artefact record isn’t subject to relentless legalised recreational erosion .