We were struck by a couple of megalithic forum contributions by the amiable Marylander Bucky Edgett who, along with his equally friendly and knowledgeable wife Loie, has been visiting prehistoric sites all over the world since 1991. Can there be any more dedicated pair of Megaraks anywhere in the world? Maybe not. More grammatical, certainly (they term their travel itinerary “Driving the Stone Age”) but more dedicated? Perhaps not.

           

Note the bottles (for use if Rock Art needs wetting).  Image credit Philip Wells

So having seen so many sites in so many places they have a certain authority about them when it comes to opining how prehistoric places should be presented, protected and conserved – more perhaps than many less travelled professionals who are charged with that duty in individual countries. So listen to Bucky ye Mighty, and repair:

“To me, the problems of protection, whether from random Yahoos, hardworking farmers, big business or even government seem to be to be all of a piece, albeit–as you point out–on a spectrum of damage from probably inconsequential to disastrous.

So while it may seem to be one thing to be gracious and respect the freedoms of offerers [people who leave offerings at megalithic sites in Britain], or those who wish the sites to be untrammelled and natural; and another to protest governments running roads through them, to me the “crimes” are basically the same thing.

It’s a question of the thin end of the wedge. Where is the universally agreeable line between photography, drumming, (eventually dead) flowers, (rotting) fruit, tea lights, dolls’ heads, litter, elimination, farming, protesters’ purple spray paint, Banksy, much needed transportation systems, etc. etc. Isn’t that what this thread is about? Where’s “the” line?

All I’m saying is that in true fairness to all, there really isn’t one. And that the attempt to draw it is the red herring that leads inexorably from one to the next. Quite likely I seem like Alexander and the knot. And quite likely my own feelings that all modern views about the purposes or nature of the old stones are modern impositions leads me to be able to be crass about those views and therefore irritating. So here’s the end to it! Thank you all for being so nice.”

AND….

“And as I’ve said before, we have exactly the same problems here with Native American sites. No one knows how much destruction has been allowed by having our sites in private hands, unguarded. Other than that it’s certainly been immense. At that rate, it’s a truism that archaeological sites are being plundered and destroyed all over the world. This is just a result of there being more and more people who can get to them. Most of the people respect the sites well enough to not trash them, but it only takes a few to do the damage. And there are more of those few all the time.

That’s not going to change.

So long as any bunch of Yahoos–of whatever nationality–are allowed to piss in, climb on, spray paint, knock over, plow under, litter, leave crappy offerings in and generally do whatever they like for free at the sites, well, that’s what’s going to happen. Sorry, but that’s been the fate of the sites for millennia. It’s amazing any remain at all.”

Speaking so clearly to the British conservation and archaeological Establishment (and their opposite numbers, the pinchers and trashers and detectorists and collectors – the historiciders of Britain – and the States – for carelessness, government lassitude, commerce and greed extend seamlessly across national borders) Bucky reminds us of a famous Norwegian bloke who is in our thoughts at this time.

Why him? Because listen, PAS, EH, the Culture Secretary, the Treasury, Tarmac plc, US Collectors, EBayers, Plastic Goddess leavers, litterers, splashers, stealers and Metal detectorists can you hear that Yank? Did he talk about allowing damage? Or turning a blind eye? Or meeting exploiters and trashers halfway? Or (God rot the government that first wimped out of their responsibility to our resource) partnering the takers! No he didn’t. And he’s been a lot of places and seen how it’s done in many contexts. But he’s never seen it done in such a way as the British archaeological Establishment is forced by government policy to do it – and smile while it does! No, he says, with that refreshing American candour, don’t let the recreational destroyers destroy. If you don’t allow them to destroy it they won’t destroy it!!!

Gosh Bucky, you make rocket science so simple! So you mean if the little scrotes who painted the Uffington White Horse purple yesterday were risking five years in jail then it wouldn’t have happened? It all seems so logical now. So is that why the American authorities in the South West are coming down like a ton of bricks on that cottage industry of digging for Native American artefacts whereas our authorities attend the equivalent British cottage industry’s manifestations (mass commercial detecting rallies and metal detecting shows)? Do you suppose that’s why Irish archaeology isn’t having to partner thousands of metal detectorists? Could it be that the latter are frit to help themselves to the Republic’s history and put it in grubby finds pouches nicely labelled for transportation back to Dublin, Dusseldorf and Doncaster lest they are put for some years in a place where there are lots and lots of metal detectors? Does the Irish Government skip the education and persuasion phases of liaison and go straight to the “get behind bars me boyo!” stage of partnership? Does it work? Do protozoans avoid acid?

We think he’s got you trussed up on that one chaps! (But of course you know that.) Please have another quiet word with the government. Tell ’em what the random scary plain-talking absolutely Yank amateur said, based on his travel experiences elsewhere: So long as any bunch of Yahoos–of whatever nationality–are allowed to piss in, climb on, spray paint, knock over, plow under, litter, leave crappy offerings in and generally do whatever they like for free at the sites, well, that’s what’s going to happen.” Tell ’em your boys and your philosophy and your practice and your conservation and protection policy just took one Hell of a beating!!!

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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