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Familiar picture? The Portable Antiquities Scheme at a metal detecting rally, maybe Durobrivae? No, it’s Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Verulamium 75 years ago.

Wheeler and General Pitt Rivers (fifty years earlier) were the first major exponents of “outreach” to the general public, and the concept was expanded throughout the twentieth century, including with great credit by English Heritage’s Outreach Department   But no more. The English Heritage Outreach Department is to fall victim to the cuts leaving PAS operating the flagship publicly funded national outreach. Worse still, despite appearances above, PAS outreach has as much to do with the archaeological outreach of Pitt Rivers and Mortimer Wheeler and English Heritage as a donkey has to Red Rum. Actually, no, as a bag of spuds has to Red Rum, there’s just no comparison at all…..

For one thing, the finds at Durobrivae were mostly lost without trace, scattered to hundreds of places here and abroad, whereas the Verulamium finds stayed put! And for another, traditionally public outreach has been available for everyone that wanted to listen – whereas PAS outreach is effectively lavished on just 8,000 hobbyists in England. Even after the current cuts it will cost us about £165 per year to fund PAS to outreach to each detectorist. Compare that to the half a penny per ordinary person English Heritage’s outreach was costing before the government decided it was too expensive!

The other differences of course are all too obvious. EH’s half-pence outreach was to willing people, happy to share and learn, PAS’s 165 quid outreach is to a group that has very many resentful and uncooperative members (it probably costs us £2,000 per year for every fully co-operative detectorist – anyone from PAS dare deny it?). And of course, unlike the rest of the population PAS’s clients are clearly distinguished by the fact that every one of them is engaged in personal taking for their own recreational or financial benefit – two thousand of them from ten countries and three continents alongside the Ridgeway over one long weekend a couple of years back, while PAS’s archaeologists suspended their ethicality and smiled through gritted teeth for fear of offending the perpetrators!

“Not offending the perpetrators” is not something that troubles archaeologists abroad. Nor was it here until Britain went bonkers. But now it is PAS’s outreaching leitmotif and after 120 years of archaeological outreach, PAS’s outreach is essentially the British national outreach – and your main hope of being outreached to, dear reader, is to become a perpetrator! The Outreach term has certainly turned.

Oh, and it’s outreach that doesn’t even visibly advocate truly ethical detecting! If you want guidelines on that the only place you can go to is here –


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



November 2010

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