Many people suspect the Government is retreating from its heritage protection duty and using the Big Society as a smokescreen to hide the damage. Some of us who have long complained about their policy on metal detecting and artefact hunting might be tempted to say:
“See, that’s how it feels when you know very well they are allowing irreversible net damage while blatantly telling the public everything is fine and dandy – in fact positively beneficial!”
Proper explanations have never been forthcoming but now we’re all in a Big Society perhaps we’re all entitled to ask Big Questions with the expectation they’ll be answered. So starting today we intend to place a series of direct, polite questions on the appropriate page on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website and to publish them here on the Journal together with any responses we get.
They aren’t trick questions. Or loaded. Or unreasonable. Just straightforward ones that landowners and the stakeholding and taxpaying public are entitled to ask and to have answered fully and unambiguously. Here’s the first. (We’ve added some background details below it).
Question 1: (From Heritage Action, 28 April 2011).
Has PAS ensured that every landowner is aware there are metal detectors disguised as walking sticks and a new generation of deep-seeking metal detectors that pose a potential threat to archaeology?
What’s this fine fellow doing?
“The Rover UC metal detector is disguised as a walking stick and allows searching in areas where you couldn’t with common detectors. Without arousing public interest and getting curious looks, you can scan places you never could scan before.”
There are distributors of this machine in many of the countries where looting is a severe problem – Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Macedonia, Peru, Bulgaria, Iraq and Greece. They’re also available in Britain but only from a firm in Norfolk (the county most plagued by nighthawks). And they haven’t gone unnoticed, having been highlighted on the Twitter page of The Searcher magazine (“the informed voice of metal detecting”) with the bland comment “machine for the next generation.”
It seems to us that if all was on course with British conservation policy detectorists would have been educated to be loudly condemning such machines and the Portable Antiquities Scheme would be telling landowners to watch out for walkers on their land carrying such things – and metal detectorists knocking on their doors carrying the new deep seeking metal detectors as well!
Wouldn’t they? PAS after all has a statutory and professional duty of care towards the resource and a moral duty of care towards landowners , does it not?
Hence our question.