We recently complained to the BBC about them repeatedly calling metal detectorists “amateur archaeologists” when they clearly aren’t.  (The distinction is very simple: metal detectorists pocket stuff to take home to keep for themselves or to sell. Amateur archaeologists don’t.)

At first, they tried to wriggle out of it, saying the Editors of ‘Breakfast’ had advised them the programme had previously run a number of stories about criminal nighthawk detectorists (something that has absolutely nothing to do with our contention they shouldn’t be calling “legal” detectorists amateur archaeologists!).

But this morning (Saturday, 16 July) there’s evidence the point just might have sunk in – a feature full of praise for real amateur archaeologists and showing dedicated people helping at digs and volunteering – with contributions by Mike Heyworth of CBA and John Penrose the Minister, footage from Bignor Roman Villa and interviews with the (highly respectable and literate!) members of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society. Best of all, a mention that there are more than 200,000 amateurs involved in archaeology!

Let’s hope the Beeb has finally got it. More than 200,000 people don’t pocket finds for themselves and are worthy of the term “amateur archaeologist”. 10,000 people do exactly that, and aren’t.

Update 17 December 2011
We are pleased to report that the BBC has now dropped all references to “amateur archaeologists” in both its online and broadcast reports about metal detecting (the last time they did it was here on 3rd June 2011) and has adopted the term “metal detector enthusiasts” instead. We hereby congratulate ourselves for achieving something which, by their actions, the Beeb has demonstrated we were right about. The fact it was us that achieved it rather than publicly funded organisations like the Portable Antiquities Scheme speaks volumes about what’s going on.

But there’s more to do as the term “metal detector enthusiast” doesn’t convey to the public the essential nature of what a metal detecting enthusiast does. He may be enthusiastic about his metal detector but the entire point of that enthusiasm is that he is using the machine to hunt for artefacts to take home for himself or to sell. Thus, if the Beeb has conceded that “amateur archaeologist” is erroneous, inappropriate and misleading it can’t deny that the term “artefact hunter” is accurate, appropriate and informative – and we intend to lobby them to that effect.

Update 30 April 2012:
Interestingly, a detectorist has just reported http://www.detectingwales.com/index.php?topic=14652.0 “I got back, I dashed down to Cheltenham Town hall where they are filming the  Antiques Road show today, and took a few bits with me. Met Hilary Kay and Clive Stewart-Lockhart who were quite impressed with my finds, but they told me they couldn’t film them for the series because they have now been told not to promote metal detecting on the show. Someone must be turning the screws, on our hobby” His solution is equally interesting: “The best thing to do is take an object along and say it belonged to your Great grandfather…”


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting