by Nigel Swift

The November newsletter of the UK Detectornet forum advises detectorists what to do if they find a hoard: “bring in a professional to excavate it” – which is spot on. But they ruin it by also saying that what they do “depends on the circumstances surrounding what you’ve found, and if you feel it would be under threat because too many people have seen it, and its location.”  I couldn’t agree less. That’s not a valid excuse – in fact there’s NO excuse for digging out a significant hoard, and people that might be looking for one shouldn’t be given one. It’s not rocket science so I’m emboldened to draft below the advice they (and PAS) should be giving (if only they weren’t both constantly frit of the way it would play in the cheap seats):

From the moment you become aware you have found a significant hoard you should treat it as what it is – State Property – and if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen,you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State, and cause no further disturbance whatsoever to it or it’s context or the associated knowledge. That means always stopping digging, whatever the circumstances, and doing everything you can to protect it until archaeologists have attended. You should do this in conjunction with the landowner if they can be found and necessary actions could include camping out nearby, getting a lighting hook-up into the field from the farm, spending the night in a parked car, asking a couple of colleagues to help guard it in exchange for a small share of a future reward or even hiring a security guard (you and the farmer could go halves on the cost out of the reward money).

We consider that failing to take on the role of guardian as outlined above is reprehensible and we would fully support the withholding of the whole of an ex-gratia reward from any finder who can be shown to have knowingly failed to do so. So please, play fair – for everyone’s sake including your own.

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The true currency of archaeology is knowledge; that’s our gold standard, valid everywhere(Professor Martin Carver in Antiquity last year)

In my view the Admin of UK Detectornet will never succeed in representing their forum as the responsible arm of detecting so long as they continue to accommodate the wishes of the less-than-responsible element in detecting by failing to say there is NO excuse for destroying the true currency of archaeology whether by failing to report finds or by continuing to dig a significant hoard. Salisbury Museum director Adrian Green recently praised a detectorist for stopping digging the Tisbury Hoard but he also said “you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”….. What’s the betting, most of the majority that kept on digging and caused consequent damage used UKDN’s excuse?

Not that I think anything I say will cut much ice chez UKDN or PAS. (“It’s impractical. It’s unrealistic. It’s extremist. Ignore it”.) But in truth, the failure to adopt wording like mine by either body isn’t a reflection of how wrong I am but how tragically dominated both organisations and the whole of British heritage conservation policy are by the wishes of the  irresponsible, acquisitive and unco-operative yobbery side of the detecting spectrum. It’s so sad.

Update 9/11/11 …..

The unco-operative end of the detecting spectrum can rarely resist proving our point for us. See the Comment just posted in response to the article:

“Stopping Digging had away and shi*e man….. Your having a larf. Once a suspected hoard has been located you think for one minute I’m gonna camp out overnight without my PJs no tent no cooking facities in this weather you can not be serious….”

No, we don’t think you’d camp out, nor many who think like you. For two reasons:

1.        You (and they) would hide behind UKDN’s excuse in order to present a deserving image to the Treasure Valuation Committee despite what you and others are saying here and on your forums. (UKDN please note.)

2.        The Treasure Valuation Committee will doubtless appear to believe your “UKDN excuse” and give you a reward (in full or reduced by only a small amount) as they are frightened of the reaction of many detectorists if they don’t. Of course, you and others know that very well and have seen it happen repeatedly so you have no financial incentive to stop digging or camp out or otherwise guard the hoard and it’s associated knowledge. If you DID have that incentive then presumably you would give an impersonation of someone that gave a damn about history.  (Treasure Valuation Committee please note).

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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