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by Sandy Gerard

In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green. See part 1 of the series here.

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10. The explanation for Evaluation Trench 43 is not consistent with the evidence.
Evaluation trench 43 examined the mining pits. We understand that this had to be abandoned for health and safety reasons as asbestos cement was identified within the mining pits. Cotswold Archaeology had recorded much of the trench before the asbestos was revealed. However, it was clear that they are modern industrial mining features, parts of which could be removed by the development without significant loss to the historic environment of Mynydd y Betws
A truly remarkable answer. The excavation was limited to half-sectioning modern dumped material in these features and no attempt was made to reveal the primary deposits. It is therefore hardly surprising that the conclusion was wrong. A cursory glance at the Royal Commission volume for this area would have provided much more accurate results and an explanation for the depth of dumped material. This excavation was effectively abandoned even before the 1917 turf level was reached.

In the circumstances it is therefore difficult to accept that it is “clear that they are modern industrial mining features” as actually it is clear that they are not. Furthermore, the only matter that is clear is that it is now known that these remains were not recorded at all, with instead the work being devoted entirely to examining the rubbish that had been dumped into them. Given this, it necessarily follows that the Trust have no way of knowing whether a significant loss to the historic environment has occurred. At the very least an opportunity to understand the historic environment has been squandered. Are the Trust at least willing to admit to that? Why is the Trust satisfied that a heritage asset of some considerable age has been damaged without any proper recording?

11. The excavation strategy employed by Evaluation Trench 43 is very curious.
We do not agree with Dr Gerrard that the positioning of the trench in anyway affected the interpretation of these feature.
A trench that included at least one dump could have provided dating evidence and information on the character of the material being mined. The positioning of the trench meant that this potentially crucial information could not possibly be recovered. These features include three main elements – the pit, its fill and dump. The decision to look at only two is rather like excavating the ditch of a barrow but ignoring the mound itself. The decision to excavate these features in this manner may have contributed to the erroneous result.

12. The mining pits extend into the area of Turbine 16.
See 10 above
See 10 above.

The historic coal workings were largely ignored during the process. Why?

The historic coal workings were largely ignored during the process. Why?

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Yesterday’s article might have given the impression we think Central Searchers have the dodgiest rules in the whole of metal detecting. That isn’t so. That honour goes to The Somerset Artefact Seekers Metal Detecting Club whose rules include this:

“Any items found that are not Treasure Trove become the property of the finder/s unless otherwise stated.” (Changed the next day! See below).

Can you imagine the extreme degree of fiction regarding what might be found  that would be needed in order to induce a farmer to agree to that? Keep in mind, inter alia, that the Crosby Garrett Helmet, valued at £3,600,000 was a non-treasure item and if found under the above arrangement would have become the property of the detectorist alone.

PAS (and indeed EH and CBA) are very welcome to use our Comments section to indicate if they support artefact hunting on this basis and whether it is possible that outreach to farmers is a neglected element of outreach. It would also be interesting to hear from Glasgow Uni criminologists (thanks, Paul Barford) and the police and members of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage about whether such an arrangement, if shown to be ill-understood by one of the parties, could even be illegal. A fascinating topic indeed. Not one that should engender profound silence perhaps.

Update: Ho ho ho!
An April Fool’s joke on a detecting forum this morning: “Metal Detecting ban announced!

But the real irony is this: Britain is the only country on the planet where such an announcement would be seen as a joke!!

NB, not that we’ve ever called for a ban, we’ve only ever suggested there should be a law to compel artefact hunters to behave – for which PAS has called us trolls – and thugs have threatened us with violence. Happy 1st April, PAS and all detectorists.

Another Update (April 2nd): Well, well, well!
The crook-helping Rule of The Somerset Artefact Seekers Metal Detecting Club – “Any items found that are not Treasure Trove become the property of the finder/s unless otherwise stated” has now been changed, thereby delivering a confession of how outrageous it was. Non treasure items now become the property of the finder and farmer on the basis of 50/50!

That’s yet another lesson for PAS: if you criticise people for oikish and exploitative behaviour, sometimes they’re shamed into changing it. Why has it taken a bunch of amateurs like us (like happened in the case of Regtons) to bring about an improvement? It’s not us that are paid and instructed by Parliament to outreach, it’s you. How about you now criticise Central Searchers, as you are duty-bound to do? Maybe you can get a similar result? But please, do it in public, that’s the only thing that works, as we have shown – and of course, it would show you give a damn for the interests of farmers more than artefact hunters, something that’s not at all obvious at present.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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