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by Nigel Swift


Brian Taylor (in The British Journal of Sociology – Amateurs, Professionals and the knowledge of archaeology) references the view that in the first half of the 20th century it was considered that the core defining characteristics that distinguish professions were:


However, Mr Taylor suggests an “alternative conceptualization” whereby amateurism is considered “a self-legitimising component of the vocabulary of professionalism itself.”

It’s quite a proposal, but very much in the spirit of the times, when the emphasis is on outreach, partnership, inclusivity, community archaeology and (on the quiet) filling the gaps left by funding cuts. But can it be valid? Can amateurs be seen as somehow closer to professionals than they used to be? Without question, yes. They are. Yet it’s also clear the above defining characteristics of professions are still valid whereas most amateurs patently lack the full range of characteristics to qualify as professionals.

So how has the trick been achieved? How have those who clearly lack the defining characteristics of archaeologists come to work closely and often effectively with archaeologists? The answer is hardly a secret. The most effective amateur archaeologists “borrow” the core defining characteristics of archaeologists by working in ways directed by or approved by professionals. There is no other way.

Which is the quarrel I have with artefact hunting and Britain’s failure to regulate it. Most amateur archaeologists borrow the defining characteristics of archaeologists whereas artefact hunters reject them. That really matters if Archaeology is seen as a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible and I challenge anyone, including the Culture Minister and the Head of PAS, to deny that metal detecting ought to be conducted in accordance with the core defining characteristics of professional archaeology.

Take just one of the defining characteristics, a code of ethics. Archaeologists (and hence most amateur archaeologists)  have one. Artefact hunters don’t, which is tantamount to them shouting from the hilltops: “we are not prepared to accept that Archaeology is a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible”. Well actually, I tell a lie, they DO have codes of practice but they are not the same as the ones that bind archaeologists and amateur archaeologists. They are camouflages – codes designed to divert the attention of landowners from the fact that those who cite them are not willing to behave like archaeologists or amateur archaeologists.

Consider this:
Number of detectorists who have adopted our suggested Ethical Detecting pledges:
Number of detecting clubs who insist on their members adhering even to the severely emasculated standards of the Official Responsible Detecting Code:
Number of detectorists and detecting clubs who say they are committed to the NCMD, FID or similar detectorists’ “Codes” none of which even require adherents to report all finds to PAS:

Next time you hear talk of heroism or what a lot of finds PAS has recorded please bear in mind those three numbers – zero, one and “all of them” and ask yourself why – and how much loss of knowledge they hint at.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



Last Friday the Local Council of Xaghra on the island of Gozo, Malta sealed a twinning agreement with the Councils of Mergo in Italy and Chevaigné in France. It’s a nice place, Xaghra, it’s a shame a comparable British town with a similar obligation to protect a nearby ancient site hasn’t twinned up with them. Oswestry for instance…

Alas, that could never be, as there seems to be a bit of a cultural gulf between the two places. At Xaghra you see, two brand new two-storey terraced houses are being proposed in the buffer zone of the Xaghra Stone Circle, which forms part of the Ggantija complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site and there’s an awful stink being kicked up about it. (Yes, you read it right, two!)

Heritage Malta (a sort of Maltese English Heritage) has objected to the development saying that any development in this buffer zone would not only endanger the world heritage status of the Ggantija temples but of all six Megalithic sites in Malta and Gozo. So naturally a town which seems likely to be about to reject two new houses in a buffer zone is going to be less than keen to twin with a town where Government planning rules enable someone to try their luck with an application to build 188 right next to a world famous hill fort – with a sporting chance of getting at least some of them approved!


The above stunt, created nine years ago by The Real Countryside Alliance at the Uffington White Horse, caused no damage but because it was unauthorised by its National Trust guardians it was deemed a bad thing.

On the other hand, the one below (promoting Big Brother in 2003) was considered a “good stunt” to start with (presumably, since the Trust accepted £2,000 for allowing it). But then, after complaints about the lack of respect for monuments and the bad example it set, their spokesman announced “we might have got this wrong”.


Then in 2012 when Paddy Power did this at Uffington it was deemed a bad stunt but not for the Big Brother “lack of  respect” reason but for the Countryside Alliance “lack of permission” reason. For their part, Paddy Power dealt with criticism by donating some penance money to charity whereupon they seem to have been forgiven.


Thus it seems the “respect for monuments” complaint is sometimes but not always recognised as valid by the Trust. The latest example of that uncertainty is that the Trust has recently allowed a moustache to be added to the Cerne Abbas Giant because it was in aid of charity.

Two important questions arise: do stunts carry a risk of damaging copycatting elsewhere and if so do “charitable purposes” justify taking such a risk? It would be good if the Trust clarified their policy.

Update 28 November:
This theoretical image produced by Paul Barford raises issues of principle that would need addressing if the Trust is to formulate and publish a clear policy:


No doubt (these days) a proposal to brandalise a hill figure by a pro-hunting group would be given short shrift and the same would apply to artefact hunters (bearing in mind the Trust doesn’t allow metal detecting on it’s land). But what if it was in order to advertise a metal detecting rally “in aid of charity” (as so many are these days)  – maybe even the very charity the moustache stunt was in aid of? Do the means justify the ends? Our conviction is no, in the case of both detecting rallies and brandalising, but it seems it is a matter that is yet to be fully addressed by the Trust.

Last weekend saw the culmination of a successful community project in Cambridgeshire, led by the Meldreth Local History Group. The project was inspired by the Michael Woods TV programme “The Great British Story”, and two of the local historians, Kathryn Betts and Joan Gane led the project with the help of Dr Carenza Lewis,  gaining HLF funding of just over £7000 under the ‘All our Stories’  initiative.

The who!e community got involved, coming together for the digs over three weekends during the summer, and Meldreth Village Hall was packed to the rafters with local people looking to view the various finds from 32 test pits dug throughout the village, clustered around a two-mile stretch of road just west of the River Mel, a tributary of the River Cam.

When we arrived slightly early, we were greeted by Kathryn and her colleagues, and made to feel most welcome. A short film about the project, made as a digital record of the project was on continuous loop in a side room and we took the opportunity to watch this as background info, in relative peace before the main crowds arrived.

Just some of the finds on display.

Just some of the finds on display.

In the main hall, the finds from the 32 test pits were laid out on display, each pit showing a map and photographs, with the finds divided by context (depth). The vast majority of finds were of pottery sherds or animal bone, the outstanding find being a metallic ‘badge’, initially identified by the experts (including the PAS) as a Medieval Pilgrim Badge, which within the last week has now been correctly identified as a medieval mirror casing. In fact, this was possible due to an almost identical find from Billingsgate in London, dated to the late 14th century. This was so identical in fact, that it’s highly possible that the same mould was used to create the two items.

The 'Pilgrim Badge' from Meldreth Pit 7.

The ‘Pilgrim Badge’ from Meldreth Pit 7.

The Billingsgate Mirror Casing © Museum of London

The Billingsgate Mirror Casing © Museum of London

On cue, the hall was cleared and seating arranged in time for Carenza’s talk. She gave an overview of the test pitting procedure, and explained that everyone was given the opportunity to get involved, either by digging their own pit, helping dig someone else’s pit, sieving spoil, bagging finds, or just by keeping the diggers refreshed with food and drink!

Some of the pits and finds were then highlighted, and the correct identification of the mirror case was announced, showing that even the experts get it wrong sometimes!

Next some charts and maps were shown, putting the project’s finds into a regional context. The comparatively large amount of Bronze Age pottery was deemed unusual – it’s possible there were two or more small settlements or housing groups in the area. This starkly contrasts with the complete lack of Iron Age finds, although the amount of Roman material shows that the area was settled toward the end of the IA. There was then a gap, with no early Anglo Saxon finds until the 9th Century. Moving through the middle and later medieval periods, Meldreth was obviously an important and thriving centre, with many finds, some of which from the area of the manor indicate high status, and it seems the settlement was sustained (or at least not curtailed nearly as much as other nearby population centres) throughout the period of the Black Death.

Following on from the late medieval, the finds tailed off, with very little from the pre-Victorian and Victorian periods. It was interesting to see the pattern of finds through time, indicating the ebb and flow of the village’s fortunes.

Meldreth today is a commuter village, with a population close to two and a half thousand people, with many new houses, and a thriving community. The possibility exists, now that the History Group have the materials, for further test pitting to take place in the future, though this will depend to an extent upon further funding being made available. But for a small village just south of Cambridge, there is obviously more of the story to be told, and I suspect the community spirit and will is there to push the project forward even further.

Drinks and cakes were available for those who wished to stay behind and investigate the finds further, to chat with Carenza or to watch the films, but we made our way to the door, for the journey home to London.

 Many thanks to the project organisers for putting on such a great display, to all those who took part in the dig, and to everyone on the day who made us outsiders feel welcomed.

If you have a Community Archaeology project or event upcoming, please let us know about it in the comments, and if we can, we’ll try to come along and say hello!

by Nigel Swift

Ed Vaizey (and others) say we (and others) quoted his “heritage heroes” words out of context for he was referring only to “responsible” detectorists. But it wasn’t us who concealed the context, it was him. For absolute proof , see the certificate he awards to those who heroically donate their treasure finds to museums (we’ve filled it in so you get the idea.) What’s notable is that he doesn’t give one to more than 90% of his heroic, responsible detectorists who find treasure as they don’t donate their finds, they insist on being paid a reward!


Teasu Cetificate6.

That’s quite an omission if you’ re hailing them as heroes is it not? It’s not us who are failing to present things to the public in context, is it? If reality is to be spun so blatantly what’s next? Exemplars? Paragons? Sorry to complain Mr Vaizey (and Mr Badger) but you’re both too young to recall how kids used to hand stuff they found in the fields to their local museum because that’s where they belonged. I can, and I can’t adjust to the idea that these days 9 out of ten finders screech uncouthly for a maximum reward and STILL get falsely called heroes by two Culture Secretaries. I’m afraid I find that crass and stupid and wrong and whatever the Government and a few others say it brings unique shame on Britain.


One of hundreds of paintings by Heritage Action Founder Member Jane Tomlinson who will be holding another exhibition of her work this weekend at her home in Eynsham near Oxford and at other venues in the village.

Details here  and more on her website. You can also follow Jane on Twitter.  (The above painting is now sold but if you like owls or ancient sites she has  lots of both and much else.)


Now that millions of pounds worth of new infrastructure is in place at Stonehenge is it time to consider if the way it is used should be expanded? It’s going to remain a mass tick-box for the world’s tourists of course, plus it will host Solstice and Equinox gatherings, but is that it? Shouldn’t it now be used for a whole range of events and interactions?

We’ve previously suggested some new ways Stonehenge could be used. However, as Sarah May has pointed out there’s always a tension at heritage assets between the need for conservation and the perceptions and aspirations of the many groups that see them as theirs: There is a process by which buildings, places and objects come to take this more distant role permanently. They are extracted from the lived landscape. No longer available for the kind of rough and tumble interactions they may have enjoyed, they become objects of veneration.

However, if that tension can be resolved (and surely it can be by applying a test that few would criticise: does the event conform to the need for conservation and safety?) then isn’t there a strong case for expansion? If it’s everyone’s monument then isn’t everyone entitled to use it in a way they would like, not just some people?  It’s hard to see a downside to that proposition (except that the monument needs to earn its keep, but that can no doubt be worked round by adjusting the where and the when of events). Also, it’s a proposition that has already been tested with great success: the lantern procession seems set fair to become an established part of the cultural calendar and the Fire Garden event last year was a great success (prompting Mike Pitts to write: Like summer solstice but with gentility…. The stones close and personal and erratically wrapped in flames and paraffin smells in the growing darkness, thousands of people politely queuing, one man making gentle electronic music surrounded by a quiet crowd, a comfortable friendly gathering …. Soft, arty French eccentricity from La Compagnie Carabosse).

This is not to say that anyone should be deprived of their current usage. They have a right (subject to the need for conservation)- but so does everyone else and at present the range of options is narrow – for no obvious reason other than the fact that that’s how it is.


Nothing is being held back, honest – look in my eyes.

Three years ago we suggested that anyone who googled Crosby Garrett helmet would think “the reported circumstances of its alleged discovery, form, removal, provenance, secrecy, find spot, restoration, marketing and reporting are mighty rum“. Things haven’t changed it seems. If you want a flavour of it all you could look at Paul Barford’s site. He has devoted several dozen postings to it and you can read them, most recent first, here. You might well conclude that he has a bit of a point. In fact many.

Recently though things have moved on. The helmet has finally turned up at the local museum (on loan) and there has been a conference about it and a booklet and a report. Yet still an awful lot of things that would normally have been put into the public domain remain unexplained. It is not just Paul that has been raising concerns. Professor David Gill for instance has also made many postings about the affair on his Looting Matters blogspot, the latest being here and here. Here’s an extract from his latest, a few days ago, making reference to the study that has just been published. What’s going on?

“Professor David Ekserdjian in his introduction to the newly published study of the Crosby Garrett helmet draws attention to the newly surfaced Resurrection of Christ by Titian [see BBC]. Imagine if the Titian was sent for a quick clean and touch-up in a workshop under the railway arches in London. I would hope that Ekserdjian would be in the vanguard of those raising their voices in protest.Yet when “a hauntingly unforgettable work of art”, to use Ekserdjian’s description of the Crosby Garrett helmet, was sent for a hurried restoration before its sale at auction, the silence appears to have been almost overwhelming.”

Incidentally, it’s worth recalling that this whole mess began because something different was (metaphorically) put on top of the helmet. What we are seeing is the “else”.



More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



The above is from The Oswestry Town Plan, “an informed and influential guide to developers, setting out what matters most to local people” which expresses The Town Vision in which “important open spaces are protected and enhanced”.

So what does it show? An important open space that should be protected, for sure. But the setting of the hill fort? Absolutely not. Settings aren’t perfectly round. Nor can they be drawn on a map (they shouldn’t be confused with buffer zones round World Heritage Monuments) – they exist within the judgements of Planning Inspectors not on maps. Thus whoever drew the circle had neither the authority nor the ability to represent it as the setting – and didn’t claim it was.

So WHY did they draw that line just there, perfectly round (and offset so it is further from the hill fort in the North than the South?) What “informed and influential guide to developers” was it providing? In what way was it “setting out what matters most to local people”? We don’t know. But to repeat, it isn’t the setting for the reasons given and also because a setting as tiny as that for “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” would be a grotesque joke. By any basis of judgement the setting of that monument is far larger and building houses almost touching that circle as if it did portray the setting would be terribly wrong, don’t you agree campaigners and councillors? ‘Course you do! And yet ….



How did that happen? Where did the developers (and perchance some councillors) get the idea that building houses just there would be acceptable and would reflect what matters most to local people?

As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.

“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.


When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?


Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?


Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”


Castlerigg Stone Circle: a bunch of old stones. But why here?

Castlerigg: a bunch of old stones. But why here?

Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?


November 2013

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