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On Friday a detectorist wrote:
“recently i went to a 2-day all expenses paid conference at York university dedicated mostly to pre and early medieval coinage. The archies were praising the efforts of detectorists big time, as the finds recorded on the PAS database are giving a insight into our history that simply would NOT be possible with conventional archaeology. Me and my fellow detectorists came away very proud of our hobby and the recognition it was receiving by the academics. There was also talk of adding MD training to archaeology degrees!!!”

For the avoidance of doubt amongst artefact hunters:
1. The archaeologist is yet to be born who thinks the way most detecting happens – collecting for personal benefit and not reporting – is praiseworthy. So please don’t confuse utilising the data that a minority produces with being supportive of the behaviour of the majority.
2. Any talk of  “adding MD training to archaeology degrees” would have been about the use of detectors in structured archaeological surveys, NOT about training undergraduates to exploit the common inheritance in a “random”, “selective” or “secretive” fashion for personal fun or profit.

It’s likely the academics made that clear at the time – or thought they did. However, the lesson to be learned is that it’s important to explain things VERY clearly to artefact hunters. If they come away from an academic conference (an academic conference, for goodness sake!) feeling “very proud of our hobbythere must have been a pretty dire communication failure.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

Site of the University of York Faculty of Metal Detecting. Funding is proving problematic.

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Update: Actually, Paul Barford has just pointed out the list of speakers at the Conference (including a number from PAS and a US dealer for whom provenance tends to be too unimportant to mention on his website). Judging by that perhaps I was too hasty. It’s quite possible the detectorists who attended were told that metal detecting was a fine hobby and no downside was mentioned. Britain isn’t just barmy it’s stupid and deserves to be ripped off to the tune of nearly 12 million bundles of history.

Update 2: Paul asks “Now, why is a dealer offering unprovenanced artefacts  with no indication upfront of either licit origins or licit export, invited to speak at a professional conference in Great Britain alongside archaeologists and museums people?” I don’t know Paul. I also don’t know why a metal detectorist went there “all expenses paid”. Nor do I know why none of us who are taxpayers and stakeholders who think the behaviour of most detectorists stinks and is causing great damage to history weren’t invited to attend. All I know is something is very wrong and it doesn’t happen abroad.

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BTW, I was unable to get out and about for Friday’s “Day of Archaeology” – but I spent most of the day composing and tweaking the above article. They also serve who sit and moan. Someone has to.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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