by Nigel Swift

One of Satan’s pals – Belial I think it was – recommended that they should just sit tight in Hell as in due course they might all become inured to the fiery pain. I think that’s what has happened in Britain over artefact hunting. Because it is so ubiquitous the authorities no longer worry about the damage it causes. Nevertheless sometimes Reality comes knocking and can’t be ignored, as has just happened. An important group of Archaeological associations (the Australian, Canadian, European, Pan African and Indo-Pacific ones plus ICOMOS and the World Archaeological Congress) have produced a statement on “The Excavation of Archaeological Material in the Popular Media” expressing concern over TV programmes that celebrate destruction of the archaeological record and have said what every British archaeologist knows:

“Excavating an archaeological site is an unavoidably destructive process. Archaeologists mitigate this destruction through the use of careful excavation techniques, documentation, preservation, and reporting procedures that have been developed over the past century, and are updated as new technologies become available […] To excavate a site without following such protocols is unmitigated destruction of the archaeological record…

That’s all I have to say really. Just banging on, lest anyone forget. All those archaeologists abroad say excavating without following archaeological protocols is unmitigated destruction and shouldn’t be on the telly. Yet here in Britain you can legally target, damage and denude any non-scheduled site (which is 95% of them) and if you simply say you report what you find the authorities will (a.) pat you on the head, (b.) the Culture Minister will come metal detecting with you and (c.) a specialist quango will make peak time TV programmes about Britain’s Secret Treasures, jubilating to the public about what you find.

Awful innit? Still, you don’t think about the loss if you keep looking at the shiney-shiney. Oooh, and soon there’s to be a metal detecting sit-com. Yes, a comedy. Metal detecting is something to smile about in Belial’s Britain. But as Milton said of Belial, he “counseled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth,  not peace”.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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