by Nigel Swift
Here are two recent public statements by a prominent detectorist with many Youtube videos to his name. They’re worth highlighting, for reasons I’ll explain:
First, he says he records finds, “But not all with the PAS. I keep detailed records of all my finds in a book. Will hand these down my family.“ [Translated as: Dear Society, I’ve stolen your knowledge of your history but someone in my family might let you have it one day.]
Second, he says: “Today I’ve received a provisional valuation from the British Museum for my Roman Silver Hoard. I have to admit I found the offer totally offensive and will not only be telling them – and I may never volunteer any treasure trove again in the future.” [Translated as: Dear Society, never mind the history, I want every penny I can get out of you and incidentally I am thinking of becoming a criminal.]
Are you watching PAS? Or the Treasure Valuation Committee? Or ex-Culture Ministers Lammy and Vaizey? Or other detectorists? Or any of the many who declaim endlessly that outreach has worked well, everything in the garden’s lovely or improving and detectorists are nearly all heroes? Mr A***r is a nightmare for all of them because he doesn’t sing from the approved hymn sheet and he has many, many colleagues who don’t either (you’ll see both his sentiments constantly voiced on detecting forums). Worst of all, from the detecting apologists’ viewpoint, these things aren’t said by those convenient scapegoats “the tiny minority of nighthawks” but by legal detectorists, the Teflon group that they never criticise yet whose wrongdoers must surely far outnumber nigthawks.
Even more to the point: are landowners watching? Has Mr A***r or any who talk and act like him, people who must therefore have the brains and moral standards of pumpkins, been on your farm? Are any like him on your fields right now, proclaiming they’re there for everyone’s benefit?
So the question that Mr A***r’s two statements prompt is this: should the authorities be more honest about artefact hunting? It’s not just a case of “if they aren’t nighthawks they’re fine” for it’s demonstrable that a lot of legal detectorists are awful. Isn’t it time that official statements trumpeted that fact and shouldn’t farmers be taught how to be selective in who they allow on their fields? At present their only information on the need to preserve society’s knowledge for society’s benefit comes from detectorists at their doors – and that often means the likes of Mr A***r. That simply can’t be right. He and his ilk shouldn’t be allowed on any fields. everyone except he and his ilk are agreed about that, so why aren’t some simple steps taken to make it happen?