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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?

How come neither the Government nor the Portable Antiquities Scheme nor the National Council for Metal Detecting warn farmers that a proportion of legal detectorists are awful?

How come neither the Government nor the Portable Antiquities Scheme nor the National Council for Metal Detecting warn farmers that a proportion of legal detectorists are awful?



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


By Dr Sandy Gerrard

In the moorlands of Western Britain are two very similar stone rows. They have a great deal in common but whilst one is in England the other is in Wales. The English one was discovered in 1917 whilst the Welsh one was found nearly 100 years later in 2012. Both:

  • have been damaged by industrial activity
  • sit within a prehistoric context
  • have a cairn at their upper end
  • are composed of small stones
  • have the largest stone at the lower end
  • are not straight
  • have a significant change in orientation at a point where a coastal headland becomes visible
  • have sea views along their upper length
  • have no sea views along their lower length
  • are associated with cairns
  • have not been positively dated

There the similarities end. The English row is a scheduled ancient monument whilst the Welsh one is not because there is “insufficient evidence”. The peculiar thing is both rows have exactly the same amount of evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation and yet whilst English Heritage considers this sufficient Cadw do not. As we have seen, a lack of evidence does not normally prevent Cadw from scheduling sites so why are they so reticent to schedule this one?

Lines of stones leading up a hill. One is scheduled as an Ancient Monument the other is not. Which one?

Lines of stones leading up a hill. One is scheduled as an Ancient Monument the other is not. Which one?

Nationally important?

Nationally important?

Nationally important?

Nationally important?


Lines of stones leading from mounds of stones have traditionally been treated as stone alignments. So why is it that in England this is seen as sufficient evidence to offer protection, whilst in Wales it is not?

SR5Shifts in alignment are a common feature of stone rows. Both of these occur at a point where a coastal headland becomes visible.


These lines of stones are so similar it is difficult to appreciate why one can be seen as nationally important and the other as not.


QUESTION: When is an alignment of stones leading from a stony mound within a rich prehistoric ritual landscape dismissed as probably post-medieval?


ANSWER: Perhaps when it is embarrassingly found by a third party after the archaeological mitigation work has been completed.


Above are 3 examples of the many pieces of  “art” produced by just one person across 10 national parks right across the western United States. Unsurprisingly, the National Parks Service has issued a press release saying “Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys often irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.”

On the other hand, here are some of the temporary artworks the UK’s National Trust has willingly allowed, including in a National Park:


Are both organisations right? Or just one of them? Would the US National Parks Service agree with the UK National Trust that if it’s temporary and for a good cause it’s OK and won’t invite damaging copycatting”? Or not?

free Stonehenge partial

The problem is this: it’s being used as a new header on a website dedicated to campaigning for open access to Stonehenge and it’s a cut down version of this :

Free Stonehenge full.

… which shows people standing on the lintels.

Calling for greater access is one thing, implying even indirectly that climbing on the monument is OK is another. Particularly at the exact moment the Government, supported by the English Heritage and the National Trust, is announcing an intention to damage the World Heritage Site. One wonders how all this looks from abroad, including at UNESCO!

The National Trust AGM is currently being streamed on line HERE. They have just said that the reason they are now willing to support a short tunnel at Stonehenge is that although they “stood firm” on a long tunnel last time the Government had refused and it has become clear that a long tunnel will never be agreed to. That comes as no surprise to anyone, but they then added (words to the effect that):
We think there’s a real risk that if we don’t support a short tunnel the Government will simply push ahead and dual the whole of the A303 right across the World Heritage site.
To which we’d respond:
1. Is there such a risk? Who says so? How great a risk is it? Since the NT changing it’s mind is the thing that seems to have fired the starting gun for a short tunnel shouldn’t the Trust have a better reason for changing its mind than an unattributed, unexplained, unquantified “fear”?
2. Does the Trust know that dualling the whole road across the whole World Heritage Site would be more damaging to world heritage archaeology (and the hydrology of Salisbury Plain) than constructing deep, wide tunnel entrances over part of it? Has the Trust access to convincing data on those issues, will they publish it immediately?
3. Does the Trust know that European money for a longer tunnel is not available and if not are they prepared to suspend their support for a short one until they and the public are in possession of all the necessary facts upon which to base a proper judgement?
4. What exactly does “forever, for everyonemean?
UPDATE Sun 9 Nov:
You can now see the two questions asked about the tunnel and the Trust’s answers here:
Question 1 by Kate Fielden 48 minutes – for 4 minutes
Question 2 by Kate Freeman 1 hour 03 minutes – for 2 minutes.

UPDATE Mon 10 Nov
This morning the Prime Minister will say, 3 weeks in advance of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement that the whole length of the A303 will be upgraded to be at least a dual carriageway

Dear Fellow Landowners,

Farmer Brown: confused

Farmer Brown: Confused

This week I’ve been puzzling about this: why, if “metal detecting good practice” is so desirable, hasn’t it been made compulsory?

A detectorist on a forum has just provided a clue. He complained that a PAS document reproduces the official Code of Practice but it “omits the basic fact that is a VOLUNTARY Code.”  Think about that, Friends. Why on earth would anyone worry that its voluntary nature wasn’t stressed? After all, as everyone says, “responsible detecting” is an entirely Good Thing for the more it is followed, the less heritage damage there is. Every detectorist that has ever come to my gate says they follow the Responsibility Code for that very reason. But here’s a thing you might not realise: detectorists only support it if it is voluntary!

The truth of Bonkers Britain is that a few thousand people (and absolutely no-one else) are adamant that they must retain their freedom to choose not to comply with the code if it suits them. They comprise only 0.015% of the population, 1 person in every 6,000, yet their threats to defy any element of compulsion that is proposed have rendered the introduction of “compulsory good practice” completely impossible – in a highly developed, educated, conservation-minded Western democracy.

Let me put it like this: imagine if a tiny (and demonstrably selfish) section of the British population had successfully threatened and lobbied for the past 40 years to prevent any drink driving laws being introduced!

Your friend,

Silas Brown,
Grunters Hollow Farm,



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


The stone alignment at Saith Maen stands on moorland above Craig-y-nos in Powys at SN83311540. The row includes a line of seven slabs (two of which are recumbent) extending for a total length of 13.7m. There is nothing else quite like it in Wales. Compared with all of the others the stones are set very close together and indeed for the closest parallels one must look west to Ireland where several well-known examples exist.This alignment also lacks a prehistoric context as there are no cairns or similar features in the immediate vicinity. Finally the stones are relatively unweathered compared with others in the area.

These warning signs could be seen as an indication that all is not as it appears. No conclusive evidence exists to support a prehistoric date but it is accepted as prehistoric because well it looks right and no alternative explanations have been forthcoming. Interestingly when Cadw were asked for alternative explanations for the Bancbryn alignment they responded “I am not minded to express an opinion on the most likely interpretation given the limited nature of the evidence.”  A curious response given that there is plenty of evidence to support a prehistoric date for Bancbryn whilst none exists for Saith Maen and its documented use as a sheepfold should perhaps sound warning bells!


A line of closely set stones in spectacular surroundings. No positive evidence currently exists to support a prehistoric date beyond the fact that it looks like some rows in Ireland.

A line of closely set stones in spectacular surroundings. No positive evidence currently exists to support a prehistoric date beyond the fact that it looks like some rows in Ireland.

English Heritage (EH) have recently made a big splash in the media on the release of their latest ‘Heritage at Risk‘ register, which lists heritage assets deemed to be in danger from deterioration, damage, development or other threats.

When I contacted EH some years ago to enquire, I was told that the vast majority of Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) in England are lucky if they are officially inspected once a decade. Some are never visited officially, and many can go 20 years or more without any official inspection. Frequently the responsible body will rely upon reports from landowners, the public or police regarding any damage that occurs to a site. The response given to a Freedom of Information request to EH earlier this year shows that what I was told nearly a decade ago still holds true today (check some of the ‘Last Visited Dates in any random spreadsheet in the reply).

But now we’d like to change all that, with your help.


We know that many of our readers visit SAMs and other heritage sites on a regular basis, be it a local site that they’re familiar with, or a site that has been selected as the target of a day trip, or holiday visit to an unfamiliar area. All we ask is that when on such visits, you keep your eyes open for any evidence of Heritage Crime. What is heritage crime? Quite simply, as stated on the EH web page on the subject, it is “any offence which harms the value of England’s heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations”.

So how can you help? Firstly by taking note of any evidence. Pictures are always helpful. If you actually witness a crime being committed, the EH web page on reporting crime suggests phoning 999, but we’d say only do this if you will not be endangering your own personal safety by doing so. The first port of call for any crime will be the police, whether via 999 if a crime is in progress, or 101 if not (see the previous EH link above). If this all sounds familiar, we’ve previously highlighted these steps, here on the Journal.

But in addition, the relevant authority should also be informed, whether that be English Heritage or the National Trust in England, Cadw in Wales or Historic Scotland north of the border – see the contact links below.

It might also be worth recording your visit and any actions taken on one of the hobbyist web sites so that others can see what has already been reported – the Megalithic Portal has a useful Visit Log facility for registered users in addition to its site comments facility.

With your help, the integrity of many of these forgotten and threatened sites can hopefully be maintained, and any damage brought to the attention of the relevant people.

Useful Contact Links:

It seems that leading architects have welcomed the news the Government is again considering a road tunnel at Stonehenge (see the latest Architects Journal) despite the fact it is only a short one.

Roddy Langmuir of Cullinan Studio, whose practice worked on numerous proposals for the site in the early 1990s, said:
A tunnel [would be] a fantastic move……. Having drawn many options with engineers for tunnels in this landscape, one of the key consequences often ignored is the impact of the cut for the tunnel portals in such a subtly rolling landscape. These need clean incised banks that minimise land-take instead of the usual naturally retained battered walls and wide-mouthed portals. The engineering design needs to include an architectural appreciation of the landscape, and this historic landscape above all others.

Is that how it’s all going to be presented? “Never mind the archaeological damage, look at the clean incised lines and the way it exhibits architectural appreciation of the landscape“? Have architects confused sympathetic architectural treatment with destructive archaeological action? No matter if it’s architects making that mistake. What matters more is if archaeologists make the same error.

Hurrah for metal detectorist Laurence Egerton who found a massive hoard in Devon and stopped digging and slept in his car for 3 days to guard it so it could be excavated by the professionals! Compare and contrast most detectorists. Ever heard of any of them doing that? It’s 3 years since we suggested they should do exactly that (and still PAS hasn’t suggested such a thing on their website!). And what about this lot?

There's a video of them digging this up. 21 detectorists were seen or heard on that but only one is heard to be suggesting the archaeologists should be brought in, and he is quickly shouted down. Less than one in twenty. Their excuse was that if they left it overnight "someone" (by which they probably meant one of them!) would steal it. And no-one was prepared to stay and guard it. Yet Mr Egerton was.

There’s a video of them digging this up. Twenty one detectorists were seen or heard on that but only one is heard to be suggesting the archaeologists should be brought in, and he is quickly shouted down. So that’s less than one in twenty. Their excuse was that if they left it overnight “someone” (by which they probably meant one of them!) would steal it. And no-one was prepared to stay and guard it. Yet Mr Egerton was.


So how can detectorists be made to “do an Egerton”? Here’s an idea. Never mind a token “bad behaviour reduction” in their reward by the Treasure Valuation Committee. How about giving a stonking 75% of their reward to Mr Egerton or those who behave like him? Do that a few times and the message might get through that bad behaviour isn’t worth it and good behaviour is! Which detectorist would think that was unfair? The message might even get through to the people no other messages reach – like Terry Bull from Kent:

“I think they did the right thing …. they put the hard work in so can’t see the problem good for them to have found a hord that’s grate if I find a hord I’m digging it out to and have a look inside to see what’s there lol”

Really Terry? What if you stood to lose £100,000?



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



November 2014

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