In parts of the US 90% of Native American archaeological sites have been vandalised. The Government is trying to stop it. In parts of Britain more than 90% of archaeological sites have been metal detected. The government isn’t trying to stop it. You might think they and British archaeologists don’t care, but they do. It’s just that having bottled out of legislating and set up a voluntary system that has largely failed there’s not a lot of appetite for acknowledging the reality.
But silence shouldn’t be taken as acquiescence. Most archaeologists do want the activity legally regulated. That bold assertion is easily proved: see how little response this prompts: if you’re a British archaeologist reading this (and we know there are several thousand of them who follow us on Twitter) and you DON’T think metal detecting needs legislative control just say so now in our Comments section.
On the other hand, over the past few years the mood music has definitely been changing. Dare we hope that 2015 will be the year when a lot of archaeologists come clean and openly declare that the Emperor has no clothes and that the activity needs to be legally regulated? Professor Dennis Harding of Edinburgh University is already on the side of archaeology not expediency. Of the road built at the Hill of Tara he said (in stark contrast to the soothing words currently offered by some archaeologists at Stonehenge): it is “an act of cultural vandalism as flagrant as ripping a knife through a Rembrandt painting”. Of metal detecting he says (in stark contrast to the vacuous, saccharine chattering of our culture ministers):
“when government ministers, knowing no better, commend metal detecting as legitimate archaeology and are allowed to do so virtually unchallenged by the very scholars who should be upholding the highest and most rigorous academic research standards, et tu Brute seems to be the only appropriate comment”.
Will 2015 reveal lots of archaeologists and academics willing to echo his words? Or will it take another five or ten years?