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by Nigel Swift

I recently re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four and it brought Britain’s current portable antiquities stance to mind. In both the central theme is fiction relentlessly presented as fact. A couple of instances have just emerged, one from the Head of the PAS and one from blogger-detectorist John Winter.

Mr Winter benefits from the fact some of his readers are pretty uninformed so it’s easy to play to the gallery. Thus he has just resurrected Minister Lammy’s “heroes” statement using the same selective justifications, emphasising the positives and totally ignoring the massive downside, the widespread knowledge theft. That might get you backslapped Mr Winter but it’s not being honest with the public. It’s Orwellian.

As for PAS, in Orwell’s book the party seeks power for its own sake and that’s the connection. Who can fail to notice that much of what it says and does is devoted to delivering a relentless propaganda of success, presumably to promote its own continuance? Winston Smith rewrote old press articles to ensure they supported the party line, PAS does the same in real time. I offer you ten thousand examples as evidence! Here’s Dr Bland this week in full Winston Smith mode, spinning the hurried hoiking of the Lenborough Hoard: “This was a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered”. Note the use of the H word, heroic, instead of hurried, echoing Minister Lammy. Pure Nineteen Eighty Four!

It was a rescue alright, but presented like a corkscrew. Why not tell the public straight out (rather than coyly hinting it to those in the know) that the main peril was from some of those present? And why not admit that the FLO’s otherwise inexplicable and otherwise unprofessional decision not to ensure the hoard was guarded overnight was due to pressure and opposition from those around her? Had they been amateur archaeologists the matter would have been dealt with properly. Fact. Metal detecting is simply not as heroic or educated or moral as PAS constantly portrays it to be. Like in the case of Mr Winter, presenting a concocted account is not honest, it’s Orwellian.

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"PAS is a huge success. Detectorists have almost all responded heroically. Their levels of co-operation and ethical behaviour are indistinguishable from amateur archaeologists. Only a minority don't report all their finds". PAS deserves continued funding to maintain this highly beneficial status quo which is the envy of te rest of the world."

PAS is a spectacular success. Detectorists have almost all responded heroically. Their ethical behaviour makes them indistinguishable from amateur archaeologists. Landowners should invite them onto their fields as they can trust them as they are almost all responsible and beneficial to national heritage. PAS deserves continued funding to maintain this marvellous, marvellous status quo which is the absolute envy of the rest of the world.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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