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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

As Paul Barford has highlighted, a US antiquities dealer has confessed he avoids “unwarranted attention” from officialdom by posting out coins in boxes marked as “numismatic tokens“. He says you can buy and sell anything if you avoid being transparent about what you’re actually doing. Sadly, he’s right. Misdescription is power – as any scruffy drug dealer outside a school knows. Packaging drugs as sweets avoids “unwarranted attention” from officialdom!

Misdescription certainly underlies most British metal detecting. “I’m an amateur archaeologist“, “I’m only in it for the history” and “I found it at [insert false location]” to name just three. It’s high time truth ruled. It would if PAS and The Establishment said in public what they say in private: not reporting finds makes you a knowledge thief, morally no better than a nighthawk.

Instead, we have what Paul Barford calls “the insidious creep of acceptance of knowledge theft“. Rather than condemning non-recording, and admitting to the Government and Parliament that non-recording is absolutely rife, PAS has embraced, liaised, engaged, backslapped, bootlicked and flattered those who do it in the hope that will work. After 20 years it hasn’t, as Dr Sam Hardy has shown.

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UNESCO condemns the theft of 1,000 objects from Egyptian museum but not the millions of unreported artefacts removed from Britain’s fields. (Why? Because the British don’t tell them).

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Remember how we reported in January that Republicans in Utah, USA, were hell bent on reversing President Obama’s protection of the Bears Ears National Monument? They wanted to give a different slant to “sacrosanct”: they were happy to protect the area subject to an important proviso: it could still be damaged as and when they  considered it necessary. In other words, not sacrosanct at all.

Familiar? Think of all the times English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust have said The Stonehenge World Heritage Site ought to be damaged because they think it’s necessary (or to be more accurate, because the Government wills it). The three of them have just written an awful joint letter to The Guardian saying: “rather than an act of desecration, the current tunnel proposal presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.” (Keep that phrase in mind: “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.”)

The question arises, what about the concept of the World Heritage landscape being sacrosanct? Can that be ignored merely because they think it’s a good idea? To put their behaviour in context, look who is now talking like them: President Trump says he is cancelling the US Antiquities Act and is going to open up America’s Monuments to ‘Tremendously Positive Things’ For “tremendously positive things” read “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.” EH, HE and NT can spin till they’re blue in the face but they’re riding roughshod over “sacrosanct” and taking the same stance as Donald Trump. As his critics say: he is “using never-tested and dubious legal authority to try to reverse national monument designations”. And so are they, but ours is a world heritage monument.

We’ve often claimed that official toleration of brandalism at monuments  and precious places might erode respect for such places and create a mindset in some people that could lead them to commit damaging copycatting elsewhere. We wonder if this, on the South Downs, is an example?

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(Ironically, the South Downs recently got £4.8m EU funding, some of which was probably spent on gates!)

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[Hat tip to for this.]

It’s now almost eight years since the passing of Lord Kennet (Wayland Young). He was passionately concerned for the welfare of both Avebury and Stonehenge, being chairman of the Avebury Society and the first chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance. For many years he was at the forefront of defending our national icon from a succession of schemes that would have disfigured it forever. The day after he died a new Stonehenge visitors centre was announced, well away from the stones. It seemed that the threat of massive new highways being built inside the World Heritage landscape had disappeared, due in no small part to his ceaseless opposition.

Sadly a new version of that threat has now arrived. It is supported this time not just by the original supporters but by The National Trust as well. Nevertheless, certain words from Lord Kennet remain just as applicable and can’t be spun away by a charity supported by 4.2 million members and dedicated to looking after our most special places forever, for everyone, so they might yet make a crucial difference:

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It’s a great story, much publicised. 913 gold sovereigns found hidden in a piano. Plus, all concerned acted impeccably. The finder said it “would not have been right or proper” to keep it secret and the previous owners said they were “very happy” the money was going to the college and would benefit the pupils. Compare the almost identical “Twinstead Hoard”. As the Mirror put it:

Metal  detector enthusiasts on a charity day ended up in a brawl after 300 sovereigns worth £75,000 were found in a field. They then ran off with the loot – half of which belonged to the farmer who owns the land – instead of declaring it under treasure laws. One enthusiast said: “The find was made by someone inexperienced who started yelling about a gold coin. Soon there were about 100 individuals digging. It was out of hand. Metal detecting is a cut-throat world. Only two of the 300 coins were in the finds box at the end of the day.”

Unlike the Piano Hoard, PAS played Twinstead down, as did the police. The officer dealing with it, a detectorist himself wrote to the attendees saying “All I want is for the entire hoard to be declared, a decent article in the Searcher and the reputation of us detectorists to be restored. All I want is a sensible resolution to the whole situation. Please feel free to contact me. I am your friend not your enemy”. But 2 weeks later at least 100 known-about coins, £35,000-worth (and heaven knows how many others) had still not been returned. A while back we asked for an update: Any more returned? Anyone prosecuted? But he replied “Can I ask who you are and why do you want this information?” and then “As you were not involved in the initial incident I suggest you submit a FOI request through our HQ, the route these sort of enquires normally go.”

Strange, isn’t it? In Bonkers Britain PAS garners oodles of news coverage from one hoard yet they (and the police) downplay mass theft of an extremely similar one. Such is the consequence of setting up a quango whose sole survival chances depend on pretending that buying a £10 ticket to a detecting rally transforms totally random people into “citizen archaeologists” with immaculate morals.

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PAS Training course, day one.

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In its recent draft Note 3: Historic Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning, Historic England explains how to implement Historic Environment planning policy. [NB, it advises how to implement Government policy, not how to do what’s right for heritage, a crucial distinction]. There’s lots of detail, though almost all the advice is left open for interpretation, particularly by those who wish to err on the side of development rather than conservation. However, one small section jumped out at us as being significant at Oswestry, since it provides little room for creative interpretation:

“Settings of heritage assets which closely resemble the setting at the time the asset was constructed or formed are likely to contribute particularly strongly to significance”

It is surely beyond honest dispute that the one defining characteristic of Oswestry Hillfort is that it was originally intended to dominate the surrounding land and that therefore the current open agricultural land, even if not like the original setting, is the very essence of the heritage significance of the monument, specifically because of its openness. It surely also follows, also beyond honest dispute, that adding a housing estate to that open land would greatly detract from the monument’s  central purpose and significance and detract from modern understanding of it.

Presumably, since the draft document’s stated purpose is “to provide information on good practice to assist local authorities, planning and other consultants, owners, applicants and other interested parties” Shropshire Council will now be aware of it. Will they take heed? Or lobby for it to be changed? Or just ignore it? The bulldozers or their absence will supply the answer.

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Today, April 18, is World Heritage Day.

World Heritage Day is all about raising awareness of the importance of protecting and preserving various sites around the world that have achieved world heritage status. It’s a chance to inform everyone about the efforts involved to protect and conserve, and just how vulnerable these sites are. That includes the Stonehenge landscape.

In Britain a spokesperson for English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust commented: “Tra-la-la, fingers in our ears, not listening”.

In May last year an Archaeological Forum briefing predicted that given how deeply the EU laws are embedded in domestic law, any changeis likely to take many years, with many laws remaining in place for years or decades”.

Since then however the mood music has been changing progressively and it’s now clear that Brexit will mean less spending on environmental and archaeological protection. The EU habitats directive is to be repealed and there’s scant hope it will be replaced with anything as effective. Already that nice Mr Gove has urged that we Slash EU regulations on wildlife protection and drug safety trials after Brexit“.

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee is very concerned. They say an effective enforcement system will be needed to fill the vacuum left by the European Commission but they lack confidence in Government intentions about that even though they had “heard evidence that 80 per cent of the public support at least the same level, if not higher levels of environmental protection post-Brexit.”

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

Dr Sam Hardy has concluded laissez-faire applied to metal detecting simply doesn’t work (see here). But the question is WHY? The answer has been voiced for some years by other independent academics:

5 years ago Suzie Thomas of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research wrote (in Portable antiquities: archaeology, collecting, metal detecting) that there is:

an ongoing ‘elephant in the room’ – the fact that archaeologists and metal-detector users view the issues differently” and that “as long as they [detectorists]  “engage in a hobby that has a direct effect on the physical remains of the past, they too have a responsibility to record their finds openly and honestly, and to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research.”

Also at about the same time another independent academic, John Carman of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology, wrote (in Stories We Tell: Myths at the Heart of “Community Archaeology” )  :

But in the end all we can do is talk to those who already speak in our language and share our values. …….. For us to alter our behaviour to accommodate the excluded—by changing what we do—will mean that we will cease to be archaeologists. For them to change to accommodate us will mean they lose their own sense of who they are. As archaeologists we can do nothing about this because we would cease to be archaeologists if we did.

Those two explanations are as embarrassing for supporters of the status quo as Dr Hardy’s conclusions are, for they imply that if just “the willing” were involved – people like Heritage Action members, amateur archaeologists and truly responsible detectorists – the Portable Antiquities Scheme would work like a dream, with virtually 100% co-operation instead of the current derisory percentage. To put it politely, PAS’s figures are loud testament to the fact the vast majority of detectorists don’t see community knowledge gathering as a duty.

It is to be hoped The Establishment, and in particular the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, reads both the above explanations in conjuction with Dr Hardy’s paper. Together, they form a powerful condemnation of the way Britain treats its buried archaeological resource.

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[ Clue: it appeared in the Heritage Journal in 2005. ]

***************   Image by Jane Tomlinson, Heritage Action

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