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By Nigel Swift

I wasn’t there but I think the central difficulty of being a FLO was on show – knowing the actualités of unregulated metal detecting yet asked by PAS to keep chirpy. Adam Daubney, a thoughtful FLO for many years, has given bullet points from his talk. They highlight the cleft stick PAS has carved for itself:


“people have a right to knowledge”
Exactly! But how often does PAS say so to farmers and the public? Merely emphasising the positive was not the founders’ intention. “Sharing knowledge” was a strategic objectives, not filtered, not minimised and preferably weekly.

“Many finds don’t get reported, but at the same time we have one of the largest databases of public finds in the world. It is within this tension that I think the Scheme has its voice when it shares knowledge.”
Actually, there’s no tension in truth. Rescue has said, and PAS hasn’t denied, the payback doesn’t justify the damage and PAS’s duty is to tell that to farmers and the public, preferably weekly. There’s ying and yang but they’re not equal.

“If the law is unlikely to change, how do we ensure we share knowledge in way that changes the culture to one in which non-reporting is seen as unethical?”
But non-reporting IS unethical so PAS should say so to farmers and the public, preferably weekly. Especially farmers who control detecting access and will take more heed than most detectorists. Also, to say “the law is unlikely to change“ is unwise. Public opinion sometimes changes and only one thing is certain: the law won’t change unless archaeologists including PAS stress that it should.

“The PAS is, of course, a pragmatic scheme, but being pragmatic doesn’t mean we must compromise on our values.”
Absolutely! A duty to inform farmers and the public, preferably weekly, isn’t a duty to partially inform. And why the need to be pragmatic anyway? Not to promote detecting, PAS has no mandate for that. Nor to avoid offending detectorists, “responsible” ones won’t be and the rest should be confronted.

“Lasting cultural change will come when the general public understands the importance and ethics of a pro-recording culture. The stories we tell to the public should highlight our successes, but they must also call out the issues.”
Exactly! When the general public and farmers understand, not when most detectorists do, 20 years have proved the latter will never happen.


For 20 years PAS has said, as paraphrased by Paul Barford, that “we done good this year…..we’ve got this more or less under control, just keep giving us the cash” whereas only the true story, warts and all, presented to farmers and the public, preferably weekly, can ever work. The majority of detectorists have shown that’s true, beyond all hope of denial. “Give us time Nigel”, as Adam said to me nearly 20 years ago, has become give us a third decade. Let’s hope PAS itself and CBA and others join Rescue in saying it’s time to change gear.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


October 2018

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