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It’s inarguable that the recent unsupervised digging up of The Chew Valley Hoard by detectorists was yet another case of blatant mass knowledge theft. But it’s only the latest of very many such incidents. As early as 2011 the Salisbury Museum director said he was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but “you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”.

Always the “protection” excuse is given, as outlined by the UKDN Detecting Newsletter in 2011: It depends on the circumstances surrounding what you’ve found, and if you feel it would be under threat because too many people have seen it, and its location”. But such talk is nonsense, hoards can always be protected until archaeologists come and it was the duty of the detectorists at Chew Valley to do so.

On 2nd March 2014 we laid out why and how:.

From the moment you become aware you have found a significant hoard you should treat it as what it is – State Property – and if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen, you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State, and cause no further disturbance whatsoever to it or it’s context or the associated knowledge.

That means always stopping digging, whatever the circumstances, and doing everything you can to protect it until archaeologists have attended. You should do this in conjunction with the landowner if they can be found and necessary actions could include camping out nearby, getting a lighting hook-up into the field from the farm, spending the night in a parked car, asking a couple of colleagues to help guard it in exchange for a small share of a future reward or even hiring a security guard (you and the farmer could go halves on the cost out of the reward money).

We consider that failing to take on the role of guardian as outlined above is reprehensible and we would fully support the withholding of the whole of an ex-gratia reward from any finder who can be shown to have knowingly failed to do so. So please, play fair – for everyone’s sake including your own.”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


August 2019

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