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By Nigel Swift

I see that Mike Lewis, Head of PAS and Mike Heyworth, ex Director of CBA have been raising awareness in the Times over the fact very few finds from commercial detecting rallies get reported. They have a huge point. Making loads of money out of Society’s back yard while giving almost nothing back to Society is surely not right? But there’s more than that for them to be scandalised over:

Here’s a rare Roman horse brooch from Leasingham found by a detectorist. He “allowed it to be put on display” in a museum. You (and Messrs Lewis and Heyworth) might well wonder what sort of self-entitled creepiness leads someone to “allow it to be put on display” rather than simply handing it over. That’s because if you (or they) had found it you’d have probably handed it over in a heartbeat. As that would be moral.

Yet sadly, the 0.04% of the British population, who find the bulk of Treasure items, mostly want paying. A lot. Or else. Even in a pandemic, and with the heritage sector skint. Britain really shouldn’t be being blackmailed. Indeed, the blackmail is about to be extended, presumably with the blessing of Messrs Lewis and Heyworth, with even more items never owned by detectorists being made subject to Treasure Act rewards for handing them over. It is being branded as “More items to be saved for the nation” but in fact, it’s “more items are to qualify for being ransomed”.

Why are moral pygmies being further enriched for doing something the great majority of the population would be glad to do without payment? Wouldn’t bigger penalties be cheaper than extending the rewards? If “paying for reporting” is a sensible policy why not pay commercial rally organisers to ensure finds are reported? Reductio ad absurdum, eh? Such a shame Socrates isn’t in charge!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



Way back in the mists of time (2005!) I took a week’s holiday in the Lake District, and had my eyes opened to the plethora of prehistoric sites still remaining there. Of these, there are probably more stone circles than any other major monument type – over 50 (including cairn circles) have been recorded although I saw only a small proportion of those on my travels.

Screenshot courtesy of the Megalithic Portal

These circles date from the Neolithic through to the Bronze age, a period of over 1500 years. Generally speaking, the larger the circle and the larger the stones included, the earlier it is likely to be.

In 2011, we ran a short series here on the Journal, a ‘Focus on: Cornish Stone Circles’. Ten years on, a look at stone circles in other areas is well overdue, and so we shall be looking in the coming weeks at some of the stone circles of Cumbria, Lancashire and Westmorland that were visited during that trip sixteen years ago.

As well as our usual culprits for source material: the Megalithic Portal, the Modern Antiquarian and the Heritage Gateway, we’ll be using the following books for background material:

Stayed tuned…

Rachel Maclean. Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Dept for Transport):
“The A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme is currently subject to a legal challenge but if the project was to proceed, as approved by the Secretary of State for Transport on 12 November 2020, then there will not be a toll for accessing the proposed tunnel. Provision for a toll was not included in the approved Development Consent Order.”


Not quite the case though is it Rachel? Anyone driving along the A303 hoping to see Stonehenge (and there are tens of thousands daily) won’t be able to unless they leave the road and pay £21.10 per person to English Heritage. Next time, please mention that!


UNESCO is opposed to the short tunnel, so why are neither the Government nor its yes-bodies publicly confronting that fact? Is it that they realise that if Britain is widely known to be defying UNESCO at such a place in such a way there would be massive world anger – so it’s best to downplay it for now?

Not that fear of international censure or even ridicule constrains the Government. A country that threatened to break international law AND deploy gunships against the fishermen of its democratic neighbours is unlikely to heed what UNESCO says.

One wonders if the managements of English Heritage et al realised they would be hitching their wagon to those who dream of lost imperialistic glory and gunboat diplomacy? People who would be delighted with a two-fingered salute to the snowflakes running UNESCO. We suspect there’s quite a lot of buttock-clenching going on in all the conservation bodies.

But unlike Brexiters, they still have a chance to change their minds, and say no, this imperialistic arrogance is crazy. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if they did!


   HMS English Heritage: defending OUR monument from foreign interference?


Spaceship Dawn is in the news just now. After a journey of 3 billion miles, it is now in permanent orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and has just reported back the discovery of an enormous lake of saltwater.

Back in 2007 we successfully applied to NASA to have Dawn carry the simple message below into space where it will stay forever.



So it is to be hoped that those attempting to subvert the intentions of the World Heritage Convention and falsely spin a road project as a heritage enhancement exercise will sometimes glance upwards and reflect that what they are supporting is profoundly wrong. We suspect they all will.

A new definitive official stance is born (see yesterday):
“Most detectorists at commercial metal detecting rallies don’t report finds”. Allelujah! But now for some questions:

1. Since that has been blindingly clear in PAS’s own statistics for 20 years, why has it taken till now to admit it to the readers of British Archaeology and The Times?

2. How many millions of bundles of knowledge have been stolen in that time? (It IS possible to calculate: compare finds per detectorist from commercial rallies with finds per detectorist fom non-commercial or archaeologist-run events).

3. Will this public admission be taken on board by pro-detecting archaeologists and academics, (bearing in mind commercial rallies are now a massive proportion of all detecting)?

4. Why are we merely saying “We should send a clear signal to detectorists that rallies should be avoided” when it should be being sent to the Government, the taxpayer, the concerned stakeholders and most of all, FARMERS?

5. Is anyone going to apologise to the public for the delay and consequent losses? To taxpayers? To the stakeholders? To us? To UNESCO? To posterity?



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Michael Lewis, Head of PAS and Mike Heyworth, previous Head of CBA, have condemned metal detecting rallies, first in British Archaeology and now in The Times. The tone is far stronger than the current pulling of punches on the PAS website. Well, Hurrah! But for many years we’ve published HUNDREDS of articles begging for that to happen.

Still, we’re grateful it looks like something is finally going to be done. But we do wonder whether Britain will now apologise to the world for the damage the delay has caused to the world’s heritage?

Anyhow, as a matter of interest, here’s one of our earliest complaints, from nearly 16 years ago. (Many of our articles from that era were lost due to a cyber-attack by ruffians unknown)..


Shameful Heritage plunder near Avebury, Sunday 24 April 2005

Last Sunday anyone who cares for the past who drove north out of Avebury would have seen a distressing spectacle. No fewer than 480 metal detectorists crowded onto two fields alongside the main road at Winterbourne Bassett, busily intent on digging up our common heritage.

Metal detecting is a hobby in search of respectability. Some detectorists are very responsible people who report their finds to the government’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, allowing society, in general, to learn and benefit from the knowledge attached to these items. But the majority do no such thing – they just take.

Vulgar scene
The ‘Near-Avebury Metal Detecting Rally’ was a spectacular and avoidable own goal for the hobby. In a vulgar scene reminiscent of Supermarket Sweep, people raced to be first onto the land, anxious to claim the booty for themselves. Flint artefacts as well as metallic objects are now considered fair game.

All those who took part were members of national metal detecting organisations which proclaim their ‘strong support’ for the government’s voluntary recording scheme. Bizarrely, though, they don’t require any of their members to report finds, and the Scheme’s statistics prove that most of their members certainly don’t report finds. Whatever they find gets taken away by individuals for their own pleasure or to be sold on. Unreported and unrecorded. You may consider that the knowledge attached to these items has been stolen from our common heritage. That’s because it has.

Fields were done over
In view of this, the rally would have been ugly enough had it taken place on waste land. But here, in the world-famous archaeology of the Marlborough Downs and close to The Ridgeway, 2 Iron Age forts and countless bronze age barrows, it was sickening. Those fields, classed as disturbed plough soil – “so it’s legal, innit” are packed with our common history, from palaeolithic scatters onwards. Or at least, they were.



As it happened, the 480 people who ‘hoovered’ these 2 fields last Sunday reckoned very little was found. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. How would anyone know? Maybe, as many of them claimed, it was because “those fields were done over” by a similar rally 10 years ago. Whatever the truth, when the full and detailed account of our past is written, those 170 acres in the heart of this vitally archaeologically rich area will forever show up as a blank in the record.      

Shame on them! And shame on the thinking members of the hobby for tolerating such selfish and ignorant behaviour from the majority. Shame on the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme’s management must find the moral courage to loudly proclaim what is and isn’t civilised.

[They have now! 16 years later! – Ed.]


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


After years in which we’ve documented 39 instances of misleading statements (and worse) by tunnel-supporting bodies, and a month in which there have been a further 9 by English Heritage (in the Telegraph) and another 3 by the leaders of EH, Heritage England, and the National Trust (in the Guardian), the New Year seems a good time for a simple public statement of the underlying plain truth that can’t be denied or spun. Something like this, so that everyone could see it!


…my true love gave to me:

Twelve drummers drumming

Yet more noise! This time, drumming up the stones at Avebury stone circle.


January 2021

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