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It’s no secret that here at Heritage Action, we are no fans of the vast majority of metal detectorists. Whilst there may be a legitimate place for such instruments (sorting through spoil heaps on a dig, used as legitimate geofizz tools for analysis with no digging), it’s our avowed belief that on balance their use does more harm than good, and we make no apologies for our stance on the issue. 

Indeed, this stance is hardened when we hear the same propaganda being espoused by members of metal detecting clubs, and so we proudly present: the top 5 lies detectorists like to tell:

5. “I’m only in it for the history”

Headlines make history. Large payouts for treasure finds make headlines. Of course they’re only in it for the history, just not in the way they want us to think.

4. “It’s been in my collection for ages”

Of course, if it had been dug up recently, then it should have been declared as treasure…

3. “I got it off someone who’s had it in their family for years”

See above. Of course, lack of provenance makes an object less valuable, particularly for those studying the distribution of such objects…

2. “It’s only a piece of grot”

To a detectorist, possibly, probably only because the Ebay price is so low. If it’s only grot, why do so many detectorists have buckets full of the stuff? (Ref: YouTube)

And the top lie told by many detectorists:

1. “Of course, actually we’re saving the history before it corrodes in the ground” 

No, what you’re doing is damaging the context from which an object came, thus destroying the history. It’s not all about the shiny geegaws. A lot of detecting takes place on undisturbed land and even plough soil is a context – ask the Battlefields Trust! Corrosion is actually not a major problem in many soils, and gold wouldn’t corrode in a million years.


So what porkies have you heard from/about detectorists? Tell us in the comments.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Way back in 2012, a contentious post on the Modern Antiquarian forum was discussing the perceived reticence of academics to accept new ideas. One of the comments on that discussion has stuck with me all these years:

Archaeology (certainly pre-historic archaeology that is entirely dependent on the field evidence) is just about interpretation. Nothing is proven ever, there is only the prevailing orthodoxy… 

Taking that idea a step further, I’m sure that we’ve all seen archaeologists on TV stating “This is what happened” as opposed to “this is what WE THINK happened”. Assuming such archaeologists are speaking their own thoughts, and not those of a scriptwriter (which would make them just paid puppets), one has to wonder how much personal bias is involved. When definitive statements are made, it’s always best to consider how much the speaker’s pet theories and interests may be clouding their vision.

With that in mind, here are some potential ‘mistruths’ that have been heard in the past:

5. “This is a unique find!”

Usually stated in the initial excitement of discovery during excavation. Often rescinded once the post-excavation research uncovers similar/identical finds elsewhere.

4. “This changes our entire viewpoint of the past”

Not necessarily. It may provide illumination on a particular practice or culture, but the entire viewpoint? Please!

3. “This is a previously unknown God/Goddess”

Usually spoken when a figurine (usually dated to Roman times) is found. It couldn’t possibly just be a trinket, bought at a bazaar to remind the owner of a loved one at home? Or a child’s poppet (think Sindy/Barbie or Action Man)?

2. “Arthur was at Tintagel”

This is a difficult one. It’s not an outright lie, as it can never be proven one way or the other, but a scratched name on a piece of slate can’t be considered evidence of such a royal presence.

1. “It’s Ritual!”

Now, this one isn’t a lie. To the layman, ritual signifies religion, occult, finery or other mysterious practices. To an archaeologist, having breakfast and washing the afterwards dishes is ritual. Brushing your hair before going to bed is ritual, wearing the same colour underwear on match days is ritual.

(With thanks to Calvin and Hobbes)

What porkies have you heard from archaeologists? Let us know in the comments!

Introducing Chris Brooks, otherwise known as ‘Scubi’. Chris has been a stalwart supporter of Heritage Action and the Journal since its earliest days. He famously documented his travels to the far north in our 2011 series “Scubi’s Scottish Adventure”.  

Here are his answers to our questions:

* What is/was your day job?

I am an Electrical Engineer in the Railway Industry

* How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?

I studied Archaeology at college as a fill in subject and was introduced to our prehistoric monuments through that.

* Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?

I do feel an air of excitement around our structures but I do not let that get in the way of facts so under it all I suppose I am an academic in the first instance.

* What is your favourite time period or era?

I am definitely interested in Neolithic more than any other time period but do enjoy learning about the late Mesolithic leading in to it and the early middle Bronze age that followed it.

* Which book has had the most influence on your interest?

When studying Archaeology at college I had a book on almost permanent loan from the library which was called something like ‘The A-Z of Prehistoric Sites in Britain’ and which had about 20 sites around Wiltshire in it.  I used the book and my push bike to cycle around the county trying to find the sites listed as well as others outside.  I gave the book back at the end of my studies meaning to buy it later but have never been able to locate a copy.

* Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on-site visits?

I still use The Modern Antiquarian website if I am looking for prehistoric places near where I am travelling to for work. 

* What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?

The best sites that always stay in my mind are on the Orkneys and in particular Taversoe Tuick, a double decker Chambered Cairn on the island of Rousay. I am still to visit Carnac in Brittany which is still on the top of my list because it looks so strange in photos and I need to be there to see it first hand and get my head around it.  

* Which archaeological words or phrases caused you the most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?

Ritual associated with sites!  I understand ritual being a repetitive event but I cannot understand why it is always associated with sites in a ‘religious’ context and especially where there is no real evidence. it always strikes me as a convenient answer and infers all our ancestors built the megaliths with some sort of ritualist context.  I do not think this is the case. 

* What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?

I continue to ponder the theories of Silbury Hill, being such a large structure with no real evidence of its intended use.  My thoughts are still that it was taller than it is now when first put to use, that it marked the gathering point of various activities and most likely had a beacon on top such as a very large fire that could be seen by its flames at night and by its smoke in the day.  the flattening of the top in the Roman period as resulted in the removal of evidence of this.  It’s a theory as good as any I suppose.

* What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

I have two pet peeves;

1. the deliberate destruction or damage of ancient monuments including that by landowners through neglect or by vandals.

2. Claims by certain fraternities of their knowledge of the use of these sites and powers contained within, with no evidence whatsoever… oh…and the votive rubbish they constantly leave behind.


Many thanks to Chris for sharing his megalithic origins with us. Look out for further instalments of ‘Meet the Antiquarists’ in the weeks to come! Don’t forget, if you’d like to take part in this series, simply contact us with your answers to the questions above. To see other articles in this series, simply enter ‘Antiquarists’ in the search box on the left (or click the handy supplied link)


It has been suggested to us that the two Lets Go Digging commercial metal detecting rallies cancelled yesterday and today and the replacement one in Moreton in Marsh happening right now aren’t damaging or unciivilised and are actually a glorious search for knowledge by worthy amateurs. As to that, citing the two recent announcements by the organiser are sufficient answer:

The value of finds not needing to be shared with the landowner has been increased to £3.000 because thats “only fair”.

If a “treasure” reward is payable the farmers “should only keep half of anything over £3000 so if it’s under and they get paid they should pay the finder the money they received.”

What does PAS say about that? We can’t tell you. On Facebook some elements of PAS interact with some of the most blatantly self-seeking individuals in Britain but have blocked us.

The only sort of people (a couple of them could be us, we’re not saying!) who ought to be visiting Moreton in Marsh today. Sad, isn’t it?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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“Responsible metal detecting” produces 16,000 Google hits. But what about responsible farmers who say “NO, letting you hold a detecting rally here wouldn’t be in my interest or the country’s as PAS says it is almost impossible for archaeologists (when invited) to make a proper record of all objects found. That’s good enough for me. Why should I ignore PAS on the say-so of random unqualified blokes at my gate with vested interests?”

Archaeologists will be glad a Gloucestershire farmer has cancelled today’s and tomorrow’s Let’s Go Digging commercial rallies on his land because (so the organiser reports) attendees had been “disrespecting the land“. 5 more farms had also just been lost “for litter, gates, holes, ruts in grass and beer cans in hedges.”

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UPDATE: Disappointingly though, the farmer has now relented for future events: “After speaking to our Gloucester farmer I have managed to stop us from losing these farms and can confirm we have still got them for future use”. So no gold medal for the farmer after all and soon he’ll be selling prospecting rights once more in situations where proper recording would be “almost impossible” if PAS attended, which they won’t be. How much are we all losing as a result of these twice-weekly events? And how much do farmers lose thanks to the nakedly acquisitive Let’s Go Digging rule, “finds worth up to £3,000 are the finder’s”? No-one knows the answer to either question, but “a great deal” is certain.

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A “heritage hero” but only for a week!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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We can do no better to celebrate the day than to show this, available at the Stonehenge shop of English Heritage, the authoritative body committed to educating, informing, and conserving our heritage which is currently campaigning to hide Stonehenge from millions of travelers forever.

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We confess, this isn’t prehistoric but we like it:

Clues:

It is thought to have been William Langland inspiration for Pierrs Ploughman and of it he wrote

“Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie
And see the coloured counties
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky”

And here, C.S. Lewis wrote of how he communed with Divinity behind Nature; and nearby Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings was first recorded on tape. The American Branch of the Richard III Society makes a small annual donation here and here Sir Edward Elgar and his wife now rest.

Yesterday National Trust Archaeology celebrated #WorldHeritageDay with an attractive image of Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall. It’s excellent but we couldn’t help reflecting the management of National Trust doesn’t treat ALL World Heritage sites with such appreciation. Imagine if they’d campaigned to inflict this massive scar at Sycamore Gap like at the Stonehenge World Heritage site …

Lest anyone is in doubt about the nature of today’s event taking place right now, here are two recent announcements by the organiser:

The value of finds that don’t have to be shared with the landowner has been increased to £3.000 “because that’s only fair”.

If a “treasure” reward is paid then: “if our farmers stick to the agreement we make with them they should only keep half of anything over £3000 so if it’s under and they get paid they should pay the finder the money they received.”

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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This week, without fanfare, pay-to-dig detecting rallies were allowed back on Britain’s fields. There are no such events anywhere else in the world, no matter how backward..

Let’s Go Digging has one at 9.00am tomorrow in Gloucestershire. We can’t tell you exactly where. as you have to ring the night before to find out. (Why? So local archaeologists don’t have time to check if it will be damaging and get in touch with the farmer?)

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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