You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2021.

You must have heard them ad nauseam: “I’m not in it for the money”. So in 2011 we thought we’d test them with this:

“From today we are asking all detectorists to pledge, via the Comments section of this article, that if they find Treasure in future they will renounce at least 50% of their reward in order to make it easier for it to be acquired by Britain’s financially stretched museums.”

Not a single one offered to do so. Let’s see if any of today’s 27,000 will!



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

“Good morning – I hope you slept like a phloem sap-stuffed aphid”. [ (C) Henry Rothwell ]

As the Autumn days get shorter and greyer and with the clocks about to go back, we thought it would be good to cheer everyone up with this uplifting image “Rollrights Spring”, by one of our founder members, Jane Tomlinson.


We’re particularly proud that this week one of Jane’s celebrated illustrated maps (showing bird migration routes) was featured in the BBC’s Autumnwatch!.

Every generation has recognised that Stonehenge is nothing without the context of its vast landscape. Wordsworth wrote

Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep
Thy secrets, thou lov’st to stand and hear
The plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep
Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year.

Yes, the A303 intrudes. But from it people can still get some sense of the importance of the monument’s magnificent isolation, as captured in 1850 by Hesketh Davis Bell:

Perhaps we can never get back to that view. But what nonsense it is to tell people we can return to it by simply hiding it forever?

On 1st November 2001 something significant happened in the history of British heritage protection policy. Culture Secretary Baroness Blackstone announced that despite the requirements of the Valletta Convention Britain would not be introducing tighter controls on amateur archaeology groups. Although surprising, the decision not to comply with the Convention hasn’t been a big problem – major damage and rogue excavations by local amateur archaeology groups aren’t exactly rife, few amateur archaeologists are the sort to act in that way.

Still, that’s not to say the reason behind the decision wasn’t awful – and all too visible. A new organisation called the Portable Antiquities Scheme had just been set up based on the idea that metal detectorists would voluntarily report what they found and act in a less damaging fashion. Clearly it would have been an unspeakable juxtaposition if the government had insisted that highly respectable and meritorious amateur archaeologists must be licensed while leaving ten thousand artefact hunters feral and free to do exactly what they wanted. Hence Valletta was ignored and amateur archaeologists weren’t regulated, ensuring no-one could say there was any inconsistency with the free-for-all that had been allowed to remain out in the fields. Anyone with £99 to buy a Tesco’s detector and the social skills to tell a farmer he’s working for PAS is free to remove history from every single non-scheduled archaeological site in the country without limit and without a single word.

And Britain’s metal detectorists have certainly made the most of Britain’s aberrant position. In the 20 years that followed they have helped themselves to many millions of artefacts most of which they didn’t report and which have been totally lost to science. The government got it horribly wrong and this simple observation shows it’s true: there’s currently a Heritage Crime initiative being run on the basis that heritage crime is “any crime that harms the value of England’s heritage assets to this and future generations”. In any other country the taking of those artefacts without reporting them and the consequent “harm to the value of the nation’s heritage assets” would be included in the definition of “heritage crime” without a second thought. Here, it’s “heritage heroism”.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

He can hardly cite widespread evidence for that claim since 99% of detectorists seem vehemently opposed to it. That’s more than unfortunate as public money has been put into it. In addition, there are three awkward realities he needs to acknowledge:

Detectorists have a record of claiming to farmers that they have good behaviour badges (i.e. loyalty to PAS) without necessarily behaving well so it follows that any further good behaviour badges are bound to be used in the same way.

PAS was right to say (in its 2000/2001 Report) that “The Scheme believes that people have a moral obligation to their heritage”, ergo archaeological plundering can be defined as finding without reporting. On that basis, most detectorists are guilty of plundering.

There is a worldwide consensus that the way to prevent that is to make it a crime.

(Of course, if he can show otherwise then fine, his Institute really will be “on its way”!)


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

President Biden has reversed Donald Trump’s 85% cuts in the protection of the vast Bears Ears National Monument!

The US Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet secretary, fought back tears as she applauded the administration’s actions for “bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice”.

Joe Biden with interior secretary Deb Haaland

Might the same thing happen over here at a time when the focus of the world is on the good of the planet and its heritage, and Britain is keen to occupy the moral high ground at COP 26? After all, in a long-term context, how can cancelling the too-short tunnel and preserving the World Heritage landscape for humanity for another thousand years NOT be “bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice”?

It’s like this. There are SIX resolutions at the forthcoming AGM. The Trust make recommendations how their Members should vote in each. But there’s a seventh: “That the members agree that the National Trust will ban trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on their land”, which is clear enough.

For that, unlike the other six and despite holding a vote on it last time, the Trust says “We note the resolution and are keen to hear the views of the membership“. Now why would that be? Why would a perfectly clear resolution not be put to an immediate Members vote, like before and like the other six?

It seems obvious. In view of the huge public scandal which recently engulfed trail hunting the Trust is utterly frit the Members will vote to ban it in such numbers that this time they won’t be able to overturn it or ignore it. See? We predict that in due course they’ll announce a “new” and “stricter” set of rules for trail hunting which will enable it to continue on Trust land. Anyone care to bet?

In any normal, democratic organisation, this should have been the final end to giving permission for trail hunting. But no, the evidence suggests that won’t happen.

Like at the last AGM, if you are unable to attend you can appoint a proxy to vote in the way you wish. And as before, if you don’t specify how you wish to vote, the proxy will vote as they see fit.

But this year, you can only appoint ONE proxy, the Chair.


by Nigel Swift

I was shocked recently to find a number of companies will hire high performing metal detectors for relative peanuts. Whether and how much the Minelab GPX 5000 could be hired in UK is uncertain but £45 a day is normal in Oz.

GPXs can go down to 18.5 to 24 inches, far below the ploughsoil, and over twice as far as the great majority of machines used in the official search for the Staffordshire Hoard. As we have explained many times, that performance gap makes nonsense of claims the full hoard has been recovered.

Yes, at £3,500 the GPX is expensive, but what if any scruff can hire one for a night for very little? For years we have shown, repeatedly, that the hoard field has been nighthawked, repeatedly, and if it is happening at a tiny hiring cost what a disgrace that archaeologists haven’t revisited the site, this time with the proper equipment!

Not rabbits. So where’s the official comment?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


October 2021

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,809 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: