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A video calling for metal detecting to be legalised in Ireland has just been published. It claims that unlicensed metal detecting in England and Wales is a triumph and uses the familiar tactic of highlighting some positives (in this case that Norwich Castle Museum is replete with detecting finds!) to imply that detectorists in general conform to good practice (“mutual respect and a closely forged partnership”!) If only that was true! We could be campaigning for artefact hunting to be on the national curriculum and for the whole population to be doing it for the national benefit!” Maybe the Norwich archaeologists should be calling for that?! Or maybe they should talk to CBA, EH or even PAS who are in a rather better position to know the wider reality of the activity?

Unfortunately it rather looks as if they’ve been dragged unwittingly into personally endorsing the introduction of unlicensed English-style detecting in Ireland, merely on the basis of their local experience – even though nationally most English and Welsh finds don’t get reported to PAS and the resultant net knowledge loss is scandalous (which neither CBA,  nor EH nor PAS will deny). It seems a bit like someone being manoevered into appearing to say “shoplifters don’t come in my shop so it can’t be a problem elsewhere and laws to control it should be ripped up in an adjacent friendly independent country!”

I suspect if editorial control had been in Norwich some acute embarrassment would have been avoided. Indeed, just a bit of wider enquiry would have avoided it. Looking at PAS’s statistics would have been enough. The fact CBA, EH and PAS weren’t appearing on the video was another huge clue. There was also an even more massive warning light flashing in plain sight – a public comment made by none other than the author of the video, Mr Nolan, about another recent video titled “Ireland’s First Metal Detecting Rally“. That video documented a recent blatantly criminal event in Co Wicklow which appalled Irish archaeologists. The comment he added to it was “Well done everyone!


“Well done”?


In the words of Irish Archaeologist Stuart Rathbone (as quoted by Robert M Chapple) :  “One of the 15 participants at the Wicklow rally busily committing heritage crime. Apparently the participants donated 150 Euro’s to a local charity after the event. Hopefully they will soon be making far larger ‘donations’ considering the maximum penalty for illegal Metal Detecting is a €63,486 fine”
[Stuart Rathbone’s article and Robert Chappel’s blog are here]



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



News release from Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort:

Post-election announcement on hillfort housing could be on the cards

Officials may be keeping a lid on the outcome of controversial proposals for housing close to Old Oswestry hillfort in Shropshire until after the election, say campaigners.

The speculation follows further delays to the expected publication of Inspector Claire Sherratt’s findings on SAMDEV, Shropshire Council’s development blueprint to 2026. The plan includes a fiercely opposed bid to extend Oswestry’s urban edge into the hillfort’s Iron Age landscape for the construction of a large housing estate.

Campaign group, HOOOH (Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort), was originally told that the modified plan would appear by around the middle of February for final consultation. But publication continues to be delayed, with administrators now saying it won’t be until ‘at least the end of April’.

John Waine of HOOOH said: “It’s fair to say that we are very disappointed with the delays in the modified SAMDev plan. It seems that publication may not come through until after the election and people will make up their own minds as to whether this move is politically-motivated or not.”

He added: “From the point of view of HOOOH’s campaign, now coming up to two years, we believe that the case for removal of OSW004 is overwhelming, and we have provided clear evidence to that conclusion with growing support from all quarters.”

Thousands of people, including 8,000+ petition signatories, have voiced their opposition to the hillfort estate during several stages of public consultation across three years. HOOOH believes the protracted delay in a decision on the bitterly contested development is stretching public faith in localism to the very limit. Campaigners say it would be a highly cynical move to postpone what is a politically incendiary planning judgment into post-election safety.

Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has refused to take notice of the overwhelming consensus against this very short-sighted development. Not only will it be extremely damaging to the hillfort’s heritage significance, it will also erode its tourism value which creates jobs and brings spend to the County.”

He added: “If we think our voice is not being heard in public consultation, we can always use our 2015 election vote on candidates that can demonstrate they are genuine and active heritage champions.”

Mr Waine said: “Going forward, it is clear that Old Oswestry hillfort is a precious heritage asset of national and international significance, and as such, requires protection from some form of heritage greenbelt.  The well-received BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’, which was partly recorded on the hillfort, is recognition of the fact that it has a worldwide audience keen to know more.

“Whatever the outcome, the campaign will continue to work hard to protect, promote and celebrate the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ and the ancient heart of Oswestry for the town, the county and the country as a whole.”

Speaking on the ‘Making History’ programme, the esteemed archaeology academic and author, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, and MP Tim Loughton MP called for the wider protection of heritage landscape.

Professor Cunliffe is among 12 eminent academics who have signed an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, objecting to OSW004. In it they write: “If the bar for acceptable development under the NPPF does not protect the setting of even our most significant heritage sites, then we set a potentially calamitous precedent for the greater part of the nation’s historic environment.”

As well as thousands of objectors via petition and on social media, the hillfort housing bid is opposed by numerous stakeholders, heritage and environmental groups. They include Oswestry Town Council, Selattyn & Gobowen Parish Council, RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Prehistoric Society, The Society of Antiquaries of London,  Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Heritage Action (Heritage Journal), and Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, director of The Council for British Archaeology (CBA).


More info from Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619,

Twitter: @OldOswestryFort

Open letter from senior British academics:

People often ask why we’re so strongly opposed to laissez faire artefact hunting, especially rallies. It’s evidence and logic mostly, but sometimes it’s emotion.  Here’s our article from ten years ago about a full frontal assault on our beloved Avebury:


ten years ago.

Unfortunately little has changed since then and in the subsequent ten years there have been many more rallies and club digs near Avebury and about 30,000 more nationally. Since PAS says most metal detecting finds aren’t reported the information loss from those rallies has to have been vast. The most PAS can bring itself to say is that they “aren’t fans” of big rallies whereas what they mean is they oppose them. Of course they do, they conflict with all notions of conservation good sense and public morality worldwide.

How much longer will it be before educated Britain is told exactly that by officialdom? Will we have another ten years in which they continue to be presented with a false picture, as typified by this soothing but wildly inaccurate claim by an academic at the UCL Institute of Archaeology: “metal detecting without reporting finds is nearly as reprehensible and harmful to heritage as excavating without publishing. Fortunately the Portable Antiquities Scheme and its hard-earned relationship with the metal detecting community offers a practical, pragmatic and proven solution to this problem Reprehensible and harmful but fortunately solved by the existence of PAS? Hardly. He really should go to a rally, preferably near Avebury or indeed at any of the unprotected archaeological sites that are invariably targeted by rally organisers (as they can make more money that way), or familiarise himself with the rules of detecting clubs, almost none of which make reporting obligatory (why???) or simplest of all, talk to a PAS staff member in private.



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


So where HAVE they gone? Speculation has been rife since they were spirited away “for servicing” [what, all of them?] and possible “design improvements” and English Heritage announced, unhelpfully, that “they have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back”. One bystander suggested they were going to be converted into luxury holiday cottages for Druids. Someone else thinks they are going to be tipped up to create a new and lucrative attraction to be called Trainhenge.

Me, I have another theory. It’s about the fact that down in Cornwall, as Sandy Gerrard has explained,  Historic England have hit on a moneymaking wheeze. They have said yes to planning permission saying that one reason is that it will result in finance to benefit the monument that is being damaged. Not a bribe you understand, just basing a decision on monetary benefits. As Sandy says, once housing developers get to hear that Historic England will support the destruction of the historic environment in return for a promise to care for what remains, it will be open season on our heritage. 

So maybe that’s where the land trains have gone …. Historic England have got ’em, have given them a new paint job and are going to drive them up and down the country bringing the good news to developers?


HE Planning

As we were saying, PAS publicizes good detecting practice but rarely bad practice (for fear umbrage will be taken presumably). It’s a dubious strategy – for ignoring misbehaviour rarely reduces it and anyway PAS has no mandate to offer an inaccurate picture to the public. Also, the strategy is demonstrably damaging.

Here’s why: landowners are the sole group with absolute power to allow or disallow detecting so they are pivotal gatekeepers both metaphorically and literally. If they aren’t made aware of bad practice (or the fact PAS’s statistics show it is very widespread) they aren’t equipped to make informed, heritage-friendly decisions or to curate the history in their fields on our behalf.

So here’s some “advice to landowners”. We’ve sent it to the PAS management with a polite request that they publish something similar on their website and in the farming press. We are certain that if they did it would make a huge difference to conservation. We’ll let you know how they respond.


Bad practice in metal detecting: what landowners need to know:

“Bad practice” in metal detecting is any behaviour that results in loss of historical knowledge (such as digging in sensitive places or not reporting all archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme). In Britain it is not usually a crime but it invariably damages the interests of the rest of society. As such it is strongly opposed by the Government and every archaeologist bar none. Please don’t allow metal detecting bad practice on your land.

What you can do:

1. Good and bad practice are defined in The Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales which is supported by all the main archaeological and farming organisations. Please make sure any detectorist on your land adheres to that code and no other. There are numerous other codes and assurances in existence and it’s vital you do not confuse them with the official one or assume any of them are officially sanctioned. They are not.

2. Before granting permission please obtain from the detectorist two things:
a.) Written proof that they are in a detecting club that insists on all members adhering to the official code, no other.
b.) Contact details for the local Finds Liaison Officer and Local Archaeology Service so you can check on both the detectorist and the suitability of the land as necessary.


The Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus. Like landowners, blissfully unaware that bad metal detecting practice has absolutely nothing to do with nighthawking.

The Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus. Like landowners, it is left blissfully unaware that bad metal detecting practice has absolutely nothing to do with nighthawking.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


For years PAS has dismissed us as “trolls” and this week they have added “prejudiced and ill-informed” to the list. Their complaint is never about what we say (how could it be? If our facts were wrong they would have said so, not just insulted us) but about what we don’t say.  Our sin is that we point out that loads of detectorists behave badly but we don’t add yes but some don’t. So we’re accused of not providing “a balanced picture”. Sorry but we aren’t going to play. Here’s why:

Detectorists who behave themselves really don’t need constant praise, it’s patronising and insulting, implying that it’s a surprise that they should do so (ask some of them, we have!) No-one deifies amateur archaeologists or people who don’t park on double yellow lines or the millions of people in every walk of life who quietly do right by the community because it’s the civilised way to behave. It’s the disfiguring of Stonehenge that matters, not banging on about those who don’t damage it. How ludicrous it would be if there was a quango issuing weekly press statements praising people who don’t shoplift!

It’s damage that matters, not its absence and (as PAS knows very well from their published figures), the great majority of detectorists don’t comply with the official code, don’t follow best practice and don’t report all of their finds. That is crucial information that is owed to the public and landowners in plain, unvarnished form, not glossed over by the addition of the “yes but” platitude (or, even worse, totally falsified with the demonstrably untrue statement that “most detectorists are responsible”). PAS and thousands of detectorists misinform thousands of farmers weekly in that way and have been doing so for years and years and years. We’re not going to join in, whether PAS continues to call us prejudiced and ill-informed or not.


Update Sunday 5 April 2015
Paul Barford has just posed a simple question about PAS that is relevant to the above: “Can they commit themselves to a firm policy of not only in a somewhat passive manner promoting best practice but actively condemning bad practice?” You might think that after 17 years and millions of words and pounds they had already done so. But no, there’s no trace – unless anyone can show otherwise. I think perhaps it’s time we wrote a succinct statement for them (as is our prerogative as prejudiced and ill-informed trolls), one which actively condemns bad practice and acknowledges for the information of taxpayers and landowners that the evidence indicates it is very widespread not rare, and publicly ask them to concur. So that’s what we’ll do in a few days.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


It’s a simple story. A hoard is found but the museums say the Treasure Valuation Committee valuation is too high so they decline to buy it. So it has gone to auction and out of the public’s view forever. In the event it sold for a little more than the Treasure Valuation figure but of course anyone other than those with the playground mentality of most detectorists will know that valuations comprise a spread of probabilities and ranting about and appealing against the half you don’t like makes you look like a greedy, illogical dimwit. As always, if these were amateur archaeologists that would be understood and there would be fewer complaints about the system.

There hasn’t been much public fuss over the loss of this hoard, probably because people mistakenly equate “not wanting to buy at that price” with “not wanting”. But of course, the hoard IS wanted and in any logical or civilised scenario it should be in a museum. But Britain’s portable antiquities laws and practice are not a logical or civilised scenario and the two finders and the farmer are flogging it for as much as they can get and there’s not a thing anyone can do to stop them.

One thing shouldn’t be forgotten though: if the finders (who reckon they are part of a history-loving group who aren’t motivated by money and who are permitted to pursue their activities on that basis) had offered to forego or significantly reduce their share a museum would have bought it and the rightful owners, the public, would be able to see it.

Update I think we’ve just been Orwelled! A Finds Liaison Officer, no less, has complained on the Rescue facebook page that we are “ill-informed” and “prejudiced” and we haven’t highlighted those who DO give up their rewards. That is because they are a tiny minority and frankly we aren’t in the PAS game of pretending the majority (in this matter and in the whole of best practice) are well behaved and responsible. They aren’t, and even PAS has conceded that in its published figures. We aren’t apologists for metal detecting and our continuance isn’t dependant upon praising them. Can PAS say the same? “Prejudiced” means taking a particular line in defiance of the evidence. Hasn’t PAS done that for 17 years?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


by Nigel Swift

I recently re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four and it brought Britain’s current portable antiquities stance to mind. In both the central theme is fiction relentlessly presented as fact. A couple of instances have just emerged, one from the Head of the PAS and one from blogger-detectorist John Winter.

Mr Winter benefits from the fact some of his readers are pretty uninformed so it’s easy to play to the gallery. Thus he has just resurrected Minister Lammy’s “heroes” statement using the same selective justifications, emphasising the positives and totally ignoring the massive downside, the widespread knowledge theft. That might get you backslapped Mr Winter but it’s not being honest with the public. It’s Orwellian.

As for PAS, in Orwell’s book the party seeks power for its own sake and that’s the connection. Who can fail to notice that much of what it says and does is devoted to delivering a relentless propaganda of success, presumably to promote its own continuance? Winston Smith rewrote old press articles to ensure they supported the party line, PAS does the same in real time. I offer you ten thousand examples as evidence! Here’s Dr Bland this week in full Winston Smith mode, spinning the hurried hoiking of the Lenborough Hoard: “This was a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered”. Note the use of the H word, heroic, instead of hurried, echoing Minister Lammy. Pure Nineteen Eighty Four!

It was a rescue alright, but presented like a corkscrew. Why not tell the public straight out (rather than coyly hinting it to those in the know) that the main peril was from some of those present? And why not admit that the FLO’s otherwise inexplicable and otherwise unprofessional decision not to ensure the hoard was guarded overnight was due to pressure and opposition from those around her? Had they been amateur archaeologists the matter would have been dealt with properly. Fact. Metal detecting is simply not as heroic or educated or moral as PAS constantly portrays it to be. Like in the case of Mr Winter, presenting a concocted account is not honest, it’s Orwellian.


"PAS is a huge success. Detectorists have almost all responded heroically. Their levels of co-operation and ethical behaviour are indistinguishable from amateur archaeologists. Only a minority don't report all their finds". PAS deserves continued funding to maintain this highly beneficial status quo which is the envy of te rest of the world."

PAS is a spectacular success. Detectorists have almost all responded heroically. Their ethical behaviour makes them indistinguishable from amateur archaeologists. Landowners should invite them onto their fields as they can trust them as they are almost all responsible and beneficial to national heritage. PAS deserves continued funding to maintain this marvellous, marvellous status quo which is the absolute envy of the rest of the world.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Over the years the Heritage Journal has highlighted various issues regarding the protection of archaeology in Wales. It now seems that the Welsh Assembly Government agree with most of our concerns and have acknowledged problems with the existing system.

A Heritage Bill designed to tackle these problems is to be introduced in late Spring 2015 and amongst the proposed changes is the idea of making the designation process “more open and transparent by introducing formal consultation with owners and establishing mechanisms to review decisions”. Currently the process sometimes gives outsiders the impression that it is very secretive, inconsistent and often ill-informed. The move to a more transparent system should be welcomed by everyone with an interest in protecting Welsh heritage. Clearly as well as ensuring the creation of a designation system that works it is crucial that it is funded adequately. Providing that the Welsh Assembly can deliver on their promises to change the system and ensure that sufficient  resources are made available Welsh heritage may have a better future.

Every year large numbers of scheduled ancient monuments are damaged. Cadw’s own figures (which are probably very conservative) indicate that between 2006 and 2012 there were 119 cases of unlawful damage to scheduled ancient monuments in Wales. Furthermore Cadw acknowledge that there has been only one successful prosecution under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in the last 25 years. There is clearly a very large problem here and it is therefore somewhat disappointing that Cadw initially overlooked it. It is tempting to think that the recent case of damage to a length of Offa’s Dyke jolted them into making a late change to the proposed Heritage Bill. Hopefully their proposed remedy will work and ensure that the really important archaeological sites in Wales are finally offered some degree of protection.

 A scheduled farmstead at Mynydd y Betws severely damaged in 2012 did not even appear on Cadw’s list of damaged sites.  The site remains on the schedule but no remedial works have been carried out to protect the battered vestiges.  Let’s hope the new proposed heritage protection system serves us better than the current one.

A scheduled farmstead at Mynydd y Betws severely damaged in 2012 did not even appear on Cadw’s list of damaged sites. The site remains on the schedule but no remedial works have been carried out to protect the battered vestiges. Let’s hope the new proposed heritage protection system serves us better than the current one.

You’d think Stonehenge had troubles enough, what with proper protection being ditched in favour of proper vote catching and the National Trust inexplicably going along with it. So what it doesn’t need is loads of American detectorists piling in to support the short tunnel. (Nor, truth to tell, does the Trust, bearing in mind the ramshackle case they are trying to maintain and the fact they don’t allow metal detectorists onto any of their land!)  Yet supporting the short tunnel is exactly what a British detectorist is urging American colleagues to do:

May I through the comments section ask that support be given to the UK’s National Trust who favour the ‘short tunnel’ option to protect Stonehenge from traffic. We need to counter the propaganda nonsense spouted by Heritage Harry, aka, Nigel Swift of Heritage Action who is desperate to see the ‘short tunnel’ option binned. Write to:- . I already have. Please support the ‘short tunnel’ option.”


The new Stonehenge World Heritage landscape. “Awesome”

If, on the other hand, you aren’t an American detectorist and you oppose new damage at Stonehenge, please sign the petition. Plus, if you’re an NT Member please write to them saying: I see you are submitting the short tunnel to a Members’ vote. I vote NO.”


April 2015
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