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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.

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"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.

Ever heard PAS or the Government say “not reporting detecting finds is immoral?” How come? Well, Britain is special. It’s the country where theft of society’s knowledge of it’s past isn’t morally indefensible – even though it used to be. Back in 2001 PAS asserted “The Scheme believes that people have a moral obligation to their heritage.” Not now though. They won’t even say not reporting finds is irresponsible so there’s no chance of them saying it’s immoral!

Why the change? We think it dates from when it became evident that most detectorists take “voluntary” to mean “not necessary”. At that point, for the Scheme to assert reporting was necessary on moral grounds would be to point out a too-painful truth to their partners and indeed to their funders. Thus, “moral obligation” has been dropped. Oh to be a British artefact hunter, free of an obligation to the rest of society! Oh to be a taxpayer not having to fund a fiction!

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Bonkers Britain, unique in the world, has painted itself into a corner where theft of society's knowledge can't be described as immoral. Don't believe us? Write to PAS, or one of the FLOs or the Government. Ask them straight out: "do you think not reporting detecting finds is immoral?" If they don't say yes you'll know we're right.

Bonkers Britain, unique in the world, has painted itself into a corner where theft of society’s knowledge can’t be described as immoral.  (Don’t believe us? Write to PAS and ask them if it is!)

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US antiquities dealers who have long called for an American PAS have got their wish in Staten Island where the Parks Authority issued 548 metal detecting permits on the understanding the detectorists will report any significant finds. Sounds good, and familiar. A voluntary social contract, just like in Britain. They get to detect. Society gets benefits. What’s not to like?

But blow me down with a bagel, look what happened: “All of the 185 permit holders who actually filed reports for 2013 wrote that they found diddly squat, records show. Five permit holders mentioned that they managed to locate some change by waving their wands and listening for beeps — but the coins weren’t worth anything.”

So the exercise was so dodgy it could have been Barry Island, not Staten Island – and the similarity with Britain doesn’t stop there for a spokesperson for the American PAS (if it existed) would surely have said: Yeah, of course we believe that all 185 (and the other 363 who didn’t file a report) found nothing, American detectorists are as honest as their British counterparts. The main thing achieved is we can now go to Government and explain they’re highly reliable and it’s worth funding us for the next 30 years to tell everyone so. Let’s dig America together, innit?”

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Time for an American Nose Hiding Scheme?

Time for an American Nose Hiding Scheme – or will US archaeologists heed the toe-curlingly embarrassing position Britain has put itself in?

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We recently managed to shame the country’s largest metal detecting shop, Regtons, into stopping selling night vision gear. It was a victory for conservation (which PAS and The Archaeological Establishment should have secured, not us) but it was only a small one, for two reasons:

First, Regtons may have desisted but lots of other detecting outlets haven’t. Just look at all the “Night Owl” gear that Joan Allen Detectors will deliver to you on a next day basis. It is difficult to believe that detector shops that sell items that nighthawks find useful are unaware of precisely what they are contributing to. What do you think?

Second, as we’ve said so often, the debate about whether nighthawks are a tiny minority or not is a damaging distraction for it diverts the public’s attention from the real scandal – that the knowledge theft that nighthawks cause is dwarfed by the knowledge theft perpetrated by the far more numerous non-reporting legal detectorists. One day no doubt Posterity will judge today’s archaeologists harshly for not shouting that simple truth from the roof tops and particularly in the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster. The fundamental reality of the British portable antiquities policy is that non-regulation of “legal” detecting causes far more heritage damage than flogging night vision equipment to criminals. It’s not a great charge to lay at the door of British Archaeology but there it is.

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Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and British Archaeologists. Missing the bleeding obvious.

Aunt Bella’s School for Nearsighted Young Women and British Archaeologists. Missing the bleeding obvious.

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We’ll keep it simple. Several years ago Central Searchers hid their “Rule 11″ from public gaze. (No wonder. It said any non-treasure find worth up to £2,000 belongs entirely to the finder). We assumed they’d then quietly drop it and that would be the end of it. But no, we’ve just discovered it on full public display again but in a different place and re-named as “Rule 14″. Here it is in all its history-loving fair-minded glory:

14. Items found by any member/non member/guest can be retained by the member/non member/guest as long as its value is no more than £2,000.

Is that fair or does it suggest an acquisitive attitude towards heritage that even a Minister for Culture would be hard-pressed to describe as heroic? You decide. All we know is that more than an eighth of all detectorists and lots of PAS employees have attended Central Searchers rallies and we’ve heard not a word from them about Rule 14 being a disgrace or that they won’t attend because of it. So maybe it’s just us?

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How 50 valuable finds would be divided under Rule 14

How 50 valuable finds would be divided under Rule 14

 

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Interpol plus

Rescue said it rather well:

“Whilst this might represent a tasty windfall for the finder and the landowner, for the rest of us – the other 60 million plus inhabitants of the British Isles – it represents nothing but yet another lost opportunity to add to the knowledge we have about the Saxon period ….Unfortunately these hoards are rare, so there might never be another one and we might never be able to answer the many questions surrounding them. But you won’t read about that in the papers.”

But actually, the papers DO contain some thought-provoking quotes if you look, like the Head of PAS saying their £1.3 million funding is too low (“I’m not sure whether we’re going to be able to renew the contracts for nine of the 32 posts that we’ve got in the scheme from the 1 April”) and Ed Vaizey not addressing that but instead praising “the finders and landowners who have graciously waived their right to a reward” while failing to mention that the vast majority don’t and we pay them far more than PAS gets.

But the best quote is from the BBC for it says the payout just from the Lenborough Hoard “could be £1.3 million” – which is the same as PAS’s allowance for a whole year! (Despite the fact it was hoiked out far too fast due to pressure from people who couldn’t control themselves or be bothered to arrange for it to be guarded overnight!. Selungnorami.)

No Way 4

Compare and contrast the people who didn’t call Atif with the sort of people that are going to THIS today! (No mention or praise or reward for them then Ed!)

So it’s all there in the papers, just under the spin: Britain IS utterly bonkers. And no, our portable antiquities system is not “internationally admired” as has been trumpeted this week (who feeds Ed Vaizey these lines?). Not enough for any country, anywhere, ever to have adopted it anyway! How come? The things you’re liable to read in the papers, they ain’t necessarily so and sometimes they’re utter foutaise as my French archaeologist friend says. (Look it up, it’s rude!)

Update 17 Feb 2015
Meanwhile, look what happens when a finder isn’t selfish and self-serving. See HERE

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Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of 13 pieces of Yupik artwork (including miniature baskets and carved walrus ivory pieces) stolen from locked display cases over the weekend. The items taken were small and said to have been chosen in a manner that made their disappearance unlikely to be noticed.

“These stolen items are part of our rich cultural heritage” said Dan Winkelman, YKHC managing director,  “they still belong to the community and should be returned. We feel absolutely violated in hearing about the theft”.

A Government spokesperson concurred.


Meanwhile, across the pond, no-one was offering a reward for the recovery of any one of the 10 million bundles of historical knowledge legally stolen by non-reporting artefact hunters since 1975.  They included lots of good stuff but no-one knows exactly what, as that’s the awful nature of the theft and the blessed ally of denial. They are the ultimate instances of “disappearance unlikely to be noticed”.

“These stolen items are part of our rich cultural heritage” said a heritage busybody on a website. “They still belong to the community and our region and should be returned. We feel absolutely violated in hearing about the theft”.

A Government spokesperson pretended not to hear.


Alaskan stolen article  #13 is .... a carved ivory "story knife".

Alaskan stolen article number thirteen is …. a carved ivory “story knife”.

ritain's stolen bundle of knowledge number ten million is ..... gone.

Britain’s stolen bundle of historical knowledge number ten million is ….. gone.

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The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Christmas Meeting included a scary reminder to staff about the Freedom of Information Act:

pas PRE xMAS.

Wise, but it exacerbates a huge problem. The financial incentives for finders to lie to PAS are massive and it would be foolish to pretend it doesn’t happen a lot, albeit mostly undetected. So it’s concerning that on those occasions when PAS staff do have suspicions they are unable to express doubt or warn each other which means still more false information will get onto the database. Here’s just one example of how massive the incentive to lie to them can be:  if you find a £2,000 item on a farm where you have a 50-50 agreement with the farmer and you tell PAS you found it at a rally elsewhere which has no such sharing provision (they exist) then you’ve instantly made yourself £1,000. Laundering by find spot description is probably the easiest, most profitable and hardest to prove fib in the whole country and even when PAS suspect it they’re forbidden to say.

Dr Bland is snooty about amateurs who criticise his organisation but actually it is they who are entitled to be snooty about him. His database must contain large numbers of lies to a degree he can’t know and which he doesn’t acknowledge. Lucky for him that Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has just confessed to Parliament: “I have made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.” If he had done so he’d have put a couple of his permanent officials on it and trust me (I know some) they’re super-smart people and would look a lot further than PAS’s own self-adoring Annual Reports. I guarantee they’d work out the implications of the fact that the contributors to the database are mostly not High Court Judges and can make lots of money simply by saying Corby not Kirkby. Whitehall officials can see when Emperors have no clothes just as well as amateurs can and they can’t be dismissed as know-nowts for saying so.

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A farmer is being blaggarded on a forum. Can you guess why: “I’d tell him where to get off!/ he’s taking the YouKnowWhat/ this sets a dangerous precedent/ could spread like a cancer/ As he seems so greedy I would agree & only show him your trash & grots/ Everybody these days want’s something for nothing!/ cheeky so and so/ he may simply be an arrogant pig head.”

Greedy, arrogant pig head

Greedy, arrogant pig head

His crime? He says they can have ALL the finds from his land up to a value of £50 but he’d like to keep anything worth more. What a monster!  Keep in mind, it’s all his anyway, and (according to them) 99.9% of finds are worth below £50 so he’s actually giving them nearly every item, adding up to lots of money and more than enough for any “hobbyist” to collect and study, So much for “in it for the history”! (One of them even reveals a way round it, just as Farmer Silas Brown has warned about: “make sure every thing you find is worth £49.99″. That’s theft, fraud or looting but you need wits or morals to realise that – so how many times has it happened?).

And it’s not just farmers they claim equal status with, it’s archaeologists. Look at this contribution: “When the day dawns that archaeologists donate their time for the love of history and refuse any payment and the associated professional glory of being involved in high-profile digs then I’ll accept their criticism of any gains I make from detecting”

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Archaeologists: in it for the money?

Er, no. The vast majority of archaeologists, particularly at the digger level, are extremely poorly paid – often barely above minimum wage levels and often donate their time for free. That’s what “in it for the history” really means. It’s a vocation, not something they hope to get a lottery win out of. Got it?  In addition, try to get your head round this if you can: they’re paid to recover knowledge for the benefit of the public. When detectorists search just for the public’s benefit, only in selected places where it will be beneficial to the public, always entirely  in accordance with the public’s standards of Best Practice – then, and only then, can they claim some sort of equivalence with archaeologists. Until then they are actually more like chancers, working for their own benefit but painting themselves to each other and at the gates of anyone with a random bit of land as something else.


Update:

My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch……
“Trolls”. That’s what we’re being called for publishing this article. But look who is saying it – a member of the “Somerset Artifact Seekers” who (until we recently forced them to cancel it) had a rule that said everything they find that isn’t Treasure is entirely THEIRS!

Don’tcha just love ‘em? Heroes all !


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