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Just posted on a detecting forum (and getting loads of support): “So, today we received the valuation for our 20 piece, 1kg, 1100 year old viking hoard of hack silver. Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each. I honestly am gutted. We dont do it for the money but lets be honest, there is no wonder so many finds go unrecorded to the flo. We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked….”
For the information of all likeminded crybabies, there are about 200,000 proper amateur archaeologists in Britain who don’t take money for their finds. Or complain. They see them as everyone’s, not someone’s and they do it for the love of history, see?
One of his colleagues has a theory: “They are wishing to impose ‘austerity’ on valuations.” …. Er, no. But think of this: the treasure rewards and Ebay earnings that detectorists get are the only part of the heritage sector that hasn’t suffered massive cuts. So actually, detectorists are uniquely privileged. Anyone think being ungrateful and graceless is the best reaction to that reality?
Update 4 October
A comment from “Spencer”: “Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each”. So the poor old landowner only gets a third! How can that possibly be right? What if there were 9 artefact hunters poking around. Would the farmer only get a tenth?”
by Nigel Swift
There’s been another big row about which of two detectorists should get rewarded. It reminded me of a previous debacle…
This latest case interested me as they had been searching in fields I used to play in. My grandfather owned the adjoining farm and we village kids spent lots of time there. What’s eating me is how things have changed since those distant times in the fifties. I recall Jimmy Perks finding an artefact there (there’s a Roman road there) and all of us proudly processing, Cider-with Rosie style, to our headmaster’s house to present it to him “for the museum” (no-one thought there was any alternative). He made a big fuss about it – both in school assembly and the local press and sure enough it went off to the local museum, with full details.
For me that’s proper “community archaeology” – a village’s past revealed to the villagers and everyone benefiting. 60 years later those fields are subject to very different people and attitudes. For one churlish thing, if their forums are a guide, they are mostly people with far less spelling ability than the 1950’s village schoolchildren who preceded them – but that’s unacceptably snobbish of course and a separate matter the Government should explain. However, I am prepared to be snobbish about them if the word can be used in a heritage-friendly way, meaning “to appreciate those who engage in a shared learning process but not those who are non-sharing or personally exploitative”.
Actually, everyone should be snobbish about that since most detectorists fall into that latter category. It seems to me the authorities have been so anxious to be “inclusive” and avoid the first sort of snobbery that they’ve totally forgotten the importance of maintaining the second sort. So I hope that’s clear about my snobbism. I don’t mind a lot of them being, as PAS says, “challenged by formal education” nor that they come all the way from Dudley to our little village of Claverley to do over “our” fields (much) but I do deeply resent the fact that statistically most of them won’t have reported most of their finds and that statistically more than 95% of them never renounce their treasure rewards despite all of them swearing blind they’re only doing it for the love of History. Shouldn’t everyone be snobbish about that?.
BTW, in the next county to Claverley is the similarly named village of Abberley. There, some excellent real community archaeology has just been happening, see below, just like we did in the fifties. Naturally, not one of the participants took any finds home or reckoned they should own them or sold them on EBay or claimed a Treasure reward or fought over who got one!
PAS has launched an appeal for donations. They’re entitled to expect that detectorists, whose bacon they and the taxpayer have saved for 18 long years, will promptly respond. Surprisingly, just £3 a week from each detectorist would cover all their running costs!
However, there’s a lot of evidence that the “partnership” between PAS and detectorists is only platitude-deep with each side seeing praising the other as essential to their own survival. Thus, while most detectorists indubitably don’t report most of their finds to PAS they invariably claim they do – and PAS constantly ties itself in quite elegant linguistic knots to avoid admitting that crucial truth to the public. But now PAS seems to have inadvertently committed a big tactical error by asking for money instead of fine words – for so far, after three and a half weeks, there have been just 8 donations (and not all from detectorists) totalling £370. That equates to less than 10p per detectorist per week! Little more need be said.
Or does it? Were those in charge of “New PAS” quite so naive, or were they actually perfectly well aware of what the response would be and are using it to send a coded message to the Government? Is it all a way to demonstrate, without needing to say so themselves, that they see they have inherited a voluntary system which is not as it has long been portrayed? Who knows, but if so, someone is to be congratulated for they have arranged matters so that it is detectorists, no-one else, who are doing the demonstrating – in a way that simply can’t be denied or spun. The taxpayer has been giving £30,000 a week to support PAS and the voluntary system whereas detectorists have mostly abused the voluntary system and are now collectively giving just £100 a week.
I do hope “New PAS” has done this deliberately. My guess is that they have, for since they took over there has been a slackening of the selective “good news” propaganda and this latest development fits in very well with that change. Could this be the beginning of Britain shaking off it’s bonkersness and starting to move towards treating its portable antiquities like other countries do? “Regulation” is not a dirty word and is only opposed by those detectorists who have something to hide – literally. Let the rest of us voice it more openly.
It’s been put about that we country folk all support foxhunting and the like. Don’t you believe it, a lot of us don’t. Personally I’d rather eat my own turnips than support it. So I was shocked that last Sunday at Tisbury, Wiltshire there was a metal detecting day in support of the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles. Lots of detectorists turned up and many hundreds of pounds were raised.
Hunting hares is illegal these days so they make do with watching rabbits being torn apart (well it’s legal, innit?!) They want the Hunting Act repealed (so they can resume killing hares) and I wonder how much of the metal detecting money will be put towards that noble aim? Not that there’s any point telling the attendees, they obviously don’t mind but that doesn’t mean other people (including the ladies and gentlemen of PAS and the British Museum) might not be affronted by the spectacle of cultural exploiters filling the coffers of wildlife exploiters. PAS was scheduled to attend, thereby legitimising all concerned. I don’t know if they did. I hope they didn’t and that they don’t go next year when the whole sorry, uniquely British spectacle is to be repeated. Uniquely British? Yes, you can travel the world and never come across such a grotesque event.
On the subject of awful, the fragrant Central Searchers are holding their massive annual Summer Rally. today and tomorrow. It ought to be called “The Convenience Rally” because look:
1. Their usual rule applies – if you find something which you alone reckon is worth less than £2,000 you can just pocket it and the farmer can whistle for a share. Very convenient. 2. Dealer John Phippotts will be there to “identify, value and buy any finds, he’s interested in single pieces or whole collections”. Even more convenient. 3. As he says in his adverts, “Confidentiality assured. Discreet and professional service “. Yet more convenient! And all for just £44 a ticket.
Are the Archaeological Establishment looking? How’s the voluntary reporting system going chaps? Really well, with nearly all finds being declared? No need to call for proper regulation? And English Heritage, are you still standing by your stated position: “English Heritage will support the general principle that archaeological material should not be sold for profit” or were you just kidding?
Pc Andy Long, Heritage Crime Officer for Essex, recently tweeted: “Most detectorists follow the Code of practice for responsible metal detecting – nighthawkers don’t!”
Er, no Andy, that’s a gigantic whopper. The police and others are constantly confusing the crime divide – between those who break the law and those who don’t – with the cultural damage divide – between those who keep to the official code and those who don’t. Not being a nighthawk just means you’re not a criminal, nothing else. It doesn’t mean you’re responsible – and the reality is that most legal detectorists don’t keep to the official code or report all their finds – and because there are so many of them the knowledge loss they cause dwarfs that done by nighthawks. The figures prove it and PAS agrees. It’s not on to tell the public otherwise.
But what about the second policeman? Well, that’s Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, Policing and Crime Advisor to English Heritage and part of the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage. He re-tweeted Andy Long’s untrue statement, thereby apparently endorsing it. It’s crazy. How many more times must we point this out Mark? Don’t take our word for it, take a look at the words of Penny English, Head of Anglia Law School, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge: “a disjuncture exists between law (which defines activities that are illegal) and morality (which identifies behaviour that is wrong).” It is not for the police to avoid mention of – and indeed misrepresent – “behaviour that is wrong” simply because it isn’t illegal. To do so is not merely to mislead the public it is also to aid and abet heritage damage. Can the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage please, finally, desist?
So that’s the two policemen we mentioned in the title. What about the detectorist? That’s easy. It’s Pc Andy Long. He’s one.
Will it be “new PAS, new mission”? We may know soon for three particularly awful detecting rallies are about to be re-run. Will the new PAS management act in the interests of heritage protection this time or remain as uncritical facilitators?
First, there’s to be another rally at Weyhill, possibly once again on the site of the famous Weyhill Fair, the venue for nearly 750 years of gatherings. “Sites really don’t come better than this!” said one detectorist and we all know what he meant by that. Last time no-one from PAS criticised or even turned up (FLO on honeymoon, no-one else available) and it still went ahead, in contravention of responsible behaviour and the official Guidance for Organisers of Metal Detecting Rallies.
Second, those nice middle Englander villagers at Worlingworth seem to have been persuaded to run a rally again. This time they’re even more deeply implicated: “cheques [at £18 a head!] “should be made payable to Worlingworth Local History Group”! Could this be the only Local History Group that has ever run a commercial metal detecting grabfest? Do they understand the downside and that saying it’s “for charity” doesn’t make it any better? Will PAS have a quiet word this time? Incidentally, Suffolk County Council contributes to the cost of the group’s website and it has strong views about Metal Detecting rallies as fund raising events (as does PAS). Will someone say something? Or not?
Third, while we’re on the subject of good causes, here’s one that isn’t. Next weekend at Tisbury, Wilts, the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles are running another of their metal detecting days. It’s a good fit, unkind people might say – the unspeakable hosting the unthinking, a truly bizarre happening, a veritable expoiterfest, utterly unique to Britain. PAS are going – but wouldn’t it be refreshing if the new PAS management said: “Actually, no. We want absolutely nothing to do with the event”!?
They keep telling the public porkies. We keep highlighting the facts. That’s how it works in Bonkers Britain. Here are the latest 4 examples:
First, in the wake of Roger Bland’s retirement from PAS, FLO Julie Cassidy tweeted “Roger created a Scheme the envy of countries across the world”. But of the 195 other countries in the world not one has ever come within light years of setting up a PAS of its own. The world isn’t envious, it’s unconvinced.
Second, FLO Anni Byard tweeted on the same occasion: “Sad to see Roger go. He leaves a legacy of 1.1m + artefacts that public wouldn’t have known about otherwise”. But that same voluntary system has allowed 4.3m artefacts not to be reported. Not ever explaining that to the public is to the advantage of only two groups: irresponsible detectorists and PAS themselves.
Third, detectorist-blogger John Winter claimed novice detectorists not asking for permission to detect is down to “education”. It’s not. The rest of the population have zero trouble knowing they shouldn’t go to a farm (or indeed a neighbour’s garden) and help themselves to spuds, flowers, peas, pheasants eggs and anything else they come across. It’s stealing. Only detectorists claim it’s an honest mistake. Diddums. Look how false and irrational it is …..
Fourth, detectorist “hihosilver” reckons the authorities know if find spots are false: “If reported and not found legally then they’d find out pretty fast as they require landowner details and a grid reference of the findspot…” It’s not true. PAS’s database is wide open to falsification for laundering by findspot description is both child’s play and undetectable – and the incentives to do it are massive. If a findspot is changed from Jarrow to Harrow a farmer in Harrow won’t get a penny for his property. Even worse, a Treasure reward may be paid for something “found” at a rally in Harrow that was nighthawked the previous day in Jarrow! What does this tell you about the integrity of the PAS database and the rights of landowners?
And yet, Dear Reader, you have to come here to hear about the reality behind all the myths because in Bonkers Britain neither detectorists nor PAS nor the police nor the CBA nor EH nor Glasgow’s Trafficking Culture project nor the Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage say a single word about them to farmers or the taxpaying, stakeholding public. Incidentally, every word of this article is true and you won’t hear any of them say otherwise. Thus are myths maintained.
An Irish archaeologist has just responded angrily on an Irish “detecting forum” to someone posting details of a protected site: “For those of you who are unaware, metal detecting is an illegal practice in the Republic of Ireland, and an Garda Síochána and the National Monuments Service have been notified of your post. I, for my part, am engaging in regular study and geophysical investigations at this site, with the explicit granted permission of the landowner, as it is private property, and I will immediately report any suspicious activities to the relevant authorities. You have been warned…… I would strongly advise that you do not post Irish sites in this fashion again”.
Is that overkill? An insult to innocent amateur archaeologists? Well, here’s the case for saying it was: Irish metal detectorists aren’t breaking Irish law against metal detecting as they aren’t searching for archaeological objects and the forum makes that crystal clear: “WE DO NOT DETECT FOR PROFIT OR ENGAGE IN SEARCHING FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL OBJECTS OR TREASURE OF ANY KIND”. Hence, if any of them unearths metal archaeological items while searching for metal items it’s purely by accident. Irish metal detectorists are all entirely innocent of lawbreaking and it follows that posting details of a protected site can’t possibly have negative consequences. Obviously.
Of course, on the other hand, you might not believe, but can’t prove, that they aren’t all only looking for Coke cans and tractor parts and that in reality ARE looking for archaeological artefacts, which would make them common criminals and bare-faced liars using a tricky smokescreen. (Some of them!) If that was so then it’s perfectly reasonable to think some of them would be prepared to do the same thing on a National Monument, in which case the archaeologist wasn’t wrong to complain. He was right. You decide (and that applies to the British archaeologists who have lent their names and reputations, wittingly or otherwise, to a video promoting the legalisation of Irish metal detecting).
Dear Ms Raikes,
The Chancellor has just said he wants more cuts, up to 40%, so you’ll know you’ve been handed the reins not just of a smaller PAS but a very much smaller one. I have some grass roots thoughts on that fact. The thing is, you may not have heard of me but actually I’m quite central to everything you’ll be doing – for although I’m only notional I’m pretty average – an octogenarian Salopian landowner, part of an army of ordinary people who stand like gatekeepers and guardians at the entrance to every one of the hundreds of thousands of fields containing Britain’s buried archaeological resource. You’ve just been tasked with pleading with artefact hunters to behave well while detecting whereas we on the other hand already have the absolute power to decide whether they detect at all – and, most importantly, in what manner. So my simple suggestion is that you talk to all of us – first, second and third.
PAS didn’t. They outreached almost exclusively to detectorists and hardly at all to us. You know the result and I suggest it would have been very different if PAS had targeted landowners far more. May I suggest you spend some time on some farming forums and then on some detecting ones (especially the hidden sections). I promise you’ll find farmers refreshingly receptive to your message in a way that most detectorists demonstrably haven’t been. I should hasten to add, before you or your advisers do, that yes, some detectorists are fine people who act in the national interest and are a credit to archaeology – but they are not the majority are they and they aren’t the problem PAS was set up to address.
It’s a quite unacceptable fact that after 18 years of PAS outreach neither the NCMD nor FID nor 99.5% of detecting clubs require members to report a single non-Treasure item to PAS or to abide by the official Responsibility Code or Best Practice. Indeed, they insist only on compliance with their own, trickily worded and entirely inadequate codes which landowners are told indicate “responsibility”. PAS has never explained the difference to landowners and indeed their interaction with landowners is so weak that the largest rally company is able to have a rule that finds worth up to an eye-watering £2,000 don’t even have to be shared with the owner, something which is very likely to encourage non-disclosure to farmers or yourselves and laundering by findspot falsification. I submit that if PAS would explain the moral and practical importance of best practice to landowners (despite extreme pressure from NCMD and others to minimise that message), many of them would insist upon anyone detecting on their fields complying.
So my suggestion for “reduced PAS” is rather simple. Ask every Finds Liaison Officer to spend the next three months outreaching to landowners. We farmers have known since the dawn of time that fertile fields are more productive than stony ground and it’s surely time for PAS to acknowledge that they know it too.
Grunters Hollow Farm
by Nigel Swift
Most people think that after 15 years I’ve become a crashing bore on the subject of metal detecting. I have. Jeez, I even bore me. But the recent decline of the PAS project and some issues in my own life make this a suitable moment to explain what has kept me banging on like a terrier on a mission. Yes, it’s terribly boring to go on and on every week but what’s far more boring is that this weekend, like every weekend, more than 4,000 historic British artefacts and their associated knowledge bundles will be sought out, dug up, shown to no-one and put beyond the reach of science forever. They do it every week. I complain about it every week. Boring innit?
I also feel it’s an appropriate moment to offer my thoughts (as a 15 year student of detecting and obsessive eavesdropper on metal detecting forums for every one of the past 5,475 days) on the decline of the PAS project and who or what is to blame. Me and others like me some say. Honoured, I’m sure, but I think there’s more to it than that. Clearly it’s the Government that has wielded the axe but they’re spinning it as setting PAS free. Maybe. But there’s no doubt they’ve stepped back from providing direct funding, just like they have with English Heritage and many others so the strong suspicion is that it’s a political move, a way to avoid blame for future funding cuts. If true that begs a big question: would they have divested themselves of PAS if they truly saw it as a star performer, an organisation which could deliver lots of kudos at modest cost? More likely, in my opinion, some in Whitehall came to realise that PAS’s recent confession of only a 30% full participation rate indicates the project is terminally incapable of being honestly presented to the public or the international community as a net benefit to heritage.
So, if it’s an issue of inadequate performance, the next question is – who is to blame for that? Well, we’ve long complained that PAS could have done much better if it had adopted some different tactics. In particular, it appears to have been caught in a self-preservation quandary in which it feared that overt criticism of irresponsible detectorists would reduce the number of items being reported and therefore prejudiced its chances of continued funding. Many detectorists were happy to feed that fear (the paragraph highlighted in red here lists 15 different occasions when detectorists threatened a recording strike if the authorities didn’t do exactly what they wanted. We always felt PAS was foolish to heed such threats. After all, they came from people who already didn’t report finds, not from those who were responsible. In addition, dire warnings that attempts to control metal detecting (sometimes repeated by PAS) would lead to “an explosion of nighthawking” can be logically shown to be groundless. Tell it to the Irish who have banned it or the Northern Irish who have regulated it! In my view if only the PAS hadn’t been frit to condemn bad behaviour and particularly to fail to explain the realities of that bad behaviour to those magnificent, all-powerful gatekeepers of our heritage, landowners, the portable antiquities project could have been very different.
So who is to blame for the decline of the PAS project? The Government ostensibly, for pulling the plug. But PAS on a more fundamental level for not being clear about right and wrong and especially for failing to explain it to every landowner in the country. Yet ultimately it’s neither of those that is truly to blame. It’s the 70% of detectorists who were offered a brilliantly generous and world-unique deal – respectability, legitimacy, money and flattery in exchange for mere good, unselfish practice – and utterly rejected it while pretending they hadn’t. Being a bit of a crank I’m quite bitter about that.
Perhaps I’d have done better to spend the last 15 years busying myself with my real interest, lepidoptery, talking to people who (these days at least) are entirely non acquisitive and honorable. On the other hand I think the mood music has changed. Ten or fifteen years ago almost all archaeologists chanted a single foolish and uninformed mantra, that “the vast majority of detectorists are responsible”. It was always a massive and damaging lie yet it was repeated in tens of thousands of press articles, encouraged by PAS and detectorists. At it’s heart it had a confusion, often deliberately promoted: it allowed people to think that since “nighthawks” were a small minority and irresponsible then the rest, the great majority, were responsible and therefore fit to be let onto the fields. The passing on of that fallacy to the public and landowners has dealt a massive disservice to heritage in my opinion for while nighthawks are small in number, legal detectorists who don’t act responsibly comprise many thousands of individuals and are responsible for massive ongoing information theft from the rest of us. At last, archaeologists are beginning to take that simple and provable reality on board. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the new PAS management at the British Museum changed course accordingly and now advised every landowner to allow only the 30% of Best Practice detectorists onto their fields and strongly and fearlessly lobbied the Government to bring in measures that made Best Practice compulsory not voluntary?