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The widespread availability of metal detectors in the 1970’s was the beginning of a lot of problems for portable antiquities, as we have covered here on a regular basis for the past 10 years or more.

However, the problems arising from the collection of portable antiquities are not new, as an article from Old Cornwall[1] magazine from over 80 years ago relates.

Despite specifically referring to flint finds, some sections of this are worth highlighting as still relevant today to fieldworkers and metal detectorists alike:

  1. “The loss to Cornwall has been incalculable”
  2. “…a detailed record of the exact place…” … “It is not enough to give the name of the farm, or even of the particular field, it must be sufficiently accurate to enable the exact spot to be fixed.”
  3. “It is not desirable that the finder should indulge in any ‘digging’ for flints. His work may prove to be more damaging than helpful.”
  4. “…objects should not be discarded too freely”
  5. “It cannot be too strongly emphasised that flints are of no intrinsic value; what is of value is the record of where flints have been found.”

References:

1: Old Cornwall Magazine Winter 1938 Vol III #4, p166 ‘On Flints’

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It’s because of stuff like this (from the Glossary of the otherwise admirable website, Keys to the Past): “Most metal detectorists are responsible, recording the location of the objects they find and informing the local museums or the Portable Antiquities Officer.”I

It’s a falsehood, a profoundly damaging calumny that has nevertheless been seeded into hundreds of unwitting newspapers and websites. The latest evidence it’s untrue comes from a survey by Paul Barford of the British antiquities on sale on EBay by UK based people on just one day last month: there were 13,825 finds on sale and just 27 were said to have been recorded by archaeologists.

It’s no wonder that the British public (unlike people elsewhere) aren’t concerned by the fact people from all over will gather today for a large detecting rally on Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier land “a mile as the crow flies from Salisbury Cathedral.” The PAS won’t be there, nor any archaeologist, just a “trained recording volunteer”, we wonder why, .

Wnat could possibly go wrong?

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Update:  Ironically, see also this tweet made yesterday:


Archaeology Wessex @CBAWessex …..

“Our Committee meets today in the beautiful cathedral City of Salisbury”


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If you’ve ever read a detecting forum, you’ll know a huge number of detectorists say “my farmer’s not interested in seeing my finds”. It’s strange. Farming is now very demanding, surely very few hillbilly farmers are left? However, one of the Chew Valley Hoard finders may have revealed a possible explanation:

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Not bothered by “a pile of old muddy coins“? Maybe. But what if he’d been told they were worth millions? We think it would be a different story and who knows, he may well have insisted they stop digging until the archaeologists arrived. In our experience, and maybe yours, dear reader, the average farmer is a lot smarter and far more cultured than the average treasure hunter else they’d be out of business, so why not?

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Are there really a huge number of uncultured, irresponsible farmers? Has PAS outreach not reached them?

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We’ve had a message from one of Farmer Brown’s friends…

Fellow Landowners,

I was disturbed to read last week of a metal detectorist from near here that found in his mum’s garage a gold ring that he had found many years ago and not handed in to the landowner. Now he is selling it and is expecting to get ten thousand quid for it. Reading about it reminded me of the stories my late father told about some of the people who came onto the farm in the ‘seventies.

He told of a young metal detectorist that lived with his mum and came back to our farm and the Higgins’ land in the next village week after week although he never seemed to find anything (he told Dad his hobby gave him an excuse to get out of the house). Now, I don’t know what this fellow’s name was, I’ve only just learnt of this sale. It’s too late to ask Dad, he passed on two months ago, leaving me the farm and the bills. What I know is that Dad, who was always very frugal, would not in a million years have let anyone just walk off with any valuable gold objects taken from our land. I hope that the man in the newspaper can prove that the ring in question came into his possession honestly, and not from my family’s property.

Fellow landowners, for goodness sake, if you really must let people like this onto your property, make sure they know that nothing, nothing, leaves it without you checking it and signing off on it, on your terms, not theirs. But before you do, check that you know what precisely you are signing away.

Oliver Opfer
Silverknoll Farm
Haddenham
Bucks

 

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If you or your organisation intend to carry out periodic inspections in response to our recent plea here, especially when it is ploughed, please keep us informed of your intentions and any evidence (with photographs ) at info@heritageaction.org.uk

BTW, please don’t encroach onto the land (the site is easily visible without doing so).  Many thanks.

Please look for something like this.


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By Nigel Swift

Recently I revisited the Staffordshire Hoard field. I could see nothing untoward as it was still in crop and any digging would be concealed.

Soon however it will be ploughed and that’s when any new nighthawking activities will be obvious (footsteps and holes). I now live a long way from there and find it hard to visit as often but it crosses my mind that there are thousands of good people in the area who would be able to monitor the site. There is every reason to do so – see here (and loads more here).

In addition I hope the members of the following local amateur archaeology groups will help. There would be no more important project for them. Please pass this plea on.

Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society
Coventry and District Archaeological Society
Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society
Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society
Worcestershire Archaeological Society
North Worcestershire Archaeology Group
South Worcestershire Archaeological Group
Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology
Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society
Kidderminster and District Archaeological and Historical Society

Please look for something like this.


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“Hot spots” are places where detectorists find loads of finds. Almost every detectorist seeks them – why wouldn’t they, since finds are what they seek? But by their nature they are archaeological sites so you might wonder how many detectorists give full and frank details about them to PAS or local archaeologists? Maybe PAS could clarify, but we suspect its very few.

If so it’s tragic – for as “Henery Iggins” has just pointed out on Twitter, an unreported hot spot means “an archaeological site being progressively and secretly destroyed without trace. The reluctance to give accurate find spots comes from many detectorists, including NCMD, being paranoid that other detectorists or indeed archaeologists will find out where their continuing exploitation of a “hot spot” is going on.”

Thus it seems the unregulated, grabby nature of metal detecting in Britain means that the very places that shouldn’t be secretly and repeatedly harvested to the point of extinction are the very ones that are being deliberately sought out and will suffer that fate. As Henery Iggins further observed: “It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if PAS, HE, Rescue, BAJR et al told the world “hot spot” means “archaeological site being progessively and secretly being destroyed without trace”. We live in hope.

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By Nigel Swift

The more I hear the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the discovery of The Staffordshire Hoard the angrier it makes me as I’m convinced some of it is still in that Hammerwich field or has been stolen at night by scruffs. And I have proof – or at least, evidence infinitely stronger than any claim it has all been recovered.

1.) After the first survey in 2009 and follow-up excavation in March 2010 archaeologists were confident it had all been found. But when they went back (after ploughing) in December 2012 they were “stunned” to find another 90 pieces (some small and possibly from a second hoard and some large and judged to be part of the original one.) One said  “It’s absolutely amazing. In the last search they used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan. They were absolutely certain there was nothing else down there.” Well, they were wrong. [In fact, both US and British forces were using Ebex 420H machines with little depth capability, (mines are mostly shallow) and not recommended by the manufactures for finding very small targets!]

2.) That 2012 survey included a team of metal detectorists using their own machines. A crucial error seems to have been made for very few if any of them yet had the new, highly expensive £1,500 deep-seeking machines (launched by Minelab in October 2010) so it was a “partial” search at best and some objects were surely missed due to that?

3.) To be clear, Minelab said their new machine, the GPX5000, “can easily find small objects at 24 inches” (15 inches below most ploughsoil). Surely the Hoard deserves investigation using that equipment? The nighttime scruffs will certainly have thought so and would have increasingly acquired the new equipment in the subsequent years (or even the GPZ launched 6 years later which Minelab says “could find gold 40% deeper than the GPX“!) Against that, the claims by archaeologists about the adequacy of their “two detailed surveys” and “geophysics and trial trenching” look damagingly mistaken.

4.) I have taken many photos at the site including a sequence over several weeks in February 2013. Dozens of holes, some very deep, and trails of footsteps have convinced me nighthawking activity is regular every time the crops are removed. What are they finding still, especially at the bottom of the deep holes? Nothing? Coke cans and plough fragments, (but well below the plough zone?) Or a few deliberately buried bejewelled golden Anglo Saxon objects which surpassed all the others but had to be broken apart and melted down to avoid prosecution? You tell me.

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5.) And then there’s this: the original finder, Terry Herbert, has just revealed in the local Express & Star that the children of two previous farmers of the land told him that an ancient burial mound existed on the site and that he believes “there are another 100 or so pieces in there.” Not that he could possibly know but that statement together with the ten year publicity means that as soon as the current crop comes off, which will be soon, there’ll be another glut of nightime scruffs up there. Anyone who reveres the hoard ought to guard that field. We’ve previously featured ten nearby archaeology societies. Maybe they could organise something?


[Incidentally, I’ve written to the Archaeology Forum 5 times about “the growing threat posed by the new deep seeking metal detectors such as the GPX 5000, the Blisstool LTC64 V3 and and the GPZ 7000 which leave the remaining Staffordshire Hoard open to theft” but without any reply.]


Anyway, all this is why I get angry about the current hoard celebrations. Any remaining objects shouldn’t have been left and are still vulnerable to criminals using detectors which are light years ahead of what the archaeologists had available. It’s not right for the sector to enthuse to the public about how great the found objects are without making totally damn sure they’ve got them all. That might mean a hundred supervised volunteer amateurs and students each with a GPX 5000 borrowed or hired from Minelab, covering a lot more land for as long as it takes to do the job properly. What better priority to which to allocate limited funds?


PS  I’ve just noticed this article was published yesterday on the exact 4th anniversary of my last call for the authorities to  “arrange for a survey of the field using a large number of Minelab GPX 5000 and similar machines as soon as possible“!

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Improved sentencing guidelines for offenders who cause damage to heritage and cultural assets have been announced. Unfortunately, they don’t apply in all cases. It’s criminal to cause reversible heritage damage but perfectly legal to cause permanent heritage damage..

In the cases where the damage is likely to be permanent the British Museum often sends archaeologists to sit in a tent and watch. We know it’s the law but why doesn’t PAS constantly tell the public, the press and Parliament that it’s profoundly wrong?

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The 6 academics including from PAS who recently sought to downplay Dr Sam Hardy’s conclusions have “clarified” their astounding claim that non-reporting isn’t damaging: “We feel that our paper too has been misrepresented in reactions elsewhere on the internet.” “It should be obvious that it was not intended to propagate a liberal, ‘pro-detecting’ viewpoint”

No, it’s not obvious! On the contrary, saying non-reporting isn’t damaging is supporting the very worst of detectorists! It can’t even be dismissed as an isolated mistake for a Finds Liaison Officer has just repeated it: archaeological evidence unreported by detectorists is “not necessarily being destroyed, rather extant but unknown“..

What the hell is going on? Is this a final shift in position? For 20 years, instead of condemning non-recording (and stressing to the Government that it’s rife) PAS has embraced, liaised, engaged, backslapped, bootlicked and flattered those who do it in the hope they’ll desist. Having finally seen they have failed (as Dr Sam Hardy has shown) are they excusing it? If PAS is soon to be wound up by the Government is this the message that will be broadcast – it doesn’t matter because the great majority we haven’t persuaded don’t do any harm?

 

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