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As discussions continue on Treasure Act reforms there’ll be a bit of chat about what progress PAS has made. But that. sadly, is all it is, chat. See this from Farmer Brown, six years ago: has anything truly changed since then? Of course not. If there’s going to be a change it had better be radical.


 

Dear Fellow Landowners,

It was a rumbustious night down at the Black Sheep and Wellies on Friday. I and my farming pals celebrated that a detectorist has just written on his blog: “I will also be letting the farmer know that all items found excluding treasure items belong to him, if there is anything that he does not [want] after the recording of the finds I will let him know I am interested in acquiring them”.

He might have added “once he’s obtained independent advice on them“ but still it’s a step forward and I’ll give a bag of mangel-wurzels to any detectorist, archaeologist, lawyer, philosopher or priest that can show why ALL artefact hunters shouldn’t be doing it too. Anything else, like getting the farmer to sign away 50% of his property while still undiscovered (which most detectorists and the whole Archaeological Establishment encourage landowners to do) is plain wrong. Imagine finding your granny had let someone clear her loft when she was out in exchange for 50% of what they said they’d found – and that the Government had urged her to do it!

He’ll get a ton of criticism for what he’s doing but on the other hand he can console himself with the fact he’ll be treating farmers in a fairer and more honorable and respectful way than many thousands of his colleagues as well as English Heritage, the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and many others. (Heaven help their grannies!)

Regards,

Silas Brown,
Grunter’s Hollow Farm,
Worfield,
Salop

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What if you find a hoard but the FLO is on holiday? PAS has just said this is OK: “If the findspot is public and it is not safe to leave the find in the ground, you may feel that you have to lift it yourself.” No! Even though there’s a danger some of a detectorist’s mates might come back at night and steal the hoard that’s not an excuse for him to dig it up himself. Ever.

We’ve said so before (e.g. in November 2011 and in both July and November 2015) but PAS doesn’t listen to amateurs unless they’re detectorists. But we’ll repeat it here: if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen,you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State and spend sufficient time and money to ensure its security. What sort of entitlement-obsessed person wouldn’t?

Here are some of the blindingly obvious ways it can be done: Detectorists can wait in their cars overnight, security firms can be hired to work nights, including at Xmas, lighting rigs or generators can be hired for £37.50 per 3 days, a farmer’s flatbed trailer can be parked over the find.

 

““there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”… Oh really?

 

In 2011 the Salisbury Museum director was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but said you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”. Have things changed in the subsequent 9 years? Hardly, and it won’t until PAS stops giving detectorists a perfect excuse for digging up hoards or graves in future: “I was alone, my phone battery went flat, so I got out my long spade and “did the right thing” OK?” The bits are in this bag!”  What a damn scandal!

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Given their well-known willingness to support damage to Oswestry Hillfort’s setting, you might think they’d also be pro-metal detecting. But actually, they subtly signal the opposite:

  • “Metal detectors can be valuable archaeological tools when used responsibly”. On the face of it, that would please detectorists and PAS but significantly they say they are valuable archaeological tools, not acquisition aids!
  • “Metal detectors are sometimes used to check the spoil for any objects missed”. Indeed. But again, they are careful to say detectors are useful in archaeological excavations, not detectorists!

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So it’s pretty clear what they think. But in case there’s a scintilla of doubt this statement makes it crystal clear, beyond all argument or denial:

“Metal detecting on land owned by Shropshire Council is not permitted”

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Is it a hole left after someone stole a 4,000-year-old rock art panel? Or a hole left after metal detectorists dug up a hoard without waiting for archaeologists? The former happened recently in Galacia. The latter has happened hundreds of times in Britain.

But which is it? It’s impossible to know because holes left by stolen culture all look the same. But there IS a way to tell, eventually: in Galicia, the culprits will be punished. In Britain, they never are.

 

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[PS: It’s actually the Galician hole!]

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The Bill is making rapid progress through the House. It requires dealers to report even small transactions to the government and keep extensive records. This is all entirely true, except it isn’t happening in Britain, it’s happening in the States and not in the House of Commons but in the House of Representatives.

But it will benefit Britain. If some of the hundreds of American detectorists who pay £2,000 for detecting holidays here decide to reimburse themselves by taking finds home to sell, US dealers will have to check where they came from, whether they’re Treasure items and whether the farmer is aware – and was paid!

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What level of shame should Britain be feeling over the fact it is Trump’s America, not Britain which is putting a lid on our heritage cookie jar!

 

 

 

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Dear Fellow Landowners,

It’s that time of year when thousands of us will be offered a bottle of whisky to thank us for allowing people to detect for the past year. But before you swoon in a flood of rural gratitude may I suggest you respond by saying:

“How kind! However, it would warm the cockles of my heart far more if, instead, you reveal to me, right now, your eBay trading name.”

(It’s very clear some people are paying a very high price for their whisky!)

Seasons Greetings,

Silas Brown,
Grunters Hollow,
Worfield,
Salop instead

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Of course, as a “Green” she’ll be bitterly attacked by those with a vested interest in exploitation. Which brings us to Central Searchers. They say the reason so few finds from their rallies get recorded is that the FLO [Helen Geake]has a standing invite to our digs but we never see her.

But that’s nonsense, they can easily report finds whether an FLO is there or not  (and incidentally, four FLOs attended their summer rally!) The real reason is their notorious Rule 14: “finds can be retained by the detectorist alone as long as its value is no more than £2,000“.

You can guess the sort of people that attracts. And even if something worth far more is found it’s likely the farmer will still get nothing – for guess who says what it’s worth? (And of course, in those circumstances, neither the farmer nor PAS will be shown, lest the alarm is raised. No wonder FLOs hate attending.)

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A mischief-maker has altered a news article about metal detecting by replacing each mention of “treasure” with the phrase “rare egg finds”…

“The county played host to a total of 37 rare egg finds last year, according to figures co-released by the British Museum and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. It is part of a surge of interest in rare egg hunting which has seen more than 1,000 rare eggs discovered across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in each of the last five years.

The newfound popularity of rare egg hunting can be traced back to the passage of the Rare Eggs Act in 1996, formalising the ways someone could be paid for their discoveries.”

We understand the British Museum is to join in the fun by holding annual Rare Egg Collecting Conferences at which they will praise the responsibility of the finders and jubilate about the finds, in particular, the very rare ones.

 

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The Council for British Archaeology has just tweeted: “The new book on the Staffordshire Hoard is out today. To celebrate, we have opened up 4 articles from the British Archaeology archives“. So we looked. Four bits stood out:

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As we’ve long said, military-grade detectors were not up to this task. They were Ebex 420H models, in use by UK and US forces to find mines in Afghanistan, with little depth capability (mines being at shallow depth) and not recommended by manufacturers to find very small targets.

Modern hobby machines are vastly superior at finding small pieces of gold deep down; they were designed for it.  Minelab say their GPX 5000 can “easily find small objects at 24 inches” (i.e. more than 2X the depth achieved by the Home Office team), Blisstool’s LTC64 V3 can too and the GPZ “can find gold 40% deeper than that” (so nearly 3X deeper than the Home Office). The use of such machines by detectorists is widespread, including by nighthawks.

The Hoard deserves better than this. Ten years of “intensive conservation and expert research” cannot deliver the full story until a further search is held. When will that be?

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Update, just:

Oh!
The purpose of the search was to recover or prove the absence of finds              “at shallow depth”!


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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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