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Remember the Polish detecting rally? Last week Britain was taken for an even bigger ride, this time by XP, the French detector manufacturers. They held a 1,000 person “European Gold Rally” in the lush, archaeologically rich Cotswold landscape near Burford.
Detectorists from many countries were invited and XP took the liberty of providing a link on their posters to the Historic England database showing “History in a 5 km radius of our search area”. Also helpful was the attendance of several FLOs and 3 coin dealers. Those so inclined could dig up, get valued and sell finds in minutes, even things brought from elsewhere (and who’ll dare pretend that facility isn’t known about and appreciated Europe-wide?)
So a uniquely British spectacle. Hundreds of foreign detectorists (300 French, 30 German, many more from Italy, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Holland, USA, Belgium and Australia) detecting in the Cotswolds instead of at home. Why? Because they know that Britain is uniquely careless about protecting its buried heritage, that’s why!
A French promotional video for the event. The Cotswold scenery is beguiling, the music is lyrical and the commentary begins “Ah, L’Angleterre….” Quite right. So why not just visit, like normal respectful people?
Detectorists claim we want detecting banned. No. We just want them compelled to behave. That would benefit 65 million people. They ought to support us as the French have just benefited their whole population in a way British detectorists would hate. They’ve decreed that finds from land which has changed hands since 7 July now belong to the state! That makes Britain’s strategy of endless pleading for voluntary good behaviour look pretty foolish.
Clever, the French. They’re saying so you’re only in it for the history. Fine. Please keep your passion for history. But not the finds. They’re ours. British detectorists are desperately spinning that as a bad thing for France. See this from the European Council for Metal Detecting:`“Overall, this is quite clearly bad news for the metal detectorists in France, as this new law will severely restrict their ability to participate in the cultural life of the French society and prevent them from contributing to the discovery and protection of archaeological heritage”.
So they’ve made it very clear, they’ll only be giving something to society if they’re allowed to pocket the finds. How that’s “in it for the love of history” is a question the British Establishment seems unable to answer or even address. This very week Paris launched an 1,800 strong uniformed “incivility brigade” to reduce uncouth behaviour on the streets. Yet the only measure the British take to tackle uncouth and culture-harming behaviour in our fields is to pay 45 people to beg detectorists to behave, that’s all. Imagine! A civilised country with no statutory constraints upon mass culture-damaging. Who’d vote for that?
Paul Barford has exposed the plain truth behind the European Council for Metal Detecting’s “complaint”: “Well, of course the new law is not there to encourage a “will to search for artefacts”. The aim of heritage preservation is to reduce the (merely) Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Resource for private benefit and direct it to public benefit. Private heritage pocketing is detrimental to the interests of French (and European) society.”
Brexit has already ensured that the ECMD, because it was a British invention, is highly unlikely to be listened to in Europe and this latest demonstration of bad faith towards French heritage will hopefully ensure that’s the case. Blatant dishonesty doesn’t work at all.
PAS is staging yet another conference praising metal detecting. (Why, when they were set up to cope with it not promote it? A biscuit to anyone who knows!) It’s titled “Can Detectorists be Archaeologists?” The answer is simple: NO, for the nature of the activity precludes its participants from adhering to the archaeological practices, aims and ethics developed to maximise knowledge and minimise cultural loss which real archaeologists have to! Why would you need to stage a whole expensive conference to explain that, unless you were trying to pretend short changing the community is acceptable?
The title of the conference is all the more perplexing because the BM specifically told us recently that they’d endeavour to ensure “misinterpretation cannot be inferred from our use of language in the future” and for our part we highlighted Rule 1.4 of the Institute for Archaeology: “A member shall not undertake archaeological work for which he or she is not adequately qualified”. No, metal detecting can never be Archaeology for a multitude of reasons. It’s endlessly claimed by both metal detectorists and PAS that archaeologists shouldn’t be elitist. They’re right. But Archaeology should be.
If it’s not, and if it isn’t done right, it’s one of many inferior ways of interacting with the past of which metal detecting is merely one. By what right does our national museum, uniquely in the world, imply otherwise? The whole bloody farce reminds us of 2011 when Diana Friendship-Taylor, chair of Rescue, wrote witheringly of a previous similar attempt:“We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of a method of historical inquiry which belongs in the distant past, and which has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.”
It’s exactly a year since PAS got the begging bowl out. They probably wish they hadn’t for only 22 people have contributed and the total is only £901. Not all of the contributors were detectorists (there’s us for a start!) and we reckon probably just 18 detectorists out of 10,000 have given anything at all.
Since the very existence of PAS is an acknowledgment that metal detecting does damage the archaeological record, the figures seem to be a particularly spectacular failure of an attempt to apply the “polluter pays” principle. Particularly so given that every detectorists at every farm gate declares their undying support for the PAS whereas 70% of them fail to report all their finds to PAS and 99.5% of their clubs don’t make reporting to PAS compulsory.
Actually, it’s not just unacceptable, it’s a scandal. On Thursday Simon Jenkins in the Guardian called for the restoration of war damaged monuments in Syria, saying “we can redress the murder of memories”. In Britain the murder of memories caused by the mass failure to report metal detecting finds is utterly impossible to redress. Instead, ten thousand British detectorists have deigned to mitigate it at a rate of only about 8p each per year.
For years we’ve campaigned for them to add a 4th and 5th definition of nighthawking to their Encyclopaedia. In 2012 they added the 4th (detecting with permission but concealing what you find) but they still refuse to add the 5th (lying to landowners about the value of finds).
But now, see the new Sentencing Council Guidelines on Theft. High culpability is indicated if someone: 1. abuses a position of trust, 2. deliberately targets the victim on the basis of vulnerability, 3. attempts to conceal or dispose of items and 4. there’s evidence of wider community impact. All four pointers are on show if you lie to a farmer about value and don’t insist he gets an independent valuation. That’s clear theft everywhere outside the peculiar world of PAS press releases and Glasgow’s encyclopaedia, where silence prevails.
But keeping farmers informed really matters, and the new Home Office Crime Prevention Strategy shows why: “There is conclusive evidence that crime increases when there are more opportunities to offend and falls when the number of opportunities is reduced”. Glasgow has ignored us on this matter (which has severe consequences for both landowners and heritage) for years but from now on they’ll have to ignore both the Sentencing Council and the Home Office. Maybe they’ll think again? We suspect they will, for they exhibit a willingness to tell the truth without fear in other areas, as shown by their recent superb site update:
“Collectors of rare and precious orchids and antiquities valorize their participation in markets that are known to be in quite considerable degree illicit, appealing to ‘higher loyalties’ such as preservation, appreciation of aesthetic beauty and cultural edification. ”
A blind spot regarding metal detecting theft sits very uncomfortably with that!
We’ve been corresponding with the BM (Susan Raikes, Head of the Dept of Volunteers & Audiences). It looks like they’re going to desist from implying metal detecting is citizen archaeology.
We had put to her that using that phrase misinforms landowners by omission for it fails to reveal what her predecessor accepted – that 70% of detectorists don’t report their finds. Her reply was heartening: “Thank you very much for this – I have noted your point. I don’t believe that we have ever used the term in the way that you describe it here, and I will endeavour to ensure that this sort of misinterpretation cannot be inferred from our use of language in the future. With thanks.”
That’s massive. Even if she’s implying it’s only us misinterpreting, she’s accepting misinterpretation is possible and she’ll act to prevent it. So hopefully “citizen archaeology” will now be dropped from their statements on metal detecting. About time too. Archaeologists never gave them permission to hijack their cherished reputations (just look at Rule 1.4 of the Institute for Archaeology: A member shall not undertake archaeological work for which he or she is not adequately qualified!) Now, if the phrase is dropped (and can no longer be quoted at farm gates) it will be an undeniable benefit for landowners, archaeologists and heritage. Britain (and its landowners) can return to the rest of the world’s notion of Archaeology: an activity that doesn’t involve digging randomly, selectively or for personal benefit!
You might think killing for fun is largely under control. But no, apart from fox hunting you can enjoy hunting with bassets, beagles, bloodhounds, mink hounds and rabbit hounds. If you ask what’s the appeal you’ll be told lots of lyrical stuff. But Engels, writing to Marx, was rather honest: “Such a thing always excites me hellishly for a few days, it is the most magnificent physical pleasure I know …. I was in at the kill”
So why bring it up? Well, the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles are holding another metal detecting rally and PAS are going again. As we said last year, you can search the world and never find such a crass event where cultural exploiters fill the coffers of wildlife exploiters and officials from a national museum sit at a folding table legitimising it all.
PS – A message to the Finds Liaison Officer scheduled to attend: Can’t you just say no? We’re quite certain you’d like to. Here’s a message from George Bernard Shaw you could refer your bosses to …
“What is not disputable by any person who has ever seen sport of this character is that the man who enjoys it is degraded by it. We do not bait bears now (I do not quite know why); but we course rabbits in the manner described in one of the essays in this book. I lived for a time on the south slope of the Hog’s Back; and every Sunday morning rabbits were coursed within earshot of me. And I noticed that it was quite impossible to distinguish the cries of the excited terriers from the cries of the sportsmen, although ordinarily the voice of a man is no more like the voice of a dog than like the voice of a nightingale. Sport reduced them all, men and terriers alike, to a common denominator of bestiality.
The triviality of sport as compared with the risk and trouble of its pursuit and the gravity of its results makes it much sillier than crime. The idler who can find nothing better to do than to kill is past our patience….. There are plenty of innocent idle pastimes for him. He can read detective stories. He can play tennis. He can drive a motor-car if he can afford one….. Satan may suggest that it would be a little more interesting to kill something; but surely only an outrageous indifference to the sacredness of life and the horrors of suffering and terror, combined with a monstrously selfish greed for sensation, could drive a man to accept the Satanic suggestion…..
There are now so many other pastimes available that the choice of killing is becoming more and more a disgrace to the chooser. The wantonness of the choice is beyond excuse. To kill as the poacher does, to sell or eat the victim, is at least to act reasonably. To kill from hatred or revenge is at least to behave passionately. To kill in gratification of a lust for death is at least to behave villainously. Reason, passion, and villainy are all human. But to kill, being all the time quite a good sort of fellow, merely to pass away the time when there are a dozen harmless ways of doing it equally available, is to behave like an idiot or a silly imitative sheep.”
G. B. S. March, 1914.
An extraordinary 86% of detectorists on the Minelab forum said they supported Brexit (far higher than every district of the country). The reason is clear, they have long feared Europe would get Britain to regulate what they do. Not now though and, as a bonus for detectorists, Europe’s environmental stewardship payments will now end, leaving thousands of protected acres available for unregulated detecting once again. So there’ll be jubilation in the club room at the back of the Pig and Whistle and many similar venues.
So is there an upside? Yes, if you see yourself as European:
> In Europe The Assembly’s wish for further legislative control of detecting will no longer be obstructed by a single country.
> In Europe any further international conferences held by PAS praising themselves and unregulated detecting won’t be heeded.
> Equally the British inspired European Council for Metal Detecting will be dead in the water (for who in Europe will now listen to the Brits?)
> No national museum within Europe will be telling European landowners that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”
> In Europe there won’t be hundreds of legal, unregulated mass digs followed by boastful videos belting out the lyric “We do not fear what lies beneath, We can never dig too deep!“
We caused a big stir (7,300 views) with our 2013 headline “Ed Vaizey insults every archaeologist and heritage professional“. Now the British Museum has gone down much the same route as the ex-Culture Secretary by saying, unmistakably, (in its just published 2016 Annual Review) that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”.
That conveys to the public that any group of people with detectors they see in a field digging (1) randomly, (2) selectively and (3) for their own benefit, are archaeologists. It’s untrue and very damaging since it legitimises in the public eye a whole galaxy of activities that archaeologists would get sanctioned for and it devalues their professional and educational achievements and their dedication to scientific method, knowledge gathering and resource conservation.
How do archaeologists and heritage professionals feel about that? Should they be hopping mad and reflect where we’ve got to in Britain considering no national museum in any other country would do such a thing? Should they tell the British Museum and PAS to desist and to publicly clarify exactly what archaeologists do and, crucially, the behaviour by which they can be recognised? Currently they are giving the impression they haven’t the foggiest. What’s to be done?
Update, next day ….
We were interested to note that the BM’s re-branding of metal detectorists as citizen archaeologists has come almost 5 years since we succeeded in getting the BBC to almost entirely desist from calling them amateur archaeologists. How can it be right that it’s down to us, ordinary people, rather than hundreds of archaeologists, to stand up against landowners being misled?
Still, Paul Barford has now written to the BM making several additional points and suggesting they issue an official statement “defining what the BM means by the noun “archaeology” in the phrase “citizen archaeology”. Assuming he isn’t ignored a precise answer to his precise question will be very welcome indeed. How many farmers have already been told, falsely, “we’re amateur archaeologists” and now “we’re citizen archaeologists”? A lot, it can be assumed.
Update, Tuesday 12 July
Paul Barford received a reply which didn’t answer the central issue so far as we are concerned. Consequently we have just sent the following message to Susan Raikes, Head of the Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department:
We have a couple of simple but (we think) very important questions.
Does not the BM have a central duty to “inform”?
Is that duty fulfilled by telling landowners that anyone at their gate carrying a metal detector is a “citizen archaeologist”?
The Heritage Journal
Remember this in The Mirrror in 2011?
The organiser was vehement (“If you all think your getting away with it think again….the offence carries a custodial sentence”). The police, less so. The officer dealing with it was himself a detectorist and assured them all that “All I want is for the entire hoard to be declared, a decent article in the Searcher and the reputation of us detectorists to be restored. All I want is a sensible resolution to the whole situation. Please feel free to contact me. I am your friend not your enemy, I enjoy this hobby and do not want to see it needlessly tarnished!”
Oh for a police friend like that, as the Chairman of the National Union of Thieves might say! Anyway, 2 weeks later (when the grace period expired and it became a mass crime) at least 100 coins, £35,000-worth, had still not been returned. Since then it has all gone very quiet so last week we wrote to him requesting a simple update: “How many of the coins were reported on the day, how many were subsequently reported and how many people were prosecuted?” The response was strange: “Can I ask who you are and why do you want this information?”. When we told him we were the Journal he responded “As you were not involved in the initial incident I suggest you submit a FOI request through our HQ, the route these sort of enquires normally go.”
But we were involved. We are part of the British public from whom a lot of knowledge has been stolen (in addition to the many thousands of pounds stolen from the farmer) and we have a strong suspicion that had we been detectorists preparing “a decent article in the Searcher” whitewashing detectorists we’d have been told all about it by return. What do you think, Dear Reader?