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by Nigel Swift
Recently a nice family in Ireland did it right: “The find proved a great historical lesson not only for Charles’ children but also for their classmates …..Charles then handed the stone hammer into the county museum”. Irish law said he had to but you just know he would have anyway. It took me back to Shropshire, circa 1955. We kids found stuff several times and would process with it in triumph to the schoolmaster or vicar “to take to the museum”. For us, like that Irish family, “finders-keepers” didn’t apply, the finds were beyond question “everyone’s”.
Many still feel that way and The Council for British Archaeology’s logo proclaims it: “Archae-ology for All”. Trouble is, some say “all” includes “me” so it’s “mine”. Two such people searched the field right next to where we used to find artefacts and soon after they argued in front of a coroner about which of them had found something: “I don’t care what he says, I swear on the Holy Bible I found it.” Same parish, six decades later, and a whole lot uglier.
The CBA’s logo was re-branded in 2012. It split the first word, archae-ology, to stress that it wasn’t the physical remains but the study of archaeology (the “ology”) which was for all, hence preventing misuse of the sentiment (or in Mike Heyworth’s far politer comment to us: “these are subtleties which inevitably are lost on many people”.) We thought it worked at the time but no, it’s still being seen as a CBA charter for personal entitlement. Maybe it’s time to make it clearer: “Archaeology for all, not just one”. It wouldn’t have the force of law but at least it couldn’t be wilfully misinterpreted. Today the present one will be. Extensively. That’s surely not what the CBA intended?
Remember how British detectorists going to France were advised by their official to lie through their teeth? (“It’s best to specify you are searching for modern losses“.) Well something similar is about to happen in Northern Ireland.
On May 14 Minelab will once again be staging their annual marketing exercise – International Metal Detecting Day. It involves them sponsoring detecting rallies (and selling their wares) worldwide. There are several in the British Isles and the one in Herefordshire is the world’s worst, as it’s legal here to dig what you can and take it home or sell it and as a bonus you can get your finds valued but not by a Finds Liaison Officer but an obliging dealer who’ll be on site. Lovely! Citizen Archaeology at its British best!
The event in Northern Ireland (at Delamont Country Park of all places) is different as over there it’s illegal to search for archaeological artefacts without a license so it’s being advertised as a search just for “tokens”. If you want to believe that’s all they’ll be looking for and all they’ll find and all they’ll quietly take home then that’s up to you. Hence the mention of Elvis. In our view though it’s just a couple of tricky words away from an organised crime and the authorities should examine it closely.
The official script (the one saying nighthawking is damaging but legal detecting is probably fine) was ignored recently – twice! First, the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Cultural Heritage discussed damage through inappropriate use of detectors to archaeological sites “including those that are scheduled” which means they also talked about non-protected sites. Second, the recent Heritage Crime conference discussed damage to and removal of objects from scheduled “and previously unrecorded archaeological sites“ which again means non-protected sites.
So good news? Discussion not just about the lesser issue but the greater one: the knowledge loss caused by the 70% of detectorists who legally don’t report everything they find, the many who legally dig hoards up without waiting for archaeologists and the thousands who legally give poor find spot details (which PAS now says it won’t record!) A big change (and uncomfortable for some: as Professor Gill politely put it: “It would have been helpful if two senior curators from a major national museum in Bloomsbury had contributed to this part of the discussion”!) Hopefully, it’s more than change it’s paradigm slippage. How could it not be when both a dedicated conference and the highest think tank in the land are discussing the main problem, not the just the lesser one?
Why so tardy? Well, apart from being frit to upset detectorists perhaps they have believed Finds Contracts keep things “proper”. They don’t. The model contracts omit provision for an independent appraisal of the finds, appallingly. But in any case the Moderator of the largest detecting forum reckons “it’s probable that only about 5% of all detectorists use a contract”! Quite a background against which The Establishment has been constantly telling the public that farmers and society are losing out to nighthawks more than the dodgy wing of the “no contract” legal daytime artefact hunters (who of course include all the nighthawks!). It makes zero statistical or sociological sense and now they seem to be seeing it. Could those who have been pleading for this change of focus to happen for donkey’s years possibly have been right all along?!
Update Sunday 17th April 2016
Under the European Birds Directive all Member States have to report about the progress made in their own territories regarding bird conservation. (Sadly, Britain will today have to report that England’s last Golden Eagle has died).
By contrast, and under no such directive, Dr Michael Lewis of the British Museum’s Learning, Audiences and Volunteers department was invited to speak today at the first European Council for Metal Detecting conference at The Holiday Inn, Birmingham Airport, an event specifically designed to promote the benefits of the “English Model” throughout Europe. Is it going ahead? Or did Dr Lewis decline the invitation because he felt being the father of Euro-hoiking was a step too far for him? We’ll know soon.
It’s no secret, most hoards are dug up without waiting for an archaeologist, always using the same false excuse:
Medway History Finders still haven’t admitted they did anything wrong at their 2014 Rally (see above!) and they even boasted that “The BM and our FLO said we done the best thing by taking out what we could” so it’s a worry they’ve announced another rally later this year as presumably if they find another hoard they’ll do the same thing. Accordingly, since PAS’s outreach to detectorists is akin to a newsletter from an adoring fan club and even the (widely flouted) Rally Guidelines merely say hoards should be dealt with in “an appropriate manner”, here are our Finding a Hoard Guidelines (something we’ve had on the Journal since 2011).
We know detectorists including Medway History Finders read what we write so the point of reiterating it after 5 years is to ensure they’ll have zero excuse if they ignore it. It would also be nice, wouldn’t it, if CBA et al who are far less sanguine than PAS about mass knowledge theft, reprinted it verbatim (or improved it if they can, which we doubt). Or will it be the usual scenario, “quite agree but not coming from thee”?
Last month Silas said what others don’t: “detecting contracts that don’t tell farmers to get a second opinion are a bloody scandal.” [See “Farmer Brown: I ain’t signing that!”} In case you’re unsure, here’s the urban equivalent of a detecting contract:
No-one would like their granny treated that way, it’s as close to criminal as you can legally get and “sharp” practice at best. Yet that’s how all detecting contracts, including the “model” ones, work. Detectorists back it up by telling farmers it’s all a matter of trust. (If you Google “metal detecting” + “a matter of trust” you get 2,100 hits!) Yet when their own interest is at stake detectorists don’t believe in trust, they get independent expert advice on value. (Here’a a forum discussion just last week about reporting Treasure finds: “Whatever you do, make sure you get your item independently valued for gawd sake! “)
So, quite a contrast! Not trusting the competence or honesty of independent professionals on the Treasure Valuation Committee (and frequently disputing treasure rewards by getting second opinions) yet telling farmers to trust their competence and honesty (despite having a massive vested interest in their own valuations!) Sadly, The National Farmers Union doesn’t warn members not to sign “trust me” contracts or to get proper independent advice. The reason isn’t hard to see: they only advise what they’re advised to advise by The British Archaeological Establishment.
Surely the fact that British farmers are being sold down the river through the silence of the British authorities, frit to stand up to detectorists, compounds the bloody scandal? If it’s not so let them say so.
The marketing message for The Weekend Wanderers Spring Rally is very simple. It effectively says look at the history of the area on Wikipedia- lots of good pickings!. The business model is simple too: 300 people @ £58 each adds up to £16,800. Plus rental from any dealers or traders. Plus lots of other rallies per month. Plus a Joining Fee of £20 and an Annual Membership fee of £15 x the number of members (unknown, but it’s now “the largest club in the UK” and has been going for 26 years!) Imagine!
But it’s not the wages that matter (although they must add up to a massive annual amount), it’s the lack of proper rules. Like so many clubs they say they “actively encourage” recording with PAS but the pont is: it’s not mandatory. There’s a likely reason: making it compulsory would hit ticket sales. But here’s a thought: isn’t it a universal rule of rallies (and wider society) that if you don’t impose compulsory rules at rallies (or laws in countries) you get oikism in the gap?
As the largest club in the UK, Weekend Wanderers must be providing the biggest gap of all. We’ll be happy to review our accusation that they’re involved in highly lucrative and damaging oikism the moment they make best practice at their rallies compulsory. But we won’t hold our breath. Plus…..
Latest, 10 April: “many Dutch detectorists are returning this year, they had a good time last year and are bringing more friends.” Oh great. How many of those are coming and where are their local FLOs, to whom they’ll be reporting all their finds? For how much longer will Britain be made a laughing stock in the thinking rest of the world by commercial companies selling tickets to deplete it’s heritage knowledge? As Paul Barford has recently pointed out, the damnable thing that lies behind the hypocritical preening of the likes of Weekend Wanderers is that “Artefact hunting is not about ‘finding’, it is about taking away”. Let them find a less damaging means to earn money.
I found some coins and jewellery in our top field. So how can I get them accurately appraised? Show them to PAS, of course, but they don’t do valuations. The National Association of Goldsmiths Institute of Registered Valuers have the definitive answer to that. They recommend “shop around. Don’t accept the first offer you receive.” Or you can use an independent jewellery valuation services such a Safeguard or go to a valuation day and have your items “valued by an independent registered valuer without being parted from them”. Great. That fits with normal prudent commercial practice – that a person who wants to acquire your property shouldn’t be the only one to advise you on what it’s worth. Obviously. But look at this ….
That’s how all detecting contracts are with zero provision for leaving all finds with the farmer to enable him to get a second opinion. Instead it’s the detectorist alone who decides value and hence what the farmer will get – and indeed whether he gets shown his own property at all! So my simple point is this: if respectable professional jewellers in pinstripe suits advise you not to trust them but to get a second opinion then an agrarian entreprenerial jeweller without an office and wearing camouflage gear should do the same. Shouldn’t they?
These contracts are a scandal in plain sight with profound consequences for farmers, who can seriously deny it? So it would be nice if The Archaeological Establishment stopped looking the other way.
Grunters Hollow Farm,
BTW, today and tomorrow the ignorant grabfest at Weyhill Fair is taking place yet again. Clearly the organisers and attendees are impervious to outreach but it’s a shame the Portable Antiquities Scheme or English Heritage or anyone official that gives a damn about heritage can’t have a word with the farmer for he has agreed to expand the extent of the stunt:
“Our brilliant Farmer has offered us a 4th field that we will open if numbers dictate”.
One can assume he was advised “it’ll be good for Heritage, honest”.
Bonkers Britain is on clear display today.
Feedback by an attendee, 22 March 2016: “I thought Sundays start was brilliant it was like the start of the Grand National everyone heading for the new field”. Well, well well! It’s almost 11 years to the day since the organiser of another awful event, the “Near Avebury Metal Detecting Rally” crowed to the press: “It was like the start of the Grand National”. So nothing has changed.
No PAS staff were present at “Near Avebury” but some were at Weyhill and as educated people they must have been appalled at the Grand National spectacle. Yet you may be certain they won’t be allowed to say so in public. Britain has a hush-hush policy over yobbery.
But of course, they’re talking about knowledge that has already been recorded but which may now be in peril.
Today in our fields about 500 bundles of historical knowledge will be dug up, not reported and hence destroyed by an unashamedly acquisitive hobby that is entirely unregulated. It is knowledge that never had the chance to be in peril.
It would be nice if Oxford academics could express dismay about THAT!
“The series dealt effectively with potential audience concerns about the contributors’ methods. It made clear that the specific practices adopted were undertaken within recognised protocols.”
THE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES:
“Our criticism focuses on the careless, insensitive and unethical treatment of the human remains, but also the mistreatment of other finds, the inept standards of excavation and the shocking disregard for safe systems of working. Battlefield archaeology is a well-developed field with respected specialists, codes of conduct and some exemplary practice, and there is no excuse for work of this standard, nor its positive publicity in the media. ”
Last week a high-up in the National Council for Metal Detecting told British detectorists planning to detect in France: “Its best to specify that you are searching for modern losses as detecting is a rather grey area in France”. How come? They’ll be going to France to search for historic artefacts not tractor parts, surely? Why say otherwise? Could it be because using a metal detector to search for historic items in an area of archaeological interest in France is illegal?
Is that OK with you Dear Reader – our fellow countrymen lying through their Anglo Saxon teeth in order to help themselves to France’s history against the wishes of the French? Bear in mind that such an attitude of personal entitlement can only have been fostered by the leniency and encouragement provided over here.
The French have every right to complain do they not? Why should they suffer because of our lack of regulation? Some of them have. See this, a translation of a statement by a group of French archaeologists (not a bunch of ill-informed amateurs then!) If you haven’t seen it before it’s probably because the British Archaeological Establishment has forgotten to tell you!
Update: The National Council of Metal Detecting “volunteer” is trying to pretend he didn’t advise British detectorists to lie:”should I reiterate that it is illegal in France to detect areas of known archaeological interest? However should I wish to help a farmer locate his tractor keys then I am doing nothing illegal with the correct permissions“. But for avoidance of all doubt, his advice was to British metal detectorists going to France to metal detect and wanting a search agreement to metal detect and it was to LIE: “Its best to specify that you are searching for modern losses as detecting is a rather grey area in France” . He hasn’t withdrawn it. An awful lot of British lies are going to be heard in France this Easter. Which is nothing new.