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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?
Back in the heady days of 2004 the metropolitan elite still imagined most detectorists would play ball so the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was presented as part of The National Grid for Learning, an online educational portal. PAS was, said the Arts Minister, an opportunity for the public “to become involved and learn more about our past and to assist in preserving our heritage for the benefit of future generations“.
Time told a different tale. PAS’s target audience proved largely resistant to its persuasion and quite recently it has admitted that 70% of detectorists still haven’t adopted Best Practice or been prepared to report all their finds. It’s not possible to see that as “preserving our heritage for the benefit of future generations” and the recent downgrading of PAS suggests the Government may have finally come to that view. PAS’s one-time cheerleader, Ed Vaizey, was pretty dismissive in Parliament this week, offering a tolerable impression of a man dumping a tiresome girlfriend: “I have made no assessment of the impact that the changes in funding arrangements have had on the Scheme as I believe it is right that the British Museum has more freedom to make its own decisions on spending in this area“. The Government has divested itself of PAS in an unceremonious fashion and offloaded the responsibility onto (as Paul Barford has said) “a small sub-department of a museum in Bloomsbury”. What happens next isn’t hard to guess: the BM has hundreds of marvellous projects and highly appreciative audiences. Why would it spend much time or money trying to “teach” the 70% of detectorists who have said “no” for so long?
I think the public is entitled to be bitter – not merely because the bulk of a hobby has cocked an 18 year snook at the rest of us but because The Archaeological Establishment is still not publicly admitting the fact. Meanwhile there’s evidence things are about to get worse: detectorists, including the 70% snook-cockers, are about to be handed another crucial research aid to enable them to target “productive sites” (which means unprotected archaeological sites – who can deny it?). From September 2015 all the Environment Agency’s LIDAR data will become Open Data and everyone will be able to use it (for free. A detectorist writes: “You’ll see 100% discount on the final page, you will have to specify a reason for your request, i put Archaeology / Site Search“). One detectorist has already tried it and his assessment couldn’t be more ominous: “Saw it at the weekend and it is absolutely superb and far,far better than any of that commercially available. Saw at least 3 features that have produced finds in the locality that are invisible on Google Earth/Bluesky etc.” The number of archaeological sites that metal detectorists can target is about to be greatly expanded. Poor silly Bonkers Britain.
by Nigel Swift
The educated middle classes have just been scandalised by an article in The Guardian: “Looted in Syria – and sold in London: the British antiques shops dealing in artefacts smuggled by Isis“. Staff posed as antiquities dealers and trolled round outlets in London to demonstrate how looted items from warzones in Syria and Iraq were openly on display. They quote Neil Brodie of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at Glasgow University saying that “in the absence of coordinated strategies and concerted efforts, attempts to tackle the problem have thus far been ineffective” and another expert in the field, Sam Hardy, explaining that “A common practice is to fudge provenance by claiming an antiquity has been in the family for a long time …. The industry runs on trust ….. by not keeping any records, dealers make it easier for buyers to convince themselves there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.”
The irony of it all drives me barmy. Here in Britain for donkey’s years a whole hobby has been harvesting millions of archaeological items, every one of which encapsulates knowledge belonging to all of us – yet most of that hobby’s forums and clubs keep secret sections to discuss finds out of public view… and many rally organisers keep venues secret from the public …. and anyway most detectorists keep their finds secret. And as for British dealers, here are some adverts from the latest editions of The Searcher and Treasure Hunting:
Discretion? Confidentiality? Pourquoi? Who outside metal detecting (and Britain) would deny that secrecy has absolutely no place in metal detecting or that British artefact dealers are (unwittingly) making it easy for a few British looters and far, far more British legal knowledge thieves to do what they do? Wouldn’t it be nice if Glasgow University and The Guardian got it into their heads that what is happening here in Britain is massive, blatant ongoing theft of British cultural knowledge by thousands of British citizens and that it stinks – and to write some articles telling the educated middle classes about it accordingly?
Update, 5 July 2015
While I’m here ranting about cultural damage and lack of official action against it: this posted on a detecting forum yesterday, really, really annoyed me. (Why should anyone care what annoys the likes of me? No reason at all except one: I am right, and I’m only expressing what The Archaeological Establishment knows is true but won’t express!).
It vividly illustrates how knowledge loss works and that it is at a far higher level than anyone except a few unofficial complainants bother to work out or fret over. It is a visible manifestation of a simple but universal truth – a damaging all-British algorithm – namely that the more important it is not to metal detect a field, the keener are the unthinking or uncaring history-botherers to detect it. (For the avoidance of doubt, mostly legally – but that’s the shameful thing about Britain). Scale that simple truth up and it implies that the knowledge loss inflicted by the laissez faire hobby is massively greater than a “random” choice of target fields is commonly assumed to produce. In fact, not merely massively greater but almost incalculably greater., utterly tragic for Britain and completely unacknowledged by those who should be loudly condemning it. Ah well, he’s talking unkind talk again, carry on chaps. The depletion is invisible so it’s not worth standing up against it.
“Permission granted Virgin site
by Scorpio197 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 6:12 pm
Just got permission for 20 or so acres of land in South East Norfolk . It’s never been detected on before , many have asked and been turned down , . The site has been left for wild life since just after the war the owner and his family have lived there for many generations and as the story go a local archeology group wanted to dig some trenches on the land before the war but as yet I can’t find out why . Needless to say they were not given permission also the land owner was asked again in the late seventies but refused . So for the first time I have a reason to go out with my detector that I’ve had for over a year and only played with in my back garden . Let’s hope for something nice to be found , going next Wednesday evening for a couple of hours to get the lay of land . Sorry just had to tell someone …
The imposition of a smaller PAS can hardly be taken as a compliment. Some at least in Whitehall are no longer accepting the unalloyed “good news” rhetoric. Not before time. 70% of detectorists not complying with Best Practice after 17 years of “education and persuasion” speaks for itself and the tipping point may well have been PAS’s recent acknowledgement of that reality.
We’ve always maintained PAS hasn’t been frank enough – with detectorists, landowners, stakeholders and the Government and that a more muscular outreach would definitely have yielded better results. Our simple thesis has been that praise for those who behave doesn’t encourage those who don’t, they simply quote the praise to landowners. Who can possibly deny it?
Now there’s a chance for the new management to break that cycle. Let the new PAS tell every detectorist, every landowner and every stakeholder that bad practice in metal detecting isn’t a matter for voluntary choice. It damages everyone’s interest and is therefore socially reprehensible. Accordingly, here are ten truths we believe PAS should publicly say to all detectorists.
By Nigel Swift
The shrinkage of the Portable Antiquities Scheme will no doubt be presented as beneficial but it’s hard to see how smaller is better. Smaller mean less reporting and less reporting means more knowledge lost to science and you and me. So an end to pretence would be refreshing. 17 years of representing the scheme as more successful than it is is quite enough. If PAS was anything like the national treasure it has been consistently painted it would now be being expanded not contracted.
It was always likely that some of the cleverer coves in Whitehall and Westminster would eventually twig that a lot of the statistics and semantics just didn’t add up (especially as, recently, PAS acknowledged our Erosion Counter was pretty truthful). 70% non-co-operation after all this time isn’t what was intended by the architects of the Scheme (nor did they anticipate that a quango would see its best chance of continued funding lay in not mentioning the figure and promoting metal detecting instead of coping with it!)
It all seemed pretty simple at the outset. A social compact in which hobbyists would behave well in exchange for legitimacy but, as is now clear, most detectorists took the legitimacy and didn’t give the good behaviour in exchange. Personally I hope that this shrinkage of PAS will eventually lead to them being forced to (and guess what? The respectable, responsible minority have no problem with that!) Here’s just one recent quote from a metal detecting forum showing just how comprehensively society has been dispossesssed by the other, unco-operative, dishonorable 70%. There really is no way it can be dressed up as untrue, is there?
“One of our farms used to have a yearly rally on it with a LOT of people detecting over the weekend. He [the landowner] then gave permission to a friend and a year later now we have exclusivity apart from the occasional guest. Why? Because nobody declared anything to him out of all those people and all those hours NOTHING of any value was ever handed in …”
Update 24 June 2015
It ought to be noted that there’s not a peep about the shrinkage of the PAS on publicly visible detecting forums. The matter has been kept to “hidden” areas where, it is to be hoped, some have put the blame on the non-co-operation of their colleagues. The only public reference to it has been indirect and in the form of ridicule of this article on the erroneous grounds that I should have used the spelling “desserts”. It’s Bonkers Britain at its finest. The main justification for unregulated artefact hunting (and non-compliance with Valetta) has been diminished and the only apparent reaction from detectorists is that three septuagenarians (combined experience of 120 years of listening to beeps in a field) argue that desserts would be better than deserts! ALL we have ever said is that that large majority of detectorists who misbehave ought to be compelled not to. We’ll stick with that view along with the vast, vast bulk of the world’s archaeologists. We’ll be on the right side of the argument in a hundred year’s time whereas most metal detectorists currently operating will be held in contempt.
For donkey’s years the public has been assured that “bad” metal detecting is the province of nighthawks. Lately though officialdom has come up with a definition which blows that simplistic notion out of the water.
They say heritage crime is “harming the value of heritage assets and their settings”. On that basis a lot more than nighthawks are guilty. It works like this. Thousands of “legal” detectorists take finds home without showing the landowner (often with dodgy written agreements authorising them to). That in itself isn’t exactly indicative of a fair minded fine fellow that you’d want your daughter to marry but it’s what it can lead to that matters. If you have an agreement that valuable finds must be shared 50-50 the temptation to not tell the farmer about valuable finds is intense – and crucially it follows that you aren’t going to tell The Establishment either, lest the landowner finds out. Hence, without doubt, the value of heritage assets and their settings” will be harmed. So Officialdom has been hoisted by it’s own petard – or at least by its own definition. We’ll be glad to hear a contrary opinion but don’t anticipate one will be forthcoming. Call it the British Fib, it’s been going on for 17 years.
A particularly obnoxious manifestation will take place later this year, courtesy of Central Searchers. 350 detectorists will be working under the rule that anything found worth up to £2,000 (as privately assessed by the detectorist alone) belongs entirely to the detectorist and anything worth more has to be shared with the landowner. Yes, the landowner is likely to lose out (since it is the detectorist alone who sees and values the item). But more importantly its not beyond possibility (to say the least!) that anything worth anything near £2,000 or indeed anything worth vastly more, may not be reported to the authorities for fear the farmer will find out. That’s a heritage crime and The Establishment says not a word about it.
Here’s a police poster. Not a single solitary word about not reporting being a heritage crime. The police and The Establishment will tell you that the reason for that is you need to be committing a crime to commit a heritage crime and “non reporting” isn’t a crime. However, depriving a landowner of his share IS a crime, it’s theft, so not reporting a find to conceal the fact IS a heritage crime. The British Establishment and police are lying to themselves and to the British public.
Now listen to the stony silence!
Quite a thought isn’t it? The greatest hoard for decades has yielded less knowledge than it should have. Yet who can deny it? Two things suggest it’s true. First there’s this (courtesy of Paul Barford)…. . .
If only a way could have been found to give the farmer and finder a million or two less (like in most countries) then a million or two more could have been spent on research, for the benefit of the public.
Second, there’s this: it has just been revealed that many pieces of the hoard jigsaw are missing so can’t be researched. Paul Barford (again) has asked the crucial question: “and the missing bits? In whose collection are they now?” We don’t know Paul, but we do know there are only 3 possibilities: a.) The missing bits were never in that field b.) The missing bits are still in that field c.) They’ve been stolen by nighthawks. Our bet is a mixture of b.) and c.) – some have been nighthawked and some are still in the field.
We base that on both logic and evidence. In 2009 when the archaeologists first organised a detecting survey, the new deep seeking machines hadn’t been invented. In 2012 when they returned and found another 90 pieces they had been but few or none were used in the search. Nighthawks on the other hand DO have deepseeking machines and we know, because we’ve photographed the evidence, that they have visited the field. Are they coming regularly, like happens at other high profile findspots? In which land of denial is that not happening?
A reality check is long overdue. In 2012 when archaeologists went back to the site they were “stunned” that another 90 pieces turned up and 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.” But actually, what both US and British forces were using at the time (and subsequently) were Ebex 420H machines which have little depth capability (mines are mostly at shallow depth) and are not recommended by the manufactures for use in iron contaminated soil or for finding very small targets. It would be nice if the Establishment swallowed its pride and accepted that we amateurs do have a point. They should arrange for a survey of the field using a large number of Minelab GPX 5000 and similar machines as soon as possible.
Who needs a history book?! The depressing cul-de-sac that is Britain’s portable antiquities policy can be deduced from just three flyers…. . .
First, British archaeologists expressed outrage…. . . . Then they settled for “do it if you must but please tell us what you find”. And that’s where we’re stuck, 17 years later, with most finds still not being reported. Meanwhile, over in Ireland they have THIS flyer in every library and police station….. . . .. It says things that are unspeakable in Britain, things like unregulated detecting “causes serious damage” and it’s illegal to do it “without the prior written consent of the Minister” and that will only be forthcoming if “the greatest possible level of archaeological knowledge is obtained”. The British Government and all 8,000 British archaeologists bar none strongly agree but the boat you see, it mustn’t be rocked.. . So there we are, two countries, one of which makes the other’s policies look ludicrous. However, there’s a third flyer, something we published 3 years ago, that could save Britain’s blushes for now, without waiting for legislation. Both CBA and EH have signalled that its aims correspond with theirs so it’s an open door waiting to be pushed….. . . (Vistaprint will supply 5,000 flyers for about £70 – enough to put one in every public library and police station in England and Wales. If PAS, CBA or EH can’t afford to pay that then we could. Alternatively here’s a version the public could print off and deliver to their local library or police station. Why not? It’s their heritage knowledge that’s not being delivered.) . . PS…… In fact, you could print it off and apply to put it on your Parish Council notice board or sweet shop window. After all, if you don’t, this is the sort of message farmers will get (which appeared just two days ago): “Please let us onto your land….. We will pay the farmer or landowner £10 cash per member on the day of the search (which normally takes place between 8am and sunset) and also give 50% of the value of any item found worth over £500 to the landowner.” . There’s no requirement to show recordable non-Treasure items (99.999% of them) to PAS. History ISN’T something that should be treated like that. As the Irish know.
A telling contrast is on display at this very moment in the tranquil, picturesque Worcestershire village of Wichenford…..
. In the village centre there’s this poster on the Parish Council notice board. It’s all about persuading the 200 residents to do some “gleaning” – that’s gathering left-over produce from the local fields so it can be given to needy people.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the village hundreds of people from all over Britain have been persuaded by a foreign detector manufacturer to come and do a spot of self-seeking (and a coin dealer has been invited to set up a stall, naturally) …. .
By any measure, the first activity is selfless and involves no depletion whereas the second is the opposite in both respects. They say the quality of a civilisation can be measured by its relationship with its land. Makes you half proud to be British.