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Good news! I’ve been invited to speak at the PAS Conference on Monday. In my dreams. I’ve already written my speech. Here it is:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What a fantastic conference this has been! I’m sure we’ll all leave with two enduring memories: first, the delight on the faces of the PAS staff that a lot of their functions are to be taken over by an army of skilled volunteers (or metal detectorists as the Scheme’s founders called them) and second, all the success stories we’ve heard about how well the Scheme has done and how responsible everyone has become. It seems that British artefact hunters and British archaeologists are now largely interchangeable in both competence and motivation. It makes me so, so proud to be British and a taxpayer.
On the other hand …..
Why, when so many hoards are dug up with the haste and finesse of a starving pig, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?
Why, when 99.5% of detecting clubs don’t make reporting recordable finds mandatory, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?
Why, when some rallies have outrageous rules facilitating the ripping off of us farmers, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?
Why, when PAS confirms that vastly more finds are not declared than are, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?
and why, since all the above is the bitter harvest of 18 years of laissez faire, did no-one at this conference propose regulation as the solution?
For ages The Establishment’s main defence of artefact hunting has been that ”artefact hunters find new sites”. But no longer, not since “Old PAS” conceded in its final days that 70% of finds don’t get reported. There’s no public benefit in the finding of new sites if the public doesn’t benefit. Perhaps with that in mind the Twitter entity “Portable Antiquities” has this week offered a second defence: “Obviously we believe responsible metal-detecting makes a useful contribution to archaeology, highlighting sites previously known.”
But this doesn’t stand up either. If they’re “known sites” they hardly need “highlighting”. Even if they meant the sites can be “better investigated” that’s not true either if no-one is told about them (or the evidence is eroded away forever). It’s hard for the public to credit it after so many years of pro-detecting dialogue from PAS but it’s mandate is and always was just to maximise the reporting of artefacts by existing detectorists, not to defend, praise, promote or expand metal detecting. Doing so is bad enough (ask most archaeologists abroad what they think!) but the fact it is now doing so using arguments which it has itself admitted are 70% invalid is a step-change worse. “New PAS” should grasp the nettle.
Coincidentally, this week someone has written : “Historical research and Natural Scientific research have the same aims. Both history and the natural sciences seek to form evidence-based understandings about a particular subject area”. With all due humble respect, how dare PAS say things in public that will lead the public and the taxpayer to think that most artefact hunting, 70% of which damages or destroys the library or laboratory where research could have been carried out, resembles those two laudable processes?
Glasgow University is to run a free online course on Antiquities Smuggling and Art Crime. Good! But if you set yourself up as a truth-teller….
….. you’d best tell the whole truth. As Einstein (who lectured there) said “One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true”. However, their Encyclopaedia about looting seems to pull its punches, defining “Nighthawking” as one of only 4 possible actions (searching without permission, detecting on scheduled monuments, not declaring potential Treasure finds and not disclosing finds to a landowner – except if prior-agreed). They missed a fifth, probably far more significant one (and only added the fourth after WE nagged them to do so).
The missing one is this: Not disclosing the value of a find to a landowner. Think about it. Most farmers know nothing about values, most detectorist know plenty yet under most finds agreements the detectorist alone values the finds with not a word about obtaining independent valuations. Add to that the fact the agreements say finds below a set figure (commonly £300 but sometimes £2,000) are owned 100% by the detectorist and it’s clear there’s a wide open door to crime – massive incentive combined with convenient opportunity. If a detectorist knowingly misrepresents value it’s theft from the landowner and if he then fails to report the finds to PAS (why would he, having lied to the farmer?) it’s knowledge theft from all of us.
So does it happen often? You tell me. In fact, tell me if you’d be willing to sell your house on the basis the purchaser told you how much it was worth? What are the chances, precisely, the value would be correct? That question can be validly asked about just about every detecting finds agreement, thousands of them, which say not a single word about getting an independent valuation. Doesn’t Glasgow University (and many others) have a duty to warn landowners how those contracts leave farmers wide open to the fifth type of nighthawking? Of course they do.
Finally, came across this. Nothing to do with the above, but thought provoking:
This week Richard Lincoln (a.k.a. “Sheddy”), proprietor of The European Federation Of Independent Detectorists, was on Radio 2 debating metal detecting with archaeologist Professor Mark Horton (a.k.a. Mark). They both condemned nighthawking, obviously, but Professor Horton is less than certain that metal detecting in general is spiffing whereas Mr Lincoln said many archaeologists are “closed minded” and detectorists have every right and every virtue. However he must have been wearing his radio hat for this is what he wrote on his forum in 2013:
On Feb 5 (in a discussion about whether detectorists lose access to land with archaeological significance) he wrote: “it’s only fair to say that I am one who hasn’t lost any permissions …. but then again I don’t record!“ Then on Feb 7 he addressed his colleagues saying: “If you want to show the world that your a great guy by making the right noises about recording, you go for it. I’ll carry on calling things as I see them and for the most part, detectorists are hypocrites. They spew forth the mantra of showing the farmers everything they find, but they are selective in what they show the farmer. they spew forth the mantra of recording, but they are selective in what they record. if you think that they way forward is to promote hypocrisy then you have my pity.”
Mr Lincoln has presided over more than 200,000 contributions to his forum so he’s well placed to know what goes on – and he thinks most detectorists steal knowledge from the community and money from the landowners! How will detectorists react? Will they hurl invective against him like they do against any critic of laissez faire artefact hunting? Will they say he is a liar, an exaggerator, ill-informed, a publicity seeker, an elitist, a fascist, a communist, psychologically damaged, trying to get detecting banned? We can assume so.
Not that their reaction matters any more. The “listening and detente” that were the buzzwords for many years have been found wanting and have been dropped. What matters now is that the powers that be are coming to the profound realisation, drip by drip, that the happy-happy propaganda of success churned out for so many years by PAS is no longer convincing. “Old PAS” finally signed off by revealing they thought that 70% of recordable finds don’t come to them, which fits with what we and Paul Barford and now Sheddy have suggested. Exposing what Sheddy really thinks when he’s not on the radio won’t bring Britain into line with the rest of the world, but it’s a small positive step towards it.
Update, next day…. Some simple actions for the short term.
Last night yet another metal detecting thread (on a different, massive forum) was hastily deleted because “some forum members were not exactly following metal detecting code of conduct etiquette“and “it didn’t make good reading” Fair enough, but why not leave it in place and explain for the benefit of all members the right way to conduct themselves? Well we know don’t we? It’s Sheddyism. Think one thing and let the public see something else.
But it’s worse than that. Member Allecticus explained what had happened in the crudest of terms: “I can tell you what happened. A couple of the do gooding ‘don’t dig too deep’, ‘it’s below the plough’ blah blah, fecking blah blah fecking two-bob depth brigade turned up!…. fecking blah, blah planks! Just why the post got pulled because of them jealous cnuts…. I’ve no idea.” In addition, his strapline is “Is that below plough depth? Who gives a ‘flying’… hoik it out!!
Surely no-one, whether responsible detectorist, archaeologist or ordinary member of the public thinks people who talk and act like that should be on the fields, even in ultra-liberal Britain? It may be some time before Britain gets round to regulating the activity but in the short term can’t detectorists exclude destructive oiks from their forums, clubs and rallies and can’t New PAS put an article in the farming press warning farmers to make sure anyone on their fields is respectable and responsible?
PS…. still more Sheddyism today of a blatant nature. “Omegamike” makes the required noises:”We all know, well, sensible detectorists, once such a find is obvious it’s time to bring in the FLO and the Archies and leave everything well alone”. And Omega Mike’s strapline??? …..
If in doubt…… DIG IT!
PPS…. Incidentally, the obnoxious posting by Allectus quoted above has now disappeared – but rather than slinging him off the forum in disgrace they’ve allowed this equally unacceptable posting from him to remain: “Grow a pair, put the thread back up & don’t let the ‘don’t dig too deep’ planks win! To those who disagree with digging deep there’s always………. knitting”. What can one say? It’s all legal, innit?
Britain is truly barmy. All this hand-wringing about nighthawks and the damage they do is irrelevant hogwash in the light of what is happening legally. Today and every day. It’s high time we stopped obsessing about nighthawking and acknowledged that despite the much vaunted positives, in net terms the “voluntary reporting” experiment has been a disaster painted as a triumph – one which in 18 years no country on earth has been foolish enough to replicate. The only sensible action remaining is to come clean and put things right. See our (conservative) estimate of the damage so far here. Hey New PAS, how about speaking out?
An interesting programme condemning Nighthawking on BBC Inside Out West last night. At least, it was meant to be about condemning just nighthawking but it had the effect of condemning all “detecting without reporting” (which PAS has acknowledged is most of it) thanks to this great quote (6 mins 15 secs) from Graham, a Gloucestershire farmer with scheduled Roman archaeology on his land, being interviewed by Mark Horton:
“I’m not so worried about the value of what they’re stealing, I’m more concerned that they’re raping this ground. This is Roman history. Once they’ve dug it up it can never be replaced.”
Bravo. And here’s the crux: Graham’s site is scheduled but Britain has thousands of other Roman sites which aren’t and those are the target of choice for most detectorists. This weekend literally thousands of people will be out detecting Roman sites, perfectly legally. Mostly they won’t be reporting what they find. In other words, as Graham puts it so inarguably, they’ll be “raping the ground”.
Just posted on a detecting forum (and getting loads of support): “So, today we received the valuation for our 20 piece, 1kg, 1100 year old viking hoard of hack silver. Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each. I honestly am gutted. We dont do it for the money but lets be honest, there is no wonder so many finds go unrecorded to the flo. We knew the BM would rip us off but we didnt expect to be stripped naked….”
For the information of all likeminded crybabies, there are about 200,000 proper amateur archaeologists in Britain who don’t take money for their finds. Or complain. They see them as everyone’s, not someone’s and they do it for the love of history, see?
One of his colleagues has a theory: “They are wishing to impose ‘austerity’ on valuations.” …. Er, no. But think of this: the treasure rewards and Ebay earnings that detectorists get are the only part of the heritage sector that hasn’t suffered massive cuts. So actually, detectorists are uniquely privileged. Anyone think being ungrateful and graceless is the best reaction to that reality?
Update 4 October
A comment from “Spencer”: “Split 3 ways between myself, daniel and the land owner…. £400 each”. So the poor old landowner only gets a third! How can that possibly be right? What if there were 9 artefact hunters poking around. Would the farmer only get a tenth?”
by Nigel Swift
There’s been another big row about which of two detectorists should get rewarded. It reminded me of a previous debacle…
This latest case interested me as they had been searching in fields I used to play in. My grandfather owned the adjoining farm and we village kids spent lots of time there. What’s eating me is how things have changed since those distant times in the fifties. I recall Jimmy Perks finding an artefact there (there’s a Roman road there) and all of us proudly processing, Cider-with Rosie style, to our headmaster’s house to present it to him “for the museum” (no-one thought there was any alternative). He made a big fuss about it – both in school assembly and the local press and sure enough it went off to the local museum, with full details.
For me that’s proper “community archaeology” – a village’s past revealed to the villagers and everyone benefiting. 60 years later those fields are subject to very different people and attitudes. For one churlish thing, if their forums are a guide, they are mostly people with far less spelling ability than the 1950’s village schoolchildren who preceded them – but that’s unacceptably snobbish of course and a separate matter the Government should explain. However, I am prepared to be snobbish about them if the word can be used in a heritage-friendly way, meaning “to appreciate those who engage in a shared learning process but not those who are non-sharing or personally exploitative”.
Actually, everyone should be snobbish about that since most detectorists fall into that latter category. It seems to me the authorities have been so anxious to be “inclusive” and avoid the first sort of snobbery that they’ve totally forgotten the importance of maintaining the second sort. So I hope that’s clear about my snobbism. I don’t mind a lot of them being, as PAS says, “challenged by formal education” nor that they come all the way from Dudley to our little village of Claverley to do over “our” fields (much) but I do deeply resent the fact that statistically most of them won’t have reported most of their finds and that statistically more than 95% of them never renounce their treasure rewards despite all of them swearing blind they’re only doing it for the love of History. Shouldn’t everyone be snobbish about that?.
BTW, in the next county to Claverley is the similarly named village of Abberley. There, some excellent real community archaeology has just been happening, see below, just like we did in the fifties. Naturally, not one of the participants took any finds home or reckoned they should own them or sold them on EBay or claimed a Treasure reward or fought over who got one!
PAS has launched an appeal for donations. They’re entitled to expect that detectorists, whose bacon they and the taxpayer have saved for 18 long years, will promptly respond. Surprisingly, just £3 a week from each detectorist would cover all their running costs!
However, there’s a lot of evidence that the “partnership” between PAS and detectorists is only platitude-deep with each side seeing praising the other as essential to their own survival. Thus, while most detectorists indubitably don’t report most of their finds to PAS they invariably claim they do – and PAS constantly ties itself in quite elegant linguistic knots to avoid admitting that crucial truth to the public. But now PAS seems to have inadvertently committed a big tactical error by asking for money instead of fine words – for so far, after three and a half weeks, there have been just 8 donations (and not all from detectorists) totalling £370. That equates to less than 10p per detectorist per week! Little more need be said.
Or does it? Were those in charge of “New PAS” quite so naive, or were they actually perfectly well aware of what the response would be and are using it to send a coded message to the Government? Is it all a way to demonstrate, without needing to say so themselves, that they see they have inherited a voluntary system which is not as it has long been portrayed? Who knows, but if so, someone is to be congratulated for they have arranged matters so that it is detectorists, no-one else, who are doing the demonstrating – in a way that simply can’t be denied or spun. The taxpayer has been giving £30,000 a week to support PAS and the voluntary system whereas detectorists have mostly abused the voluntary system and are now collectively giving just £100 a week.
I do hope “New PAS” has done this deliberately. My guess is that they have, for since they took over there has been a slackening of the selective “good news” propaganda and this latest development fits in very well with that change. Could this be the beginning of Britain shaking off it’s bonkersness and starting to move towards treating its portable antiquities like other countries do? “Regulation” is not a dirty word and is only opposed by those detectorists who have something to hide – literally. Let the rest of us voice it more openly.
It’s been put about that we country folk all support foxhunting and the like. Don’t you believe it, a lot of us don’t. Personally I’d rather eat my own turnips than support it. So I was shocked that last Sunday at Tisbury, Wiltshire there was a metal detecting day in support of the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles. Lots of detectorists turned up and many hundreds of pounds were raised.
Hunting hares is illegal these days so they make do with watching rabbits being torn apart (well it’s legal, innit?!) They want the Hunting Act repealed (so they can resume killing hares) and I wonder how much of the metal detecting money will be put towards that noble aim? Not that there’s any point telling the attendees, they obviously don’t mind but that doesn’t mean other people (including the ladies and gentlemen of PAS and the British Museum) might not be affronted by the spectacle of cultural exploiters filling the coffers of wildlife exploiters. PAS was scheduled to attend, thereby legitimising all concerned. I don’t know if they did. I hope they didn’t and that they don’t go next year when the whole sorry, uniquely British spectacle is to be repeated. Uniquely British? Yes, you can travel the world and never come across such a grotesque event.
On the subject of awful, the fragrant Central Searchers are holding their massive annual Summer Rally. today and tomorrow. It ought to be called “The Convenience Rally” because look:
1. Their usual rule applies – if you find something which you alone reckon is worth less than £2,000 you can just pocket it and the farmer can whistle for a share. Very convenient. 2. Dealer John Phippotts will be there to “identify, value and buy any finds, he’s interested in single pieces or whole collections”. Even more convenient. 3. As he says in his adverts, “Confidentiality assured. Discreet and professional service “. Yet more convenient! And all for just £44 a ticket.
Are the Archaeological Establishment looking? How’s the voluntary reporting system going chaps? Really well, with nearly all finds being declared? No need to call for proper regulation? And English Heritage, are you still standing by your stated position: “English Heritage will support the general principle that archaeological material should not be sold for profit” or were you just kidding?