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6 years ago today we highlighted that “Minelab has just launched the GPX5000….it can easily find small objects at 24 inches” whereas a farming forum survey showed 80% of farmers plough no lower than 9 inches. So people with GPXs could now detect small objects 15 inches below most ploughsoil. But now things have got even worse. See this from Minelab’s website :
So you can now detect small items two feet below most ploughsoils! And nighthawks on the Staffordshire Hoard field (and they do exist – we’ve photographed their holes here and here) can detect small gold objects far lower than the machines used by the two archaeological surveys there. What shall we all do about that? Pretend technology hasn’t changed out of all recognition? For our part we’ve written to the Archaeology Forum yet again …..
To The Archaeology Forum firstname.lastname@example.org
You may recall we’ve previously written to you 4 times (see here and here and here) asking you to address the growing threat posed by the new deep seeking metal detectors such as the GPX 5000 and the Blisstool LTC64 V3 and you ignored us. The position has just got 40% worse with the advent of the GPZ 7000 (see our latest article – “Enhanced technology leaves remaining Staffordshire Hoard wide open to theft”). Any chance of you reacting?
As a minimum, we would have thought, the amendments to the detecting code currently being drafted ought to include a very clear statement that using a machine that detects lower than the ploughsoil is not responsible detecting.
The Heritage Journal
This week CBA Director Mike Heyworth chaired a meeting “to agree a revised metal detecting code”. Good. We farmers need a “Tesco clause” saying “show everything you intend to take home and get a receipt for it” (like millions of Tesco customers, including all detectorists, do all the time.) Which honest detectorist would object to that? And how could archaeologists oppose it (given that it would stop PAS’s database being infected with nighthawked items and/or false findspots).
So the new code will be a litmus test of who controls Britain’s buried heritage, professionals or the rough wing of detecting. If a Tesco-like clause is inserted it will be a step towards resource and landowner protection whereas if the code is emasculated, as happened to the original one, then the pressure from dishonest detectorists will have prevailed. Over the years there have been 15 “recording strikes” threatened when reforms were proposed. Soon we’ll know if a sixteenth (and there will be one – just watch!) has succeeded or not.
In case you doubt it, here are the previous fifteen:
“Don’t criticise us or we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t tell us what to do or we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t undertake surveys of nighthawking else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t let PAS dominate us else we’ll stop reporting” (and later: “
“Don’t reduce PAS’s funding else we’ll stop reporting”),
“Don’t impose a Code of Responsible Detecting else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t discuss licensing us else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t ban inappropriate rallies else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t impose restrictions under stewardship schemes else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t tighten up EBay else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t ever short change us on our Treasure rewards else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t abate rewards for not calling an archie out else we’ll stop reporting”
“Don’t use some of our Treasure rewards for proper excavations of our findspots else we’ll stop reporting”,
“Don’t extend the items covered by the Treasure Act beyond what we say else we’ll stop reporting” and perhaps most telling of all:
“Don’t write to farmers without us dictating what is to be said else we’ll stop reporting”.
Update, 18 October
The anti-heritage wing of detecting has reacted to the idea of reform already:
“I can see that following the new Code will be mandatory and any deviation of for example finding a Treasure item on grassland or digging below the ploughsoil will carry an abatement of any award.”
“Exactly! However many folk, me included, often fail to see the “desired end result” of such political manouvering. We are lucky to have individuals with such foresight & knowledge looking out for the hobby.”
“The Rally Guidance note will be next to Review i am sure. Why do one and not the other. However none are compulsory and so unenforceable.”
Nice, heroic attitudes! (And one of them is a NCMD official!). Can’t see the “desired end result” of resource protection measures; they are merely “political manouvering” and not too worried because the codes aren’t compulsory and are therefore “unenforceable”. Does Britain really need such people on the fields? Which farmer, if only the authorities explained it to him, would let them through his gate?
Grunters Hollow Farm,
by Nigel Swift
There’s a big shadow over Britain’s portable antiquities policy. It’s that PAS’s data can’t be authenticated. So it’s right to speculate on the level of false reporting. Many nighthawks lie about findspots, for obvious reasons, but PAS data is likely to be further corrupted due to what I term the “share gap”. See below, two very different documents dealing with the sharing of finds:
Detectorists can insert whatever figures they wish in the first. Typically they offer a 50% share of items worth over £300, whereas under the second they don’t have to share at all if items are worth below £2,000. That’s the share gap. Clearly, if you find a £1,900 item at one farm you can “save” £800 by “finding” it at a Central Searchers’ rally down the road and have it laundered and enhanced to boot by getting it authenticated by PAS. Common sense suggests masses of findspots get falsified that way but the matter is never mentioned by PAS. We’re all losing out in secret due to the survival instinct of a small quango.
Our Counter proposes 8,000 detectorists each finding 0.69 recordable artefacts per week (far lower than all surveys suggest) so those two figures combined result in it “ticking” upwards at a rate of one recordable find each minute during daylight hours. But look at this detecting Facebook group ….
It has 10,787 members! That changes everything. If a single group has nearly 11,000 members surely we can assume there are another 11,000 at least who aren’t members. So the total is 22,000 not 8,000! If so, collectively they’re removing one recordable artefact every 21 seconds (and only telling PAS about little more than a tenth of them). Is that a satisfactory state of affairs?
Please click the arrow while you ruminate….
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!