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Archaeologists are discussing “what to do about detecting rallies.” Trouble is, they have no power to enforce change. That ability rests solely with landowners for without their permission there can be no detecting at all.

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So it’s vital for the resource (and their own interest) that farmers understand the issues. Yet often they’re offered an incomplete picture with detectorists simply suggesting the landowner should “trust” them to do the right thing. Far better if archaeologists advised farmers to firmly respond with:

No, I’d prefer that YOU trust ME, not vice versa. Instead of taking some of the finds away without showing me, bring them to me, without exception. (They’re mine.) I’ll submit them to PAS for recording and I’ll get them valued (by an independent expert). Then I may let you have some of them. Trust me.”

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This week Mike Heyworth, Director of the CBA tweeted: Off to the British Museum to chair meeting of the Finds Best Practice working group. What do we do about metal detecting rallies?” We suggest the answer depends if they wish to protect the archaeological resource. And landowners. Or PAS. For as the meeting participants will be aware:

  • Common sense and evidence suggest numerous items found at rallies aren’t reported, even if PAS are in attendance.
  • Common sense suggests nighthawked finds from elsewhere are brought to rallies to be “laundered”.
  • Common sense suggests many other finds from elsewhere are laundered at rallies (because rally rules on sharing with landowner are lax or non-existent).
  • The rules of most rallies ignore both the official metal detecting code and the official advice on running rallies.
  • Items found at rallies are very, very rarely shown to the landowners (and everyone knows exactly why but no-one admits it).
  • Thousands of European detectorists come to British rallies to do all of the above because it’s illegal for them to do it at home.

So the answer to Dr Heyworth’s question, What do we do about metal detecting rallies?” must surely be crystal clear to the Finds Best Practice working group: one or all of them should tell the Government that rallies damage the resource, aid and abet criminality, deprive farmers of their entitlement, corrupt the PAS database and attract to Britain thousands of people  keen to do to our resource what they are prohibited from doing to their own.  The Government can then at least make a properly informed decision. If, instead, they merely tinker with the detecting code, we think they’ll be letting down everyone except detectorists and the PAS.

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

If you Google “knowledge loss”+”metal detecting” you get lots of hits but almost all from us or Paul Barford and only one from PAS. That begs a question: how come it’s us not them highlighting the scandal of massive knowledge loss due to non-recording (especially now Sam Hardy has shown there are far more detectorists and ergo far greater knowledge loss than previously thought)?

But at long last a PAS employee (FLO Adam Daubney) has just said (in a Public Archaeology Twitter Conference): in terms of knowledge-loss, non-reporting presents a far greater threat to the archaeological record than illicit activity.”

Quite. So wouldn’t now be an ideal moment, instead of celebrating 20 years since PAS was set up, for those who lead it to also come clean and inform the Government that the project hasn’t reversed the destructive reality and needs re-thinking? Twenty years of giving the taxpayer and heritage stakeholder a different impression is surely enough?

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

As Paul Barford has highlighted, a US antiquities dealer has confessed he avoids “unwarranted attention” from officialdom by posting out coins in boxes marked as “numismatic tokens“. He says you can buy and sell anything if you avoid being transparent about what you’re actually doing. Sadly, he’s right. Misdescription is power – as any scruffy drug dealer outside a school knows. Packaging drugs as sweets avoids “unwarranted attention” from officialdom!

Misdescription certainly underlies most British metal detecting. “I’m an amateur archaeologist“, “I’m only in it for the history” and “I found it at [insert false location]” to name just three. It’s high time truth ruled. It would if PAS and The Establishment said in public what they say in private: not reporting finds makes you a knowledge thief, morally no better than a nighthawk.

Instead, we have what Paul Barford calls “the insidious creep of acceptance of knowledge theft“. Rather than condemning non-recording, and admitting to the Government and Parliament that non-recording is absolutely rife, PAS has embraced, liaised, engaged, backslapped, bootlicked and flattered those who do it in the hope that will work. After 20 years it hasn’t, as Dr Sam Hardy has shown.

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UNESCO condemns the theft of 1,000 objects from Egyptian museum but not the millions of unreported artefacts removed from Britain’s fields. (Why? Because the British don’t tell them).

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It’s a great story, much publicised. 913 gold sovereigns found hidden in a piano. Plus, all concerned acted impeccably. The finder said it “would not have been right or proper” to keep it secret and the previous owners said they were “very happy” the money was going to the college and would benefit the pupils. Compare the almost identical “Twinstead Hoard”. As the Mirror put it:

Metal  detector enthusiasts on a charity day ended up in a brawl after 300 sovereigns worth £75,000 were found in a field. They then ran off with the loot – half of which belonged to the farmer who owns the land – instead of declaring it under treasure laws. One enthusiast said: “The find was made by someone inexperienced who started yelling about a gold coin. Soon there were about 100 individuals digging. It was out of hand. Metal detecting is a cut-throat world. Only two of the 300 coins were in the finds box at the end of the day.”

Unlike the Piano Hoard, PAS played Twinstead down, as did the police. The officer dealing with it, a detectorist himself wrote to the attendees saying “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”. But 2 weeks later at least 100 known-about coins, £35,000-worth (and heaven knows how many others) had still not been returned. A while back we asked for an update: Any more returned? Anyone prosecuted? But he replied “Can I ask who you are and why do you want this information?” and then “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.”

Strange, isn’t it? In Bonkers Britain PAS garners oodles of news coverage from one hoard yet they (and the police) downplay mass theft of an extremely similar one. Such is the consequence of setting up a quango whose sole survival chances depend on pretending that buying a £10 ticket to a detecting rally transforms totally random people into “citizen archaeologists” with immaculate morals.

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PAS Training course, day one.

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

Dr Sam Hardy has concluded laissez-faire applied to metal detecting simply doesn’t work (see here). But the question is WHY? The answer has been voiced for some years by other independent academics:

5 years ago Suzie Thomas of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research wrote (in Portable antiquities: archaeology, collecting, metal detecting) that there is:

an ongoing ‘elephant in the room’ – the fact that archaeologists and metal-detector users view the issues differently” and that “as long as they [detectorists]  “engage in a hobby that has a direct effect on the physical remains of the past, they too have a responsibility to record their finds openly and honestly, and to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research.”

Also at about the same time another independent academic, John Carman of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology, wrote (in Stories We Tell: Myths at the Heart of “Community Archaeology” )  :

But in the end all we can do is talk to those who already speak in our language and share our values. …….. For us to alter our behaviour to accommodate the excluded—by changing what we do—will mean that we will cease to be archaeologists. For them to change to accommodate us will mean they lose their own sense of who they are. As archaeologists we can do nothing about this because we would cease to be archaeologists if we did.

Those two explanations are as embarrassing for supporters of the status quo as Dr Hardy’s conclusions are, for they imply that if just “the willing” were involved – people like Heritage Action members, amateur archaeologists and truly responsible detectorists – the Portable Antiquities Scheme would work like a dream, with virtually 100% co-operation instead of the current derisory percentage. To put it politely, PAS’s figures are loud testament to the fact the vast majority of detectorists don’t see community knowledge gathering as a duty.

It is to be hoped The Establishment, and in particular the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, reads both the above explanations in conjuction with Dr Hardy’s paper. Together, they form a powerful condemnation of the way Britain treats its buried archaeological resource.

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

Dr Hardy’s two metal detecting propositions – that “laissez faire” doesn’t work and that over 92% of British recordable detecting finds may be being lost to science – can surely not be ignored, they are far too consequential for that. We certainly feel vindicated. Dr Bland, previous head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, once said our Erosion Counter “lacks credibility” but now a respected independent academic has implied its figures should be three times higher!

But will The Establishment ignore him? Probably, just like they ignored Prof. Gill’s famous question: “by how much would it [the Counter] need to be wrong to make the losses acceptable?” They could have said 50%, 20% or 10%, but they stayed silent. Now Dr Hardy is implying the losses are actually 300% higher than the Counter proposes and that 92% of finds are being lost to science.** Oh, and that laissez faire systems like Britain’s simply don’t work!

So what should happen next? We think DCMS, APPAG, CBA, NFU, CLA and every single landowner should be made aware of Dr Hardy’s two bombshells. It’s high time, after 20 years, that the portable antiquities of Britain should be treated like those beyond our shores and no longer be victims of fake news. Inertia and a quango’s survival instinct are clearly serving us ill.

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** Based on the Counter’s cautious estimate that each detectorist finds only 0.69 recordable artefacts per week. If in fact they find 1.5 per week then it would mean more than 99% of them are being lost to science – a ludicrous basis upon which to hail British laissez faire as a success.

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

Two weeks ago we highlighted a bombshell from Sam Hardy of UCL, the fact that laissez faire regimes don’t reduce metal detecting damage, only regulation does. But there’s more….. Both PAS and we have long assumed there are about 8,000 licit detectorists but he has concluded there are 24,300, three times more. If so, our Erosion Counter is massively understated and the 72,000 finds recorded by PAS each year is a very low proportion of what is found with 9 out of 10 detecting finds in Britain being lost to science.

It is to be hoped that a copy of his paper has found its way to the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. We hope that something else will find its way to them as well: we intend to add the following to our Erosion Counter, some revised figures based on Dr Hardy’s estimate of detectorist numbers. Is it all too shocking to be true? Don’t blame us, we have been saying things are only one third as bad…..

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Based on Dr Sam Hardy’s estimate, a running total of the number of recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (92% without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).
Total per day: 2,385
So far this year: 216,500

Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme: 17,664,000
Total since 1975: 38,250,000

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box]

Dr Sam Hardy’s recent Europe-wide study of metal detecting was unequivocal: permissive regulation does not minimise cultural damage whereas restrictive or prohibitive regulation does. So much for decades of contrary British claims. So it’s unfortunate there’s a lobby group dedicated to spreading Britain’s laissez faire system throughout Europe and it now plans a large conference in Norwich to further that aim.

Bizarrely it will be held at a publicly financed museum and may be addressed (again!) by the publicly financed Michael Lewis of the PAS. Worse, it includes “a 3 day international detecting rally” (for £45 a head) at which hundreds of people from Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Denmark, Croatia, Spain and Ireland will help themselves to British history and take it  home or sell it.

NB though, Michael Lewis and the museum staff will not be detecting. Their professional codes prohibit it and for 20 years archaeologists have avoided being photographed doing it (it’s a big internet Dear Reader, we challenge you to find any such image!) That says it all about Britain’s laissez faire system: professionals publicly supporting what they privately don’t. Why try to impose it on Europe?

Honest Archie, doing Europe a favour.

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[For more on Dr Hardy’s conclusions put “Sam Hardy” in our search box].

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Dr Sam Hardy of the UCL Institute of Archaeology (above) has produced a detailed study of metal detecting. There is much in it to be discussed but today we highlight his central conclusion. Having examined detecting in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the US  he finds that:

“permissive regulation is ineffective in minimising harm to heritage assets, whether in the form of licit misbehaviour or criminal damage. Restrictive and prohibitive regulation appear to be more effective, insofar as there is less overall loss of archaeological evidence.”

This flies in the face of the two justifications cited for 20 years in support of Britain’s laissez faire system – that nighthawking is lessened by it and that licit misbehaviour is lessened by it. Dr Hardy’s conclusions are unequivocal: both claims are false. It is to be hoped that his report will find its way to both Whitehall and the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group without delay. This is surely the strongest evidence so far that Britain has taken a wrong path.

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