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You might think killing for fun is largely under control. But no, apart from fox hunting you can enjoy hunting with bassets, beagles, bloodhounds, mink hounds and rabbit hounds. If you ask what’s the appeal you’ll be told lots of lyrical stuff. But Engels, writing to Marx, was rather honest: “Such a thing always excites me hellishly for a few days, it is the most magnificent physical pleasure I know …. I was in at the kill”
So why bring it up? Well, the Chilmark and Clifton Foot Beagles are holding another metal detecting rally and PAS are going again. As we said last year, you can search the world and never find such a crass event where cultural exploiters fill the coffers of wildlife exploiters and officials from a national museum sit at a folding table legitimising it all.
PS – A message to the Finds Liaison Officer scheduled to attend: Can’t you just say no? We’re quite certain you’d like to. Here’s a message from George Bernard Shaw you could refer your bosses to …
“What is not disputable by any person who has ever seen sport of this character is that the man who enjoys it is degraded by it. We do not bait bears now (I do not quite know why); but we course rabbits in the manner described in one of the essays in this book. I lived for a time on the south slope of the Hog’s Back; and every Sunday morning rabbits were coursed within earshot of me. And I noticed that it was quite impossible to distinguish the cries of the excited terriers from the cries of the sportsmen, although ordinarily the voice of a man is no more like the voice of a dog than like the voice of a nightingale. Sport reduced them all, men and terriers alike, to a common denominator of bestiality.
The triviality of sport as compared with the risk and trouble of its pursuit and the gravity of its results makes it much sillier than crime. The idler who can find nothing better to do than to kill is past our patience….. There are plenty of innocent idle pastimes for him. He can read detective stories. He can play tennis. He can drive a motor-car if he can afford one….. Satan may suggest that it would be a little more interesting to kill something; but surely only an outrageous indifference to the sacredness of life and the horrors of suffering and terror, combined with a monstrously selfish greed for sensation, could drive a man to accept the Satanic suggestion…..
There are now so many other pastimes available that the choice of killing is becoming more and more a disgrace to the chooser. The wantonness of the choice is beyond excuse. To kill as the poacher does, to sell or eat the victim, is at least to act reasonably. To kill from hatred or revenge is at least to behave passionately. To kill in gratification of a lust for death is at least to behave villainously. Reason, passion, and villainy are all human. But to kill, being all the time quite a good sort of fellow, merely to pass away the time when there are a dozen harmless ways of doing it equally available, is to behave like an idiot or a silly imitative sheep.”
G. B. S. March, 1914.
An extraordinary 86% of detectorists on the Minelab forum said they supported Brexit (far higher than every district of the country). The reason is clear, they have long feared Europe would get Britain to regulate what they do. Not now though and, as a bonus for detectorists, Europe’s environmental stewardship payments will now end, leaving thousands of protected acres available for unregulated detecting once again. So there’ll be jubilation in the club room at the back of the Pig and Whistle and many similar venues.
So is there an upside? Yes, if you see yourself as European:
> In Europe The Assembly’s wish for further legislative control of detecting will no longer be obstructed by a single country.
> In Europe any further international conferences held by PAS praising themselves and unregulated detecting won’t be heeded.
> Equally the British inspired European Council for Metal Detecting will be dead in the water (for who in Europe will now listen to the Brits?)
> No national museum within Europe will be telling European landowners that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”
> In Europe there won’t be hundreds of legal, unregulated mass digs followed by boastful videos belting out the lyric “We do not fear what lies beneath, We can never dig too deep!“
We caused a big stir (7,300 views) with our 2013 headline “Ed Vaizey insults every archaeologist and heritage professional“. Now the British Museum has gone down much the same route as the ex-Culture Secretary by saying, unmistakably, (in its just published 2016 Annual Review) that metal detecting is “citizen archaeology”.
That conveys to the public that any group of people with detectors they see in a field digging (1) randomly, (2) selectively and (3) for their own benefit, are archaeologists. It’s untrue and very damaging since it legitimises in the public eye a whole galaxy of activities that archaeologists would get sanctioned for and it devalues their professional and educational achievements and their dedication to scientific method, knowledge gathering and resource conservation.
How do archaeologists and heritage professionals feel about that? Should they be hopping mad and reflect where we’ve got to in Britain considering no national museum in any other country would do such a thing? Should they tell the British Museum and PAS to desist and to publicly clarify exactly what archaeologists do and, crucially, the behaviour by which they can be recognised? Currently they are giving the impression they haven’t the foggiest. What’s to be done?
Update, next day ….
We were interested to note that the BM’s re-branding of metal detectorists as citizen archaeologists has come almost 5 years since we succeeded in getting the BBC to almost entirely desist from calling them amateur archaeologists. How can it be right that it’s down to us, ordinary people, rather than hundreds of archaeologists, to stand up against landowners being misled?
Still, Paul Barford has now written to the BM making several additional points and suggesting they issue an official statement “defining what the BM means by the noun “archaeology” in the phrase “citizen archaeology”. Assuming he isn’t ignored a precise answer to his precise question will be very welcome indeed. How many farmers have already been told, falsely, “we’re amateur archaeologists” and now “we’re citizen archaeologists”? A lot, it can be assumed.
Update, Tuesday 12 July
Paul Barford received a reply which didn’t answer the central issue so far as we are concerned. Consequently we have just sent the following message to Susan Raikes, Head of the Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department:
We have a couple of simple but (we think) very important questions.
Does not the BM have a central duty to “inform”?
Is that duty fulfilled by telling landowners that anyone at their gate carrying a metal detector is a “citizen archaeologist”?
The Heritage Journal
Remember this in The Mirrror in 2011?
The organiser was vehement (“If you all think your getting away with it think again….the offence carries a custodial sentence”). The police, less so. The officer dealing with it was himself a detectorist and assured them all that “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, I enjoy this hobby and do not want to see it needlessly tarnished!”
Oh for a police friend like that, as the Chairman of the National Union of Thieves might say! Anyway, 2 weeks later (when the grace period expired and it became a mass crime) at least 100 coins, £35,000-worth, had still not been returned. Since then it has all gone very quiet so last week we wrote to him requesting a simple update: “How many of the coins were reported on the day, how many were subsequently reported and how many people were prosecuted?” The response was strange: “Can I ask who you are and why do you want this information?”. When we told him we were the Journal he responded “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.”
But we were involved. We are part of the British public from whom a lot of knowledge has been stolen (in addition to the many thousands of pounds stolen from the farmer) and we have a strong suspicion that had we been detectorists preparing “a decent article in the Searcher” whitewashing detectorists we’d have been told all about it by return. What do you think, Dear Reader?
By all accounts the vast majority of metal detectorists voted “Brexit” and this morning they’re cock-a-hoop. With good reason ….
- European funding for Countrywide Stewardship Schemes (which have always been strongly opposed by detectorists because they prevent them detecting on archaeologically sensitive land), will cease. Anyone who thinks the British will fund the schemes themselves hasn’t been observing the British Government’s actions towards environmental and heritage matters.
- The moral influence of our close neighbour Ireland will be diminished and their view that “Archaeological objects must be excavated in a structured scientific manner, with careful recording of their association with other objects, structures, features and soil layers. Failure to expertly record the context from which an object has been removed results in an irreplaceable loss of knowledge of the past” won’t be characterised in Britain as other than “misguided”
- The “nightmare scenario”, as detectorists label it, of Europe influencing Britain on the subject of portable antiquities has been removed at a stroke. Here, in the words of the European Assembly is what detectorists have gained, and the rest of us have lost:
“is concerned at”…. “the growing threat to the archaeological heritage caused by the increasing marketing of metal detectors in Europe and their uncontrolled widespread use”,
“regrets in particular”….” the notion of “treasure hunting” applied to the search for this heritage and all advertising to this effect”,
“insists on” ….“the need for the strict observance of archaeological practice in any excavation, prospection or other disturbance of traces of human existence”,
“is concerned”….“that existing legislation in most member states, or its implementation, is far from sufficient to prevent or control destruction of the archaeological heritage, or even stem its increase”
and recommends that the Committee of Ministers :
“consider adopting” …. as a matter of urgency, recommendations to governments for the licensing or registration of users of metal detectors”
“and ask member governments”….. “to supplement existing legislation to ensure, where still necessary, the full protection of all archaeological remains, surface included”
“and to examine critically”…. “the wisdom of permitting advertising or any other incentives to hunt for archaeological treasure”
So what we’re left with is the Portable Antiquities Scheme pretending, through gritted teeth, that British metal detecting is a net benefit to the resource and misrepresenting a pathetically low level of find reporting as praiseworthy. There’s really no argument, Europe’s view of portable antiquities is protective and civilised (and you won’t find a single archaeologist who privately disagrees) but sadly Europe’s standards are no longer even a possibility for Britain. It’s a great day to be a metal detectorist, and it will be for many years to come.
In 2014 we asked whether “Metal detecting” has fallen prey to kakistocracy – government by the most unqualified or unprincipled citizens. Far be it for us to cast aspersions but it is now more than two years since Central Searchers took over the Federation of Independent Detectorists and that Federation’s Code of Conduct still doesn’t say a word about reporting finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Central Searchers still runs rallies with a notorious crook-aiding rule (farmers get no share of any find worth below £2,000, as secretly judged by the detectorist!)
Add to that the fact that an official from the only other detecting organisation, the National Council for Metal Detecting, recently advised his colleagues to lie to French farmers about what they were looking for, and it’s hard to see how kakistocracy doesn’t rule the activity.
And all the time the Archaeological Establishment pretends it hasn’t noticed. Bizarre. Would they do that if members of their own profession were interacting with the archaeological resource in that way?
Police recently raided an alleged nighthawk’s house in Kent. However, the possibility that that nothing will come of it prompts a wider question: why are there so few successful prosecutions? A story from The South Shropshire Telltale may provide a clue…….
Shropshire “nighthawks” turn out to be innocent!
A row has flared in Worfield. A well-known notional octogenarian farmer declared his local policeman “so useless his face isn’t worth sunburning”. Pig farmer Silas Brown was incensed after police released two men from custody the day after they had been detained on his fields at 3.00 am carrying metal detectors and 2 bags of artefacts.
PC Dwight Wash explained that they had responded to a call from “an agitated, confused elderly gentleman” but when they arrived it quickly became clear that no offence had been committed. “It turned out they were travelling metal detector salesmen whose car had broken down and they were simply walking home on a footpath which crosses the farm. The artefacts were the props they used when they give talks on amateur archaeology at primary schools. Oh how we all laughed at the station when we realised! They were released without a stain on their character or hobby”.
Mr Brown was less certain. “We have a saying in farming” he said, “if it walks like a duck but it squawks like an archaeologist it’s probably a duck. I’ve sent the police an identification guide. Maybe it will help raise the prosecution rate.”
Someone found a hoard at Lenborough and got rewarded. What’s not to like? Well, two things: First, he was paid a mind-boggling £675,000, far more than was needed or warranted or could be afforded or other countries would have paid. Second, the Treasure Committee still could and should have slashed the reward for “bad practice” (he claimed, fatuously, the hoard couldn’t be guarded overnight so had to be dug up hurriedly, thus destroying much knowledge). But they didn’t, they almost never do.
Why is our reward system like this? For one simple, shameful, unpublicised reason: zillions of UK detectorists make it clear that if they don’t get maximum payouts they won’t declare treasure finds. As “Rescue” said about Lenborough:”it represents nothing but yet another lost opportunity to add to the knowledge we have about the Saxon period …. But you won’t read about that in the papers.” Indeed you won’t. But never mind Lenborough, that was LEGAL activity, albeit bad practice. What about the rewards the Treasure Committee also gives to criminals? Well …
Quite a juxtaposition. If the volunteers had found treasure they’d have got nothing. If the criminals had done so (did they?) and “re-found” it elsewhere they’d be given full market value. Does that happen much? Well put it this way: if you were a nighthawk in Britain (or even a visiting one with goods to dispose of) what would YOU do? It’s beyond denial, we have a treasure system which showers excessive rewards not just on the partly deserving but also the blatantly undeserving and the downright criminal. But you won’t read about that in the papers either. Move along now. Nothing to see here.
A US study has concluded that legalising hunting doesn’t reduce illegal hunting. Which begs an important question for Britain: has legalising metal detecting reduced nighthawking? That’s what was intended (and is still claimed by those who oppose regulation) but it’s hard to see how for nighthawks require three things to prosper and in Britain they have been given all three:
> Legal clubs into which they can merge and gain information
> Legal rallies at which they can launder stolen finds by find spot falsification
> An official body to which they can submit stolen goods to be legitimised!
Nighthawks abroad enjoy no such benefits (and that’s why some of them are known to bring items here to avail themselves of ours and even perhaps to receive treasure rewards). So although our liberal arrangements are based on the belief that they reduce criminality the reality may be less certain and less comfortable. Perhaps making it easy for criminals is helpful to criminals. What an obvious observation, yet who mentions it?
The Erosion Counter has just passed 12,500,000, showing 500,000 artefacts have been dug up in just 21 months. We’ve always said 70% of them don’t get reported but the Portable Antiquities Scheme disagrees, saying only 66% aren’t reported. We’ll settle for that.
Here’s what it means: if each unrecorded find is an inch wide then our country is allowing 4.5 miles of artefacts to disappear unreported every year. Or if you prefer, in the 18 years since this spiffing system began, they’d stretch from the PAS office in Bloomsbury to English Heritage’s office in Swindon.
Makes you proud to be British! “This arrangement has proved to be successful and has grown and been nurtured by responsible detectorists within my organisation who have striven to make the Portable Antiquities Scheme the success it is today and the envy of the world. Long may this be the case.” [Evidence by the National Council for Metal Detecting to the DCMS, June 2012]