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“Hot spots” are places where detectorists find loads of finds. Almost every detectorist seeks them – why wouldn’t they, since finds are what they seek? But by their nature they are archaeological sites so you might wonder how many detectorists give full and frank details about them to PAS or local archaeologists? Maybe PAS could clarify, but we suspect its very few.

If so it’s tragic – for as “Henery Iggins” has just pointed out on Twitter, an unreported hot spot means “an archaeological site being progressively and secretly destroyed without trace. The reluctance to give accurate find spots comes from many detectorists, including NCMD, being paranoid that other detectorists or indeed archaeologists will find out where their continuing exploitation of a “hot spot” is going on.”

Thus it seems the unregulated, grabby nature of metal detecting in Britain means that the very places that shouldn’t be secretly and repeatedly harvested to the point of extinction are the very ones that are being deliberately sought out and will suffer that fate. As Henery Iggins further observed: “It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if PAS, HE, Rescue, BAJR et al told the world “hot spot” means “archaeological site being progessively and secretly being destroyed without trace”. We live in hope.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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By Nigel Swift

The more I hear the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the discovery of The Staffordshire Hoard the angrier it makes me as I’m convinced some of it is still in that Hammerwich field or has been stolen at night by scruffs. And I have proof – or at least, evidence infinitely stronger than any claim it has all been recovered.

1.) After the first survey in 2009 and follow-up excavation in March 2010 archaeologists were confident it had all been found. But when they went back (after ploughing) in December 2012 they were “stunned” to find another 90 pieces (some small and possibly from a second hoard and some large and judged to be part of the original one.) One 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.” Well, they were wrong. [In fact, both US and British forces were using Ebex 420H machines with little depth capability, (mines are mostly shallow) and not recommended by the manufactures for finding very small targets!]

2.) That 2012 survey included a team of metal detectorists using their own machines. A crucial error seems to have been made for very few if any of them yet had the new, highly expensive £1,500 deep-seeking machines (launched by Minelab in October 2010) so it was a “partial” search at best and some objects were surely missed due to that?

3.) To be clear, Minelab said their new machine, the GPX5000, “can easily find small objects at 24 inches” (15 inches below most ploughsoil). Surely the Hoard deserves investigation using that equipment? The nighttime scruffs will certainly have thought so and would have increasingly acquired the new equipment in the subsequent years (or even the GPZ launched 6 years later which Minelab says “could find gold 40% deeper than the GPX“!) Against that, the claims by archaeologists about the adequacy of their “two detailed surveys” and “geophysics and trial trenching” look damagingly mistaken.

4.) I have taken many photos at the site including a sequence over several weeks in February 2013. Dozens of holes, some very deep, and trails of footsteps have convinced me nighthawking activity is regular every time the crops are removed. What are they finding still, especially at the bottom of the deep holes? Nothing? Coke cans and plough fragments, (but well below the plough zone?) Or a few deliberately buried bejewelled golden Anglo Saxon objects which surpassed all the others but had to be broken apart and melted down to avoid prosecution? You tell me.

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5.) And then there’s this: the original finder, Terry Herbert, has just revealed in the local Express & Star that the children of two previous farmers of the land told him that an ancient burial mound existed on the site and that he believes “there are another 100 or so pieces in there.” Not that he could possibly know but that statement together with the ten year publicity means that as soon as the current crop comes off, which will be soon, there’ll be another glut of nightime scruffs up there. Anyone who reveres the hoard ought to guard that field. We’ve previously featured ten nearby archaeology societies. Maybe they could organise something?


[Incidentally, I’ve written to the Archaeology Forum 5 times about “the growing threat posed by the new deep seeking metal detectors such as the GPX 5000, the Blisstool LTC64 V3 and and the GPZ 7000 which leave the remaining Staffordshire Hoard open to theft” but without any reply.]


Anyway, all this is why I get angry about the current hoard celebrations. Any remaining objects shouldn’t have been left and are still vulnerable to criminals using detectors which are light years ahead of what the archaeologists had available. It’s not right for the sector to enthuse to the public about how great the found objects are without making totally damn sure they’ve got them all. That might mean a hundred supervised volunteer amateurs and students each with a GPX 5000 borrowed or hired from Minelab, covering a lot more land for as long as it takes to do the job properly. What better priority to which to allocate limited funds?


PS  I’ve just noticed this article was published yesterday on the exact 4th anniversary of my last call for the authorities to  “arrange for a survey of the field using a large number of Minelab GPX 5000 and similar machines as soon as possible“!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Improved sentencing guidelines for offenders who cause damage to heritage and cultural assets have been announced. Unfortunately, they don’t apply in all cases. It’s criminal to cause reversible heritage damage but perfectly legal to cause permanent heritage damage..

In the cases where the damage is likely to be permanent the British Museum often sends archaeologists to sit in a tent and watch. We know it’s the law but why doesn’t PAS constantly tell the public, the press and Parliament that it’s profoundly wrong?

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The 6 academics including from PAS who recently sought to downplay Dr Sam Hardy’s conclusions have “clarified” their astounding claim that non-reporting isn’t damaging: “We feel that our paper too has been misrepresented in reactions elsewhere on the internet.” “It should be obvious that it was not intended to propagate a liberal, ‘pro-detecting’ viewpoint”

No, it’s not obvious! On the contrary, saying non-reporting isn’t damaging is supporting the very worst of detectorists! It can’t even be dismissed as an isolated mistake for a Finds Liaison Officer has just repeated it: archaeological evidence unreported by detectorists is “not necessarily being destroyed, rather extant but unknown“..

What the hell is going on? Is this a final shift in position? For 20 years, instead of condemning non-recording (and stressing to the Government that it’s rife) PAS has embraced, liaised, engaged, backslapped, bootlicked and flattered those who do it in the hope they’ll desist. Having finally seen they have failed (as Dr Sam Hardy has shown) are they excusing it? If PAS is soon to be wound up by the Government is this the message that will be broadcast – it doesn’t matter because the great majority we haven’t persuaded don’t do any harm?

 

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Via Twitter, our attention was recently drawn to a project that looks to be of interest, primarily to those in the north of the UK, but also to anyone with an interest in the cultural overlap between Britain and Scandinavia.

The NATUR: North Atlantic Tales project is:

looking for people, projects and institutions who would be interested in working with an artist from overseas and who have stories to tell that connect Northern English and Scottish cultural heritage with any of Iceland/Norway/Denmark (and vice versa) including:

  • Professional museums and archives
  • Personal collections and archives
  • Music, moving image and photography collections (both catalogued and hoarded)
  • Societies, groups and communities that can trace those connections
  • Researchers working across our partnering countries
  • Academics and academic departments connecting our partnering countries
  • Personal Testimony

It seems to us to be a worthwhile project, and the highlighted item above could well be a chance for our metal detecting friends (responsible or otherwise) to share some of the knowledge of what they’ve found or otherwise obtained. From our own perspective, we’re thinking primarily of ‘Viking’ related materials but the project’s scope seems to far beyond just the physical artefact connections:

The first NATUR project will broadly interrogate 7 themes through the archives of each country that shaped and continue to forge a shared Northern identity – folklore and language, merchants, fisheries, industrialisation, conflict, oil, and women’s history.

Cuerdale hoard viking silver british museum

So if you have any collections or other input which may fit the scope of the project, why not contact them through their website and offer to share your knowledge?

By Nigel Swift, Chairman, Heritage Action

A well known metal detectorist has produced a Glossary of Detecting Terms, two of which I’d like to take issue with.

First, under “B” there’s this:

I feel he has made a simple mistake – confusing agreement with sycophancy. For me, metal detecting without reporting all of your recordable finds, which is demonstrably what the vast majority of detectorists do, is the action of a selfish ignoramus. If Paul shares that view and is determined not to pretend otherwise what can I do but agree with him?

Then, under “H” there’s this:

But “Hedge Fodder” is not a phrase used by archaeologists, whether professional or amateur. Archaeology is about digging in the pursuit of all knowledge not selective acquisition of objects. So I see the very use of the phrase  as revealing selfishness and ignorance – and what sustains me against 20 years of attacks and personal insults is that I’m confident that virtually every archaeologist, every amateur archaeologist, every Finds Liaison Officer and every thinking person agrees. Historical knowledge is a communal resource and is not something which should be selectively discarded in a hedge by uncaring people.

So there we are Mr Detectorist, you got it wrong. I’m no sycophant, I’m someone who shares Paul’s distaste for knowlege theft – and in that I’m fully supported by all who see cultural knowledge of our past, all of it, as belonging to all of us.

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An Irish detecting site has just echoed the lament of countless British detectorists. They believe they should have access to state lands …. where many other groups already enjoy the hobby of their choice.”

 

It’s a claim to equivalence – on the grounds that metal detecting is just like rambling, birdwatching, kite flying and a host of other pastimes. But actually, there is no equivalence. People who pursue those other interests on public land don’t pocket public property. Simple really. That’s why most Councils, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission allow rambling and birdwatching and kite flying but not detecting.

Is there a solution? Of course there is! The decision would be entirely different if detectorists offered to keep to “the Surrey Council Premise” – detecting in a way similar to an archaeological survey with the landowners and the public being the main beneficiaries and “all finds being Council property.” But guess how many detectorists have proposed that?

No. Lower.

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Permitted fun on Avebury Henge. No pocketing, see?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Did you see the recent April Fool joke about a detecting rally at Stonehenge? A joke, yet tens of thousands of people DO detect legally on thousands of  other archaeological sites. How come? Because the essence of detecting is maximising finds rates by finding hot spots – and hot spots by their very nature ARE archaeological sites!

So “laissez faire” has delivered to Britain a simple grotesque reality: the vast majority of archaeological sites aren’t protected and of those the more precious they are the more likely they will be collected away to obscurity!

The simple, sad logic of  Britain’s detecting “laissez faire”. Of course, if any archaeologist, official or otherwise, wants to deny it be our guest!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Please warn your elderly relatives. Numerous people are going door to door offering loft clearance for free – but with 3 disreputable conditions:

Scandalous or what! “Finds of a lesser value I shall own”! “We’ll keep you informed of what’s gone by sending photographs! You may well wonder why don’t they just charge a flat fee like any respectable contractor would? It’s clear why, and it’s clear whose interests are being served – and whose aren’t! No doubt the police would like to hear of any sightings of these cowboys. .


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But actually, the above isn’t quite true. Those 3 statements are not from a loft clearance firm, they’re from a model “metal detecting finds agreement” published in this month’s UK Detectornet online magazine!.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how something that is so readily seen to be blatantly unfair, disreputable, unprofessional, exploitative and worth reporting to the police when it refers to lofts is tolerated in silence by The Archaeological Establishment and the Police when it refers to fields! But that’s the horrible mess Britain has constructed for itself. The authorities know it’s wrong but feel they have to keep quiet. And farmers suffer as a result.

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We thought we’d mention our Artefact Erosion Counter (of artefacts removed by detectorists since 1975, mostly unreported) recently reached 13 million!

If each was an inch wide they’d stretch the 200 miles from the British Museum to the Louvre in Paris – where, no doubt, archaeologists would speak out. If however our estimate of the number of detectorists is wrong and Dr Sam Hardy is right they’d stretch 600 miles, almost to the Museo Archaeologico in Rome – where. no doubt, archaeologists would also speak out.

Meanwhile in London, archaeologists who are equally dedicated  but are captives of the prevailing legislation, will soon plan another Conference praising the PAS and the small minority of detectorists who report to it. No-one will be highlighting the trail of lost history stretching to Paris or Rome although some detectorist-attendees will no doubt be smirking about the likes of us and our “lying Counter” in the tea break….

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