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By Nigel Swift

Thankfully, knowledge theft through metal detecting has almost ended for now so we won’t now be highlighting it weekly. However, I’d like to point out that although our 1000+ articles on the subject have been largely ignored by British archaeological officials, they haven’t been abroad (as evidenced by hundreds of references on Academia.edu.)

We were particularly pleased this Wednesday that Happah, the French archaeologists’ conservation body, published a French translation of our 2014 chart, “An overseas PAS-enviers Guide: How to get the Public to Assume Avoidable Depletion with Inadequate Mitigation is Fine.”

We compiled it in 2014 in reaction to the words of the Director of the British Museum claiming the Portable Antiquities Scheme “is envied the world over“.  It’s simply not true, as French archaeologists understand.  Our original is here, followed by Happah’s French translation.

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450 acres of “very interesting and historically rich land” along the banks of the River Thames near Henley will NOT now host a massive international commercial metal detecting rally this weekend.

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So no coachloads of overseas treasure hunters, no puzzled expressions from the landowner or PAS about why the number of found items seems low, no sudden glut of vague eBay descriptions of “old finds from Yorkshire”, and no items of British historical significance with it’s associated knowledge quietly taken away to Belgium or Latvia.

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The National Council for Metal Detecting has told members to stop. But many people aren’t members and some have been saying they’ll carry on (“I’ll say it’s exercise”). PAS has also asked people to stop but by adding “We ask that you temporarily retain your non-Treasure finds for full recording at a later date” they hint they know some won’t stop.

So, given that those who defy the rules are unlikely to report any finds or refrain from digging up a hoard or a grave we suggest PAS should ring the Minister to request he clarifies that leaving home to metal detect is forbidden.

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PAS has stopped accepting finds for recording. No-one can blame them as many detectorists haven’t been social distancing. They’ll resume recording sometime “in the future” which signals a bleak outlook for recording: most finds don’t get reported already, even fewer will be after a year.

So Britain is back to where it was more than 20+ years ago with an army of artefact hunters combing the fields and all the knowledge being destroyed. Except that now Britain’s laissez-faire policies have allowed the army to grow three times larger.

Of course, if detectorists were amateur archaeologists or of average intelligence, they’d desist while the knowledge can’t be promptly shared with professionals. But they aren’t: asked on the largest detecting forum if the virus would curtail their activities scores of them have just said no and that they’ll go out detecting far more!

Above are the 27,000 people who will now be mining our resource at an increased pace, using their extra leisure, in an entirely unmitigated fashion. Imagine what will happen when these greedy people find new sites or a grave or a hoard! Will they call a FLO (unlikely) and should the FLO put their families in danger by going? Scandalous doesn’t begin to cover it, it’s legal unmitigated knowledge looting and it should be prohibited while PAS is inoperative – let PAS, Rescue, CBA, BAJR, ALGAO, EH, HE, APPAG et al publicly say so if they agree, which they surely do. And straight away please. They should ask the Government to instruct detectorists to stay at home.

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The organisers have at last canceled the Spring Detectival event. Yet rather than doing the obvious – issuing prompt refunds of £81 to all those who aren’t getting the service they paid for, they are offering “options”: move your ticket to September 2020 or, if you can’t make that, April 2021 or, if you can’t make that, September 2021!

There’s a final option: “If you cannot make the new dates please contact us directly and we will let you know your options”. Whether your final option is getting your money back isn’t clear but it’s strange you’ll only be told in private.

We suggest that if you don’t get it back automatically within 14 days (as the Jockey Club is doing over the Grand National) you write to them quoting the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

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Spring Detectival 2020 is the latest in a series of similar massive events, this one scheduled for April. They are particularly unwelcome and damaging because of their sheer size and because they cater for detectorists from all over Europe and beyond. It is perhaps a reflection of both the organisers and their customers that despite the current health emergency the event is still being scheduled to go ahead, using the thinnest of excuses:

“The risk to individuals in the UK remains low [really? – Ed.] and there is no restriction on travel or trade. In light of this, our events will take place as normal and we will continue to adhere to UK Government guidance.”

That cynical statement was issued on 6th of March and was already unwise and inaccurate. Most events in Europe had already been cancelled. Now in Britain, as everyone knows the Government will soon ban large events and almost all events including football, rugby and golf have been cancelled by the organisers without waiting for a compulsory ban.

The organisers and customers of detecting rallies are different though: no such cancellation to Detectival 2020 has yet been announced. Perhaps the delay will be noted in Government. Amateur archaeologists working for the common good they aren’t. People of very limited sense who simply want selfish gain they are.

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Neil Redfern, the CBA’s new Chief Executive is “looking forward to strengthening our role in championing archaeology.” Hopefully, that doesn’t include non-archaeology. The need to avoid blurring la différence is now acute, e.g:

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  • 13 years after The One Show aired the Durobivae detecting rally debacle live over 2 nights as if it was archaeology they just devoted another 2 nights to treasure hunting while ignoring the damage it does. Crazy.
  • The advance publicity for a forthcoming European “conference” on detecting uses the words “avocational” and “cooperative” but not the more relevant terms “random”, “selective” and “acquisitive”. Also crazy.

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We trust the CBA will continue to promote archaeology alone, not what isn’t. In just a few decades things have deteriorated: Sir Mortimer Wheeler interacted with true amateur archaeologists whereas today’s archaeologists merely cope with the results of random, selective and acquisitive actions.

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by Nigel Swift

For many years officialdom said artefact hunting was amateur archaeology, citizen archaeology, responsible detecting and even “PAS partnering”. But such claims were always against much embarrassing contrary evidence. “Random”, “selective” and “acquisitive” are hard to clothe in archaeological garb.

So lately a new phrase has been adopted: “metal detecting enthusiasts”. It’s in hundreds of press reports (often after PAS employees have been interviewed!). It’s hardly informative about what detectorists do but it has the two virtues of being factually correct yet incapable of being discredited by bad behaviour!

We think the earliest British coining of the phrase was March 2008 by rally organiser Norman Smith (he of the famous phrase “illegal detecting is now virtually non-existent”) but it gained little traction until recently. Now, a Google search for “metal detecting enthusiasts” gets you an amazing 8,710 hits!

I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I think this whole process is wrong. Creepy, even. The public, farmers and posterity are being misled and ill-served through Britain’s silent protection of industrial-scale treasure hunting.

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Even the T-shirt makers know what’s going on.

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Yet again grubby detectorist oiks have attacked a scheduled monument with metal detectors. This time, Old Sarum.

Note our use of the term “grubby detectorist oiks” not nighthawks. The latter term lets off the hook every detectorist who ever got permission but didn’t report what they found, thus stealing our and posterity’s history in exactly the same way as the grubby oiks on Old Sarum – but,  because they out-number them so greatly, vastly more damagingly.

It would be nice if the archaeological Establishment and the police made that point instead of pretending that nighthawking was somehow more culturally damaging than legal non-reporting. It isn’t, not by a factor of many thousands.

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Recently, a band of French policemen entered the house of an ordinary citizen and seized many thousands of metallic historical artefacts which he had been privately caring for. In response, a group of French archaeologists issued the following deluded, anti-British statement in support of the police actions:

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Whole sections of knowledge of the past have thus been lost

Archaeology is a profession, the use of metal detectors outside the legal framework is prohibited

The State must guarantee the rights of future generations by transmitting to them a preserved natural and cultural heritage and will do everything in its power to prevent such destruction from happening again.”.


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Such elitist nonsense! Have they not heard that in Britain there are 27,000 metal detectorists plus thousands of visiting ones from France, Holland and the USA, and that nearly all of them report nearly all their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and to the landowners, and that mass amateur metal detecting is therefore hugely beneficial to the country and humanity?

Or do they prefer evidence?

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