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by Nigel Swift

This week Angela Merkel made the obvious point that “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation…the limits of Populism are being laid bare.” Doesn’t that also apply to British metal detecting: a pandemic of knowledge theft hidden by lies and disinformation?

Angela: not a fan of populism

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We had hoped the Government would delay the return of the biggest source of knowledge theft – mass detecting rallies – until the law could be amended. But no, they’re back, with every participant waving the NCMD or FID notorious banner of false responsibility at the farmer, to whom PAS has neglected to tell the truth.

Pity the country’s farmers, the crucial gatekeepers of all our buried history: detectorists lie to them and PAS doesn’t tell them that the “responsibility code” they wave is one long, convenient falsehood – which doesn’t require any detectorist to follow the official one!

One of the first will be at Boxted –  the 11th held there since 2010! Both the organisers and attendees boast massively about how much is found there yet PAS recorded only 23 artefacts from the first 9 rallies! Britain’s policy of unlimited populism and unlimited damage won’t end any time soon.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Hurrah, the Portable Antiquities Scheme has logged 1.5 million records over 23 years! But (on the basis of finds rates calculated not by us but by the EH/CBA Report, the Connolly Report, the detectorists’ own Kevmar Report and broadly by PAS) detectorists are currently finding 800,000 recordable artefacts each year! Shouldn’t PAS be asking why so few of those aren’t reported?

Trouble is, pulling its punches has been a defining characteristic of PAS from the start because continued funding is seen as needing continuing success (the Darwinian Quango Survival dance as we have previously dubbed it).

This week that process was particularly visible. The Government announced the return of massive commercial detecting rallies (which everyone knows are horribly damaging and a stain on our international reputation). Yet what was PAS’s reaction: not a peep. Which meant it wasn’t just PAS jubilating this week!

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Cheers! Verbatim quote today: “1.5 million recorded finds and some blinkered people still want to ban the hobby. Can’t they understand the benefits.  No, they just want irresponsible scruffs to be forced to report what they find, which VASTLY exceeds 1.5 million, see?

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We have loads of visitors here (4,000 in the past four days and lots more on social media) yet we’ve received zero answers to yesterday’s simple question by Farmer Brown: “If metal detecting good practice is such a good thing, how come it’s still only voluntary and hasn’t been made compulsory?”. Guilt from detectorists and embarrassment from archaeologists perhaps? What they should be openly admitting is that detectorists resist reform and threaten lawbreaking or recording strikes if their “freedom” to ignore good practice is curtailed. Here are some things they’ve threatened PAS with on their forums:

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, ever, ever short change us on the Treasure rewards else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t abate our Treasure rewards for not calling an archie out else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t talk of using some of our Treasure rewards to finance proper excavations of our findspots else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t write to farmers without us dictating what is to be said else we’ll stop reporting” …. and now… “Don’t extend the items covered by the Treasure Act beyond exactly what we say else we’ll stop reporting.”

Sad, isn’t it when a tiny group is standing in the way of something that would benefit the whole of the public? We recall that five years ago, almost to the day, we wrote: “The public is entitled to be bitter – not merely because the bulk of a hobby has cocked an 18 [now, 23] year snook at the rest of us but because The Archaeological Establishment is still not publicly admitting the fact.”

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Dear Fellow Landowners,

You might remember back in 2014 I confessed I was confused. I still am. Can YOU answer this simple question: if metal detecting good practice is such a good thing, how come it’s still only voluntary and hasn’t been made compulsory?

It’s very strange and very British: something that everyone says is good can’t be put into law because most detectorists insist it must only be voluntary and they must be free to choose to comply or not. Why? Why is 0.015% of the population of a highly developed, educated, conservation-minded Western democracy allowed to prevent a Good Thing coming about?

Let me put it like this: imagine if a tiny (and demonstrably selfish) section of the British population had successfully threatened, lobbied, and dissembled for 40 years to prevent drink driving laws being introduced.

Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow
Worfield
Salop

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‘‘Landscapes of Detectorists” (just published) analyses the TV comedy’s “engagement with landscape, ecological resonances, and attention to place and identity. But is that really what detectorists do? Or are they simply after stuff?

A Wiltshire website (@VisitWiltshire) is clear landscape engagement doesn’t mean taking stuff: “If you’re planning to come and enjoy the timeless countryside in Wiltshire over the coming weeks, please have a look at our guidelines on how to visit responsibly … Respect our ancient landscapes. Please leave our landscapes as you find them

There are many ways people can harmlessly engage with landscape. To characterise metal detecting as one is false and misleading. It is the countryside which is bucolic and lyrical, not those who come to it. Wayne from Wallasey doesn’t come to the Marlborough Downs for the views but for what he can take home from there. Anyone disagree? English Heritage? Historic England? Rescue? CBA? PAS? No? Then no more lyrical talk, please. Detecting is exploitative.

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A recent Twitter thread suggests it has, for they assert that “The PAS don’t promote detecting, they take a pragmatic approach to what is allowed under the law in England and Wales. What they do promote is responsible detecting.” But in “promoting” responsible detecting they have actually aided and sustained irresponsible detecting – for anyone, no matter how acquisitive or immoral, can tell farmers they are responsible and thus gain access to fields.

Yet PAS was founded to END non-reporting! As Baroness Blackstone told the Lords so in 1992: The aim is to change public attitudes to recording finds so that it becomes normal practice for finders to report them“.  Yet, disgracefully, 28 years later most detectorists STILL don’t report what they find and PAS provides them with a verbal cloak to wear when they speak to landowners.

So the Founders’ aims have been frustrated – and saying it’s a pragmatic approach doesn’t change that reality. The Founders believed archaeology is best dealt with not by amateurs but scientifically by professionals and there’s absolutely no reason why PAS shouldn’t be saying so very clearly, to every landowner. It already has Guidance notes. This is what the Founders would want it to say:

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A proposed ‘Institute of Detectorists’ is to run a course on “Metal detecting, archaeological principles and the ‘Contextual Detectorist’“. It’s meant for people helping in archaeological surveys and Dr Mike Heyworth an acting tutor, says it’s “nothing to do with any “collection-driven exploitation””

Sadly, that’s unrealistic. Thousands of detectorists tell thousands of farmers they are amateur archaeologists, are “only in it for the history” and report everything to PAS when PAS’s statistics and EBay show otherwise. If they can show farmers a certificate of attendance from an “archaeology” course the opportunity for “collection driven exploitation” will be greatly enhanced.

So today we’re launching our own online course. We were inspired to do so by Michael Lewis of PAS who just opined: “there is a skill to using a detector effectively that comes with experience”. We disagree. The only skill they have is in distinguishing the beeps from “good” digging targets from what they term “rubbish”. Archaeological work requires no such expertise. All beeps matter.

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Dear Fellow Landowners,

Please beware of “metal detecting for charity” approaches. (Gwent Detecting Club make much of it and say they’ve raised £53,000, but on examination that’s their total since 2010 at a rate of only 66p a week per member!)

Most clubs make similar claims (and you may be hearing from them quite soon – they’ve asked the Government to let them re-start within weeks). So if you get someone at your door saying they’re there “for charity” and “to enrich the nation’s knowledge” may I suggest you say:

OK, but I’d like £20 each for charity before you start, plus all the finds (as they’re mine). I’ll report them to PAS and then sell them on EBay to raise still more money for your charity.

I suspect you’ll hear no more.

 

Stay safe,

Silas Brown
Grunters Hollow
Worfield
Salop

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Dear Fellow Landowners,

In a few weeks, we’ll all be getting requests to detect our fields once more. So now is a good moment to keep in mind that if you hear this: “Oh yes, I’m a responsible detectorist and a member of NCMD which supports responsible detecting as laid out in the Code of Responsible Detecting” it’s a big fat lie. The NCMD has REFUSED to sign the latest Code!

They say it’s because the Code lacks “clarity” on the subject of detecting on Registered Battlefields. But the real reason is that archaeologists have refused to say it is OK for NCMD members to detect on them unsupervised. (No wonder. A couple of unsupervised detectorists can obliterate the traces of a battle forever in a single afternoon!)

So, if you DO hear that lie please consider your decision very carefully.

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Battlefields are treasured places, evoking emotional responses and understanding of our history in ways that can only be conveyed by their physical presence in the landscape. But battlefields are vulnerable to various modern-day pressures, many of which are outside the planning process and difficult to manage.” – [Historic England]. “More than 9 out of 10 adults agree or strongly agree with the statement ‘It is important to me that heritage buildings and places are well looked after” – [DCMS]. Allowing unsupervised metal detecting on battlefields and most other places is the opposite of looking after them.

Silas Brown,
Grunters Hollow,
Worfield,
Salop

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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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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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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