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Frankly, that’s bizarre. Metal detecting has been a useful part of archaeological projects for years but it requires minimal training: follow a grid, swing it low and slow, stick a flag in where it beeps and tell the archaeologist. Who can’t do that? Certainly a detector tied to the tail of a dog would suffice.

An offensive image? Not as offensive as kidding the public otherwise. The “skill” detectorists claim is in recognising whether a beep is a worthwhile target for them but in archaeology all targets are worthwhile. So getting Oxford involved in “training” is a worry, especially as it is being promoted by The Association of Detectorists, who are trying to give metal detecting an archaeological spin.

It is to be hoped that in future no detecting club will turn up at a farm gate, sans an archaeologist and armed with an Oxford Certificate, claiming they’re there to carry out an archaeological project. They won’t be, they’ll be there to artefact hunt, which is recreational exploitation for personal benefit, not the same thing at all. PAS should warn farmers and Oxford should read a few of our articles.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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On this day 8 years ago the closure of English Heritage’s Outreach Department was announced, leaving as we commented, “a situation in which there’s no national outreaching to 56 million ordinary members of the English public but there’ll still be about 45 PAS archaeologists outreaching mainly to 8,000 English metal detectorists”.

Of course, there’s still some great unpaid outreach by archaeologists but no paid posts other than PAS. Is that sensible when every farmer is outreached to by metal detectorists keen to get access to their fields and loads of detectorists hold show-and-tell sessions in schools, “teaching” children about their version of how to behave?

We wish farmers were well enough informed to say “no, if anyone comes here we’d rather it was amateur archaeologists with archaeological standards and goals”. Plus we wish schoolchildren were sufficiently well informed to say Hey Mr, last week we did some archaeology using archaeological methods to maximise knowledge and minimise damage and treated the finds as everyone’s. Yet you lay claim to yours and want applause for showing them to us. Stuff saying they’re your finds. If you do it for everyone, leave them all here!”

That’s the problem with no proper state outreach. If 24,000 detectorists and 45 PAS archaeologists are telling people metal detecting is fine when “responsible” the actual effect is the inexorable mining of the buried archaeological resource mainly by the irresponsible. Anyone willing to deny it? Thought not!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary, wants us to quit UNESCO. A Number 10 spokesman says no, it won’t happen. But we’ll see. What’s clear is that it has been considered – and if it does happen then the one country that thinks metal detecting should be financially supported and that building a mile of new road over the most precious prehistoric landscape in Europe is an enhancement, will have delivered a third massive blow to its own reputation.

The political symbolism would be dire: a further retreat from the international community after Brexit and an alignment with President Trump (for benefits unspecified and perhaps undelivered). Or a convenient excuse for Britain to now resign from its treaty promises not to damage the Stonehenge landscape. If the latter it would mean stopping protective payments of £11.1 million a year to make ourselves free to spend a damaging £1.7 billion! Who knows? What IS clear is that lots is going on in private (anyone know why Spain has proposed UNESCO’s opposition to the Stonehenge tunnel be watered down? Gibraltar beware!).

But we think the most likely explanation is this: it’s a planned warning shot across the bows of UNESCO, a message saying quit opposing our Stonehenge vandalism and shaming us to the World – or we’ll resign. Like the Spanish support there’s a whiff of cheap desperation about that and it’s to be hoped UNESCO will know that and stand firm. Of course, the worst could still happen, and if it did everyone would be entitled to ask English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust: is this the grubby disaster you intended to support when you first resolved to defend the indefensible?

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Hurrah!  Making Britain great again!

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PS –

The questionable World Heritage UK (NOT UNESCO) has promptly stepped up to the plate to reiterare the Government’s denial. But we’re less convinced of their impartiality by this bit:

World Heritage UK understands that scrutiny of bodies such as UNESCO is a legitimate political duty, but we also have the utmost confidence that the economic, environmental and social benefit delivered by the UK’s 31 World Heritage Sites can be proven to withstand any such scrutiny.

What rot. On whose suggestion was that added? As we were saying, there’s all sorts of behind-the-scenes grubby desperate business going on regarding the tunnel, all of it with a cheap whiff of desperation.

Remember our article “What is it about Carbuncles and Castles” about the jarring modernity os some bridges imposed on ancient places?

Well here’s the Golden Bridge, Viet Nam …….

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Where’s this ….. ?

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How come we reward detectorists for reporting their treasure finds when the law says they must? It’s because if we didn’t many of them wouldn’t. For proof, see how the number of reported finds rocketed when rewards were introduced. So clearly “rewards” is a misdescription. They’re ransom payments, but marketed Whitehall style, in line with Sir Humphrey’s book of tricky words!

“Best call the ransom payments “rewards”, Bernard. Don’t want the public getting upset about paying for what’s already theirs.”

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OK, so paying ransoms is clearly the only way we can get all of what’s ours from detectorists (though not, NB, from amateur or professional archaeologists or the kids in my village). But surely PAS and the Treasure Registrar go far beyond what’s necessary when they invariably praise the minority of detectorists who turn down a reward and never stress that most detectorists do no such thing and many fight hard to get higher payments!

And how come the number of cases where the reward is reduced for “bad behaviour” is so tiny? 20 cases in 13 years? Pull the other one! So it all looks like a case of image adjustment, something far beyond Sir Humphrey’s intentions. He just wanted to dress up ransoms as rewards but his quangos have taken to actively obscuring the fact that the people who endlessly proclaim they’re “not in it for the money” endless demonstrate they mostly are. Why?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Here’s what we said exactly 9 years ago about paying rewards for obeying the law instead of increasing the penalties for disobeying it. We still stand by it:

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Let us pay detectorists the complement of treating them like the rest of society, not as a group that includes an invisible but existing proportion of feral crooks that need vast payments to ensure they don’t break the law and murder our cultural heritage. What other sector of British government policy copes with public damage caused by moral imbecilism by PAYING people to act properly? And what country in all the world but Britain, dresses such a policy up as sensible? No, we suggest Britain saves those millions of pounds and spends them on childrens’ hospices.


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Man goes into museum, with permission. Pockets £5,000 jewel which he knows does not and never can belong to him. Treasure Registrar announces “Do bring it back, we’ll give you a £5,000 reward and a Certificate of Appreciation”.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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(You might expect as much from some quangos which are arms of Government but what the hell is the National Trust playing at?)

Britain’s policy on detecting is elegantly simple: it’s fine if “responsible” (as defined in the Code of Responsible Detecting). The trouble is the code doesnt say “do no damage” or say how much damage is tolerable so landowners aren’t told that detecting may damage the resource and will certainly deplete it. That omission has another regrettable effect: it means there’s scant chance of long term reform other than to spend another 20 years trying to persuade more detectorists to convert from acting very badly to merely acting badly.

Of course, Archaeology is damaging too but a rather more sustainable approach has been developed for that: mandatory standards effectively defining the acceptable limits of damage by requiring work to be sparing, thorough, skillful and with specific aims and criteria. So archaeologists aren’t free to act like “responsible detectorists”, which is why you never see one detecting at a rally!

In 2016 the PAS conference discussed “Can Detectorists be Archaeologists“. Someone should have stood up and said ” “Yes of course they can – but only if they act like archaeologists, not like responsible detectorists.” But no-one did, which is a mark of the stranglehold of Britain’s metal detecting policy.  Still, I intend to present all the above analysis, uninvited, at next year’s PAS Conference in the form of a truth haiku. Book now to avoid disappointment.

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.                                Responsible? Yes
 .                               But never sustainable.
 .                               So laudable? No.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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