A new definitive official stance is born (see yesterday):
“Most detectorists at commercial metal detecting rallies don’t report finds”. Allelujah! But now for some questions:

1. Since that has been blindingly clear in PAS’s own statistics for 20 years, why has it taken till now to admit it to the readers of British Archaeology and The Times?

2. How many millions of bundles of knowledge have been stolen in that time? (It IS possible to calculate: compare finds per detectorist from commercial rallies with finds per detectorist fom non-commercial or archaeologist-run events).

3. Will this public admission be taken on board by pro-detecting archaeologists and academics, (bearing in mind commercial rallies are now a massive proportion of all detecting)?

4. Why are we merely saying “We should send a clear signal to detectorists that rallies should be avoided” when it should be being sent to the Government, the taxpayer, the concerned stakeholders and most of all, FARMERS?

5. Is anyone going to apologise to the public for the delay and consequent losses? To taxpayers? To the stakeholders? To us? To UNESCO? To posterity?

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Michael Lewis, Head of PAS and Mike Heyworth, previous Head of CBA, have condemned metal detecting rallies, first in British Archaeology and now in The Times. The tone is far stronger than the current pulling of punches on the PAS website. Well, Hurrah! But for many years we’ve published HUNDREDS of articles begging for that to happen.

Still, we’re grateful it looks like something is finally going to be done. But we do wonder whether Britain will now apologise to the world for the damage the delay has caused to the world’s heritage?

Anyhow, as a matter of interest, here’s one of our earliest complaints, from nearly 16 years ago. (Many of our articles from that era were lost due to a cyber-attack by ruffians unknown)..


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Shameful Heritage plunder near Avebury, Sunday 24 April 2005

Last Sunday anyone who cares for the past who drove north out of Avebury would have seen a distressing spectacle. No fewer than 480 metal detectorists crowded onto two fields alongside the main road at Winterbourne Bassett, busily intent on digging up our common heritage.

Metal detecting is a hobby in search of respectability. Some detectorists are very responsible people who report their finds to the government’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, allowing society, in general, to learn and benefit from the knowledge attached to these items. But the majority do no such thing – they just take.

Vulgar scene
The ‘Near-Avebury Metal Detecting Rally’ was a spectacular and avoidable own goal for the hobby. In a vulgar scene reminiscent of Supermarket Sweep, people raced to be first onto the land, anxious to claim the booty for themselves. Flint artefacts as well as metallic objects are now considered fair game.

All those who took part were members of national metal detecting organisations which proclaim their ‘strong support’ for the government’s voluntary recording scheme. Bizarrely, though, they don’t require any of their members to report finds, and the Scheme’s statistics prove that most of their members certainly don’t report finds. Whatever they find gets taken away by individuals for their own pleasure or to be sold on. Unreported and unrecorded. You may consider that the knowledge attached to these items has been stolen from our common heritage. That’s because it has.

Fields were done over
In view of this, the rally would have been ugly enough had it taken place on waste land. But here, in the world-famous archaeology of the Marlborough Downs and close to The Ridgeway, 2 Iron Age forts and countless bronze age barrows, it was sickening. Those fields, classed as disturbed plough soil – “so it’s legal, innit” are packed with our common history, from palaeolithic scatters onwards. Or at least, they were.

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As it happened, the 480 people who ‘hoovered’ these 2 fields last Sunday reckoned very little was found. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. How would anyone know? Maybe, as many of them claimed, it was because “those fields were done over” by a similar rally 10 years ago. Whatever the truth, when the full and detailed account of our past is written, those 170 acres in the heart of this vitally archaeologically rich area will forever show up as a blank in the record.      

Shameful
Shame on them! And shame on the thinking members of the hobby for tolerating such selfish and ignorant behaviour from the majority. Shame on the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme’s management must find the moral courage to loudly proclaim what is and isn’t civilised.

[They have now! 16 years later! – Ed.]


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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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After years in which we’ve documented 39 instances of misleading statements (and worse) by tunnel-supporting bodies, and a month in which there have been a further 9 by English Heritage (in the Telegraph) and another 3 by the leaders of EH, Heritage England, and the National Trust (in the Guardian), the New Year seems a good time for a simple public statement of the underlying plain truth that can’t be denied or spun. Something like this, so that everyone could see it!

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…my true love gave to me:

Twelve drummers drumming

Yet more noise! This time, drumming up the stones at Avebury stone circle.

…my true love gave to me:

Eleven Pipers piping

Eleven pipers would be a bit too much for my sensitive ears! So here’s a lone piper, among the stones at Callanish. Imagine the ten stones shown are also pipers, to make up the number.

This Christmas headline from Scotland warmed our cockles …

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Good. It has to be a mark of civilisation that such concern can be shown for our ancient heritage at this time when finances are so stretched. But our cockles re-froze when we remembered this earlier headline:

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In what crazy, topsy-turvey British world did a man who simply got lucky while metal detecting but refused to share his finds with the church which owned the land deserve to be given almost twice as much as the research team? Something to be considered by those involved in the forthcoming Treasure Act changes.

How about a £10,000 maximum reward in Scotland, England and Wales whatever you find and at least 5 years in prison for non-compliance? Would that work? Well, despite furious (or unthinking) claims to the contrary there are three Welshmen who have just spent their second Christmas in prison who would say yes, it definitely would!

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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…my true love gave to me:

Ten Lords a-leaping

Our ancient sites are often used as venues by the Morris, particularly around the Solstice and Equinox dates. Here, Wake Robin Morris – a mixed side with both Lords and Ladies!- are dancing Nutting Girl at Stonehenge.

Our Erosion Counter continues to grow inexorably. On the last day of 2020, it showed 6,972,338 recordable artefacts dug up with only 1,516,359 objects (in 971,530 records) in the PAS database. It still runs on our original estimate of 8,000 active detectorists but as everyone now agrees, there are now vastly more of those so in July 2018 Paul Barford produced a revised counter amalgamating our figures and Sam Hardy’s. That now shows an estimate of 8,760,847 artefacts dug up (and accelerating fast).

Paul calls the figures a “mitigation failure”. But we do wonder why “mitigation” is still an aim at all? With the country in such a parlous financial state, why are we spending time and money on effectively preserving and rewarding a mere leisure activity that causes massive net damage?

Wouldn’t the money be better spent on amateur archaeology, rambling, sport, museums, education, housing, the NHS, developing lab-grown meat, ballet, reducing poverty, and almost anything else you can think of? Why, when Archaeology prides itself on maximising knowledge while minimising damage are archaeologists supporting damaging behaviour much of which is little more sophisticated than that of chimps? We’d be glad to hear a rational  answer from PAS or anyone else but are willing to wager we won’t.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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…My true love gave to me:

Nine ladies dancing

Situated just off the A75 about 5 miles from Stranraer, Castle Kennedy Gardens are beautiful landscaped gardens created in the early 18th century by the 2nd Earl of Stair. 

​Used as a shooting location for the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man, the standing stone circle and the May Day procession were filmed in the gardens.

Sadly, the standing stones used in the film were props but the mound on which they stood can clearly be seen today – it sits at the bottom of the long green running down from the Castle Kennedy ruin. 

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