You can’t get much meaner than removing traces of a country’s history, obliterating it’s past. Yet, as the pandemic restrictions are eased, thousands are poised to pick up their metal detectors and do exactly that once again.

Yes, collectively they report many finds, and that’s a dividend. But how does that compensate a country for collectively failing to report the rest? To claim a small gain makes up for a large loss is the maths of a fool.

And yes, the PAS has insufficient staff to record everything, but is it so impossible for them to be at least SHOWN what is found? Of course not, a brief look at seven artefacts an hour by each Finds Liaison Officer to pick out anything significant is perfectly possible – and indisputably desirable.

So British historicide is entirely avoidable. But instead we allow it and have coined a phrase to make up for the fact, “responsible detecting”, meaning “the minority who report”. If only we were honest and talked of “moral detecting”, meaning “they who don’t obliterate history”. Calling a spade a spade would surely have done more good than more than two decades of pretending? Maybe, one day …


The Finds Liaison Officer who stood up and used the phrase “moral detecting”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

When early colonists in North America tried to participate in the old English sport of fox hunting they had no luck as the local gray foxes are one of the very few canids that can climb trees and often make their dens high up in a hollow branch. So when chased they run straight up the nearest tree.

British red foxes can’t do that so are prey to those who pretend trail hunting isn’t hunting. So maybe there’s a solution. Does anyone have some gray fox semen?


Over the past nine years or more on the Heritage Journal we have profiled many archaeologists, asking them questions in a series we called ‘Inside the Mind‘. This series proved to be very popular, and the entry highlighting Raksha Dave has become our most popular post ever! Indeed, it still receives dozens of views every month, despite being first published nearly nine years ago!

Now it is the turn of the committed archaeological ‘hobbyist’. We’ve been asking a new series of questions to people who have demonstrated a passion for prehistory and related sites, but who are not professional archaeologists, meet ‘The Antiquarists’.

As regular readers will know, Heritage Action was created after discussions on the Modern Antiquarian web site, and we began by asking several of our early members a new series of questions about their megalithic interests. We’ll be presenting their replies, and those of other amateur hobbyists over the next few weeks – some make interesting reading! We’ll be kicking off with Nigel Swift, Heritage Action chairman, in a few days time so keep an eye on the Journal!

The questions we’ll be asking are as follows, so if you’d like to join in, please contact us with your answers, and we’ll feature them in a future article:

  • What is/was your day job?
  • How did your interest in Megalithic monuments begin?
  • Is your interest grounded in something Spiritual, Academic or something else?
  • What is your favourite time period or era?
  • Which book has had the most influence on your interest?
  • Do you have a favourite field guide reference or gazetteer that you always take with you on site visits?
  • What is the best site you’ve visited so far (however you want to define ‘best’), and why? Which so-far unvisited site is top of your ‘must-see list, and why?
  • Which archaeological words or phrases caused you most confusion when you first started? What is your understanding of those phrases now?
  • What is your favourite theory about site origin/usage?
  • What is your pet peeve with regard to Megalithic sites?

We look forward to presenting the responses we’ve received so far, and also to receiving your responses to these questions!

Soon, tens of thousands of people will resume metal detecting “for charity”. Farmer Silas Brown was spot on yesterday: in most cases neither the farmer nor the charity nor the archaeology benefit as much as they should, and that’s putting it diplomatically, so the case for reform is overwhelming.

We think a simple notice on farm gates expressing what Silas suggested would do more for farmers, charities, and heritage protection than anything currently being done. Simple, sensible, equitable, and very, very effective.

The fact that metal detecting rally organisers will be vehemently opposed whereas the Archaeological Establishment, including PAS, will be fully supportive (albeit not in public) is all the endorsement the idea requires.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Dear Fellower Landowners,

Soon charity rallies will be starting again, so please remember: ALL finds are yours (or occasionally the country’s) so you alone should say who gets what and if anything can be taken away. So it follows that if you’re offered a finds agreement that says less than that, you’d be foolish to sign it. Incidentally, “ambiguity in a contract benefits the party that didn’t draft it” so if you are offered a pre-printed agreement that doesn’t contain that clause saying that, you should insist it is added. (The official Code, which recommends signing an agreement “to avoid subsequent disputes” ought to say that, but doesn’t!)

But that’s not all you should consider. What does “charity rally” actually mean? Keep in mind, if the stuff is kept by the finders the charity won’t benefit from it and if YOU are giving up your stuff for charitable purposes maybe THEY should give up your stuff for charity too? I saw a doozy in a detecting forum this week, someone talking about lockdown ending: “I think there will be a few pushing the charity boundaries like there were before where they take the money and tell the landowner to give their share to charity”!

Some people are just brigands. Can YOU tell the difference? Why not do the obvious: ask ALL prospective charity rally organisers for audited accounts from previous events, showing exactly where all the money – and all the finds – went? A real charity would supply those details by return.

Best wishes,

Silas Brown,

Grunters Hollow, Worfield, Salop


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

In April 2019 the National Audit Office said:

“In pure economic terms, because of the high cost of building a tunnel, the Amesbury to Berwick Down project, at £1.15 of quantified benefit for every £1 spent, has a significantly lower benefit–cost ratio than is usual in road schemes. Given our experience of cost increases on projects of this kind, this ratio could move to an even lower or negative value.

But by now, after exactly two hard years which have included the little matters of Brexit and a world pandemic the value-for-money ratio must have worsened (why haven’t we been told?). But now comes a cost bombshell they can’t hide:

Plan to widen Stonehenge Tunnel for hard shoulder [Construction News]: “Highways England is costing out plans to widen the proposed A303 Stonehenge Tunnel to create a hard shoulder on the dual carriageway scheme. Consultants are being asked to investigate the impact of adding emergency refuges or an additional hard shoulder in order to increase tunnel safety … If Highways England decides to go-ahead with the 11th-hour safety changes it would impact existing budgets for the project.

“Impact existing budgets” is putting it mildly!


You couldn’t make it up! English Heritage is recruiting another Security Officer, which is fine, but how about this for maladroit wording … This role is all about the protection of a world heritage site.” That from a quango that is supporting a scheme that will cause massive damage to the world heritage site in defiance of UNESCO!

Apparently, “priority will be given to those with a Public Space Surveillance (CCTV) licence“. Very wise, but hardly adequate, when very soon it hopes to entirely prevent millions of people seeing the stones or their surroundings from the road!

No amount of expensive “Public Space Surveillance” by guards will make up for the massive loss of continuous free public surveillance through millions of passing eyes!


Ok, it’s an old joke, but at least it makes a change from the usual Stonehenge/Avebury/NT tropes at this time of year…


May 2021

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