And if not, why not???

Back in 2010 (and many times since) we pointed out that any belief by the authorities that archaeology lying far below the plough soil was safe from unscrupulous detectorists as machines couldn’t reach far down was misplaced. As we explained, the then newly launched Minelab GPX 5000 can go to 18.5 to 24 inches whereas farmers only plough to half or less than that level and that’s how far most of the archaeological searches went.

Survey, British Farming Forum 2010

Yes, at £3,500 the GPX 5000 is expensive, so not many people have them but I was shocked recently to find there are a number of companies that will hire you a high performing metal detector for relative peanuts. Whether the GPX 5000 could be rented in UK is uncertain but £45 a day is normal in Australia.

I’m thinking yet again about the field containing the Staffordshire Hoard which was mostly investigated to nine inches or less. What could a nightime scruff find there if he invested £45? What more compelling reason could there be for archaeologists to revisit the site?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Today it’s 10 years since we responded to this enquiry in our Contact Us section from the late Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury: “Is there any consensus on how the law needs to be changed to stop mass detector plundering?”

We wrote: “Yes, Lord Avebury, there is indeed a worldwide consensus that the way to prevent it is to make it a crime. Except in Britain where the official position is  that most detecting is “responsible” so most detecting should be applauded. We believe it is high time parliamentarians took a close look at both  parts of that claim as it seems very clear to us that the official statistics indicate most finds go unreported and are lost to science. (See our Erosion Counter).

In any case, whatever does or doesn’t get reported it is entirely unclear to us how the progressive removal of a fragile and finite resource for personal recreation or profit is ethical or in the national interest and how such a policy, so at odds with policy elsewhere, can be defended.”

Bizarrely, 10 years later, neither PAS, the police, the press nor politicians DO defend it any more. They just blather on loudly about the minority that report finds, thereby taking farmers, taxpayers and the general public for fools.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


© Nicky MacRae

We recently published an image showing it’s true (see Stonehenge tunnel fib in plain sight). But the flourishing state of the delicate lichens on the stones makes it even more certain …

The last major study of the Stonehenge lichens was carried out in 2003. It found 77 different species, including two that are found in a particular recess of one specific stone and nowhere else on site, and another that only grows on one single stone at Stonehenge and nowhere else in southern England.
“We have noticed very little change, which is extremely gratifying. Diversity is about 80 to 90 species and we’ve found some very interesting species new to the area.” But it is not just the richness of species that makes the site unique. “Another reason it is so interesting is the types of community you find here – the combination of species,” said Mr James. “The quality of preservation is also very high.”

Stonehenge is also one of the more important sites for lichens in lowland Britain because of the high proportion of maritime species present, a feature that is still largely unexplained. Dr Oliver Gilbert, one of the country’s most eminent lichenologists, said: “About ten of the species found here are maritime, species which normally only occur on the coast. “It’s not something yet fully explained, but I do have a theory. Although we are 60 miles inland, under certain weather conditions, thermals from the coast reach Stonehenge carrying salt with them.

So it looks like the only short term threat to the lichens comes from people sitting or climbing on the stones during summer solstices, not traffic fumes. English Heritage please note!

Here’s one of Turner’s views of Stonehenge from his sketchbook of 1815. It shows a catastrophic scene in which a shepherd and his sheep had been struck down by lightning. It has been suggested that he depicted this scene of destruction to echo the ruins of a dead religion.

But in modern terms it could now be taken as representing the abandonment by one country of it’s long-established sense of reverence and decency towards it’s own and the world’s past.

By Nigel Swift

It seems a lot of British detectorists are unhappy at my accusation, yesterday, that they were maybe not as responsible as many of their European equivalents. Well, there’s a current forum discussion, PAS … Should we get it for FREE? which tends to support me as some of the participants are saying they should get a free identification service as well as big Treasure rewards because they are doing the rest of us such a favour!

And then there’s this from a separate discussion, just today, on whether the Treasure Act should be changed: “Yes it needs a change. Like scrapping altogether. The find should always be yours, send it in to recorded, they do whatever they need to do , but it should be returned to the finder. They and the landowner should decide it”

Let’s hope those who are currently considering the future of both PAS and the Treasure Act are taking note, and won’t veer to the opposite extreme like providing free EBay accounts and free limos to transport these uniquely British heroes to rallies!


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

by Nigel Swift

Those were the surprising words of a Danish metal detectorist on finding two pounds of Iron Age gold. In Britain we’re more used to a far less sophisticated use of language in the world of metal detecting and that got me thinking whether and why British detectorists are often less sophisticated over here than in parts of Europe.

Dr Lewis, the head of PAS, thinks there’s a difference. After his 2011 fact finding trip to Denmark he opined that the low rewards there “would not be attractive” to English detectorists. I think we all know what he meant by that. And indeed we saw similar evidence ourselves when two of our members went to a rally for Polish detectorists in Bedfordshire in 2012:

Rally for Polish detectorists, Bedfordshire, 2012

They reported back that “they struck us as generally a step up from many of their English counterparts. More polite, better educated and by all accounts keen to do the right thing.” We wondered why there should be a difference: “Does the European approach of having rules attract more thoughtful people than the British one of no rules”.

Hopefully, those currently engaged in drafting new rules in Britain will have asked themselves the same question.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

See this: “Hello, we don’t allow illegal activity on our land, and if there’s clear evidence of illegal activity, this should be reported to the police, in addition to reporting to our staff.But if there isn’t any, why warn people about what to do if they see it? Clearly, the Trust can’t pull the wool over the public’s eyes. They have very good eyesight and they understand there’s a massive difference between not allowing it and it not happening.

Explosive revelations contained within leaked Zoom webinars involving those at the heart of the fox hunting lobby appeared to reveal trail hunting is nothing but a “smokescreen” for chasing and killing of foxes and in the wake of that the Trust temporarily suspended trail hunting licences on its land. But only temporarily. It could come back after next month’s AGM.

If you don’t want it to, and you’re a Member, please support the following resolution, submitted by Dr Denise Taylor: “That the members agree that the National Trust will ban trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on their land, to prevent potential illegal activity in breach of the Hunting Act 2004 and the protection of Badgers Act 1992 and to prevent damage to other flora and fauna by hunts, their hounds and their followers.”

You can vote in person or by post or go to the voting website where you can appoint the Chair of the meeting to vote on your behalf, but it is vital you instruct the Chair how to vote, otherwise it will be left to their discretion, and last time they used that discretion to keep the activity on Trust land. Please don’t let happen this time.



December 2021

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