Thursday, 9 October 2008

Excluding the stakeholders

The archaeological heritage belongs to us all, but there are those in Britain who feel it is their “right” to go out and trash bits of the common heritage for their own selfish entertainment needs and profit. They do not welcome any form of discussion of this notion on terms they cannot dictate, not least from the 62 million non-collecting members of the British public who are the real stakeholders in the finite and fragile resource the artefact hunters wish to quarry to supply them or the antiquities market with collectables.

So it is with metal detecting forums and rallies. A few days ago I made a post here in reply to Derek Fincham’s suggestion of exporting the PAS to other countries, in which I posted a picture found on a metal detecting forum. I properly cited the source of the photo, and I believe this was fair use. Not so one Riohard Lincoln who claims to be the real author of the image (which was actually posted on the Forum by a person using the pseudonym "Sheddy" who is a garden shed retailer from Canvey Island in darkest Essex). He writes “the photograph which you have reproduced on your blog spot is not yous (sic) to reproduce. i am a semi professional photographer and I took the photograph of Judith Plouviez”. He wants to send me an invoice since he had previously “assigned licence to use the image to Shane Rear, administrator of”. I am grateful to Mr Lincoln for pointing this out and intend to enter negotiation with him to obtain the rights to use this image of the PAS in action in something I have written about portable antiquities collecting in Britain. In the meanwhile if Mr Shane Rear would like to pursue the matter of his "licence", he is free to contact me.

I think the problem here is that “metal detectorists” don’t like people looking over their shoulder at what they are doing with the common heritage. Like the coin and antiquity collectors of the US they want not only to strenuously deny that their activities are in any way harmful or erosive to the archaeological record and our knowledge of the past, but even to put over a picture of the “benefits” of their hobby. This is understandable and fine, freedom of speech and all that, there is nothing wrong with that – as long as the information the public gets is a true and balanced presentation. I believe that the pro-collecting propaganda is precisely that, mere propaganda based on partial presentation of the facts. The unposed candid picture I drew to the attention of the readers of my blog, of the flagship government scheme in action on the ground, working out of the back of somebody’s car and a hand scribbled notice, may be felt by collectors as showing the wrong side of British policy on artefact collecting. But that is exactly why it is here. Anyone can see the carefully selected propaganda photos published on the PAS website or the MLA mouthpiece 24 Hours Museum. Here however (and in many more similar photos which you can find by logging on to metal detecting forums if you have the stomach for it) we see a little of another reality behind the glib words, glossy annual reports and big numbers. Why should this type of information NOT be made more widely available.

If you take a look at the little map over to the left, you can see that over the past day or two quite a lot of British readers have been accessing a restricted range of items on this blog. As a result of the appearance of the PAS-in-action photo here, a purge of members’ accounts seems to have been carried out on the metal detector forum concerned. A member of the heritage lobby had an account on one of these forums (from which he only observed ongoing discussions with interest, I do not think he raised a peep of protest); this morning it appears that it was blocked to stop him seeing what “metal detectorists” are discussing. It is only a matter of time I guess that they find my own account and block it too, not for the first time. We might wonder why that actually is. What is it that metal detectorists have to hide that they cannot countenance anyone from outside seeing what they say and do amongst themselves? Why is it that candid photos and candid remarks are seen as potentially damaging to their image rather than confirming it? Surely if the milieu feels it is in general being misrepresented by their critics, “metal detectorists” should welcome all, conservationists as well, into their ranks to see for themselves what the truth is. They should be seeking such contact as part of their outreach to the British public, the real stakeholders in the past. The fact that they are doing everything to hide their activities from critical scrutiny and disrupt open discussion rather than welcome it and engage in it themselves, is rather telling I feel.

Readers of this blog might try to register with a few British forums and see what gems of “detecting lore” the archives contain. Please pay especial attention to the bits where somebody says to the others “shhh, somebody might be reading this”, or gaps where whole blocks of posts have been deleted…

Photo: Canvey Islanders


Shane Rear said...

Mr Barford,
I would appreciate it if you could forward a valid email address so I may contact you.

Shane Rear

Paul Barford said...

Done, look forward to hearing from you Mr Rear.

Shane Rear said...

No email address received, please send to

Paul Barford said...

Could be because you did not give it time to go through all the servers and spamfilters right across Europe, the Atlantic to Googleland and then across the Atlantic the other way to the Midlands? Anyway I sent it again. Look forward to hearing from you, but am going out right now, so will reply in the evening.

Paul Barford said...

It turns out that Mr Lincoln did not have the permission of Judith Plouviez to disseminate her photo on the metal detecting forum where I found it (still less make commercial use of it as reported here). It has now, I am told, been removed from that forum too.

Anyway, several people have said they prefer the fluffy bunny here to the original photo which was "depressing".

I think it is worth noting however that Suffolk County Council was (as far as I am aware and stand to be corrected) the first to create a relatively comprehensive policy on the organization ad recording of metal detecting rallies well before the PAS head office got their minds together to produce (after a series of problems with rallies , their organizers and participants) a rather wishy-washy half page policy document two (?) years ago. I believe a bigger PAS one is in the pipeline. Not before time.

Paul Barford said...

Canvey Island garden shed-seller "Sheddy" Lincoln has attempted to post two comments to this thread, and while I think his critical comments on the PAS might have been worth discussing (though in a different thread), I have rejected them. I really do not feel inclined to discuss anything with a person who in order to disrupt debate just a few days ago released private contact details on a "metal detecting" forum so that his fellow artefact hunters can harrass the person who lives there. Such people really do not deserve to be treated seriously.

There are several "metal detecting" forums, if people really want to know what Mr Lincoln feels about the PAS, I am sure they can find it there.

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