Saturday, 13 June 2009

What amuses "metal detectorists"

To judge by the discourse on their forums, UK "metal detectorists" do not in general have a very sophisticated taste in humour. They are fairly simple folk and there are few exceptions that in jest can extend beyond the level of schoolyard "knock knock" and "tit and bum (snigger, snigger)" jokes. One droll individual however was a little more ambitious.
On the Times Online is an article of 10th July about a group of Neolithic long barrows at Damerham “near Stonehenge” (actually 15 miles from it – hardly “near” in Neolithic terms) discovered by aerial photography. So far the site has been examined by non-invasive means. The investigator, Dr Helen Wickstead says whether they are excavated or not “will depend on local feeling […] we’re treading very carefully on the excavation issue […] we want to be sure that it’s what people living in Damerham village want. It’s their heritage.”

There are some reader’s comments, and one “Steve” from London wrote “Are you people crazy? Print the name of the place and the fact that there's untouched barrows there - you might as well give every putative tomb raider a metal detector and a shovel. They'll all be on Google Earth now, just looking for these barrows. Took me 30 seconds to find some candidates...”.

Mr Steve may be good on Google Earth, but obviously does not know that in Britain you are supposed to call all men with metal detectors “partners with archaeology” and “heritage heroes” and not “tomb raiders”.

Anyhow a “metal detectorist” just back from the pub reading this clearly thought this is an issue I would have something to say on, but instead of waiting for me to express an opinion, they decided to send a reply for me.
So falsely calling themselves “Paul Barford, Warsaw, Poland” wrote:
“This is the Nations Heritage and should be excavated as soon as possible to see what lays beneath the soil and what grave goods were buried with the bodies. Why should the villagers feelings come into this?. They never took a blind bit of notice of some humps and bumps until now so dig it I say.”
[You can tell it’s a metal detectorist because they cannot use apostrophes, it is one of the conditions of becoming one it seems]. I am heartened to see that members of the apostrophe-using Times-reading public reacted to this in the correct manner:
Perhaps Mr Barford might want to consider how selfish he is being with his 'dig it up' attitude and disregard for local people. It's all very well wanting to dig up the grave for your own selfish enjoyment of history but it has remained untouched for thousands of years until now so why disturb it? Sue Crawford, Plymouth.
So I guess Ms Crawford is not a “metal detectorist”. Good for her !

Joel Darlow, London writes:
“Bit of a joke someone from Poland saying dig up Britains heritage for a bit of sport by nabbing grave goods and then saying they don't give a monkeys about the locals thoughts on the matter”.
Good for you Joe, what do you think about US coin collectors buying “British dugups” taken from Roman sites without as much as a by your leave? They do not give a monkeys either.

Sue Newton from Brighton claims to know who I am:
“Paul Barford is a well know (sic) archaeological agitator and radical heritigite (sic) so no suprise he wants to dig it up for entertainment and profit. Just leave it be as nature and our predecessors intended. It is after all a burial place so deserves respect”
Hmmm. I’m going to take a guess that Sue Newton (if its her real name) is a “metal detectorist” (“well know”, "heritig[e]") and is taking the mickey with her use of the phrase “dig it up for entertainment and profit”. Maybe Sue Newton would like to say whether in her opinion UK "metal detectorists" leave burial places alone, or can we currently see a lot of Anglo-Saxon personal ornaments goods on the British antiquities market coming from the emptying of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries onto eBay, Sue? If that is not grave robbing for entertainment and profit, what is? (Not to mention the bloke that was searching the site of a crashed WW2 aircraft apparently without a permit we discused here earlier too). If Sue Newton is not a "heritagite", how would she describe herself I wonder?

What is interesting however is that to judge from the comments, a fair number of the apostrophe-using readers of “the Times” are mostly in favour of protecting the archaeological heritage and not using it up randomly for short-term aims, which is what the real Paul Barford would advocate.

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