.The Southampton Historical Museum in New York State now has a metal detecting club, called grandly an "Artifact Detecting Team" (ADT). The idea is that it will arrange access to privately owned land with historical sites on it and then charge metal detectorists a fee to search it and the artefact hunters get to keep what they find. Apparently, there is a lack in the USA of "places where a metal detecting enthusiast could potentially make a relic find such as a coin, button, buckle or other item that dates back to the period of pre and post Revolutionary America. Any item found within this time frame is typically a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for these metal detecting hobbyists". Barry Small, a Long Island resident and metal detecting artefact hunter who will be running the scheme for the museum says: "The unique combination of the colonial history in the Southampton area and the potential access to historically significant sites, large private estates and undeveloped pristine farmland makes for a metal detecting dream opportunity".
"Barry approached the museum with a unique and detailed proposal to help raise funds" said Tom Edmonds, executive director of the museum. By gathering fees from artefact hunters for arranging access to land, the museum hopes this way to raise funds for "historical preservation" (that means maintaining its own assets). This is achieved however at the expense of the preservation of the historical resources of other historical sites in the region (ones which are not formally part of its own assets). The museum refers to this scheme with that horrible cliche as a "win-win situation". But it is not a win for the archaeological record of those historical sites still surviving rampant redevelopment in Southampton's backyards and farm fields, some going back to the colonial period. That is compromised rather than being preserved. That does not seem like a "win win" situation to me.
The museum describes this dismantling of parts of the region's archaeological resource as "getting creative" and boasts of its ability to "tap into a heretofore unknown source of funding driven by the passion to uncover local history". Not at all "unknown", commercial metal detecting rallies are a well-known feature of the landscape of archaeological destruction in other countries.
"My proposal was to create an annual dues paying, membership-driven Team of metal detecting hobbyists who would pay daily detecting fees directly to the non-profit Southampton Historical Museum for the opportunity to metal detect on various historical and estate sites and plowed farmlands which date back to their settlement in the early 1700s," said Small. The museum would be getting the appropriate permission from the landowners, as necessary. [...] "This past fall I had the opportunity to metal detect on some Southampton area farmland and made some great 1700's era finds. I was immediately hooked," said Small. "After such a great opportunity I was racking my brain for months trying to figure out how to gain access to these historically rich properties. I knew that I would be willing to pay at least $100 per day to detect these pristine farm sites and even more for access to significant historical or estate properties that had never seen a metal detector before and believed that others around the country would feel the same way too".[...] Edmonds added, "We will be recording the specific locations of any significant finds that are made by the Team members for further examination and investigation by the museum's trustees".So in other words, the metal detectorists knows that if he knocked on the door of a conservation conscious landowner and asked if he could loot historical sites on their land for collectable (and possibly saleable) items, they could well meet with a refusal, but if the museum asked, permission might be forthcoming. Another advantage for the hobbyist is that it craftily places all the administrative costs (drawing up and signing agreements with landowners, third party liability insurance etc) as well as the task of documenting significant finds on the museum. The detectorist just pays a reasonable fee for which they can carry off as many archaeological treasures as they can find. Should not museums be educating the public about the destructiveness of the commercial exploitation of the archaeological resource by artefact collectors, and not themselves profiting from it? What are they thinking of?
[We Europeans might find it hard getting our heads round the idea that finding something from before the 1770s as a "once in a lifetime experience"! Still, whatever turns you on... Anyway if the culture hooligans are only trashing sites with post-1600 metal objects in the search of collectables, they are only damaging a small part of the archaeological record of the long history of mankind on the North American continent].
Vignette: more archaeological deposits damaged for the benefit of garden shed collectors.