Saturday, 21 May 2011

PAS: Missing and Avoiding the Point

If any of us had suspicions that the PAS is 'losing it', they really seem confirmed by the latest pronouncement to emerge from their Bloomsbury head office. I have previously discussed (probably several times) the new trend towards so-called "depth advantage" (I would call them 'site-wrecker') metal detectors. I think Heritage Action also has drawn attention to the 'buzz' about them on the detecting forums. You might therefore have expected PAS to be aware that such things exist and that tekkies are discussing them excitedly. Then I have also mentioned here several types of metal detector disguised as something else (like the 'Rover Undercover') which their manufacturers say are designed to be used in situations where the artefact hunter 'does not want to attract attention' to the fact they are metal detecting there. Heritage Action decided it would be a good idea to ask PAS about what they are doing about these new trends in an effort to encourage "best practice" among "finders". So they sent them a question.
Question Posed: “Has PAS ensured that every landowner is aware there are metal detectors disguised as walking sticks and a new generation of deep-seeking metal detectors that pose a potential threat to archaeology?
Seems like a pretty simple question, not a tricky one at all. British antiquities preservation legislation, such as it is, has its origins in Queen Victoria's day and as such places the responsibility for looking after the buried heritage on the educated class of the day, which was the landowner. And so it remains today, in the case of unscheduled archaeological sites it is the landowner who says who can go on them and plunder them for collectables. As such, Heritage Action has always had the perfectly reasonable standpoint that if we want to protect and preserve the archaeological record, British archaeology should be doing active outreach to landowners to persuade them to (and tell them how best they can from an archaeological point of view) look after the archaeological sites on their land. Like hedges and wildlife.

So it seems to HA (and to me) that to fulfil this role properly includes keeping landowners and land users fully appraised of the threats. In that context, alerting them to the fact that some firms are developing metal detectors disguised as other objects so dishonest users can avoid getting caught artefact hunting where they should not, is entirely justified. Let landowners keep a look out for such machines and consider throwing anyone off their land who is carrying one. Equally, artefact hunters who turn up with 'site wrecker' machines are not the "harmless hobbyists just taking things from the topsoil" they claim to be. Again, the informed landowner (for example those taking part in Environmental Stewardship schemes) might consider whether such machines are not damaging the archaeological heritage and ban their use on their property.

Now HA and I happen to feel that PAS does not do enough to keep landowners informed about what artefact hunting is about, vide the farce over the PAS landowner leaflet. They are afraid (yes) of the reaction of the tekkies, who have made their opinions about this 'going behind their back' (sic) known. So actually I have the feeling they were expecting a short answer to their simple question: "no".

The answer that was received was extremely surprising. It showed above all that PAS did not understand the question!!
Response by PAS:In response to your question dated 28th April 2011, Roger Bland has asked me to state: Probes such as this have been on the market for several years. They are used to locate the precise location of a metal object within a block of soil once this has been located by the search head of a metal detector. We do not think contacting every landowner to alert them to existence of these devices is either necessary or practicable.”
"Probes such as this?" Roger Bland, the Head of the PAS seems from his reply not to be terribly clued up about the tools of the "finders" with whom his Scheme is in a "partnership". That is pretty astounding, actually. He is confusing the tools to which Heritage Action refers with the pinpoint probes I discussed here earlier. But what HA was talking about are not “probes”, they are metal detectors.
The manufacturers refer to them as that and nothing else and promote them for use in scanning the ground and nothing else. There is in fact no confusion whatsoever about their intended or actual use. One does not require something “disguised as a walking stick” to use as a probe in conjunction with another metal detector. One does need something disguised as a walking stick in order to search in the way the manufacturers indicate – “in areas where you couldn’t with common detectors… without arousing public interest” and to “scan places you never could scan before”. There can be no doubt these machines would be objects of desire for nighthawks (or to be precise in this case, dayhawks), people intent on detecting without anyone knowing.
As HA points out, it is difficult to see how it can be said that it is "not necessary" to keep landowners involved about new developments which could facilitate illegal artefact hunting on their land.

But look how the second element of the question was simply ignored. The PAS totally ignored the bit of the question which asked for its position on "a new generation of deep-seeking metal detectors that pose a potential threat to archaeology?" (I would not have used the word "potential", they DO pose a threat to buried archaeology). That is just a total cop-out.

I suggest next time Heritage Action should go instead and ask the pigeons in Bloomsbury Square, they'd probably get an equally sensible answer to their questions from them than from inside the British Museum.

1 comment:

heritageaction said...

Perhaps burying your head in the sand is considered a rather apt reaction to the advent of deep seeking metal detectors! I guess a "policy" towards them will be published in due course, perhaps jointly with others. The issue can't just be left, there but not there, like Mumbo, Schroedinger's Jumbo. Let us hope when a statement is released it won't have been emasculated as a result of being run past the NCMD! Can you imagine.... "Site breaker machines are perfectly OK as all detectorists except a tiny minority of criminal nighthawks stop digging at 9 inches - or far earlier if they feel damage is being done!"

As for the PAS policy on detectors disguised as walking sticks, it currently comprises broadcasting a fiction and leaving farmers in a damaging state of ignorance and vulnerability so it will HAVE to be amended straight away.

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