Sunday, 1 May 2011

Detectorists: "a Stake Through the Heart of this Rotten and Putrid Heritage System"

An East Anglian metal detectorist sent this to me a while back saying it was 'going the rounds'. I initially assumed it was a joke with its "jackboot" and "minutemen" analogies, but it seems not to be because I discovered the other day that there is a near-identical copy on the internet posted last year by an American metal detectorist (scroll down) who seems to think there is a Thirty Year War going on over here. I suspect this text might be the product of US military personnel stationed in East Anglia, some of whom are known to be artefact hunters, but the fact that it seems to be circulating in UK artefact hunting circles too suggests that whoever these people are, all this expensive archaeological outreach to British artefact hunters seems not to be paying off all that well, does it? This is what the anonymous authors write:

Minutemen-UK is a newly formed organisation ad hoc, to counter and stem the flow of anti-metal detecting disinformation and propaganda spewing like untreated sewage from the Council for British Archaeology and its callow cronies.

This educational charity (# 287815) has become increasingly aggressive towards law-abiding detectorists and treasure hunters during its thirty-year crusade to eradicate them in a purge amounting to an academic equivalent of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’.

Minutemen-UK takes its name and inspiration from the resistance fighters who were part of the American colonial militia during the American Revolutionary War. They provided a highly mobile, rapidly deployed force that allowed the colonies to respond immediately to military threats. The CBA’s pompous sounding Director, Mike Heyworth, writing in the 2010 March/April edition of British Archaeology (the CBA’s equally self-important bi-monthly rag) crowed:-

…“Members of the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) laid down amendments to the coroners and criminal justice bill, and, after behind the scenes negotiations with ministers and officials, a number of these were accepted by the government and voted into law.”

No prizes for guessing who suggested the amendments to APPAG in the first place. Heyworth goes on to outline life under the heel of archaeology’s jackboot:-

“When the legislation comes into effect, there will be a legal duty on those who acquire objects which they believe to be "treasure" to report them to the coroner, if there is no evidence that such a report has already been made. This tackles the loophole whereby there is currently no obligation to report an object to a coroner if the finder passed it on by one means or another. Most importantly, the law will include a presumption that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, an object will have been found after September 24 1997 (when the Treasure Act 1996 came into effect) and in England and Wales. So unless someone can prove otherwise, something that could legally be treasure, is.”

When he’s not Directing the CBA’s gofers from its York headquarters (dubbed, the Führerbunker, by his less sycophantic colleagues), Heyworth unsurprisingly, is the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group’s (APPAG) Secretary - on behalf of the Archaeology Forum – a forum supporting the work of APPAG, and provides a secretariat function for the APPAG. So, no vested interests here then.

This latest spate of CBA-inspired malice, whilst being an affront to British justice and democracy, is simply another layer of bureaucracy that’s going to cost the already hard-pressed taxpayer untold millions to implement at no advantage to those of us who are forced into picking up the tab for these hare-brained schemes. This latest jolly wheeze from Planet York is nothing less than a job creation scheme for the boys and sundry chums - a scheme that no-one outside of archaeology wants, needs, or cares about.

Neither is right nor proper that an educational charity like the CBA (patron the HRH Prince of Wales) should campaign to resurrect the kind of legislation that died during1945-46 at the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal. One of the CBA inspired APPAG proposals flagrantly breaches Article 6.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which reads the right of every person charged with a criminal offence to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law. Astoundingly, few (if any) Members of Parliament have grasped this fact, including the usually astute Labour MP Paul Flynn, usually a keen supporter of Human Rights legislation and who incredibly sits on the APPAG!

Therefore to help us to help you, please write to your own MP’s asking whether they support the Council for British Archaeology’s proposed amendments to the 1996 Treasure Act, Coroners Bill, and the Criminal Justice Bill and ask them what they think of ‘behind the scenes’ law making, and what are they going to do about new laws that contravene European Human Rights legislation. We’ll publish their replies on our new website (currently under construction).

We all support sensible heritage legislation, but legislation characterized by justice, impartiality, openness, and which is fair to all. The common heritage is not, and must never become an exclusive theme park for a few well connected academics, which is liable to happen if CBA and the comrades get their way.

Our common past is already partially ruled by a lofty, self-appointed, self-interested, and self-styled elite. It is a world where there is no place for free thinking amateurs who constantly capture the public imagination with their spectacular finds leaving orthodox archaeology bobbing in their wake. It is a world of scheming archaeological spin-doctors, compliant legislators and backside-kissing committees of all kinds; of secret trysts in dark corners, where, like illicit lovers they plan their grimy deeds.


Neither do we. If you are involved in metal detecting, treasure hunting, coin collecting, even archaeology, or just simply opposed to covert political tactics and are fed-up with the nefarious goings-on behind closed doors, then help us drive a stake through the heart of this putrid heritage system.

We don’t want your money, just your support with letter writing when called upon. If you want a better system that recognises the amateur contribution to our common past, and to protect your rights to go about your hobby unhindered, then lend us you support.
The Minutemen-UK

It is typical of the milieu that they cannot even get their metaphors to match, the Nazi and Commie parallels mixed with the homophobic remarks lack only a racial slur or two to reflect the worst of barstool rhetoric.

Well, we have all seen metal detectorists' attempts to "to counter and stem the flow of anti-metal detecting disinformation and propaganda" before. None of it ever gets any more sophisticated than glib denials of the facts and inflammatory innuendos and personal attacks (like we see above) a la "Candice Jarman" a typical and telling exemplar of the genre.

Let us have a look at what has got these "minutemen" reaching for their pitchforks. The problem is that if somebody is selling a piece of illegally obtained (ie unreported) Treasure on eBay (say) and the PAS (or somebody) says, "I say! what's that there my good man? Why is it not reported?" all the dodgy dealer currently has to say is: "Oh its orl right, guv, innit? My Dad dug it up in the garding in 1952 and its been in the family fer years, mate !". Nobody can at present touch them for it, even if its an outright lie and the object was in fact looted last weekend.

Basically the idea of the proposed change is that any newly surfaced item or items falling into the definition of Treasure should undergo an inquest to determine the circumstances of finding (the purpose of the inquest) and whether it is or is not therefore Treasure. When it is not, the owner gets it back with a piece of paper saying so, so they don't have to go through the process again when the item surfaces anew. If it is deemed treasure, the owner gets to sell it to the state for the full market value as determined by the TVC. By the way this is not "jobs for the (archaeological) boys", the inquest is carried out by the Coroner. That is not Nazism, it is an attempt to curb the abuse of the system that we are aware is happening through a loophole in the current law. In what way is this unfair?

This obviously refers only to currently undeclared items. Now, basically anyone who has at home an object of Treasure-quality legitimately found before 1997 really should (morally, though there is no legal compunction) have recorded such an item through the PAS anyway; only a very selfish collector would shut such an item away and keep it to themselves (and of course if this has been done and there is already a record that it was found in Joe Bloggs' garden before the Treasure Act came into force in the PAS database, there is no need for a Treasure inquest). It is of course in the finder's/collector's own interest anyway to have a record of legitimate ownership in a public repository in case the object is challenged upon sale or disposal later. So I find it difficult to understand why there would be gold or silver items of Treasure quality found in England and Wales before 1997 that now (in 2011) nobody is yet aware of. Anyway, this proposed legislation would ensure that knowledge of them gets into the public domain, and that selfish collectors who have shut them away are thwarted to keep the public's loss a secret.

Perhaps that is what the Minutemen are worried about - but should they be? If that is what they want to fight, then surely all the so-called "anti-metal detecting disinformation and propaganda" is entirely vindicated. It is as treasure-concealing selfish bastards that this "anti-metal detecting disinformation and propaganda" presents them, and the Minutemen-UK detectorists seem to be confirming this very image.

It seems to me there is a huge conflict between the one aim noted above "recognises the amateur contribution to our common past", ie collectors who contribute by showing what they've found and, "and to protect your rights to go about your hobby unhindered", ie to hide away what you've found when it suits you. You can't contribute without contributing, can you?

Millions of pounds of public outreach have done a lot to legitimise the hobby of artefact hunting and collecting in the public eye, to promote the picture that these people really want to contribute by showing what they've found, which allegedly the vast majority will willingly do if Britain spends millions of pounds providing the opportunity (only a very small minority of black sheep 'who are not real detectorists' will not act responsibly). Here we see that the reality behind this myth is somewhat different.

Note that the element of this allegedly "Rotten and Putrid Heritage System" this group is targeting is the very Treasure Act that other collectors (especially in the US) claim is the "only way forward" and the "fairest system in the world". So, which is it? Is the Treasure Act Fairness incarnate, or Nazi jackboots on the throat of the collector?

We look forward to the Detectorist Minutemen coming forward and showing their hand and shaking everybody out of their complacency about what most British artefact hunters really want - to go about their hobby unhindered by any requirement to show anybody anything much and not have to say where they got anything from. This is entirely the antithesis of the PAS "best practice" ethos of course. Collectors should note that it was the CBA which was (and is) behind the shift away from the Detector wars (thirty years AGO, Mr Stout) to the current system of liaison with responsible artefact hunters. The emphasis of course in on the adjective 'responsible', the problem is that it is emerging that the number of detector users in the UK whose activities can be counted as truly and consistently responsible is by no means as high as the supporters of "partnership" with artefact hunters would have us all believe.

Vignette: Detectorists on the march to put a stake through the heart of the Treasure Act reform

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