Sunday, 7 August 2011

Archaeologists Supporting Artefact Hunting in Mid-Wales

The "heritage society" (in reality a metal detecting club) of Wrexham has sent yet another comment to a previous post. I did not publish it as it was not phrased in a manner conducive to further discussion of the points raised, though I will answer some of the points here. In my earlier text I had pointed out the gallery labelled "for our local Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust team to place artefacts of interest" and doubling as the "PAS Gallery". I expressed surprise that, if archaeologists from the CPAT and PAS were posting items of interest on the Society's website (why?), it was odd that no findspots were given. After all PAS is all about instilling best practice, and recording and reporting findspots is part of that. The Society's spokesperson queries this ethos:
Do you honestly think we would post find spot data on a very public page Paul??!! I think the local farmers would thank you for that one!
But is not indicating where finds were made what the PAS do? This is how they claim to be allowing the public to learn about the history of their region. This is the whole justification of what the PAS do and part of the bargain between artefact hunter and the public whose archaeological record is being exploited to provide the collectables they seek. The bargain is that the collectors get to keep most of what they find if they provide the public with information about what was found where so it can be recorded for general use. So I really do not see why when the PAS and its CPAT team put information on the WHS website, it allows itself a different approach to the public record from that adopted on its own database.

If the farmers object to this basic information being available, the responsible artefact hunter surely says 'thanks but no thanks' and finds a farmer willing to allow him to operate within the bounds of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales.

So I really do not know what example the "CPAT/PAS team" is setting posting these items on the Society's website without any inkling that this is what the bargain with the main stakeholders in the remains of Britain's past is. The "PAS gallery" of the WHS has less information than an eBay page (because there at lest you get the seller's identity and a price). Come on, PAS, pull your socks up.

I expressed surprise that over in Wrexham the Welsh Portable Antiquities Scheme reportedly actually supports artefact hunting. My correspondent expands on that:
Yes we are supported by the CPAT team in Welshpool, And Mark Lodwick from Cardiff.
So the local archaeological trust actually supports people that seek out and and take archaeological finds from the archaeological sites, thus depleting their information content, taking them away and keeping them in scattered ephemeral personal collections? Archaeologist Mark Lodwick too? Would they come out in public and say so? I'd like to hear it from their own lips, this is scandalous. Are these people members of the IfA? If they support others doing it, do they collect artefacts too?

Actually, I think the public have a right to know. How many of the people working for the PAS actually support artefact hunting and collecting, and in what form, and do these people have any collections of archaeological material (including coins) themselves?

I am told
"Some clubs do not record anything, so i think you should be at least grateful that we do, and all find spot data is collected by Mark Lodwick / Tresure items are reported within the allotted timeframe".
With regard to the latter point, adhering to the law has nothing to do with "detecting best practice" any more than staying at the scene of an accident which you caused when somebody has been seriously injured is "driving best practice".

Let us have a look at the claim made above that the "Wrexham Heritage Society" is a responsible recorder. According to PAS statistics, CPAT has managed this year to record a total of 29 finds in total (1st January - 7th August). They were reported by 17 finders in February, May and July, and all were found with a metal detector. Of them 23 were Medieval and Post-Medieval, and to judge from the year of finding, reporting is not exactly prompt. CPAT does not record metal detector finds from just one club, so these figures include Wrexham Heritage Society information plus potentially some other reporters. Although nowhere on the WHS webpage does it betray how many members the society has, on this video one can see at least twenty people at a club meeting. You can also see a table-top covered with finds made - it would seem - by the guy behind the table (note the lack of transparency on the labels associated with the objects; they only say what the item is, not where it was found nor the PAS record number). Now that looks like more than 2.4 recordable finds a year. So if 17 people reported 1.7 finds each to CPAT in the first part of 2011 in total, how can the Wrexham Heritage Society claim they are responsibly reporting ALL of their finds made with a metal detector? It just does not add up.

What we are seeing here is the same pattern that we see nationwide, a number of metal detectorists are reporting a bare minimum of what they find artefact hunting each year, and on their backs the rest claim "we are all responsible".

This is when the next comment I receive from Mr "IrateWrexhamMan" is that reporting finds to the PAS is "only voluntary, innit" - rather missing the point.

[The figures for Mark Lodwick by the way in distant Cardiff are not much evidence that the reporting of finds by the Wrexham Heritage people is keeping up with what they are taking from the archaeological record, 78 finds this first half year from the whole of Wales, including the heavily detected south, around Cardiff].

I think we may fairly conclude that if CPAT and Dr Lodwick "support" artefact hunting, they are not getting a lot of support FROM artefact hunters in return. The Wrexham Heritage Society metal detecting bloke then goes on to express the opinion:
I think you are very un unprofessional slating responsible metal detectorists.
I simply do not see any evidence here of a satisfactory level of "responsibility". I think it would be very unprofessional of my colleagues to support the sort of activity we see illustrated by the statistics, and call it "responsible artefact hunting". Whether it is technically legal or not, I personally regard it as unprofessional for an archaeologist to support artefact hunting and collecting of objects taken randomly from archaeological sites.

I'd say though that if they really were supportive of the activity and believed in what they were doing and saying, they'd be arguing their case. Where are their personal websites and blogs expressing these views? Why are they not over here sparring with me and the opinions I express which would be so much in opposition to their own ("more progressive") ones? Proving me wrong, preventing me "misleading" any readers that may stumble upon this blog (remember they reportedly dismiss this as the ramblings of a "mouthy twat"). The fact that the only people who actually come over here posing and threatening - but rarely engaging in any serious, open and informed debate - are metal detectorists and collectors, tells us a lot about the ability and willingness of the British archaeological establishment to actualyy defend what they are doing.

I will leave the last word to the metal detectorist in a "heritage society" who would obviously prefer to avoid any kind of substantive debate on the issues surrounding this manner of non-sustainable exploitation of the archaeological record:
i will report this blog to google ....

Vignette: Some Wrexham 'heritage'

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