Monday, 16 January 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: Where are these Artefacts Now?

Recently posted on the Stout Standards anti-preservationist metal detecting blog of US metal detectorist Dick Stout there is a photo of somewhat dated living room decor and heaps of metal detected artefacts from the "late 70's, early 80's". It shows US metal detectorist Archie Ray "with a few of his finds". The photo was captioned "Back then you had to have a photo like that taken. We all did". It shows Mr Ray crouching on the floor in front of several piles of corroded metal artefacts, to the left are some projectiles dug up on some historic battlefield no doubt, right across the foreground is a row of shallow display cases and folders of coin sheets, on the right of the photo  is another row of display cases chock-full of artefacts. That single photograph shows several thousand artefacts dug up by Mr Ray in the course of the (first part of) his detecting 'career'. One wonders just what the point was of digging that many artefacts out of the historic record, what that collector did with them all except heap them as trophies on his living room carpet?

So if every metal detectorist in the late 1970s and 1980s had a comparable collection, and tens of thousands of metal detectorists since then have each been accumulating collections of similar sized for the last three decades, then it may be imagined the scale and rate at which the historical record is being eroded wherever this damaging hobby is practiced. As the older generation of artefact hunters pass away, where do all those finds end up? On ebay, in museums, or in a skip? Oddly enough I cannot see the big pile of notebooks or index cards or whatever Mr Ray would have needed to document the findspot of all those artefacts. Perhaps they are behind the photographer. The historical resource is a finite resource, the more and more past and current generations of self-centres collectors take away, the less there is left for future generations to enjoy.

UPDATE 28th June 2015
Over on Peter Tompa's "Cultural Property Observer" blog, veteran and ailing metal detectorist Dick Stout complains about this post. He claims it is "insulting" to ask where these finds are now. What is more, he uses this imagined insult to justify his virulent vendetta against me (and Nigel Swift) over the last four years, when hardly a week goes by without him publishing insulting remarks about either or both of us on his Stout "Standards" metal-detecting blog.

The man is inconsistent, a while back he was complaining that I showed here the photo of the piles and piles of spoils I was writing about (fair use for the purpose of comment and criticism as far as I am concerned), but nevertheless I removed it at his request. NOW he is complaining: "PB has since removed the photo of my friend, but then that’s nothing new for him". Well, anyway, while this period photo is still being made available by Mr Stout's website, the reader can follow the link and ask themselves the question, what happens to these heaps of loose artefacts dug out of historical sites when the collector passes away or loses interest? Note the absence of any sign that there are labels with these  objects stating where they were found.  This is a perfectly valid question when a finite resource is exploited unsustainably for personal entertainment.  What are the net gains and net losses resulting from this hobbyist's activity?

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