Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The US "Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights"

The UK reportedly has its militant band of anti-preservationist "Minutemen", and the US artefact hunters have banded together to form a "Task Force (sic) for Metal Detecting Rights (sic)". They have a Facebook page and a website. This is what they say its all about:
The Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights Foundation (TFMDRF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating public awareness by promoting and defending the lawful hobby of recreational metal detecting on public use lands and waterways.In recent years our hobby has grown tremendously. Now there are hundreds of thousands of us across America who enjoy this wonderful hobby. Unfortunately many public areas are being "taken away" by local law makers who are clearly overreaching their authority and basing their decisions on misinformation.
So it sounds a bit like the dugup coin dealers' Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild. The Task Force was formed in 1996 in response to the City of New York shutting down all its public parks and beach areas to metal detecting. A primary sponsor is Minelab, the metal detector manufacturer. Other sponsors include "Gold Digger Metal Detectors", New Jersey and "S/W Shooters Supplies and Prospecting". Quelle surprise, eh?

So, how about that then, having public parks gutted of any historic metal artefacts that may be lying there? Why cant these people get permission from private landowners and not help themselves to buried artefacts lying in green spaces protected as public parks?

I think it telling that the group yatters on about collectors' "rights" but there is nothing on their website about collectors' responsibilities. For example, here (like the ACCG) is another group that surely should be actively campaigning for the setting up in the USA of an effective organization for the recording of finds made by members of the public - such as themselves - like Britain's PAS. Yet there is nothing about any kind of activity like that on their website (though I note a letter on the Stout blog from a Harold Lowenfels to Senator Dan Seum advocating such an approach). Surely if this "recreational" and legal hobby is to do "good", it is not by collectors finding things and keeping the objects and the information to themselves. Let us see the ACCG "Collectors' rights" organization join hands with the TFMDRF ("Collectors' rights" too) to get such a nationwide scheme set up.

Is there a TFMDRF Code of Ethics? A TFMDRF definition of responsible metal detecting? I could not see one on their website, just a series of demands that everybody else should accommodate their needs, all collector-typical 'take' and no 'give'.

I must say I am a bit puzzled by their attitude to the recent comments of Professor Matthew Zembo about metal detector users who'd been on the battle site at Battle Hill and taken away some items which sound (from what he was reportedly able to ascertain) like they came from burials. He reportedly likened this to "pot-hunting" (in other words mere artefact hunting for collection):
Zembo calls such people "pot hunters" - people who go through historic sites with metal detectors in hopes of finding an artifact to sell or add to a private collection.
Now if the artefacts taken by metal detector users from Battle Hill did not end up in a private collection of some artefact hunter or collector, in what public institution are they housed, and how did they get there?

On their facebook page however the TFMDRF (and on their website) call what he said "obscene and irresponsible accusations" and urge their supporters to
voic[e] your concerns regarding his irresponsible accusations, and request [that] Professor Zembo retract his statements in a followup article. You can contact him directly, Matthew Zembo Phone: [...] E-email: [...] and also copy the history department chairperson, Peter R. Sawyer, Ph.D. Phone: [...] E-mail: [...]
Now, we am told there are thousands of responsible metal detectorists in the UK who would never use their machines to hoover collectables out of a historic site of this nature leaving them unrecorded in the manner reported by Prof. Zembo's informant, still less dig into historic burials in the hope of finding collectable (or saleable) metal artefacts. Just as the TFMDRF are urging their metal detecting members to contact (harass) Professors Zembo and Sawyer, I wonder whether the responsible detectorists of the UK will be writing to express their support of the criticism of such irresponsible treatment of a historic site. Let's see.

I'm on Prof Zembo's side here. Let us call a spade a spade and "metal detecting" artefact hunting, and ask what is the difference between (metal) artefact hunting and collecting and (pot) artefact hunting and collecting? Let the TFMDRF explain that first.

Vignette: TFMDRF logo.

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