I've been chatting with some metal detectorists (yes!) over the past few days about the probable effects of the projected TV series "Britain's Secret Treasures" and the ongoing barrage of news reports about even-bigger Treasure finds (now the "ten million pound hoard" from Jersey). The biggest concern of the responsible ones is that this is tending to cause a huge rise in people buying detectors. The economic downturn (and consequent rise in people with no jobs to go to) is leading to people turning to Treasure hunting as a way to find their fortune. As one of them said to me last night "this is going to be a terrible time for the archaeology of Britain, indeed Europe, as the news continues to filter out". And I cannot but agree. British policies on artefact hunting and the way they have been handled have a lot to answer for. Whatever the intentions and reasons behind it (together with the barely-noticeable and ineffective means to counteract it), what has happened over the past fifteen years is that the archaeological record has become to be seen by the general public as a source of "easy money". What should be of paramount concern in both archaeological as well as (responsible) artefact hunting circles is that we are going to be swamped by more ‘Treasure Hunters’ who think they too can make their fortune if they persevere, just one lucky find (c. 800 Treasure finds currently made in England alone in a community of perhaps 8-10 000 tekkies, work out the odds, not too bad are they?). Quite apart from the increased rate of erosion of the archaeological record this will lead to, the PAS will be cutting back its recording operations (perhaps tending more to self-recording in the future) as funds shrink not only in real terms, but relative to the increase in 'clientèle', so an even smaller percent of the hoiked-out artefacts will become part of the public record. More to the point, as the number of metal detector users increases, they’ll find that most of the still-searchable land is taken up already, which itself will lead to a rise in commercial operations as well as a great increase in clandestine and illegal artefact hunting.
I think the public has a right to know, just what plans does the British archaeological establishment have in place to deal with this?
Vignette: British archaeology has a long tradition of ignoring the problems caused by current 'policies' on artefact hunting and collecting.