Monday, 16 December 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Jan 2014 Issues of "Treasure Hunting" and "The Searcher"

I gave up taking Treasure Hunter magazine a long time ago, on doctor's orders, but the January 2014 number has the delayed PAS Annual Report for 2012 in it, so I asked Nigel Swift to send me a copy. I also asked him for the Searcher with FLO David Williams' "report" of the find of an apparently "planted" Balkan brooch found on a UK on a rally since Williams himself had been less than forthcoming. Both are now on my desk, thanks Nigel. There is much here to think about, the highlighter pen has been busy, some quotable quotes will be appearing here over the next few days no doubt. The PAS report raises its own problems. The Searcher has an article called "How to Research your sites (sic) and increase your finds rate" by David Villenueva which needs to be read by all PAS-supporters. I doubt though that they will.And that brooch of course turns out not to be what Williams says it is - more of all that later.

For those who'd not dirty their hands with press like this, its worth pointing out that apart from "Bob Scraggett found this and Bazza T. of Sarfend found that" news stories, and whole long sections on the identification of finds (bypassing the PAS) and how much they are worth (which the PAS will not tell you), these magazines are chock-full of advertising. This may be categorised as falling into three main types:
a) Metal detectors, of course - mostly photographed from weird foreshortened angles to make them look interesting (the Minelab Christmas greetings on the verso of the cover of both The Searcher and Treasure Hunter however is so corny you want to vomit into your ML finds pouch).
b) Then there are the auction sites telling all those people "in it fer th' 'istry not the munny" how much money other detectorists have made flogging off the "istry" they find (TimeLine and Brett Hammond figure large in both magazines). These adverts (and TH's Auction Roundup just a few pages before the PAS report) run completely counter to the official propaganda of the hobby.
c) The third type of adverts are the booksellers with their offers of weighty tomes on the history of England and Wales allowing the amateur history-hunter to deepen their growing knowledge of the history of Britain allowing them to make a contribution to the historical debate. This category of adverts is... notable for its total absence from both publications. The only books offered are "how to find more stuff" type manuals and "how to work out what your stuff is" guides.

The emphasis on the if-you-flog-it-off-monetary-worth of finds is quite telling. What however is noteworthy that when the Portable Antiquities Scheme publish their annual report IN these magazines (thanking the magazine owners for their financial support), they really cannot ignore this. Yet just a few days ago Mike Lewis writing of a hobby in which only "a relatively small minority of individuals" have any interest in financial gain. I think the publishers of both magazines have a pretty good idea of what interests their readers (otherwise one or the other would no longer be in business) and information repeated throughout the pages of both of them on the financial worth of the artefacts pictured most certainly goes to prove that Lewis is either out of touch, or trying to mislead us. Either I would say in the circumstances is reprehensible, can't the PAS just tell it like it is?

I'll come on to another feature of these magazines and what Dr Lewis said in a post below this.

There seems a bit of effort made in both magazines to show some examples of good relations between artefact hunters and archaeologists. The Searcher is making more effort here this month. There is an article by Steve Gaunt about detectorists involved in salvage work on building sites in Northeast Croatia (pp. 16-17), then a bowldlerised account of the Witherley burial which forced the local archaeologists to step in (pp19-21) an interview with archaeologist Steven Young about archie-friendly detectorist Dave Derby (pp60-63) [with photos of his "records" - what's missing?]. The number finishes up with a section on British "pontin" (sic, p.7) coins by Mike Sinclair. Wow. The author of this text (pp. 66-8) nowhere gives a hint about (let alone a reference to) his sources, my guess is an article or two of Warwick Rodwell and Barry Cunliffe from about 1977-1982? Is this really the best archaeology's partners can do? Why in a text written for amateur history hunters is no information given to "where you can find more information" (or do we assume that they'll go no further than Wikipedia anyway)? Treasure Hunter has an article by Kevin Woodroffe "Working in Harmony" (pp 112-115) about his experiences working with archaeologists in Pembrokeshire.

The end of the latter article illustrates the totally superficial approach adopted by both magazines, this seems be a simple formula: show them a few selected examples, avoid addressing certain issues, and fob them off with a couple of glib soundbites and our critics will go away. Thus Woodroffe concludes
"If any FLOs [sic] and archaeologists are reading this article, I would like to say that few present-day detectorists are out to "plunder and pillage" the history of our land. Those who may have been involved in such activities in the past are a dying breed".
Who is he trying to kid? No they are not, there are thousands of them out there digging up stuff with no proper records from right under the archaeologists' noses. These issues are not going to go away just because artefact hunters do not want to talk about them.

Finally, the imprint of Treasure Hunter says it is printed in Great Britain, that it may be, but the print quality is atrocious, not much better than Communist bloc publications of the 1980s. I'd be interested to know where they get that awful paper from and what it is made of. There is no point the PAS using Treasure Hunter as a journal of record if it is printed on substandard acidic paper that in three decades is going to be brittle and browning. 

My previous comments on The Searcher',  Detecting Under the Microscope: "The Informed Voice of metal Detecting"   Wednesday, 16 May 2012 - nothing has changed much.


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