Saturday, 28 March 2015

UK Metal Detectorists Confused

Detectorist-admiring MP
Thinking comes hard to many metal detectorists. They cannot really work out what the issues are with their hobby ("it's legal innit?"). Attempts to explain it go in one ear and out the other, as what they say and write proves time and time again. They prefer to listen to people who say "you done good" of other-such FLO fluff. Detectorist John Winter well remembers a winter day back in 2007 when somebody said something nice about artefact hunters ('Bazza Thugwit … still a National Treasure!', 15 March 2015). It happened at the launch of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Annual Reports held at the British Museum. They stressed that there had been a huge increase in the recording and reporting of Treasure over the previous few years.
David Lammy MP, the then Minister for Culture, said in his introductory speech [...] referred to metal detectorists as “… the unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage”, and “detectorists are finding more than ever before [...]” That was our finest hour. 
Mr Winter then presents what he says is the "continuing contrivbution" of artefact hunters to "how our understanding of our history owes a lot to the metal detectorist", annd [this is a common theme in tekkie rhetoric] "All this has been accomplished not because of archaeologists or academics but in spite of them". He then shows a"selection of “Nationally Significant” Detectorist finds of the last few years". We note they are all Treasure finds, the reporting of which is mandatory:
1.  a hoard consisting of 17 gold staters and 9 silver units Record ID: BUC-6877F8 
2 – hoard of Roman gold coins found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire. 
3 – The Shrewsbury Hoard of 9,315 bronze Roman coins 
4 – The Silverdale Hoard 
5 – The Jersey Hoard of 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins
6 – The Lowside Quarter Hoard
7 – The Lenborough Hoard of 5,000 late Anglo-Saxon silver coins
8 – The Frome Hoard  160kg Roman coin hoard
10 – The Big Scottish Coin Hoard Tywnholm, 

Quelle suprise, eh? Some 16000 folk go out with an electronic tool to find metal, and... they find metal! Now there are two types of archaeological metal in current UK policy, those that any finder has by law to report to the Coroner (but then he gets a big juicy cash handout - you don't get them from reporting dead bodies to the Coroner) and there are those you don't. For the latter there is a voluntary system for reporting. Now I imagine that the cash handout means that most hoards that are found get reported - as above. We get the knowledge (oh yes, people in the past minted coins and sometimes buried large numbers of them in one place - that is basically what we are "learning" about the past from the above hoards - but we already knew that from hoards found and reported since the eighteenth century). What we are not getting is preservation or even proper investigation of the below-ground stratigraphy from which every one of those hoards originated, or their surrounding context.  Sites like the Staffordshire hoard having been located by the metal detectorist searching the brow of a hill overlooking a Roman road where it crosses a stream are now being pilfered of anything that the wider context provides, disappearing into the pockets and collections of people with metal detectors and leaving the field trampled and full of holes (some even infilled in the dark).

What about all the unreported non-Treasure finds being removed randomly from various bits of the archaeological record? How many are there? The PAS have done some calculations and according to their figures (which more or less correspond with those predicted several years earlier by the HA Artefact Erosion Counter) it comes out that these heritage heroes might be making off with three quarters of the reportable artefacts they hoik out and these are simply disappearing without anyone seeing them. Now I call that knowledge theft, I do not consider that any form of heritage heroism, and it certainly is not only not adding to our ability to learn about the past from the bits of the archaeological record thus exploited, but by selectively removing most of it, is distorting in a manner which is unmeasurable, what is left. These are facts. This is the problem with current policies, they are not producing the results glibly claimed. What is actually happening pure selfish oikism by small minded men with their tunnel vision and artefact-searching tools, which do a huge disservice to Britain's national heritage and those detectorists who do report their finds.  And I challenge John Winter to show it is not - without the ad hominems and childish pretended horror of using the names of those who raise these issues. 

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