Monday, 10 August 2015

Metal Detecting in the Current Crisis

David Knell ('Time for a thoughtful reduction in UK metal detecting?' Ancient Heritage Sunday, 9 August 2015) poses a pertinent question of responsible artefact hunters:
It is clear that the controversial pastime of metal detecting in the UK, even in cases where finds have been officially reported, has occasionally placed so much strain on limited public funds that the treatment of archaeological sites was compromised and fell short of best standards. One such case, for instance, concerned competing claims on the public purse by events at Creslow and Lenborough in Buckinghamshire during October and December respectively last year. In light of the recent shrinkage of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and other severe cutbacks in funding at both national and county level for the UK heritage sector at the present time, I wonder if British metal detectorists have accordingly scaled down the active pursuit of their hobby to allow scarce and already stretched resources to be focused on priorities such as dealing with genuine chance finds and discoveries or the urgent demands of emergencies and 'rescue archaeology', where sites are actually under immediate threat.
He adds:
There appears to be a strong case for thoughtful detectorists to curtail their digging in potential sites that are not under immediate threat and find other ways to amuse themselves in the meantime until funding to support their hobby in a reasonably responsible way has improved.
and of  course one way to do that is for responsible detectorists to campaign on behalf of expanding and strengthening the Portable Antiquities Scheme - so that is precisely what they failed to do when Roger Bland was desperately seeking support at the beginning of the year and detectorists simply shrugged their shoulders, walked away and ignored the issue, failing even to mention it on their forums let alone discuss any action. The issue of the PAS meltdown is still a non-topic on detecting forums.

UK metal detectorists are always claiming defiantly that their aim is to do public good, by 'rescuing' finds, by reporting them and thus increasing knowledge, and by giving funds from their responsible (reported) searching to charity.  Take away the ability of the PAS to keep up and that behaviour becomes a liability. Knell asks whether the milieu is socially aware enough to respond appropriately to the current situation. I suspect they will unthinkingly adopt the other option, to simply carry on regardless, hang the consequences.


heritageaction said...

It's not metal detecting that is in crisis. It's society's buried knowledge which is going to be lost at an even greater rate.

Stu Rickett said...

As a keen detectorist, I can see a need for better regulation of metal detecting in the UK. I think a licencing scheme would help police the pasttime. If you are caught detecting without a licence you are fined or if caught detecting where you do not have permission you can be fined and lose your licence. A bit like a fishing rod licence. The licence fee could be used to fund the PAS. I think most serious detectorists will be pleased to comply with such a scheme.

I am not sure why metal detectorists are viewed by archaeologists with such contempt. Admittedly there have been examples of criminality involving detectorists stealing artifacts from sites but there have been numerous examples over the years where archaeologists have removed a great number of artifacts from sites and these are on a much larger scale. Egypt was pretty much looted in the early 20th century by so called archaelogists with the artifacts sold all over the world for millions.

Paul Barford said...

"I am not sure why metal detectorists are viewed by archaeologists with such contempt."
Well, they are not are they? Not the responsible ones who detect according to best practice principles and report their finds for recording by the PAS. The problem is this is not the only group of people that go out with metal detectors and hoik where and how they want are report a bare minimum of what they take. But they claim equal footing with the good guys, and that is undeserved. It is not criminal detecting that is the problem, but careless detecting.

What was OK in the nineteenth century is not always OK now, women could not vote and black people had to work as slaves and doctors used bloodletting and mercury.

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