Saturday, 16 May 2020

My Reply to A Media Enquiry II


There were some more questions from the inquisitive journalist prior to having a phone interview. As my readers know, archaeology is not really rocket science... but look how much explanation a simple topic gets to be when it's an answer to questions about some basic issues:

[questions] [...]
Its a bit complicated

A long explanation, might save time later....

Firstly, Britain has somewhat different approach to antiquities from much of the rest of the world – where antiquities belong to the state, so there all artefact hunting and collecting is illegal.

In Britain, it is legal to look for and collect/buy/sell them.

BUT there are three main divisions within that. England and Wales (together) Scotland and Northern Ireland. THEN on top of that is the Treasure Act which is what I think you are getting confused over.

- In Scotland, you can go artefact hunting (for example metal detecting) whever you like, with the landowner’s permission, UNLESS the site is protected by law (scheduled, site of Special scientific interest etc). BUT almost everything historical you find (with some exceptions) must by law be reported – and then the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) would look at it and decide what should be done, whether it goes to a museum and you get a (market value) reward, whether you (and the landowner) get it back etc. https://treasuretrovescotland.co.uk/found-something/ (check this out too – with reference to the reference of the Scottish system to the Treasure Act of England and Wales https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treasure_trove#Scotland ) So, in Scotland, Illegal metal detecting would be as you say finding something and not reporting it, just hanging onto it. As I said in my first message, over 1000 metal detectorists MUST be finding well over the 2-300 objects that are reported from the whole country each year. They apparently are just digging up stuff and illegally hanging on to it... If that is so, there are a lot of metal detectorists acting illegally in Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, there you actually need a permit to go metal detecting in the first place, and have the obligation to report everything you find. But the whole situation there is so untransparent that I’ve given up trying to find out what’s happening there. Illegal detecting there would be going out without a permit (most of them do that) and keeping what they find (it seems that a lot do that because ver few permits seem to be being applied for) - but to be honest, I’d not write too much on that.

England and Wales , you can go artefact hunting (for example metal detecting) whever you like, with the landowner’s permission, UNLESS the site is protected by law (scheduled, site of Special scientific interest etc). So that’s the same as Scotland BUT the difference is that in England and Wales the 1996 Treasure Act applies (here is the text if you really want to know... http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/24/contents: but it is succinctly summarised in wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treasure_Act_1996).

And I think this is what you meant. If the thing or things you have found fall into that legal definition of “Treasure” (horrible word, because of course archaeological finds are scientific evidence, not Treasure), you are obliged to report it/them within 14 days. If you don’t you go to jail (search the internet or my blog for “Leominster hoard” for a recent case where four guys were jailed for doing precisely that).

But the majority of things artefact hunters/ metal detectorists find do not fall into that definition. Bronze buckles, brooches, seals, iron swords, single finds of Roman coins, Medieval coins, stone age axeheads and so on. All of these are archaeologically significant, but do not fall into the legal definition of Treasure (IMO the law needs to be changed so that they do, in the way that they do in Scotland).

Therefore in England and Wales, they set up the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to record the non-treasure finds. https://finds.org.uk/ https://finds.org.uk/database

Most people belive the spin they put on what they are doing, you may gather that I am more outspokenly critical of it and think it is a huge cop-out, and what they write about themselves and their achievements needs to be read with a critical eye – for what they DO NOT say.

But the theory is that “finders” report what they find so the things can be recorded on a public database – thus saving the information that would be lost of the objects vanished into a private collection or on eBay without a record. It is voluntary – no obligation. Motivations for reporting finds will vary, but the main gain is that the Scheme provides good propaganda for the hobbyists. They make it look OK to dig myriad little holes all over archaeological sites “because we get the information” (this is a false argument, but I’ll leave it there). So then we get foisted on us a picture of these people “helping archaeology” and these are “the good guys” doing it legally, while the bad guys that “get metal detecting a bad name” are those naughty “nighthawks”.

So the propaganda machine gives us a nice cardboard cut-out “enemy of the people” – the law-breaking nighthawks that creep onto people’s property and steal their stuff – or worse go onto protected sites (such as Hadrian’s Wall) pilfering the history.

But it is not black and white at all (Black characters =nighthawks/ white characters =the mythical “majority” that not only do not break any law [because basically the law says they can do what they like, really] and also report all their finds – hooray)

The problem is that the real majority consists of a very large number (and since the PAS hide information about how many detectorists they see each year – we do not know how many that is, but I’ll guess there is a reason they hide those data) of people that ask the landowner nicely, or go to legal commercially organized artefact hunts BUT who report nothing or very little of what they find. These are the very big “grey” area. Neither black, nor white. They are not nighthawks, but neither are they “responsible detectorists” or doing anything useful or ethical. But they are destroying the archaeological record for the sake of collectable for themselves. They are selfishly stealing knowledge from the rest of us, perfectly legally, but unethically. And nobody is talking about them, that therefore allows them to hitch a free ride of shared legitimacy from the people that do responsibly record what they find.

Suppose the PAS were to release the figures of the number of individual detectorists that voluntarily reported NON-TREASURE finds in 2019. What would it be? 6000 maybe? That would leave 21000 who they’ve not had contact with. But I’ll bet the number is lower than 6000.

So that’s what my problem is, of collegues that just want to talk about the black characters. I’d rather see the grey ones scrutinised, and also scrutiny of my jobsworth colleagues that refuse to admit there is even a problem.
And wouldn't it save a lot of words just to ban artefact hunting and artefact collecting in the UK, without all these divisive regulations? 

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