Saturday, 16 May 2020

My Reply to a "Media Enquiry" I

I quite often get asked to do an interview on this or that related to antiquities. Here's a reply I sent this morning to one. What I imagine happens (always) is that an editor has asked a journalist to do a story on... "hmm, yeah, metal detecting, do one on metal detecting, 1600 words by Thursday at ten, for the Leisure pages". They find a blogger talks an awful lot about metal detectors, gets his contact details, but don't actually delve into the blog contents.... It usually turns out the same journalist wrote last week on beach bars in Benidorm and fake male potency medication scams the week before. Next week he'll be covering a salacious story about a woman's football team coach. So generally the journalists who contact me don't really know what they are going to get phoning Warsaw.  Usually a monologue, because they've not been able to prepare proper questions, and have swallowed the usual PAS-spun crap. So I decided to write to this one to inform them what to expect:
Yes, that’s fine, if Tuesday - after eight, before two, if Weds - after eight, free all day thereafter.
 I’ll talk to you about “nighthawking”, as much as you like.

 Do you know this useful definition of the four types? (the fourth is not always includes in the discussion as much as it should be): 

But I’ll warn you now though that – in contrast to most of my British colleagues – I do not see what you call “nighthawking” as the main problem. This is a cop-out argument, the main problem is that huge numbers of artefacts are dug up and not being reported or recorded, and while that is “not illegal”, it is causing MORE damage to the archaeological record than that which is illegal.

 Britain has about as much of an idea/policy/control of metal detecting as it does about CV-19. My colleagues there will tell you that “a minority” are “nighthawks” (how do they know, who’s measured it?) and the “majority” of metal detector users (ditto) are “law abiding hobbyists passionately interested in the past and contributing to our understanding of it” – you’ve read that in every single news report since 2003(ish) and I am sure some of the people you’ll be talking to (from the PAS and all the others) will be urging you to write that too (it has been repeated uncritically by so many journalists by now that the world really will not miss anthing if you don’t).

 It’s a cover-up excusing inaction. The ‘law’, which is barely any law at all in much of the UK, has nothing to do with it. A legally dug hole causes as much damage to an archaeological site as an illegally dug one. PAS says they’ve got records of  1,495,460 objects within 956,285 records” bravo, hip-hip hooray. But let them answer you how many of the currently estimated 27000 metal detectorists in England and Wales have brought in those finds, and why they’ve not brought in 8 million finds ( If they say that number is “wrong”, ask the PAS for the real, official, figures:
the actual number of active detectorists in England and Wales
the number of artefacts they find a year
and when they say that after 24 years of liaison, they “don’t know”, ask them to explain why.

How is that a “minority”? How is having millions of objects constantly being ripped out of archaeological sites and only one in eight of them ever being known about mitigating the destruction or leading to any “contribution to understanding the past”? How is that in any way acceptable?  
 The people clandestinely pocketing seven out of eight of the (legally) metal detected artefacts are technically not “nighthawks”, but they are doing a massive amount of damage right under everybody’s noses. And that, together with the inability to openly talk about it, is the real problem. This, in my opinion, is the real story.
And of course then there is Scotland, with very clear laws about what to do if you find historical objects, hand them in. The latest estimate is that there are an additional
 1,447 detectorists there, all finding enough stuff to keep them interested in the hobby, yet the Scottish TTU Treasure Reports fairly consistently have annually a few hundred artefacts, even though this includes as well finds made by archaeologists. what is happening to the rest? Why are we not talking about this in terms of that mythical “minority of lawbreakers”?
 all the best Paul Barford

That led to some more questions - I'll put the answer to them in the post below.


Hougenai said...

Yesterday, in conversation with a local detecting club member, the issue came up. He informed of the 'Care' taken and 'the organisers insistence on having a pinpointer in order that they create small, tidy holes'.
In light of this 'rule' he was questioned about what happens if a hoard is found 'rebury , report' as is advised by detecting 'authorities'?. Was I joking? 'There's no way , with other searchers in the field, could it be kept quiet. If it was reburied it would be gone (as some other detectorist would steal it).'
He could not understand at all why I suggested 'surely if organising 30people a time 'club rallies' how difficult would it be to have a procedure in place to guard it (remembering landowners have a considerable interest and would likely contribute in some way). Either by establishing security or even learning how to excavate/record properly. The concept was completely alien.
'We can't get archaeologists out' (so why not highlight and press for dedicated pas staff to do out of hours site visits?). 'I can see the point with roman, but not med hoards-they are far more common and not worth as much' Eh? I started to suggest the interest was much the same, that both could provide detail on the activity, but realised he meant worth £.

At this point, in the name of world peace, I decided to make an exit.
For all the PAS outreach, over so many years, this is still the sort of attitude that is prevalent within the metal detecting community, reinforced every time the club gets together. Clearly it's going to take a lot more than voluntary codes and touchie feelie encouragement to sort out what is happening in the fields of England to the detriment of our understanding the past.

Paul Barford said...

Well, with most of the archaeological world ignoring the issue or in denial, fat hope there is of getting anything to change. You see it, I see it, but jobsworths gonna jobsworth.

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