Tuesday 25 November 2008

Does Scotland have a "metal detecting" problem?

Scotland is a huge and culturally advanced country lying to the north of England, it has a population of over 5 100 000. As we all know, under Scottish law all portable antiquities of archaeological, historical or cultural significance are subject to claim by the Crown through the Treasure Trove system and must be reported. It is interesting to look at Appendix 4 ("Finders who reported finds in this reporting year") listed in the latest Scottish Treasure Trove Report. How many people reported archaeological finds as the law demands? A massive 31 people, a total which includes "metal detectorists" and non-"metal detecting" members of the public. The reporting metal detectorists of Scotland are not enough to even fill a bus to Edinburgh.

Now there are some gentle-folk who suggest helpfully that if there was a Scottish PAS they'd become "educated" and encouraged to report.

The idea of extending the "community engagement" and "partnership" of the PAS to the metal detectorists of Scotland is not really a good idea. Outreaching to a group that appear to be guilty of law-breaking on a mass scale by offering them the opportunity to report finds voluntarily would rightly make Britain an international laughing stock.


Roger Bland said...

I don't know what `gentle folk' may have said, but importantly the Normand Report of 2003 (The Reform of Treasure Trove Arrangements in Scotland, Scottish Executive 2003) did recommend not a Scottish PAS but liaison officers. There should be no difficulty in combining Finds Liaison Officer posts with a legal obligation to report all finds: after all in England and Wales FLOs spend 5-10% of their time advising on Treasure and the Treasure statistics show clearly their impact on that. Equally, the Scottish Treasure Trove statistics show a decline in Treasure Trove cases since 2003, demonstrating that the legal obligation to report finds on its own does not ensure that this happens: this obligation has to be backed up posts with a proactive role in ensuring it works.

Paul Barford said...

Roger, thanks for taking time to comment, it’s much appreciated.

It was the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group I think that suggested that the Government should provide resources for schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland analogous to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales, the most important part of which would indeed by liaison officers engaged in outreach. I think though that the problems in Scotland are a signal that its not only a lack of “awareness” and outreach that are behind this. The Normand report hinted at a few other areas which need reassessment. I think an important consideration in the area that interests me most here is that metal detector using collectors are not willing to lose their collectables to enhance public collections, not even for a reward. I think far too frequently in the public rhetoric they are presented as "detectorists" ("finders") rather than collectors.

Paul Barford said...

I should add that a Scottish archaeologist has contacted me off-list with several brief posts suggesting that the 2008 Scottish Treasure Trove report in some way does not reflect the true situation about Treasure Trove in Scotland (or something, it was a bit incoherent). He taunts that "I'd got it all wrong", but refused to say where. I invited him to express his doubts by sending a comment to this blog.

He declined, saying he was too busy as he was just off to "save archaeology" and that the debate on artefact collecting is anyway a "periphaeral issue".

I would argue that on the contrary, it is indeed central to what archaeology is about. It is about preserving the archaeological resource from needless erosion.

Sadly over the past decade or so "progressive (pro-collecting) archaeologists" in England and wales have convinced the public
that "anything goes (as long as we get the gold and silver things)" and that exploiters and eroders of the resources as a whole are some kind of "heritage heroes", and collecting loose artefacts is in some way "archaeology for all".

As the financial crisis bites deeper in the UK, it seems to me that British archaeology now has some explaining to the public to do why THEY (archaeologists) are the heritage heroes that the public should now fork out cash for, when its the metal detectorists that finds that "all-important" Treasure and are "doing archaeology" (at no cost to the taxpayer). Somewhere along the line British archaeology dropped the ball I feel.

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