Thursday 29 April 2010

Heritage action: Five years on, Where's the change?

In a thought-provoking and colourfully illustrated post on the Heritage Action blog, the question is raised how far liaison has got us since the diasterous 2005 "Near Avebury" commercial metal detecting rally ("a crass and vulgar grabfest dedicated to “self” and a denial of the existence of “society”...").

HA asks what has changed in Britain since that much-criticised event.
"After all, everyone was assured at the time that things would change. Both detectorists and PAS explained over and over that all that was needed was patience. Everyone needed to stop complaining about the damage, jump on the train to Liaisonville (as PAS put it) and trust PAS to offer detectorists understanding and education and outreach and liaison – and some more understanding – and definitely no criticism – as a result of which, very soon, more and more and more of them would see the light and become “responsible” rational citizens that recognised that their interests were as nothing compared with the interests of society and would start to regulate their own behaviour accordingly. In other words, they’d start to act like other people.
HA points out that five years on there are no fewer commercial metal detecting rallies in North Wiltshire. Those five years have seen the publication of a Code of Responsible Detecting.
Trouble is, although it’s centrepiece is the assertion that to be responsible you have to report all your finds to PAS, PAS’s own statistics clearly indicate most detectorists still don’t – despite PAS regularly re-jigging the basis of calculation to make things look better than they are. No change there then – after five years most detectorists are still not responsible as defined, they are still knowledge thieves, plain and simple.

HA points out that some Guidance on Rallies has been published, a belated acknowledgement that these events are extremely damaging
The problem is, the guidance doesn’t say what it should – don’t hold rallies, they are vandalism writ large – it merely offers some obvious suggestions that no-one with a conscience wouldn’t be doing already. Worse, some less-than-archaeology-friendly rally organisers are using guidance compliance as a marketing ploy. Crude bellicosity towards archaeologists and an endless succession of adverts for scores of rallies effectively saying “meet at the layby on the A1 and we’ll pilot you to the unpublished venue” hardly instills confidence in such rallies does it?

One other thing that has certainly happened over the past five years is that PAS staff
have spent 1800 days outreaching, educating and persuading detectorists so some of that must have rubbed off. Or has it? This very day, a few minutes drive from the place where the Near Avebury detecting disaster took place the Colchester detecting society is holding the Foxham Rally – which is depressing enough since it shows no progress has been made, but worse, they are holding it on pasture that has remained undisturbed for 100 years, this being in direct defiance of both the Code of Responsible Detecting and the Guidance on Rallies. Why? Because they haven’t heard it’s not acceptable? Hardly. The hapless taxpayer has spent millions of pounds and more than a decade trying to get that message through their skulls. Presumably then, simply because they want to and they can.

HA identify the profound flaw in the “persuasion, education and liaison strategy” that Britain alone has adopted, which they gracefully admit "might not have been obvious at the start" (hmmm)but forcefully point out "it certainly is now". Like all antiquity collectors, "You can inform the majority of detectorists what’s right till you’re blue in the face, but you can’t get them to do what’s right if they find it more self-fulfilling to do what’s wrong". The PAS database statistics, or looking in on collectors forums or talking with collectors clearly show the correctness of what HA are saying. An objective look at this evidence will show that attempts to deny this by labelling HA as "ignorant amateurs" by artefact hunters and collectors and their supporters in the archaeological world in Britain are just name-calling.

So is that it? Nothing has really changed over the past five years? PAS still liaising, most detectorists still helping themselves and North Wiltshire still subject to a self-serving pestilence? Pretty much. Except for one thing. Detectorists have used the extra five years provided by the liaison policy to lift another 1.44 million artefacts from the record, mostly without reporting them. How many is that? Well think of Wembley’s pitch. It wouldn’t be big enough to lay them all out. Britain is utterly barmy say know-nowt amateurs.
Vignette: commercial artefact hunters' base camp between a field of rape and a White Horse, says it all really.

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