Thursday, 19 August 2010

UK "Metal Detectorists" and the (Continued) Unholy Fuss over the PAS Landowners' Leaflet

When the British parliament set about creating an antiquity preservation legislation back in the 1880s there were no heritage bodies to speak of, only a few amateur archaeological societies attended largely by the landowning classes and churchmen. At the time society was perceived as divided into a moneyed and educated elite and the yokels, and the law accordingly made the landowning class responsible for the protection of monuments on their land. Today Britain still has the same basic Victorian system. The landowning class is the one that needs to be encouraged to think of the conservation needs of and look after the archaeological sites on their land which they hold in trust for us all. But to do that, they need to be told what those needs are and how they can do what needs to be done.

So it is high time that the Portable Antiquities Scheme actually got published the "Advice for landowners" leaflet they have been dithering abouut producing for nearly a decade now. Literally dithering. Why? Because they feel that before publication this archaeological body "has to" show it to metal detectorists and get them to approve the text (!). That in itself is telling. The PAS is [it says] conducting archaeological outreach to the public (and metal detectorists a just a minority segment of society), so why actually is this text being agreed with them (and virtually no other groups that use the countryside for reccreation) at all before being released to a larger segment of society? This tells us a lot about the REAL relationship between the PAS and artefact collectors in England and Wales.

The problem is that artefact hunting is an erosive activity. The PAS should be pointing that out. A metal detectorist knocking on a farmer's door to ask for permission to go onto a piece of land and strip it of a significan portion of its archaeological content for personal entertainment and gain does not want farmers thinking of it like that. There is therefore a fundamental conflict between what it is the PAS' duty from the standpoint of the conservation of the archaeological record to point out to the landowner and user, and what artefact collectors want the farmer to be aware of. In particular the farmer needs to learn that the willy-nilly collecting of archaeological artefacts from archaeological sites damages them, and that IF it is to occur at all, all such activity should be consulted at least with the Portable Antiquities Scheme which allows a (rather minimalistic) record to be made of what was taken when and from where. That there is a single Code of Responsible Metal Detecting (sic) which states this. Metal detectorists do not want the farmer to know this, they want to have the opportunity to be the only person from whom the farmer hears about the effects of metal detecting. To tell only their side of the story.

So we have the to-ing and fro-ing of a edited text which the PAS cringingly presents for "approval", accompanied by aggressive posturing from the artefact hunters about what they will "do", if this next version of the text is published. There was a threat a couple of years ago (it could be seen on the PAS forum, which has conveninetly now 'disappeared') that if the PAS went ahead and published their "advice for landowners" leaflet, all metal detectorists in the UK would boycott the Scheme, and then it would have nothing new on its database to show funding agencies when it came for the next application for funds. Faced with that, the PAS gave way and did not publish the "advice" for landowners, on the "advice" of the eroders. Scandalous.

Heritage Action has a post about the latest draft which has been leaked (!) on a metal detecting forum: it gives a link to where this document can be seen - if you are a metal detectorist, because of course the Looters' Forum is closed access like almost any connected with artefact collecting these days. The post by HA ('Whose interest will the Portable Antiquities Scheme choose to protect – the landowning public or the detectorist at the door?') will of course be ignored by the PAS - that's why they got rid of their forum where theere was the possibility of interaction with heritage concerned groups and individuals, the metal detectorists will ignore it (that's why they shut themselves away in their closed-off little looters' ghettos). Despite efforts to hide from the real stakeholders in this (the public whose heritage is in part comprised by the archaeological remains in the fields of Britain) that there is a disagreement between the PAS and its "partners" over how much the landowner should know about artefact hunting, the problem will not go away. It will not go away until the PAS starts to stand more FIRMLY by the conservation principles that surely it was set up to uphold. As Heritage Action says, the PAS "must demonstrate whose side it is on. Either farmers are told the truth by the signatories [of this leaflet] (prompting the fury of metal detectorists) or they are told half truths (or worse) to persuade them to allow metal detecting on their land".


Norman and Linda Kennedy said...

About 24 years ago or there about that time a Archioligist was cought stealing artifacts and selling them,
Over many years these guys have pludered treasure and sold it.
Its time to get rid of archaeologist’s and replace them with a none profit making society, as you can see on Time team BBC what a joke" we dont need these scruffy thick people who talk like peasants,arr arr come on you got to laugh at that thick guy with hat on,and the scruffy guy with the pink jumper,and dirty hair,

Paul Barford said...

Mr and Mrs Kennedy, thank you for your comments.

I am sure my readers will be puzzled by the relevance of those remarks to the topic discussed in my post.

Should the PAS produce an advice leaflet for landowners about the significance of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the importance of recording and adhering to the Code of responsible detecting, or should the landowner hear the metal detectorist's version? Yes or no?

As a metal detectorist, why after more than a dozen years of PAS outreach and "partnership" with artefact collecting in the UK do you now feel it is "time to get rid of archaeologists" and why? What kind of "non-profit-making society" had you in mind and how would it operate and what would its function be? Is that just in the UK (why?) or worldwide?

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