Sunday 16 January 2011

Have Detector Users Moved as far in their Thinking as Archaeologists?

Coming back to the National Council for Metal Detectorists guy's "get off our case" remarks in the Suzie Thomas and Peter Stone book on "Metal Detecting and Archaeology", I see that the reviewer for Current Archaeology also picked up on it:
metal detecting is like a JCB: useful on an archaeological site if controlled but highly destructive if not. So pragmatism and compromise are necessary, but missing from this book is the sense that detector users have moved as far in their thinking as archaeologists.

On the contrary, Trevor Austin (in a paper ironically called Building Bridges) shows just how uncompromising some detectorists can be when he says ‘we will not tolerate meddling in the hobby’, argues that attempts to ‘inflict archaeological control’ simply ‘prevents serious cooperation’, tells archaeological organisations to ‘get off our case’, declares that ‘the future is ours’ and urges sceptical archaeologists to ‘catch up, give up or join the “dark side”’.
I suspect "responsible" metal detectorists will not get very far with people like Mr Austin and Mr Barwell doing their "liaison" for them.

The comment is significant because it was precisely with the aim of changing the attitudes of artefact hunters to their own interaction with the archaeological record that PAS was originally set up. It was not set up to be a scheme for "counting things" taken from the archaeological record by artefact hunters, gained by going along to rallies and setting up a table in the beer tent, or judging the "find of the month" competitions in the clubs. It was not a scheme set up to legitimise the hobby and persuade the public that archaeology is all about glittery treasures and that the public can "help" archaeology by digging blindly over all the accessible bits of the archaeological record willy-nilly to find more and more "stuff". It was set up to instil new attitudes. The extent to which it has actually done so is highly debatable.

Supporters will point to the "numbers of objects recorded this year" figures - but then they will tell you to ignore the Heritage Action figures which suggest this is but a drop in the ocean of what is being lost. They will ignore the fact that they were not collected by hordes of detectorists coming forward with their entire collections and findspot documentation. Much of this material is collected as I said at commercial rallies and club meetings (the actual figures have never been made public). The extent of attitude change can be seen however on the forums. Minimal tillage agricultural regimes prevent damage to sites, but detectorists oppose them as they do not bring up so many artefacts from deeper down to be detected and taken away, PAS is continually warned by detectorists to treat detectorists with kid gloves, not to try to ‘inflict archaeological control’ on the hobby which would ‘prevent serious cooperation’. In other words, if PAS does not support the hobby, the hobby will withdraw its support of the PAS.

Despite thirteen years of liaison, the evidence of any fundamental attitude changes towards better practice for the conservation of the archaeological resource within the artefact hunting milieu is very slight indeed. Register with a metal detecting forum or two and see for yourselves.


Jakob said...

I sometimes find myself a bit surprised by the lack of understanding of archaeology among British detectorists. In particular the attitude that "we don't care what that archaeologists say, we do what we want" compared to the usual Danish attitude that "we work with the archaeologists and do it as they want it (and don't do what they don't want us to do)".
Two examples comes to mind:

1) A debate at Minelabowners ( ) where Bfodnes tells a story from Norway. I'm in line with Björn in this matter (as the wast majority danish detectorists are) but that doesn't seem to be the case among the british detectorists.

2) A Youtube vid in two parts ( and ) where a hoard of roman coins is discovered. At no point is an archaeologist called to the site and so the context is lost forever. Almost made me scream at the computerscreen when I saw it...

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I know how you feel.

There is a huge difference between what these people say and do...

I think I covered the Minelabs "depth advantage" "debate" and may well have mentioned your Norwegian friend's contribution.

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