Wednesday 27 April 2011

Reporting at Raunds: Warning to Landowners

Metal detectorist Mr Cameron752, who assures us he does not drink beer also assures me that in the case of the commercial metal detecting rallies at Raunds, Northamptonshire:
for your information all the brooches and the votive axe were recorded,
which can of course be checked.

The Portable Antiquity Scheme Database searched provides the information that only 67 finds have ever been reported by metal detectorists and finders from the entire parish since the Northamptonshire FLO was established in 1999 (five finds a year). Sixty seven finds in total. even though there are active metal detectorists actually living in the town and we know there were such fruitful commercial rally searches there? So it seems the FLO does not often get along to Central Plunderers' (based in Raunds) commercial artefact hunting rallies at Raunds after all.

Of these 67 reported finds from Raunds, thirty six (so over 50%) of them are coins. Yet coins are generally in the minority compared to other metal objects and non-metallic finds both in on-site and off-site assemblages. This means that the record in the PAS database of what is in the fields of Raunds is highly selective. Lots of other finds being made by these people (both those kept and those sold or discarded) are apparently simply not appearing in these records.

There is, interestingly some Roman and Medieval pot in the record, nine individual sherds which make nine individual records, bumping up the recording figures... By the way, the descriptions of these sherds suggests that the FLO is not exactly at home with the dating of the pottery fabrics of her region, I'd say they suggest she needs to spend some time analysing stratified assemblages to get more of a 'feel' for the local products. These sherds may have been handed in to the FLO singly which explains why each sherd is a single record, but were they really the only ceramic finds in the fields producing all the reported metal objects? Again this is totally at variance with what anyone who has ever done any fieldwalking in lowland Britain would expect. Again, it seems to me we see selective collection at work. Artefact hunters are collectors not landscape archaeologists. But its another nine records for the PAS statistics which so appeal to the collective imagination.

Then we have the clay pipe bits NARC-E0BE04 - how does the typology of these fit the 300 year cutoff date for PAS recording? Well, not at all, they are not pipes of the early 1700s, far from it. But its another record for bumping up statistics. Maybe the metal rod "found with" them was the attraction. This is described as " a possible pipe piercing rod, used in the manufacture of clay pipes", but nothing is given in the description to indicate that the 80 grammes of fragments reported can in any way be connected with a clay pipe kiln. Are any of them wasters? Any kiln furniture? Any evidence whatsoever, or is this just a case of FLO speculation? But speculation that can mislead if not treated with reserve.

None of the information presented in the PAS record taken by itself helps us to understand settlement patterns in Raunds. Quite apart from the fact that the normal viewer sees none of the fine detail of findspot, it is clear that these are random finds handed in at various times and random coin losses and finds for example do not pinpoint sites. Single sherds do not pinpoint sites. Some odd finds have been recorded from the region, but what they mean, and whether any analysis can make them "mean" anything is anyone's guess. How many of them in any case come from previously-identified sites?

Well, anyway, we can search the PAS record of 67 finds reported from Raunds in vain for any "brooches" . There is one brooch LON-92C151, found in or before November 2007 (so not from the Christmas rally in question) and reported not to the Northamptonshire FLO, but a London one. So the broocHES found at the rally mentioned in my post seem to have disappeared without record. The "information" supplied by Mr Cameron is false. The metal detectorists taking part in the rally and who found these items have not responsibly reported the finds they took away.

We can also search in vain for a votive axe from Raunds. There are six of them reported from Northamptonshire, but none of them come from Raunds or anywhere near it. Again the "information" that Mr Cameron supplied that the object has been responsibly reported is false.

I wondered if he meant the private pirate "database" the UKDFD set up in 2005? It appears not. On two pages here and here, we can see 24 items from Raunds listed there (that's four finds a year). Ten of these items (so again about half) are coins and one medallion. And, yes, there are four brooches shown there from Raunds. Again however these cannot be those mentioned in my post, two of them were found in or before 2005, one in 2008 and the fourth in 2009. What is interesting is that of the 22 searchable records of finds made by the metal detectorists of the UKDFD taking artefacts from the archaeological sites around Raunds, NONE of them had been reported "anywhere else", that includes the PAS. Showcasing found geegaws in the pirate database the UKDFD is no substitute for reporting items to the official scheme set up with public money for recording finds made by members of the public which has been running now for a decade and a half.

Central Searchers is based in Raunds and was set up in September (I think) 2005, so it has been operating now five and a half years. They organize fortnightly club digs "when land is available and not under crop growth. We try to offer between 60 and 100 acres to search on each outing, shared amongst a turn out of around 30 to 50 detectorists" (it used to say "weekly"). So that's twenty or so rallies a year, 110 or so attended by (let's say) 30 detectorists. By my maths that is at least 3300 days detecting since they have begun (at eight quid each and enrolment fees of 25 quid a year, that's a minimum of 33 000 quid these people have made out of this organization selling off bits of Britain's archaeological heritage at weekends - probably much more as many rallies are "sold out"). How many finds have been removed from the fields of "Northants, Cambs, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, South Lincs, West Norfolk, West Suffolk, North West Essex, North Herts, Norths Bucks, North East Oxfordshire, East Warwickshire and maybe into South East Staffs" by Central Searchers Members and NOT reported like it seems (despite the false "information" supplied by Mr Cameron) many of the finds from the rallies they have held in Raunds?

So, Mr Cameron, why say these objects are reported when anyone can check that they are not? Or did you just say the first thing that came into your head like most detectorists (and their supporters) do, not realising that some people prefer the facts to glib, false and meaningless assurances from metal detectorists? Please supply the references to where you assert these items are properly "reported" and I'll put them up here.

Until such a time:

CENTRAL SEARCHERS Warning to Landowners
: Please don't let these people on your land, they are exploitive commercial artefact hunters and have demonstrated that they cannot be shown to be trusted to act responsibly in terms of the 2006 Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales agreed with a number of national organizations including landowners' associations and the NFU. Note there is no mention of this code in the club's "rules" and at the time of writing not even a link to it on the club's home page. Environmentally committed landowners will want to keep this kind of irresponsible and exploitive unmitigated commercial erosion of the archaeological heritage off their land. If in doubt, check with the Portable Antiquities Scheme if a given metal detectorist asking to come onto your land has a long and consistent record of responsible behaviour and recording their finds to the official body set up at public expense to do that.

Photo: Copyright Paul Barford

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