Friday 12 August 2011

Metal Detecting Holidays in Suffolk: Followup - "Grey" Detecting in Practice

Readers may recall a post I made here a while ago about some guys that stayed apparently near Colston Hall Badingham, in Suffolk and made a candid video as they went out onto the estate's land metal detecting. The land is quite attractive, just off a Roman road and the site itself is a Domesday manor with many findspots all around. Here is the place's webpage - though metal detecting land is not now one of the advertised facilities. I was interested in the video ("The Plunderers") made at the time because the searchers were showing just how many recordable finds the individual detectorist can make in a single weekend. Readers may also remember that within a few hours of my post going up, the video was taken down, never to reappear. Enquiries with the Suffolk FLO revealed that she had had no contact with these people and expressed the hope that maybe they would report their finds at a later date.

With that thought in mind, seeing the old post on the topic has again attracted attention of this blog's readers, I searched the PAS database this morning. Indeed, the advanced search facility reveals that a find has been reported from Badington in Suffolk. It is a celtic coin [CCI-961596] found in 1970. No finds from that location could be found on even the pirate private database UKDFD. As a result, we may conclude that finds made by metal detectorists from afar staying at the hall in 2008 and doing their metal detecting in the fields around have completely disappeared from the view of the PAS, the landowner and the rest of us. Perhaps that is why the owner decided to stop allowing artefact hunting on this land, seeing that his guests were not engaging in the hobby in accordance with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales.

How many other groups of finds made by holidaying metal detector users in the past from this site and others like it have simply vanished, taken into ephemeral personal collections or sold off on eBay without record by people like this group of non-recorders? What are the cumulative effects of such "grey" detecting by non-recorders? It is a real eye opener that despite the haul recorded on the spot by the detectorists' own video record, the only find recorded in the parish comes from the period well before the UK had a PAS.

It seems to me that the continual repetition of this sort of scenario leads to an inescapable conclusion that the concentration on the "achievements" of the PAS is shielding from view far more about the practices of non-reported artefact removals from sites all over England and Wales than it is revealing. Surely it is time for a proper survey of the actual effects of current British policies on artefact hunting and collecting on the preservation of the nation's archaeological record.


Hidden History said...

The picture you show on your blog, dipicts 2 green figures, now doesn't that just look like the Incredible Hulk and Nigel Swift hand in hand.
Looks like a may be getting under your skin Paul, it's about time you had a bit of your own medicine.

Also about the finds,The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme to record archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Remember were not in a commie state now Paul, look up the word voluntary.

Paul Barford said...

Steve, it is also entirely voluntary if a passer-by helps a boy lying bleeding on the ground to his feet or comes to his aid if he's attacked by yobs. Does that exonerate people who did not do that in the case of Ashraf Haziq the other day?

Can these people hold their heads up high in today's Britain and say they acted honourably or responsibly?

It's the same with British metal detectorists like you that go out in the fields, take stuff from the archaeological record for themselves and do not do the decent thing - and then to cap it all post a video boasting about doing it on You Tube which then hide it when people express their opinions ("it wasn't me guv").

This is the hidden Grey hobby, and its a sorry dirty business which tries to hide under the umbrella of those that ARE trying much harder to do the right thing by the needs of wider society. In "response" to this being pointed out, people like you can only rant and fume, post coarse toilet humour comments, and generally make a nuisance of yourself .

I see no reason why I should not continue to draw attention to the extent of the Grey underbelly of the hobby and its implications for British policy and the sustainable management of the archaeological record.

I see from your web-profile you used to be an estate manager, does that not involve sustainable management of a resource so it continues to be of value?

So tell me as if it was woodland involved, in what way is the manner in which thousands of Grey detectorists like you are using up and 'voluntarily' disregarding best practice helping the management of the archaeological resource? You lot are just cutting down the trees and saplings and putting nothing whatsoever in its place. Just a pile of firewood tucked away somewhere out of sight most of which you reserve for your own private use.

Why should the rest of us tolerate this behaviour without comment? It may be "legal innit" and "voluntary" now, the question is if the policy is failing, should we not introduce legislation and compulsion to STOP every single tree in the country ending up as a detectorist's firewood, and when its used up, its all gone up the chimney in smoke?

Can you answer that normally, without crudity?

Paul Barford said...

A "taste of my own medicine" Steve would be if people started discussing what I say in the same terms, not calling me a "shithead", stalking me and sending threatening email spam to my home.

Let's have some articulate debate from the metal detectorists and the PAS (though I know you that as a Grey you do not believe in them - and they do not speak for you - but that is the crux of the problem).

Some articulate debate about current policy based on facts and real cases and situations not some wishy washy never-neverland hopes and dreams.

Paul Barford said...

Steve Taylor [aka "the Poulton Hoard" - why cant these people use their real names?], one of the participants in the Suffolk escapade discused here sent the following, under a third and misleading account name. this, without editing, is what he wrote:
"I think you views on woodland management just shows how ignorant you are on sustainability, a bit like your views on metal detecting , and yes I do have a degree in Land management. Woodlands are managed not just for the timbers extraction but to increase the biodiversity of the fauna and flora .
Without careful management a woodland will die, that is why ancient man coppiced them, not only to give himself a renewable energy source but to maintain the health of a woodland.

For every tree I have removed in my lifetime at least 10 are replanted , and same goes for metal detecting, for every ancient item I remove from the soil, 10 modern items are lost. Yesterday is today’s history. What was lost centuries ago, is being constantly replenished by modern day junk, but in a thousand years time will it still be call junk."

Paul Barford said...

Right. First of all, I'd be grateful Steve Taylor [aka "The Poulton Hoard"] if you would in future not use that blogger profile - calling yourself "Paul Barford Antiquities and Heritage Issues" - to comment on this blog, it will only lead to confusion. Why not just use your real name? You are not "Paul Barford", and should not presume to speak in his name.

Any more comments sent here from an imposter calling himself "Paul Barford [- anything]" will be deleted unread and not posted here.

To get to what you said, I do not think I said anything about "woodland management" which shows any ignorance. The principles of biodiversity and sustainable use of the countryside are well known to anyone who has seen a tree and with even a smidgen of interest in conservation. I suspect it is you who will find if you re-read what I wrote with more attentiveness that you misunderstood.

I was of course using the example of trees as an "analogy", a metaphor for the non-sustainable use of the archaeological resource. Taking objects out and producing nothing in return apart from isolated "things" is like cutting down the trees and planting no saplings. It produces "firewood" (= your artefact collections) yes, but nothing that looks like a forest in either the short or long term. It is not sustainable management.

So we could say:
[The archaeoloical record] is managed not just for the [finds] extraction by collectors but to increase the possibilities [for future generations to study and appreciate the past]. Without careful management [the archaeological record] will die, that is why we [try to make sure it will survive out generation as intact as conditions - conditions we create - allow]. Get it?

Unlike woodland, the archaeological record is finite and not "renewable". Once we've trashed every accessible Roman site in the country, they will not "grow back" again. They are gone. There are no "Roman saplings" in a plant nursery to plant in their place.

So what you wrote about renewal is nonsense in terms of protecting the heritage of the past:
"same goes for metal detecting, for every ancient item I remove from the soil, 10 modern items are lost. [...] What was lost centuries ago, is being constantly replenished by modern day junk"

That's not the point, that's like saying, "yes we cut down all the ancient elms and oaks in the landscape, but there's elder, eucalyptus and acacia springing up everywhere". That really is no justification and it is not "management" of anything. Modern junk may be of interest to investigators of the future, but it will not allow them to address questions about patterns of land use in the Roman period in those Roman-finds-empty but modern-junk-strewn fields which are the legacy of the "metal detecting generation".

Decimating the population in the historic landscape of pieces of evidence of the past three or more millennia or so of land use and replacing it with tin cans and tinfoil and other modern junk is not "sustainable management" of the entire record. It is not the equivalent of maintaining "biodiversity", it is producing an artefactual monoculture and one that is pretty useless in its landscape values.

I am not sure what you meant in the context of what you wrote by "Yesterday is today’s history". Duh. Perhaps you meant that today is tomorrow's history?

Nor do I catch the philosophical point behind: "but in a thousand years time will it still be call junk", but that is getting off the topic of Grey Metal Detecting and what we should do about it.

RobG said...

I'm in 2 camps here. I am a trained archaeologist - though not working as one- and a detectorist. I am an ardent supporter of PAS. Where it all falls down for me is that the archaeological community is very quick to condemn detectorists for pillaging the land but I've yet to meet a single archaeologist who hasn't got huge private collections of something. One chap I know has over 200 Roman oil lamps, for example. Another had a huge collection of Roman silver coinage. I know these are just 2 people but so far I simply haven't met a single archaeologist who hasn't got something. Perks of the job?
The overwhelmingly vast majority of detector finds are found on non-recorded sites. That is to say archaeologists would never have a reason to look there. I have found 2 new Roman and 1 Saxon site which are now recorded. It seems that the heritage that belongs to us all doesn't apply if one of us actually finds anything (unless you're an archaeologist, of course). Everything should be reported and recorded but this should apply to everyone. Any thief can go and buy a metal detector so then what is he- a thief or a detectorist? One final extreme example: I knew an archeaologist living in London who would dig by day, go back at night with his detector and plunder his own site and then complain of nighthawks! I'm not making this up. Mercifully, he has now moved abroad, Croatia I think.

Paul Barford said...

Well, what a surprise, an anonymous, freshly created profile with no details.

Since archaeologists and collectors over there are "partners" and collecting is not illegal, I do not see why you regard it as some kind of a problem that a UK (I presume) archaeologist has a collection of oil lamps. What would be the problem IF they are all obtained from kosher sources, with kosher paperwork? How do we know they are not from what you say? Again, there are silver coins on the market wholly legitimately and legally, from disclaimed hoards for example. If these are documented as such (and again, how do we know they are not?) then why should collectors have all the fun? If you remember the Chief Executive of English Heritages is also a collector.

If you'd read what I say here, as far as I am concerned, its is not collecting that is the problem, but the way much collecting is done today.

I know quite a lot of archaeologists who have NOT got collections (here, they'd be jailed for it), so if it is happening in the UK (is that where you are?) then that is due to the lax approach of archies there to collecting and ethics - as an artefact hunter you should be happy, not condemning them.

Or are you? I'm not really too clear what the point is you are making.

Paul Barford said...

Worth noting that this "RobG" profile has at the time of writing received four (4) views, which means it is a throwaway profile, probably of a sock puppet. I do not believe that there is any archaeologist called Rob G[...] who knows these people. It's a windup job, probably metal detectorists behind it. Time wasting metal detectorists who throw some made-up and provocative argument into the ring and then run away.

Paul Barford said...

and this archaeologist with a metal detector never came back...

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