Saturday 12 November 2011

Paranoia and Spin: A Tekkie Reaction to the Bishop Burton Commercial Rally Report

In the post above I discuss the report by Dr Kevin Leahy of what he saw and experienced at the Bishop's Burton (E. Yorks.) commercial artefact hunting rally last month. This was posted up on the FID website along with a comment by Justin Deeks, FID Representative. He says "I [...] find it difficult to avoid seeing a political agenda behind it. He was a lot more positive at the event". Deeks says the number of recorded finds was so low because:
"finds were so sparse on the ground [...] Most detectorists present found nothing more than lead shot and modern items. A minority did come up with recordable finds and I know the great majority of these were offered for recording. [...] the organisers [...] had promoted the rally as being held on undetected land. This was clearly untrue, as most of it only produced small objects (the larger items being easier to locate especially with the detectors available in the past). Local detectorists present were speaking of having searched over the land in previous years.
So once again we see that artefact hunters are only too well aware that their activities are depleting the archaeological record. An area that was once "productive" of archaeological finds no longer is because of "metal detecting". Artefact hunting has removed a substantial quantity of the archaeological evidence from this area even before the rally was held. What is left now is only a shadow of the original record. It does not take much imagination to realise that the longer this goes on, the larger the areas of the British archaeological record (whole areas of precious relict landscapes) which are inexorably being emptied of any meaningful archaeological data allowing that history to be studied and interpreted by archaeological methodologies. Here it is 59 large fields which have been trashed, how many of those around have been similarly affected?

One element of Leahy's report concerned police activity near the rally which it seems had given the more paranoid detectorists some concern (the fact he mentions it at all suggests the subject had been raised with the PAS attendees at the rally). This is what he wrote:
At the start of the rally it was widely believed that Humberside Police were recording the registrations of all vehicles entering the site. This was linked to the earlier presence of the Police at the Alford rally where their information caravan was present. It seems that the police presence at Bishop Burton was due to conflict between students from Bishop Burton College and local youths during freshers' week. The rally was not on their radar.
The Alford rally presence may have been in connection with publicising the crackdown announced earlier this year on "rural crime" and it seems that metal detectorists took this to heart. Dr Leahy assures his bosses back in London though that the police were not taking an interest in rally participants (the reaction of the PAS to this news and what they did with that information are unknown). It would seem from this however that the gossip that the East Yorkshire police were 'recording car registration numbers' was just that, gossip. So what are we to make of Deeks' statement? He says:
As for the Police presence, I did meet a rally participant who said he had been stopped by officers close to the site and they told him they had a list of suspected nighthawks they were looking out for. I suppose he could have been lying, but why?
Because he is an idiot or a troublemaker? So, the police stop one of these "suspected nighthawks" going to a commercial artefact hunting rally in their patch and they ask him ... well, what precisely? He is doing nothing illegal going to the bishop's Burton rally, is he? This alarmist story makes no sense whatsoever except just that... an alarmist story intended to whip up tekkie paranoia.

Deeks suggests that "metal detecting rallies" are something the Minister (Ed Vaisey) "has a very positive attitude" about. Does he? What has the PAS done about that? According to Deeks, commercial metal detecting rallies
...also offer a lot to archaeology, and a very important chance for the PAS to engage with detectorists.
Indeed, the latter is true. The former most definitely is not when coverage, data recovery and recording fall below a certain level (a standard to be aimed for is set out in Our Portable Past). Anything less than that is commercially induced destruction on a massive scale.

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