Sunday 18 December 2011

US Writer Patronises Metal Detectorists

Sean McLachlan (Columbia, MO) used to be an archaeologist, but got kicked out for bad spelling and took up writing instead. He has now blogged about the Silverdale find: "Viking horde (sic) highlights the value of responsible metal detectoring (sic)" (AOL on Dec 17th 2011).
When I used to work as an archaeologist, I heard a lot of bad-mouthing about metal detectorists. These guys scan the ground for coins and other metal objects. Most of the time they only find a few old pennies. It's when they discover something of historic value that some archaeologists get grumpy. Many archaeologists don't trust metal detectorists, saying they disturb ancient sites and pocket their findings. This week's discovery of a Viking horde of silver in England shows how responsible metal detectorists, far from being nosy snoopers into the sacred soil of archaeology, can actually help us learn more about the past.
That "something" is that in the tenth century "the Vikings" (sic) buried stuff and there was this bloke who called himself King "Conut.Airde" or whatever. He then goes on about the Chalgrove coin of Domitianus II who was - he reckons for some reason - an "officer [who] had been garrisoned in Britain"* and in whose brief reign coins were struck, one of which was found in another "horde" by another lucky British metal detectorist.
In both cases, the lucky guys did the right (and legal) thing--they reported their finds to the proper authorities. Laws governing such finds differ from country to country, but it's always important to report anything you find that may be of historical significance. You never know, you might have discovered a new king.
Even in Missouri?

Apparently Mr McLachlan believes that only when they show their finds to "experts" (i.e. the authorities/ professional archaeologists) will these artefact hunters learn what they've found. This is a result of the lack of recognition that artefact hunting with metal detectors is done to obtain collectables. These people are collectors and as such have acquired a great deal of knowledge about the typology of the things they collect. This is the underlying fault of the PAS system which was set up based on the elitist premise that the artefact hunter would be glad to come, cap in hand, to the professional with the friendly smile and outstretched hand, to "learn" from them what they have found. A coin collector does not need an archaeologist to tell him which ruler struck the coin they have, they can work these things out for themselves (coins generally have the bloke's name written on them - duh). Probably many "finders" know a good deal more about some aspects of the artefacts in their collections than the young girl fresh out of University who got a job as an FLO. That is no justification of course for them trashing sites, but neither are they all wholly ignorant morons. This is the reasoning behind the current trend for the PAS to claim they are "partners" of artefact hunters.

hat tip to Heritage Action

* More likely in Gaul near the seat of imperial power and more importantly in this context the main mint responsible for the coins of the Gallic Empire at Trier.

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