Thursday, 26 January 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: "Where Would the BM be Without the input of the metal detectorist"?

John Winter considers as artefact hunting's "Finest Hour" the moment when then-UK Minister of Culture David Lammy referred to "metal detectorists" as: The unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage. That was on Wednesday 17th January, and PAS officials assured us afterwards that he had departed from the press release produced by the British Museum Press Office to come out with that statement. The Times later on that year used the headline: "Metal Detectives are a National Treasure!". Winter considers that:
There are those who lambasted these reports as a gross distortion of the truth and continue to write about detectorists in an abusive and disparaging manner. Unfortunately they don’t have the same level of government and influential media support! ;-) Shame.
This taunting artefact hunter apparently considers that such government and media support is the English metal detectorists' "right" and it can be permanently maintained without the artefact hunting community doing anything much to deserve it. This allegedly is because:
if it wasn’t for the efforts and contributions of detectorists, then the Portable Antiquities scheme just wouldn’t exist in its present form. It is as true then as it is now. Nothing has changed. The largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, discovered in the summer of 2009 by a metal-detectorist, would still be languishing in the ground. All those ‘experts’ at the BM would have little to do. Over the last few years, several spectacular hoards have been discovered in quick succession by metal detectorists, thus keeping FLO’s gainfully employed and justifying the existence of the PAS.

Well, of course if it was not for the metal detectorists and their anti-establishment views of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the rise of the market of the type of things they find which completely destroyed the social practice of responsible members of the UK public DONATING objects they found to public collections, there would have been no need for a PAS in the first place. We could have carried on with people collaborating with local museums as had been developing over the past seven decades or so. It was artefact hunting that put paid to this manner of public interaction with archaeology.

The artefact hunters' "efforts and contributions" (sic) are however vastly less than the amount of information they are removing from the ground and not "contributing" to archaeological knowledge. Their "efforts" are primarily directed to finding collectables for their own personal entertainment and profit and the talismanic appearance of some "data" in the PAS database when they go along to club meetings and rallies is just a side effect of this process.

The whole idea of setting up the PAS was to instil "best practice" among this particular group of "finders". This is what thirteen million quid have gone towards. Thirteen million quid of public money has NOT been spent (one hopes) on collaboration with irresponsible artefact hunters and collectors. I think most of us had assumed that this would - due to PAS outreach - have become quite clear among Britain's artefact hunters by now. Yet Mr Winter has some problems understanding that this is the case:

I must state here the phrase metal detectorists when uttered by PAS officials, written in documents and parroted by government ministers is often prefaced by that word responsible which after a time becomes rather irksome. The inference is that any detectorist who doesn’t record with the voluntary scheme which is PAS or records with the finders’ own independent database (UKDFD) is somehow irresponsible. I don’t see it that way!
Well, the unfortunate thing is that the rest of us do.

Labour MP David Lammy laughing at one of his own jokes

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