Wednesday 16 May 2012

Detecting Under the Microscope: "The Informed Voice of metal Detecting"

I'd like to express my thanks to Nigel Swift of Heritage Action for taking the trouble to send me the copies of the May and June 2012 issues of "The Searcher" in which on the letters page there is an ongoing discussion about a text published there earlier which its author had intended his readers to think was from me. Having now seen the texts of the responses, they make even less sense than when read out over the phone. Still, what can one say, but "metal detectorists"?  Moving on from that particular piece of inflammatory stupidity, I urge my readers based in the UK to go out and buy next month's "Searcher" ["The Informed Voice of metal detecting"]. It is an eye-opener for those who've not seen it.

It's full of adverts for machines and pictures of smiling artefact hunters in military-style costumes. Then there are the articles about finds made, rallies to attend (p. 12 - PAS events included on the same page). Then pp 16-21 you'll find pictures of some of the things 'nominated' by the PAS for some kind of "best Treasure" competition [you will note that in all case the finder's name is given, unlike on the PAS database. So these people want to boast about their finds or not?] "The competition will be judged by a panel which will include Roger Bland and Michael Lewis for the PAS [...] Culture Minister Ed Vaisey will be joining us again this year to help too" . Well, there are those of us who think the place of the Minister of Culture is NOT "helping" commercial metal detectorists' magazines promote the hobby of artefact collecting, neither is that judging a collectables competition a proper task of the public-funded PAS. What on earth do these people think they are doing? This is inappropriately-enough followed by an advert for somebody who will buy "gold rings, any ages" and three pages of metal detector adverts.

Then there is an article for the coineys, Peter Spencer on a "Thrymsa" of the York Group. The article is remarkable for the total lack of detail even about where in Britain the coin was found, but lots about the finder (another one not seeking anonymity).  Then there is the ever-popular "Identification and Valuation Desk" (six pages pp 40-45). Have a look at the "valuations" and consider that if even quite mundane-looking finds can fetch the sums given, just how much money one can make digging them up and selling them on ebay or to dealers such as "TimeLine". The mantra "we are not in it for the money" begins to look a bit faded, when a boxfull of a hundred or so such artefacts will achieve several thousand pounds when they eventually surface on the market. Just after this is an advert from TimeLine Auctions limited (p. 51) "achieving more for you". What kind of "more' is indicated by the values of some metal detected coins they've sold recently. Then another section (Mike Sinclair) a dumbed-down show-and-tell about finds he'd made, including a coin he'd apparently smuggled out from Turkey - since no mention is made of an export licence obtained. Club activities mainly goes on about what collectables people had found (pp. 58-70) which - despite the fact that all metal detectorists say they are not a bit interested in such things, there's the "Saleroom Scene" (p. 71) with the prices reached by various dugup coins (one going for 18 000 quid).

As I say, worth popping along to the local newsagent's and getting a copy, just to see what these people get up to, what they think is worth talking about, and what they do not. It is then worth contrasting that with what their supporters in the British archaeological world say they are up to.

I get the feeling that not too many of the supporters of artefact collecting and its PAS-partners in British archaeology actually belong to any metal detecting forums or pay too much attention to what REALLY goes on in metal detecting clubs and what British artefact hunters present their magazines.  So don't take their under-informed word for it, go out and look for yourselves.

Vignette: A depiction of antiquitist indolence and the cover of the current issue of the heritage grabbers' magazine.

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