Tuesday 24 July 2012

Brun, baby, Boom: "BST a Silly Idea From the Start"

Worried by the effect that the ITV-PAS "secret treasures" joint venture would be having on the archaeological heritage, conservation group Heritage Action decided to do some investigative reporting and what they found was predictable, but still disturbing (Heritage Action, “Britain’s Secret Treasures” creates Brum boom!", 24/07/2012). They visited Regton’s in Birmingham, the UK’s largest metal detecting shop. What they found out is that "sales, especially of “starter” machines, have rocketed. Not just shop sales either – packing [of internet sold items] was going on non-stop during our visits".

So, after watching "Britain's Got Treasure", a lot of people seem to be taking up metal detecting (ie Treasure hunting) and it is fair to link that with the positive propaganda provided by the recent prime-time "Britain's Secret Treasures"  put out by none other than the PAS. Heritage Action were especially concerned that "Regton’s aren’t swamping these newcomers with “best practice” advice". They note that although the company's “Newcomers Guide” includes a detecting code, " it’s not the ethical principles CBA has laid out or even the “best we can get” words of the official Responsibility Code, it’s the slippery NCMD Code, the one that doesn’t ask members to report finds to PAS or even mention PAS at all!".
So the only hope all these new treasure hunters would hear about best practice was if they heard it via the programmes. Do you recall such messages? We don’t. (Perhaps that’s why CBA have suddenly voiced some ethical home truths and English Heritage have supported them?) A young man outside Regton’s hadn’t picked up any best practice messages either. He’d driven 50 miles to kit himself out as a treasure hunter plain and simple because he’d heard on the programme (from an archaeologist!) that a first time detectorist in Scotland “took seven steps from his car and ping! There was a gold hoard worth nearly a million!”
Heritage Action raise the point that there was one factor that the archaeologists who so enthusiastically got involved in the series failed to allow for: "even if best practice messages are voiced people don’t necessarily give a stuff (see the Erosion Counter!) but show them seven steps to a million quid in gold and they’ll remember THAT!".
Just how many new treasure hunters like that fellow have been created, some of them long-term? People who will be in the fields this weekend indulging in every sort of bad practice as they know no better or simply don’t care? A lot, we must presume. There was scant  mention of recording finds (whaaat!!) and then only in a vague way and there was not a word about avoiding undisturbed pasture, not digging deep, how unacceptable rallies are or even the importance of keeping off certain sites.
Omitting to tell people those things is unforgivable enough but coming up with the concept in the first place was even worse. Dangling the prospect of millions in gold and hoping the sort of people attracted will mostly act like archaeologists was a silly idea from the start. Should’ve asked a psychologist. Not sensible outreach at all. In fact, dare I say, hardly responsible. Whose heritage is it to take risks with? Not PAS’s. And – which is what matters most now – who will ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Vignette: Get all your your Treasure Hunting needs here. Regton, the UK's leading supplier (photo courtesy PAS - no, only kidding, Heritage Action)
Britain's Secret treasures, ITV 1 16th-22nd July 2012

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