Saturday 8 September 2012

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Archaeological Iron, Hedge Fodder or Discrimination

UKDN Member "Hawyoo" (Sep 02, 2012 10:33 am) asks: "What should i keep[?]":
Hi all.I find a lot of what some people may call junk.I seem to keep it all.Most is just rusty old iron but some of it looks interesting. [...] i am thinking they may just be a little something in there. 
Obviously most of us can see that among the iron objects taken by artefact hunters from archaeological sites will be a number of fragments of iron archaeological items, hardly "junk". One UKDN respondent however calls these artefacts "HedgeFodder (HF)" implying he just throws this sort of material into the hedges (interesting that some tekkies are concerned about contamination of the rural landscape with metal in contaminated Green Waste, while others are quite happy to litter the hedgerows with metal fragments produced by the hobby). Another member admonishes: "Firstly you shouldn't be digging rusty old iron should you? try a little discrimination". 

This is followed by a series of horror stories on what people have "pulled from the scrap bins". Including this one from a "Puffin" (Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:46 pm):
Even after 7 years, a few months ago I had to pull a Saxon/Viking 4 way strap divider out of my scrap bin. Many because of a post on here, you really need to be 120% sure of what you are weighing in! 
"Weighing in" of course is tekkie slang for what artefact hunters discard from their artefact collections and sell by weight for melting down for scrap. How many tens of thousands of archaeological items end up that way as a result of this hobby each year?

Of course anything that made its way into a tekkie scrap bin, but is pulled out weeks, months or years later because it is recognised to have been something of significance has by then irrevocably lost the information about its findspot.

Carried out in this way the hobby of artefact hunting is destroying vast quantities of archaeological information because many of these people which current UK policy lets loose to pillage archaeological sites to gratify their collecting hobby are ignorant (or careless) of just what it is they are finding and what information they should be observing, collecting and recording. Having a Portable Antiquities Scheme has not made the slightest dent on this problem.

Now, if the PAS was doing its job, it would be on the UKDN forum  like a shot to give an answer to the question posted there. They are however doing neither, so I'll do it for them. In answer to "what should I keep [when rummaging in the archaeological record for collectables]?" the only possible answer is, "every piece of archaeological evidence". Anything less is destruction, and if you do not know what is and what is not archaeological evidence, then leave the archaeological record well alone.

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