Friday 14 December 2012

The Misinformed MP From Colchester, Never heard of the PAS

There was a debate in the house of Commons on 12th December on the problem of the contamination of green waste, a laudable topic to be sure, but sadly it was marred by the total imbecility of the statements at the beginning of the discussion made by Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat). The MP had received a visit from a constituent, Mr Stuart ("Metal detecting is his hobby") Elton who attended his "advice bureau". He says he was "appalled" by what Mr Elton told him.  Sadly Mr Russell is not referring to the number of people hoiking artefacts out of the archaeological record without allowing the full details to be recorded or anything like that. Oh no, its something else that he thinks will win him votes...
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to its metal detector enthusiasts [...] when he and fellow metal detecting enthusiasts, with the permission of the land owner, go out looking for buried treasures from the past [...]
wait a second, this guy is from archaeology-rich Colchester and he reckons this is quite acceptable, to go out hunting for treasures in the archaeological record of his constituency? He reckons that we "owe a debt of gratitude" to those that destroy archaeological context in order to collect artefacts like so many beer mats, phone cards or pressed flowers, elephant ivory carvings, wild birds' eggs and poisoned butterflies? What is his position on archaeology? What is the position of Colchester archaeologists on Mr Russell fobbing off criticism in the Houses of Parliament?

There was a time when the world of archaeology was variously sniffy or even hostile to those engaged in metal detecting, claiming that such activity was harmful to archaeological sites and discoveries. Quite often landowners were oblivious to what was going on. That is no longer the case. The National Council for Metal Detecting and its members have an excellent record of partnership working with all interested parties and have been responsible for some breathtaking finds that have added to the sum of our knowledge of the past.
What the blazes? It seems the putty-for-brains MP has NEVER HEARD OF THE PAS. So much for fifteen million quid's worth of PAS outreach if the MP does not know about the Scheme... Mr MP Russell thinks it is the NCMD who is doing the recording? He thinks it's the NCMD has been responsible for "some breathtaking finds that have added to the sum of our knowledge of the past"? That (considering the obstacles the NCMD have time and time put in the way of collaboration with the PAS) is the biggest insult. So according to Mr Russell the "claim" that looting damages sites in Iraq is a false one since he's suggesting that in the UK it does no harm to hoik the metal objects out, and it is just "sniffiness' to suggest it is. What was the man thinking? Does British archaeology in fact have any professional bodies that would react to such stuff? Where is the CBA? Where is the IFA and RESCUE when such crap is spouted by UK lawmakers and placed on public record? Not to mention English Heritage (because obviously we cannot rely on Vaisey's Comedy Culture Ministry to react).  

The MP digs himself into a deeper hole: 
As I represent the first capital of Roman Britain, I am delighted to report that in Colchester we have an excellent metal detectors group, whose members epitomise best practice. It is currently full, with 100 members, and has a waiting list. As recently as 30 November, its chairman, Mrs Sue Clarke, was reported in the Colchester Daily Gazette as saying: “Colchester is a great place to be part of a metal-detecting group. There is so much history around here. There is never a boring rally.” The term “rally” in this context refers to members, with the permission of a landowner, going as a group to search for artefacts.
Artefacts to collect and sell. Not only "with the landowner's permission" but actually paying him money to plunder the archaeological record on his land for collectables, they are called commercial artefact hunting rallies Mr Russell, these landowners are selling off the archaeological heritage (and the clubs are called "metal detecting" clubs). Colchester is only such a tempting region to go artefact hunting because of the density of archaeological sites there, Mr Russell, not that this would seem to be any concern of yours. Now what MP Russell understands by "best practice" is questionable. He seems delighted that the Colchester club is filled to the brim with 100 members. I see nothing so exciting about that - in fact i think it is worrying. Perhaps it is because the hapless Mr Russell has no real idea what he means when bandying about terms like "best practice". It would take him all of eleven and a half seconds (if he knew there was a PAS which he apparently does not) to call up the recording figures for Essex for the past year. Easy as pie. If he'd done that he'd have learnt that from the whole of Essex there were this year 66 recording finders reporting material to the PAS (plus two public recorders) that is scattered across the whole county (with its concentrations in the Billercay-Dickie areas and the northwest fringes of the county). So how many members of Mrs Clarke's 100-member club are in that pathetic total? What kind of evidence has he sought for his claim of "best practice" made in a House of Commons debate?

In any case, giving a plug for the local artefact hunters' club and a vote-winning pat on the head for its 100 members is surely totally off the topic of Green Waste contamination, is it not? He seems to sense this, suggesting:
To get back to the subject of my debate [...]
No, Mr Russell has not even begun to "debate" the issues about "metal detecting" that matter here. The guy seems totally seduced by the tekkies:
Another metal detector enthusiast observed that “many local historical sites are becoming saturated in aluminium and making it extremely difficult to recover metallic artefacts such as coins and brooches and that [...] will affect our national heritage and academic learning from the past.” 
So no hoiking, no heritage? No hoiking and we'll be unable to learn anything at all about the past in Colchester?  Actually that is just turning the whole topic on its head, Britain (unwilling to tackle the looting problem head-on) set up a scheme to record some of what is being lost, said Scheme later points out that the results have academic significance, suddenly the whole thing is switched around to suggest that academic archaeology is wholly dependent on the continuance, if not escalation of, artefact hunting. This is being said in the English Parliament, folks. The PAS have a lot to answer for. More tekkie nonsense regurgitated in the halls of Westminster:
“The dumping of green waste on farm land is not only ruining our hobby, it is also contaminating the land for decades to come. If this continues, metal detecting in this country will become a thing of the past
And the MP cannot let that happen, can he? That will really upset the archaeologists of Britain who'll have nothing whatsoever to look at, ever again. Poor lost souls, so we gotta save the 'obby of there partners the artefact collectors, innit, eh?

Let it also be noted that from all of his Commons speech, reporting hearsay, there is not a single mention of the bloke (so "appalled" that he is) having actually gone out in the fields around Colchester to take a look for himself at how serious a problem this really is, he's quite content to take the word of a few self-interested metal detectorists for it.  The man deserves to lose votes for this.

Fortunately, apart from the hapless Sir Bob, no-one suggested reform to help tekkies, only to help the environment. UPDATE Feb 2013: It turns out that Bob Russell MP is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. God help us all.

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