Friday 22 February 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Digging Up the PASt" Commercial Artefact Hunting Rally Organizers

The organizers of several "charity rallies" is a group called "Digging Up the PASt" (DUTP). Since they are artefact hunters, more appropriate would have been to call it "Digging up and Taking Away the PASt". They have a website here see also the forum here. The whois domain search tool shows the website was created by a "David Hutchings" on 19th Sept 2012. 

This organization has a fixed membership of 100 members, each paying a fifteen pound subscription just to be a member, they then attend the various commercial rallies "hosted" and arranged by the group for which they pay an entrance fee. They proclaim that their aim is the finding and "recovery" of dugup objects which they say "form an important part of our heritage". They claim that by hoiking archaeological objects out of their burial context, they are in some way "preserving our history".

The DUPT artefact hunters and collectors also claim on their home page to collaborate closely (which DUTP claim they "actively encourage") with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, represented by "our local Finds Liaison Officer" (sic). Indeed, they say they pride themselves on what they call their "responsible" approach to artefact hunting and their ability somehow to make a contribution to "improving knowledge" (sic) [eh?]. These claims however are rather contradicted by the evidence of the PAS database itself, where a number of "Digging up the PASt" commercial rallies are listed, but no FLO is listed in attendance and only a few finds have entered the database resulting from this group's artefact-hoiking. Take a look:
Digging Up The Past - Upper Dean, Beds  23rd-24th February 2013 (one 'record' - empty),
Hinwick, Beds - Digging Up The Past  24th- 25th  November 2012  (0 records - which it is interesting to compare with the number and nature of finds illustrated in their newsletter, they report "many" finds of which at least 18 are PAS record-worthy)
Digging Up The Past - Upper Dene, Beds 6th-7th October 2012  (3 coins)
Digging up the Past - Barton in the Beans, Leics 2012
29th - 30th September 2012 (3 coins, one ring)
Digging Up the Past - Yieldon [recte Yielden] , Beds, 9th Sep 2012
  Sunday 9th September 2012 (1 coin)
Digging Up The Past - Keysoe (Pertenhall), Beds
8th - 9th September 2012 (0 records)
Digging The Past - Caldecott, Northants
Sunday 29th April 2012 (3 coins)
Digging The Past - Mears Ashby, Northants
Sunday 15th April 2012 (0 records)
Digging The Past - Shutlanger, Northants
Sunday 12th February 2012 (1 'record' empty)
Digging Up The Past - Passenham, Northants
, Sunday 29th January 2012 (8 Roman coins + another six 'records'  according to PAS website, but inaccessible). 
Digging Up The Past - Odstone, Leics
Sunday 15th January 2012 (1 button, 2 coins)
Digging up the Past - Shackerstone, Leics, 2012
Sunday 1st January 2012 (sic!) to Tuesday 16th October 2012 (one record, Medieval key).

So the grand total of records in the PAS database emerging from 17+ days searching by a club with 100 members (let's say about half turned up for most events, but then some also involved paying non-members) is a mere 31 records, 20 of them coins. The clue to what is happening here is the adjective "significant" attached to the glib assertion that their finds are recorded for them by the PAS . This is a ploy we find in many a detecting club, here, in the case of contrasting what the PAS database actually contains with the report in the DUTP newsletter on the club's rally at  Hinwick, we see what is not being recorded because regarded as "insignificant" by the finders. Scandalous. Does the landowner know or care?

DUTP claims that through their activities coupled with the PAS recording, their commercial artefact hunting rallies are  contributing to the construction of a "bigger picture" (the scare quotes are theirs) of what they call "our local history".  It is difficult to see what they mean by this, given that their activities are so scattersed throughout the Midlands. Most of their commercial rallies are in an area some 40 by 20 km between Northamption and St Neots, while another cluster are a few sites in an area 3km across east of Tamworth. So what kind of "local area" is meant is wholly unclear.

Other justification rhetoric has also been handed straight to them by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Thus it is said that current threats to the heritage means we should preserve as much as possible, but of course as artefact collectors, these metal detectorists consider this entirely in terms of the loose artefacts contained in the archaeological deposits assemblages and patterns. Most of the rest of us conceive of "preservation" as referring primarily to the latter as a source of information.

According to Hutchings and his tekkie mates, these artefacts in the soil are themselves under threat from increasingly-deep ploughing, as well as the development of agricultural land. These people suggest that metal detecting is the only way to learn something about and record it (merely by hoiking out the collectable and saleable finds you understand). They quote (but wholly misleadingly) a specific local example at Crick in Northamptonshire [see the post below this one] where they claim that the site was destroyed forever by development, presumably we are invited to consider that it would have been preferable for the finds to be hoiked out and into ephemeral and undocumented personal collections.

The DUTP artefact hunting group claims that instead of sites being destroyed by development and deep ploughing, it finds them and in conjunction with the landowner who gets his 'cut', organizes commercial rallies (on sites threatened by development without archaeological mitigation? how so?). These surveys however are not holistic because the website makes clear that only "significant and important finds" are recorded with the PAS. As we saw above there is a very minimalistic and somewhat random aproach to defining what is taken to the PAS and eventually will be of assistance (sic) in constructing and augmenting "the knowledge of our heritage" (sic).

With all the emphasis placed on them being such a responsible group, we may turn to the club rules to see how this is reflected there. Nothing special can be seen there, it's mostly the usual stuff about conduct in the field (fill in holes, close gates, stay within the law) their idea of a Code of Responsible Practice involves merely following the NCMD Code (NOT the CBA/PAS and the other heritage organizations- promoted one) so I really do not see how they can regard themselves as "responsible". Neither do I see the PAS, CBA or anyone else protesting against that. Aparently the code of conduct does not involve not mistreating excavated metal work, there is a section (in "Geek's Corner") on "waxing your finds" and they are not talking of car-boot-sale mahogany card tables... It is interesting to note that most of it is about how to melt wax over a naked flame safely (!) rather than the consequences for the find of smothering it in such a material, rather like the Code of Conduct is about sdhutting gates, not annoying bulls and filling in holes rather than the archaeological aspects of what they are doing. It seems to be in the mentality.

The links page contains links to the usual (PAS, metal detectorist suppliers, coin collectors' suppliers) but some one wonders about (CLASP for example, what has this to do with artefact hoiking and collection?) and something masquerading as an online music store, but if you dig a little deeper is in fact a branch of 'Rocks Off Unlimited', a sex toy manufacturer. You might have known there'd be a link between metal detecting and the sex industry turn up sooner or later.

Then, most importantly comes the DUTP webpage "copyright" . These people quite obviously do not want you discussing what they put on their website and forum, they do not want you to copy and then disseminate any material from their either which includes information (pictures and textual material from the website or the forums unless directly authorised by themselves. So much then for "fair use" and transparency about delings with the common archaeological heritage? Why are they so worried that people may look over their shoulder and comment on what they see? The heritage belongs to everybody, not just a few blokes with metal detectors and deep pockets.Let us all have a good look at what these folk are up to.

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