Wednesday 17 April 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: The Bounds of "Responsibility"

"All metal detectorists are responsible, its only the nighthawks that are the problem" goes the official creed. Like most of the things said about artefact hunting in the UK, on closer examination that turns out to be glib superficial rubbish. Many metal detectorists are not responsible, they go deep-searching on long-unploughed sites for example. Many refuse to or neglect to report what they find (though there is some controversy about the extent of this phenomenon, there is no doubt in most objective observers' minds that there is an issue here).

One of the reasons for this is sheer bloody-mindedness. At various intervals, the metal detectorists of britain (most often led by their NCMD) announce that if their "partner", the Portable Antiquities Scheme, does not do or say what they demand, they will withdraw the favour of showing them the finds they have ripped from the common archaeological resource and appropriated for their own personal use. Nigel Swift has counted 15 previous strike threats here. Just recently we have been witness to a sixteenth (see post below).

Another reason cited is that the degree of recording that is going on has not prevented people questioning the degree to which the erosion is being mitigated by current measures. Since it has not provided the 100% total legitimation of artefact hunting those involved in it desire, these erstwhile "responsible reporters" have decided its not worth their while. In the thread on a detecting forum near you ("Re: Barford comes to our shores"), one "nero" explains that it is the fault of somebody he calls "Barfart" who has allegedly been "slagging us [metal detectorists I presume he means] off for so long"  that he or she has stopped reporting finds to the PAS [Sun Apr 14, 2013 8:45 pm]
It's because of him I have now stopped recording, as he is the one driving the wedge between us and the P.A.S.
I find the logic of that position somewhat difficult to comprehend. I am equally critical of the PAS as I am of the policies it promotes and upholds. Without the PAS and the way it promotes a rosy picture of its "partners" the hobby would have been regulated a decade or more ago. I'd say if the detectorists do not want this to happen, rather than pretending that criticism drives a wedge separating them, they should work together to refute that criticism. But perhaps logic is not "nero's" strong point, and it's easier to think up facile excuses than buckle down and engage the real issues. Somebody calling himself "demon hunter" concurs [Sun Apr 14, 2013 8:55 pm]:
I totally agree, the more he rants the less I want to record.
I think for them to even give him the time of day for his talk, speaks volumes!
So, apparently the condition" for this "responsible detectorist" to responsibly show what he's taking is that the critics and polemicists are all silenced. Furthermore that no opportunity is ever given for archaeologists to even discuss the issues among themselves, not even in a university heritage group seminar. For the record, there was no "ranting" in UCS Ipswich on 10th April 2013. Just very civil discussion of the main issues raised by the seminar's title (only spoilt by the subsequent irresponsible behaviour of the artefact hunters allowed to attend).

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