Monday 3 March 2014

Roundup of Concerns over "Near Maidstone A20" Anglo-Saxon Grave Disaster

As the Bridgnorth 'Rally in Aid of History' (based on the Surrey principle) was winding up the artefact hunters of Medway History Finders (only adheres to the NCMD Code) were sharpening their spades and making sarnies. On Sunday 16th Feb 2014, they headed off to dig holes in a known archaeological site conveniently just off the A20 "Near Maidstone". What happened next has been the subject of considerable concern, comment and criticism. This in turn has precipitated an unprecedented degree of anti-preservationist aggression and activity from the metal detectorists, with attacks coming thick and fast. This has tended to obscure three facts, the first is the criticisms and concerns expressed were of a particularly legitimate nature, the second archaeologists have a right and responsibility to look at how policies on protection of the archaeological record are being implemented, thirdly, the archaeological heritage does not just belong to 10-16000 blokes with metal detectorists and the views of those without metal detectorists are equally valid as theirs.

I thought it would be useful to make a list of what I have seen as the concerns this scandal raises. it should be remembered that this is just one find of the thousands made annually, many of the points raised by this event can be applied to most, if not all, of the others.

 The stuff was dug up 16th Feb. The next day the PAS FLO said they'd "done good" to dig it up like that and a few days later was on site herself, smiling and joking with the finders. A video of the finds (by now cleaned) in the finder's bedroom was posted on You Tube on 19th and my first post on the subject was 'Hoiked Finds Seen in Greg's Bedroom' Thursday, 20 February 2014.

On the 22nd Feb, the Kent Mercury article by Emily Stott was published, and concerns were raised in the comments under the article which immediately were answered by tekkie abuse, also in the public comments section (Feb 22nd to 27th).

My second post on the subject drew on the local newspaper's account as well as what was being written on a public metal detecting forum ('Spot the Difference, but Results Still Unsatisfactory', Sunday, 23 February 2014)

My third post was written in response to something the Chairman of the "Medway History Finders" metal detecting club had said about me in the public comments of the Kent Mercury article ('Focus on UK metal Detecting: Holedigger Pete Looking for a Real Man', Tuesday, 25 February 2014). The comments under this post (which are a selection of the flood he sent -and continues to send) taken with the original remarks give an insight into the mentality of a certain group of detectorists.

From now on because of this aggro in response to perfectly justifiable comments, I revert to my "Focus on Metal Detecting" header. The fourth post was prompted by watching a key source of information, a video put up bt "Medway History Finders" about the discovery and subsequent small-scale excavation by Andrew Mayfield and the Finds Liaison Officer some time at the end of the week (Thursday 20th?): 'Focuson UK Metal Detecting: Digging up "The A20 Medway-Finders-TrashedAnglo-Saxon Grave"...', Tuesday, 25 February 2014). [duplicate text elsewhere, instead of discussion, some detectorists are currently trying to get this post taken down]

Then, since there was so much talk about how the finders allegedly "had no alternative", I wrote a text considering if that really was the case ('Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "The "A20" Medway-Finders-Trashed Anglo-Saxon Grave" - Did they Have to Dig it Up?', Tuesday, 25 February 2014). WEell, of course they did not, that was just a convenient excuse.

I then turn to one of the leitmotifs of this blog, just how much artefact hunters and collectors understand about the conservation issues involved (ie the main reason why there ARE concerns about these activities - however much they'd like to pretend otherwise): 'Focus on Metal Detecting: Tekkie Nonsense Writhing on Conservation', Wednesday, 26 February 2014. basically we can see from what they write that in the UK PAS are making very little headway with metal detectorists explaining what is what, because they reveal they have not got a clue what it is we are discussing. This theme is explored in another post: 'The People Luv us: the "A20 Popularity contest"..', Friday, 28 February 2014). 

As a result of what was in the public domain, there has been more and more talk about the need for this activity to be regulated to obtain maximum public benefit, and the question of registration has been cropping up several times: 'Focus on Metal Detecting: Pirate Ray Hits the Nail on the Head', Wednesday, 26 February 2014. This is a relative novelty, such calls were very muted in the past. The tide perhaps is about to turn?

The accounts of the discovery by the finders turns out to be unreliable, there are two different versions ('The A20 Grave Trashing: Questions about the Timing of Events', Wednesday, 26 February 2014). Even the depth of the finds is in doubt, the excavator says "twenty inches' which is just over half a metre, but when the detectorists' hole was emptied (from the film it looks to be), it was about 38-40cm deep.   This raises the question about the whole matter of reporting contexts of discovery to the PAS as second-hand information.

I was criticised for pointing out that what one could read on the forums and the voice-overs on the videos revealed that many of the people involved in this find do not give the impression of being among the most intellectually able members of the British public. That is bound to be a controversial observation, here's (part of) why I think that important when we entrust exploring archaeological layers and assemblages to artefact hunters: 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: It's not just snobbism', Thursday, 27 February 2014.  

The video showing the excavation had striven to hide the location of the site. I had a hunch however that it was a known site which had been targeted (regular readers will know that I differ from the received opinion that most metal detector finds are accidental off-site finds, I think there is evidence that the converse is true). I wrote to two archaeological colleagues (Andrew Mayfield who was actively commenting on my blog and Facebook, and Jennifer Jackson who is paid to do liaison with all sectors  of the public on portable antiquities matters) asking a simple yes-no question about the site (NOT the finds). Mr Mayfield ignored my request for information totally, and Ms Jackson twice sent back a reply which I consider... Curt, Unhelpful and Covering-up? (Thursday, 27 February 2014). My third letter remains without a reply. By the time that post was written I had not only identified the site from the video (which was then promptly hidden and taken down) but found out from an online resource what is there. The moment I see somebody else gives the name of the site online, I'll have something to say about that. I can wait.

In the meantime, this was the context for the next post ('Focuson UK Metal Detecting: Bonker's Britain's Top Museum Said "we DoneRight"?', Friday, 28 February 2014) on the actual evidence that the PAS and "the top three men in the BM" as well as unspecified "archaeologists" had said the Medway History Finders had done well hoiking this stuff out. The people quoted of course have maintained their silence over two weeks now. Just for good measure, one possible reason why they are not saying anything despite their public mission: 'A PAS Cover-up?', and 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Just what was Targeted? ' Friday, 28 February 2014. Why is the PAS unwilling to answer a simple question about what was known about the site before that fateful "club dig"?
Meanwhile it was taking a long time for many of Britain's artefact hunters to get to grips with the implications of what ad happened on that hilltop near Maidstone, 'Focus on Metal Detecting: A20 grave trashers unrepentant?' Friday, 28 February 2014. That's not really surprising if the PAS Kent FLO really was telling them all that this hoiking had been the best thing to do. I pointed out (and my tracking software says she and somebody else from Kent County Council has read this) the dissonance between 'A20 Grave Trashing: "You Done Well" and Kent County Council Policy' (Friday, 28 February 2014).  I looked to see what the reactions had been on the forums 'Focus on Metal Detecting: the first Voice of Concern from Responsible Metal Detectorists', 28 Feb 2014. Although it took a long time, the Medway History Finders in the end "invited an archaeologist to come along to a club meeting and give us a talk on how to deal with a hoard" ('Consequence of Discussion of the A20 Grave-trashing Fiasco?', Friday, 28 February 2014).

This however is not the end of the matter. Now we are seeing the true extent of tekkie ignorance about what all the fuss was about as the self-justifications continue: 'Focus on UK Detecting: Dealing with Ignorant Hoiking in the UK', Friday, 28 February 2014. 

(to be continued, no doubt).  


Charles Peters said...

I am intrigued by the FLO allegedly advising them to dig it up because he/she could not get there and why this club decided it was the best thing to do rather than wait. There is the old reason of 'Nighthawks' might get to it but in reality, what chance is there that a nighthawk (thief) is driving by and realising that they have found something of value? How about the more likely scenario that with ball those detectorists milling around, the club themselves had doubts about the integrity of its OWN MEMBERS as these are the only ones who truly knew what had been found and where. I suspect this is the real reason that they thought best to remove the items from the soil.

Unknown said...

A good point Charles Peters...This is a very real problem when you have large metal detecting clubs. Maintaining the control and integrity of the membership is a real concern.

Paul Barford said...

The FLO is a she, and as far as I know they are not saying (thank God) that they "should dig it up". If they were afaid of their own members, they could keep guard in groups of two.

There is no excuse for what they did and I think the Treasure award should be cut for both finder and the landowner who allowed it (they are his property until an inquest decides otherwise).

Charles Peters said...

You can't cut the reward for the landowner. What has he or she got to do with this?

Paul Barford said...

Everything. The landowner authorised the search on this site, and the finders are obliged to agree the treatment of the finds with them, by LAW. If If the landowner agreed to the removal of the finds without archaeological supervision, thuis rediucing the scientific value of the find, then the landowner should also get his award (which is 100% discretionary please note) cut.

If the finders removed the items without his authorisation, then he can sue them for his full share.

I think only be getting tough with these people will we see best practice and THE LAW observed here.

Charles Peters said...

Are you proposing this as a future legislative stipulation Mr Barford? Not that I for one iota disagree with this in principle, it was your comment that was lacking in detail as to whether this is the current situation (I think it is not). If not, then currently the landowner cannot be chastised and penalised for the actions of others.

Paul Barford said...

"(I think it is not). "
Well, you are wrong.

Check the law.

The finders are acting as the landowner's agent. What they do on his land is under his sole control and under his sole discretion. Metal detectorists may deny that when Heritage Action point it out, but it IS what the law says.

Charles Peters said...

Please excuse my lack of detailed knowledge on the subject of Treasure rewards, my comment was in respect to your comment regarding the reduction of the treasure reward. Can you clarify whether the current law can reduce the reward for poor practise in terms of the discovery of treasure items?

Paul Barford said...

Tell you what, Charles. Why don't you ask that nice FLO of yours to explain to you how the Treasure process works? OK? Maybe if you ask nicely she will show you where to find the Code of practice on the PAS website, and if necessary (probably) explain the law. OK? They are paid to deal with your lack of knowledge, I am not.

Ask her to explain the Treasure Act Article 10(7) and paragraph 84 of the Code, and stop wasting my time with your questions which result only from laziness.

Charles Peters said...

Good god man, is that the level of your dialogue? I ask a very civil question and you respond in this manner and accuse me of being lazy when in fact, I am inquisitive of the subject and the comments you make and want to understand the subject better and this is how you respond? I have never viewed anyone who takes an interest in my subject matter as a time waster, rather someone with whom I can share with and engage in mutually interesting conversation. Simply astounding pompous verbosity of the highest order!!

Detectorbloke said...

Perhaps this find is a case whereby 79viii of the Treasure Act Code of Practice should be referred to and the reward reduced.

79viii states

(Finders may expect to receive no rewards at all or abated rewards under the following circumstances)

(viii) where significant damage has been done deliberately or recklessly either to the actual object, or to a surrounding monument or to the archaeological deposits making up the contexts which may explain the circumstances in which the object became buried or concealed, when the object was removed from the place where it was found;

When you say the award is 100 pct discretionary are you referring to the fact the reward can be turned down?

It is my understanding that a reward will always have to be paid as per 71 of the Code

'With the finder’s consent, full and appropriate recognition of such action should always be given'

unless of course any of the exceptions apply.

Paul Barford said...

@ Charles Peters

And your "subject matter" is ?

You really are being very tiresome.

First of all, your entire history of posting comments over here (and elsewhere) in reality consists of various attempts at "gotcha" comments, rather than questions intended actually to elicit information, and whatever you say that goes for this series too. There is nothing in what you say that I can "share with and engage in a mutually interesting conversation"

Secondly, it is not, and has never been, my intention to use this blog as a means of having a "dialogue" with collectors. This is ABOUT them, not FOR them.

Thirdly I say again, take it to the FLO, it's her job to answer queries like that.

Alternatively you could just look it up, the PAS audience survey says the PAS website is "excellent" at providing this sort of info, so why are you not using it?

Fourthly at the moment, I am trying to contact my friends in Ukraine and find out how they are, and you keep pestering me with your silly gotcha games and asking questions that a normally intelligent person could find the answers of themselves. So yes, you are being lazy and a timewaster.

Fifthly, yes I am both pompous, and verbose, you forgot arrogant and afew other adjectives. I can live with it. Nobody makes you read what I write.

As I say, go and pester the FLO with your questions, that's what she's there for.


Paul Barford said...

Thank you for demonstrating that the text of the Treasure Act etc are obtainable by the skilled use of a computer mouse left click button. It seems not everybody can do that and they have to have it handed on a plate.

Yes, the reward is not guaranteed by law, see art. 10 of the treasure Act (esp. para. 6), it is customary, and became so only quite recently with regard to the old Treasure Trove when prices of antiquities were lower and there were no metal detectors around.

Certainly when someone admits they dug a socking big hole straight down through a "mound" and then archaeological excavation finds no trace of the feature one could say this is very much a case where where
"significant damage has been done deliberately or recklessly [...] to a surrounding monument or to the archaeological deposits making up the contexts which may explain the circumstances in which the object became buried or concealed"

But my guess is that there will be few archaeologists who'd actually agree with that publicly and say the reward should not be paid in such a case.

Recording boycott threat number eighteen?

Detectorbloke said...

It was the fact the bloke was standing in the hole which looked more like a bomb had hit it that got me.

Be interesting to see the reaction if they did get zilch!

Paul Barford said...

Well, they seem to have Kent archaeology and the PAS FLO on their side, neither are "prepared to discuss this matter", which I guess means one thing.

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