Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The "Conservation Trap" by a Metal Detectorist

On a metal detecting site near you, member "Geoman" (Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:22 pm) holds forth on what he calls the "old HLS trap". The idea of the Higher Stewardship Level conservation zone is to put an area under protection by putting it under a minimum tillage regime, or grassing it. Obviously artefact hunting is not conserving a site, so should be conducted only in the form of a proper survey. Geoman is rather scathing of such a manner of preservation, suggesting it may only appeal to those he calls that the "ethically challenged of the archaeological world". He thinks HSL listing is some vast conspiracy:
All this represents is scheduling by the back door using EU money because English Heritage now have dispensed with scheduling sites to save money. Besides if the many sites put into HLS were good enough to meet the scheduling criteria they would have been added to the list years ago so are we looking at wish list protection in action.
He suggests metal detectorists consider a few things first and decide if this is the best way forward:
Firstly the stratification of the site will have been long destroyed by ploughing and often to some depth and being taken out of arable cultivation is not going to remedy this. Secondly corrosion of metal finds continues. Thirdly all the process has done is fossilise an unscheduled cropmark or archaeological site which is likley will never be looked at by archaeologists so the state of knowledge of what the site is remains fixed. To allow metal detecting to take place will add further knowledge to the site. The recovery of vulnerable metallic remains for recording from a plough homogenised horizon with no meaningful stratification, will add a spatial distribution of MD finds and so add value to the corpus of information about the site. Finally the site is vulnerable to nighthawks and damage by rabbits and badger digging. 
Sadly his conclusion from all this is that artefact hoikers should avoid co-operation with heritage management professionals and keep the information about what they've taken to themselves:
Moral of the story - record in detail and volume at your peril as HLS applications take into account all the PAS data transferred to the HER's for the area. The selection of which sites to put down to grass and so exclude metal detecting, could well be influenced by MD finds which have elevated a fieldwalked artefact scatter with a few vague crop marks to an archaeological site because of the metal finds recorded with the PAS. Remember the criteria for selection resides with the County Archaeologists who act as advisers to Natural England in HLS application for which their HER department gets paid, and so will overegg the interest to get the work safe in the fact that others with deep pockets are paying the HLS bills.
So much for responsible metal detecting, eh? It's an OK slogan to spout off in the face of those who voice concerns, and archaeologists slap these fellows on the back and say "when you are doing it responsibly you are our partners ! Love you guys!". The trouble is that it is easy to claim that "most" artefact hunters are "responsible" without anybody feeling a need to qualify or quantify that.  It is good to see that two members told Geoman what they thought of his suggestions. Jungle noted he was wrong about HSL, and "Trotboy", who seems to have good relations with the archaeological team down in Devon, contributed this: 
As to the implication that we shouldn't record finds I find that contemptuous - that's the reason I detect. I don't do it to keep things in a shoebox in the Garage forever more. [...] If all you're doing is trying to rip out as many 'goodies' without recording them - to keep them under your bed or flog them on ebay - then I'm all for that being stopped. Surely the reason we detect is to learn about the past and add to the information - not just to plunder.
Having said that, if Geoman had propounded something that truly was regarded by forum members as wholly unethical, surely would there not be a whole crowd of members lining up to tell him they thought he was wrong? There would be two or three pages of five-word congratulations if he's announced he'd found a silver brooch, so why not several pages of comments from all those "responsible detectorists" when he says something like that? And where, in all this is the PAS?  How do they intend engaging with their "audience" if they totally ignore this sort of talk? 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"scheduling by the back door using EU money because English Heritage now have dispensed with scheduling sites to save money..... we looking at wish list protection in action."

What if it was?! EH are starved of funds. Note how "protection" is seen as somehow a bad thing.


He should post all that verbatim on BAJR Forum. Even Mr Connolly would tell him every syllable was ignorant garbage but the gyrations he'd employ to say that nevertheless Geoman was an heroic figure would power a medium sized county town for some months so some good would come of it.

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