Sunday 25 May 2014

UK Metal Detectorist: We Are The Ones That Have The Rights

The reporting of finds made on a landowner's property by artefact hunters before they take them away is referred to by one metal detectorist as
tak[ing] any fun out of this HOBBY to try and turn it into some kind of majorly regulated and uninteresting pain in the arse.
Let it be noted that what "takes all the fun" out of hoiking artefacts is doing it when the farmer is around for the artefact hunter to get his OK on what it is they are doing, not going in behind the farmer's back. I am not sure what is "uninteresting" about showing the landowner what you've found this time and discussing it with him or her, instead of just waltzing off with it. I rather thought that acting responsibly was indeed falling in behind some kind of discipline in turning the archaeological record into a mine for collectables. To make matters worse, Mr Baines emphasises "collectors' rights" over the artefacts that are actually the landowner's property:
At the end of the day though we are the ones that have the rights, we are the ones who speak to the farmer's and make agreements and we are also the ones who regulate ourselves to be as responsible as we can be. I think we are nailing this whole responsible detecting thing now, things are slowly changing for the better. Metal detectorists are speaking up, asking questions and thinking how they can better the hobby, we don't need the archaeo-bloggers [crudity], it does not help.[...] Don't let their nitpicking ways bother you, it is us who decide our future and the path we take not them.
That is the "responsible detectorist's take on partnership and dialogue. "Eff off yer archies, we'm gonna self-determine this are 'obby areselfs". We've heard it all before, May 2006 to be precise, when the Code of practice for responsible metal detecting in England and Wales was launched, to the dismay of artefact hunters who'd got used to calling themselves "responsible' without the term being defined, when it was, they suddenly found themselves unable to comply. It seems Mr Baines and his followers are going the same way.Yes, actually, part of the process of determining what is, and what is not, responsible behaviour, is inevitably going to be discussing it with various groups also interested in the preservation and use of the archaeological record and seeking their input, advice and giving both consideration. That means talking to archaeologists, no matter how unsavoury Mr Baines consiers that prospect to be. that's what a "partnership" is about, and without that "partnership", there can be no "responsible artefact collecting".

It seems those making the most noise about this (two metal detectorists who declared a few months ago they wanted to lead the way to some more "responsible detecting") really do not understand the wider issues and want "no change" to be regarded as the epitome of "responsible practice". They really seem unable to comprehend that the crux of the matter is not "trust" or (not)"stealing", it is about documenting transfer of ownership.

I think if these critics were to read the blog as a whole, rather than just the posts in it devoted to metal detecting, they would see that a constant theme is documentation of the history of how the object got out of the ground to its present owner. And not only here, this is a key issue in fighting illicit antiquities as a whole. I would have thought the latter was a crucial area of responsible collecting - of any kind - is to combat the problem of illicit antiquities.

So to come back to the metal detectorist's pathetically narrow little perspective, any nighthawk in the land putting a coin or two on eBay can say "yeah, I 'ad th' landowner's permisshin, matter of trust innit?". That's how the illicit stuff is sold (like the "it's from an old collection, innit?").

We are talking about the need to document the transfer of ownership of dugup artefacts from one owner (The landowner) to the person whose collection it enters. Since the existence of landowner's permission is the difference between a nighthawked object from a non-protected site and a licitly-obtained one, it stands to reason that for an object to be verifiable as licit, assumptions and word-of-mouth are not enough. Its the same with New Kingdom shabtis, funerary cones and Syracuse decas. We already have  the recommendations of the Oxford Nighthawking report. We have the 'Glasgow Fourth'. Metal detectorists desiring to become the vanguard of a new responsible phase of the hobby need to look at the way things are going, and the way they have to go to maintain legitimacy of the hobby as more and more of this stuff comes anonymously onto the market.

The responsible artefact hunter has to document licit possession of the items in his collection. This is fundamental to the collection's hygiene. It stands to reason then that the responsible detectorist cannot do that if he just gaily walks of with whatever takes his fancy without the involvement of the only person by English law who can provide confirmation of legitimacy for those artefacts. To be fully law abiding that transfer of ownership needs to be backed up by more than a tekkie's say-so.

I think everything that is documented on this blog shows very well indeed that nineteenth-century "trusting" those disposing of artefacts is not going to get us anywhere in the fight against the trade in illicitly-obtained (stolen) artefacts. If we are to fight heritage crime, we need to be able to physically document the legitimacy of the licitly-obtained artefacts in accordance with the current law. I'd say a lot of people out there are looking to responsible detectorists from the UK to show the way here. If they cannot do it, who will?


P2Pinvested said...

Haha, Paul, detectorists do discuss with archaeologists, and yourself. Hence why there is now a lot more discussion about responsible detecting and a lot more put into practice. There can be no real 'partnership' or discussion with you though as it honestly seems it is either your way or the highway, there is no discussion or consideration for others view's. Under what authority do you think people have to obey to your militant and extremist ways?

Also you twist what I say on my blog post and make it seem different to what it is with you cutting and pasting of quotes.

Paul Barford said...

The word "cut and paste" suggests that the words I attribute to you were actually written by you. If I paraphrase, its a paraphrase. There is a link right at the top to what you said on your blog, anyone who wants to see what you wrote can click on the link and see the original post in all its naive glory.

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