Monday 9 June 2014

UK Metal Detectorist 'scraps' Ancient Metal Artefacts for Cash

UK metal detectorist "Janner" ('Metal Detecting Scrap', Sunday 8 June 2014) describes the his three categories of artefact hunting finds, pocketable, scrap-bucket and 'hedge-fodder'. The first go to enrich his personal collection, the second his bank balance, and the third litter the environment. He justifies his 'scrap-bucket' finds in the following way:
I like to clear my permissions of any trash I find for four reasons, one it helps the farmer keep his land free of the stuff, two it helps the environment, three it saves digging it up again and four it lines my pocket. You may think that small piece of lead or brass is not worth much but you will be surprised how it mounts up over time.
He then explains what he actually does:
The rusted iron I don't bother with and ends up as hedge fodder as the price you would get for it in my opinion is not worth the hassle, that's if you can get a scrap dealer to take it off your hands in the first place.
This rather contradicts with the aim of cleaning a farmer's land of foreign objects. It seems he can only do this 'favour' for the ones he can earn extra cash on. He'll dump the rusty metal objects in among the wild plants at the foot of a carefully managed hedgerow: blunt or sharp, big or small. There they could get caught by hedge-maintenacnce tools, blunting them, or even causing a serious accident. Wild animals using the hedgerow as a movement corridor can get injured on the sharp edges of rusting metal. Local concentrations of metal ions in the soil will be increased in the sensitive zone which now is the only refuge for many wild plants and endangered fauna in heavily-farmed land. None of this is "helping the environment" or the landowner - both current and future. This metal detectorit's hardly bothered with this however, what he's after is the cash:
The bits of lead, copper, brass and bronze I take home and eventually sort it into individual buckets. Why bother some of you might say, well, the price of lead at the moment is around 90p a KG, copper around £3.00 a KG, brass around £2.00 a KG. These prices can go up and down a little day to day, but hey, its free money for a bit of effort.
He says he's found "just over 30 KG = £27.00" of lead artrefacts he's going to melt down, and "6 KG = £18.00" of what he describes as "copper grot coins". This, he gleefully announces is
£45.00 so far with more to sort. A handy sum to go towards a metal detecting accessory.
Surely what he meant is, the portion of that which the landowner returns to him is. Mr Janner gives the impression here that he intends to take the money from selling off items taken from another's land and spend it. Has he got all these items signed off by the landowner? Under the new measures in place in the UK to prevent metal theft, Mr Janner could be asked to provide documentation that he obtained here items legally, that they are not stolen from somewhere. Can he?

These "grot coins" and copper, brass and lead objects did not fall from the sky. They are in the fields of Mr Janner's landowner due to past activities. The study of those finds and their distribution across a site in relation to other material will tell us about those activities. They are therefore evidence of past activity. The artefact hunter in it for the history and not the money would be looking at this material and trying to work out how to use it as an historical source, not how much money he can get from destroying it.

The lead scraps scattered across a Roman site for example (in conjunction with evidence from the cross-site distributions of associated material) might tell us something about plumbing arrangements, roof flashings and metal working activities associated with the use of the site and/or its demolition. Non-collectable "grot" coins nevertheless are artefacts with something to tell about the history of the site they were hoiked from, and the relative frequency of the distribution of certain issues in a particular area and the speed of circulation (through the wear) or attitudes towards or reuse of coins (modifications to its shape) - the main characteristics qualifying an artefact as a 'grot' in a collector's (but not archaeologist's) eye.

To what extent can one trust a metal detectorist to be able on his or her own, with no background, to decide what is, and what is not significant archaeological evidence when they have no defined research strategies for their work (other than hoik-what-I-can) on the basis of which to make such an assessment? The problem has one dimension when the finds are properly archived by site with records of what came from where, and totally another when kilogrammes of unrecognized potential archaeological evidence is simply sold off to be melted down without any kind of consultation anywhere. Site assemblages are being split up by this differential treatment (non-collectable artefacts destroyed without record for money). 

This totally dismissive attitude to items not desirable as collectables is the main difference between collecting and archaeology. Collecting is not an archaeological activity, and the "information" it generates is not archaeological information.

Surely responsible detecting means also taking responsibility for the information and objects not required for one's own personal needs, and not individuals taking unilateral, irreversible and uninformed decisions to trash everything they do not want for themselves, meaning nobody else can use it. Is that not a good definition of responsible behaviour when exploiting a finite resource for one's own use, what other could there be?


Anonymous said...

You're very unkind to poor Mr Janner. I'm sure he will have used the "rip off the yokel" clause carefully included in the NCMD model finds agreement:

"in consideration of the payment to the landowner / occupier of............% of the value or rewards arising from the recovery of any property or objects found by the undersigned [herein after called the licensee(s)] over the value of £ ......."

- so that scrap is his M8, he's got a piece of paper saying so - and you can quite moaning because PAS tells farmers to get a finds agreement and doesn't say anything about avoiding tricky words so tricky words is fine, OK?

Thank Gawd PAS is on the side of the tattoo army, not ruddy farmers.

Paul Barford said...

So as long as he lugs the buckets off to the scrap dealer before they get too full, and keeps the receipt, he's covered you mean? Sneaky. Buyt the point is what is IN those buckets and what could have been done with it had it been obtained by others with a different research agenda than pocketing collectables and selling the rest of a farmer's property for profit.

Anonymous said...

No he doesn't need a receipt, it's about TRUST innit?

But yes, loss of historical knowledge is a grubby thread running through the whole of metal detecting. 70% unreported, x% not subject to expert appraisal, y% subject to fraudulent misrepresentation vis a vis the farmer's share so hidden or laundered, and we end up with 100% minus (70% + x% + y%)of detectorists being lauded as a benefit to Britain to avoid admitting to the original policy mistake.

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