Saturday 27 September 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting Trashing Weyhill Fair

Vanishing England: coins, buckles, personal
ornaments,  harness fittings, the lot - all
up for grabs in Bonkers Britain
Nigel Swift, 'Now Weyhill Fair, Oh Dear' (27/09/2014) is probably about the only person in the UK to be at all concerned about yet another commercial "charity rally" being held tomorrow targeting the known site of the Weyhill Fair.

I used to pass there daily and thought of it as history personified: 750 years of almost continuous gatherings including the country’s largest sheep fairs (100,000 sheep sold a day at the peak), mentioned in “The Vision of Piers Plowman” (1326) and held on land partly owned by Chaucer (it being quite possible he heard some of his tales from characters at the Fair). Thousands turned up for all sorts of other reasons including hiring workers and all manner of entertainments – probably jousting, sword fighting, dog-baiting, bear-baiting, cockfighting and strolling minstrels. There were also Mystery Plays and mummers. By the sixteenth century it was so large it had an on-site court to settle disputes and deal with lawlessness and thereafter it expanded further to include a horse fair, cheese fair and hop fair. There were even said to be cases of wife-selling there as immortalised by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge.[...] “Sites really don’t come better than this!” [...] Everything dropped on those 60 acres forms an almost unique whole, a continuous record of social and commercial interaction in one small place over seven and a half centuries and crucially, “undetected”! So it’s just crying out for a comprehensive archaeological field survey one day – including, by all means, the use of metal detectors, but conducted entirely in accordance with EH’s “Our Portable Past” standards for professional investigations so as to maximise the intellectual yield for us all.
Yet that is not what is going to happen. Tomorrow ninety collectors will descend on the site and crudely rip out and take away whatever random collectable items they can get their hands on, leaving the rest of it meaningless. A surface assemblage of possibly unique importance trashed, so somebody can raise a thousand quid to give to some charity to make everyone involved feel that bit better about themselves and earn another pat on the head from society. This is being done for purely selfish reasons. Club members pay twelve quid go home with a handfull of finds that, though mostly fairly mundane, if we looked them up on the "Wot's it werf" page of the hobby magazine "Searcher" could be worth fifteen to twenty pounds each at a minimum. At that rate, if the weather is good, hundreds of such collectables worth together well over the amount raised for charity will be going to enhance the monetary worth of a whole load of collectors, and the farmer is left with nothing. This is nothing short of a scandal, yet the archaeological establishment in Britain maintains its usual unconcerned silence as the archaeological record is decimated from right under their noses. Why? If some of the finds dribble back to scattered FLOs are the finders going to hear "you done well" from the Portable Antiquities Scheme boots-on-the-ground?

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