Friday 17 July 2015

Museum asks detectorists not to melt Civil War musket and cannon balls

PAS distribution of Musket balls
"Only intrestid in th' 'istry, mate" says Baz Thugwit as he place another lead artefact in his 'scrap bucket'. The vast majority of UK artefact hunters do not live in areas where metallic lead occurs in mineral veins, so all the lead found by metal detecting is there because it has been produced and used by man in the past. Each piece of historic lead is an artefact and thus archaeological evidence. Yet, artefact hunters do not collect lead artefacts on the whole, spindlewhorls excepted. So most of it goes to be melted down as scrap ( £0.42 – £1.00 / kg). Artefact hunters collections are collections, not any kind of archaeological sample. Some non-artefact-hunters are raising the alarm (Ben Miller, '"When they are destroyed they are gone permanently": Museum asks detectorists not to melt Civil War musket and cannon balls', Culture 24 16 July 2015).
In the shadows of the spotlights shone on some of the country’s most high-profile and lucrative archaeological finds, musket balls – and, to a lesser extent, cannon balls – almost always have a historical significance outweighing their monetary value. Their amateur finders, believe experts, are sometimes tempted to melt them down and sell them as lead. Despite the importance of the metal detectorist discoveries which line many a museum shelf, there are concerns that some artefacts are being discarded, leaving their tales forever untold. “Where these objects are discovered and in what concentration helps provide a window on the past,” says Glyn Hughes, the Collections Team Leader at the National Civil War Centre in Newark. “But when they are destroyed they are gone permanently and take their story with them.[...]  We have a brilliant relationship with many detectorists, but we want to appeal to a very small minority who may occasionally weigh in musket balls for their lead value to come to us first. “Usually they do so because they lack an understanding of what we can gain by preserving such items.”
An eighteen year project to enlighten them (PAS) was a resounding failure then.  There are just 2,715 of them recorded in the PAS database, that does not look like the work of a "majority" with the minority melting them down, on the contrary it matches what we know from the forums, most are ignored and melted down and the minority are those that can recognize artefacts and their importance and submit them for recording. 

Indeed, the FLO-generated distribution map is interesting, with huge areas where reported accidental finds show the gun was unknown, Deepest Essex and Backwoods Wales for example. Now there's a good return for all those millions of pounds.

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