Monday 19 October 2015

Mr Crawford's Pockets

Antiquity collector John Hooker is promoting the words and sentiments of metal detectorist Dean Crawford and wants to use the story to illustrate his thesis that "archaeologist (sic) and bureaucratic mismanagement wasted all that Dean had to offer". While the reasoning behind that statement is unclear, it seems to be connected in some way with the creation of the PAS for putting newly-discovered sites on the map  ("Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the loss of knowledge").

As we know, metal detecting artefact hunters are constantly banging on about how "the plough and agricultural chemicals" was damaging sites and the finds in them. They want to see the effects reduced, they say. But their idea is to hoik the lot out into their own pockets to "save" the best finds (for themselves).

When the government decided to do something about the destruction of the archaeological record by plough damage, one of the things they did was to institute in 2001 the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in which landowners were encouraged to manage their land to protect not only the natural environment but also the historical environment. Here by a system of subsidies farmers were encouraged to practice less damaging forms of landuse on sensitive sites. Mr Crawford found that hoiking out all the diagnostic metal objects from a site into a collector's pocket is not everybody's idea of how to "preserve" it and as a result of the scheme being put in place, certain sensitive areas were closed to hobby metal detecting, but not to proper question-based and methodological metal detector survey. Which is how it should be, no? But Mr Crawford was not interested in doing any of that, so - putting selfish interests ahead of letting the public know about which bits of the common heritage he was targeting:
"I decided to stop reporting sites as my information began to work against me [...] Romano-British sites that I had reported were seeing land use changes, taken out of crop rotation and put under permanent pasture, without any communication to me from the people to whom I gave this valuable information. This is fine if you want to hang up your detector, as finds no longer come into the range of the detector from cultivation. Whilst this can be beneficial for preservation, I advised them that they should at least inform recorders that this can and will happen and they will effectively lose their sites, hence the PAS will lose their recorders and gain enemies.
"Recorders" or collectors? Why are recorders reporting finds? Is it so the information is made available for public purposes, which includes allowing decisions to be made about what to do about sites in areas where they are being damaged? Or is it simply so they can "go through the motions" of appearing responsible? Mr Crawford seems to be saying that the PAS had a duty to tell "recorders' that if they record finds from sites including those which are sensitive site, some of those sites may later become unavailable for exploitation by collectors. That includes sites where repeated deep ploughing is responsible for bringing finds out from below ploughsoil level, so that they "come into the range of the detector" and can be hoiked into Mr Crawford's pocket. In other words, Mr Crawford is advocating giving hoikers a choice, report a site and allow it to be protected to some extent from damage, or keep quiet about it and let it get further damaged, while they contribute to that erosion of history and damage by clandestinely removing bucketloads of finds from it all without proper record before somebody finds out. Is that this "responsible detecting" we hear so much about?

Is it 'mismanagement' to take environmentally sensitive areas of the landscape, including easily-damaged sites thousands of years old out of intensive cultivation? Or is that what resource management is about? How to balance the long-term interests of society with those of an exploitive minority out to grab bits of the heritage for their own personal entertainment and profit?

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