Sunday, 17 December 2017

Colourful post on the 'Revised Code of "Responsible Metal Detecting"....' Which Appeared Without Fanfare [longish]

You would not know it, but there has been an extensive revision of the 2006 'Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales' which now has a new title 'Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017)' and a new numeration of points. There are several things odd about that, especially when you compare this with what happened around the launch of the previously existing one (which I assume is now superseded) back in the middle of the last decade. Firstly the consultation of this new one was very low-key. Secondly the metal detecting organizations (NCMD and FID) are not listed among those endorsing it. Thirdly, the launch of this new Code has gone totally uncommented in the major metal detecting forums and discussion lists, which seethed with self-determination tub-thumping over the last one and the emergence of a bowdlerised rival code 'by detectorists, for detectorists' and the emergence of the UKDFD. Why is this and what does this new document change? I attempt here a textual analysis, comparing old and new versions and some of the changes might raise a few eyebrows, not just in the detecting world. Not least in that it seems to me that quite a few of the changes that are introduced have a direct relationship to some of the criticisms myself and Nigel Swift were aiming at the old one (first on Britarch and then on our blogs... so even if we've affected their reasoning by osmosis, that is gratifying)

In the press release accompanying its launch (20th Anniversary Marks Record Year for Treasure Found by the Public Published), there are two sentences about the Code's new wording:
Also announced was an updated Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, which provides guidance on best archaeological practice for finders. [...]   Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, said [...] The new Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales outlines exactly what is expected if people want to help archaeologists better understand our shared past."
If people want to help archaeologists understand the past, they'd stop ripping the diagnostic artefacts out of the archaeological record and pocketing it for themselves.  Below, we will see if this document actually proposes anything near 'best archaeological practice' (it does not) or 'outline' what an artefact hunter would have to do to record the context of deposition and discovery of the artefacts they hoik (it most certainly does not).

So here is my analysis of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017) [available here:]. The old one is still available (here for the moment, download it as PAS-supporters tend to scrub the Internet of old texts documenting how they subtly change their 'mission').

To explain the conventions below, text in b
lack is the wording of the existing text, red text has been added in the revision, and I have shown the text that has been deleted in green and with strikethrough. I will discuss each of the six sections separately to split it up into manageable chunks:

Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017)
If undertaken responsibly[,] metal-detecting can make an important contribution to archaeological knowledge. This document aims to provide guidance for metal-detectorists who wish to contribute to our understanding of the history of England and Wales. It combines both the requirements of finders under the law, as well as more general voluntary guidance on accepted best practice. 
This whole preamble was missing from the original, which began 'Being responsible means:'. Just for the sake of discussion, let us just ignore the fundamental quibble that I would have whether there is actually something that we can call 'responsible' Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record - I say that is an oxymoron from the beginning. Neither do I think that when you look at it more carefully, the 'contribution to archaeological knowledge' is as important as  supporters of relic-collecting pretend, and certainly does not compensate for the enormous destruction being done by Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. This has nothing to do with not enough items being reported, but that is an added issue which needs to be taken into account in any discussion on this. Is it responsible to take part (no matter how thoughtfully) in a hobby which in its current form is so destructive? 

Again, I would ask whether what here is presented is in any way an 'acceptable' manner to treat the fragile and finite surface evidence of the past in England and Wales. The text Our Portable Past sets out in some detail a methodology for using metal detectors in the generation of (real) knowledge about the past, and I find it odd that the authors of that document are included below as among those endorsing the grabby-grubby artefact pocketing by collectors as something they'd class as 'acceptable'. In what way are the two compatible in real joined-up thinking?  As for the text of the document:

Being responsible means:
Before you go metal-detecting
1.   Not trespassing; before you start detecting obtain permission to search from the landowner, regardless of the status, or perceived status, of the land. Remember that all land (including parks, public open-spaces, beaches and foreshores) has an owner and an occupier (such as a tenant farmer) can only grant permission with both the landowner's and tenant's agreement. Any finds discovered will normally be the property of the landowner, so to avoid subsequent disputes it is advisable to get permission and agreement in writing first regarding the ownership of any finds subsequently discovered. (see /
2.    Adhering to the laws  Obeying the law concerning protected sites (such as those defined as Scheduled Monuments, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or military crash sites, and those involving human remains: you can obtain details of these from the landowner/occupier, Finds Liaison Officer, Historic Environment Record or at www., and also those other sites on which metal-detecting might also be restricted (such as land under Countryside Stewardship or other agri-environment schemes). You can obtain details of these sites from several sources, including the landowner/occupier, your local Finds Liaison Officer or Historic Environment Record or at - which will help research and better understand the site. Take extra care when detecting near protected sites since it is not always clear where the boundaries of these lie on the ground.
3.  You are strongly recommended to join a metal detecting club or association that encourages co-operation and responsive exchanges with other responsible heritage groups. Details of metal detecting organisations can be found at / www.fid.
3.    Familiarising yourself with and following current conservation advice on the handling, care and storage of archaeological objects (see the Portable Antiquities Scheme (including contact details for your local Finds Liaison Officer - see / 0207 323 8611), and its guidance on the recording of archaeological finds discovered by the public; make it clear to the landowner that you wish to record finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Ensure that you follow current conservation advice on the handling, care and storage of archaeological objects (see
4.   Obtaining public liability insurance (to protect yourself and others from accidental damage), such as that offered by the National Council for Metal-Detecting or the Federation of Independent Detectorists.
The most notable deletion here is the bit about joining a metal detecting club. It would be interesting to know why this is. Surely a club with rules and where members can help each other, discuss ethical issues in groups are the sort of places where 'responsible' behavior has more of a chance of being fostered than among scattered 'independent' detectorists doing what they want where they want with nobody knowing.  Also, club meetings are one of the places where FLOs meet detectorists, spread the message of (and answer questions on) best practice, and pick up finds for recording. The deletion of this point is only comprehensible if the authors of this text now think (after experience with them?) that it is irresponsible to be a member of a metal detecting club, which is an interesting development. 'Being responsible means.... [keeping away from clubs and club digs]?

'Military crash sites', that seems very redolent of the 'Newark Torc debacle' (see here too). Something the PAS no doubt would rather we forget.

Several cases of artefact hunters digging into graves come to mind, like for example that lead coffin four feet down at Atherstone  (with the archaeologists joining in with the ethically-dubious 'fun') or the Holborough grave under a mound on a known Early Medieval burial ground trashed by the "Medway History Finders" . 

What is this stuff about 'sources, including the landowner/occupier, your local Finds Liaison Officer or Historic Environment Record or ...   which will help research and better understand the site.'? In what way is the word 'research' used here, research as in 'citizen archaeologists' (ha ha) or reseach as used by collectors to identify potentially productive sites for selfishly hoiking out artefacts willy-nilly to fill their pockets for personal entertainment and profit. If the latter, I would question, and very strongly if this can in any way be considered by the bodies 'endorsing this code' as a 'responsible' use of archaeological databases.

There is nothing here about participation in commercial artefact hunting rallies, which is a huge omission, considering the extensive experience we have now had of them since the first code was written. Is it, for example 'responsible' ever to take part in one, or take part in one given certain circumstances? 

Also, for goodness' sake, what about targeting known sites? Is the practice, widespread in tekkie circles, of 'researching' where known sites are in order then to get permission to hoover out collectables from it in any way archaeologically responsible action? Of course not, unless the material is recovered in such a way and documented and reported in a manner that it is possible to integrate the new information with that already known from archaeological research - rarely achieved. This question is totally absent from both Cods of Practice - why? 
While you are metal-detecting
1. [5] Wherever possible Working on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has formerly been ploughed), and only within the depth of ploughing. If detecting takes place on undisturbed pasture, be careful to ensure that no damage is done to the archaeological value of the land, including earthworks. Avoid damaging stratified archaeological deposits (that is to say, finds that seem to be in the place where they were deposited in antiquity) and /6 minimise any ground disturbance through the use of suitable tools and by reinstating any excavated material ground and turf as neatly as possible. Endeavour not to damage stratified archaeological deposits.
2. Stopping any digging and making the landowner aware that you are seeking expert help if you discover something below the ploughsoil, or a concentration of finds or unusual material, or wreck remains. Your local Finds Liaison Officer may be able to help or will be able to advise on an appropriate person. Reporting the find does not change your rights of discovery, but will result in far more archaeological evidence being recovered.
3. [7] Recording findspots as accurately as possible for all archaeological finds (i.e. to at least a one hundred metre square, using an Ordnance Survey map or one ten metre square - an 8-Figure National Grid Reference), using a hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) device whilst in the field or a 1:25000 scale map if this is not possible. Bag finds individually and record the National Grid Reference (NGR) on the bag, recording the National Grid Reference on the bag with a waterproof/ indelible marker. Archaeologists are interested in learning about all archaeological finds you discover, not just metallic items, because such finds contribute to knowledge. Findspot information should not be passed on to other parties without the agreement of the landowner/occupier (see also clause 9).
4 [8] Respecting the Country Code (leave gates and property as you find them and do not damage crops, frighten animals, or disturb ground nesting birds, and dispose properly of litter: see
It always seemed a very wonky notion of 'responsible' to condition keeping off undisturbed sites under pasture by 'wherever possible', so I am glad to see that gone. It is IRresponsible digging any kind of holes in such a site (like the Crosby Garrett helmet site, or Lenborough earthwork site under pasture and many other places irresponsible oiks go to hoik finds to pocket). So equally, it is good to see them tightening up the equally rubbishy phrase: 'If detecting takes place on undisturbed pasture...', the message now is an unequivocal 'just keep off , exercise some self-restraint'. Good. The new explicit phrase  'Being responsible means....  Avoid damaging stratified archaeological deposits ' is welcome. Anyone damaging archaeological deposits under the ploughsoil (like those ruffians that dug up the 'somewhere-in-Gloucestershire-healing-doggie' hoard that FLO Kurt Adams refused to condemn) are hereby well-and-truly put in the league of Irresponsible Metal Detectorists. And quite rightly so.

The ''Being responsible means....  2. Stopping any digging ...' bit is moved - in the old Code it was inexplicably in the 'after you've been detecting' bit (which is telling, it means the authors of the first Code saw a distinction between 'detecting' and 'digging to add to a collection', nice to see them waking up a decade on). Again anyone who does not STOP digging and immediately initiate procedures to get it sorted out is IRresponsible (and in a treasure case should clearly thereby forfeit the reward). What is not covered is who should bear the responsibility of paying for the intervention necessitated by the artefact hunter searching an otherwise threatened site and themselves in pursuit of personal gain causing a situation where an intervention is necessary. Should this not be a 'polluter pays' situation? What is 'responsible', washing hands of responsibility for the consequences of one's own actions? 

There is however an extraordinary omission. As we know, the model is that through recording what finders find, the PAS is creating information to replace what is lost. If this is to go beyond the nineteenth century artefact-centred approach (suitable only for broad, Kossinnist-style, dot distribution maps of regional distribution) we need to be getting real information about context of discovery from the finders. The Code should say what best practice means is not just picking up what is to go into a collection and ignoring the other components of the artefact scatter it came from. What is 'collecting best practice' in terms of archaeological information generation? In order to understand the information about the artefacts from a site in a way that near-mitigates their removal, we need far more than 'I found that there'.  Selectively removing surface evidence from patterned assemblages not only removes potentially significant diagnostic artefactual evidence from those patterns without any understanding of those patterns, but utterly distorts that pattern. The information removed needs to be observed in context, correctly documented and preserved by record before we can talk of any 'best practice'. That aspect is totally missing from this document.
After you have been metal-detecting
1. [9] Reporting any finds all archaeological finds to the relevant landowner/occupier; and (with the agreement of the landowner/occupier) to the making it clear to the landowner that you wish to record archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so the information can pass into the local Historic Environment Record. Both the Country Land and Business Association ( and the National Farmers Union ( support the reporting of finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Details of your local Finds Liaison Officer can be found at www.finds., e-mail, e-mail or phone 020 7323 8611.
2. [10] Abiding by the statutory provisions of the Treasure Act 1996, and the Treasure Act Code of Practice ( and wreck law ( ( and export licensing ( If you wish to take artefacts and archaeological material older than 50 years old out of the UK, you will require an export licence ( If you need advice your local Finds Liaison Officer will be able to help you.
3. [11] Seeking expert help if you discover something large below the ploughsoil, or a concentration of finds or unusual material, or wreck remains, and ensuring that the landowner/occupier’s permission is obtained to do so. Your local Finds Liaison Officer may be able to help or will be able to advise of an appropriate person. Reporting the find does not change your rights of discovery, but will result in far more archaeological evidence being discovered.

3. [12] Calling the Police (101), and notifying the landowner/occupier, if you find any traces of human remains or a likely burial; human remains can only be disturbed further with a Home Office licence (
4. [13] Calling the Police or HM Coastguard, and notifying the landowner/occupier, if you find anything that may be a live explosive, device or other ordnance: do not use a metal-detector or mobile phone nearby as this might trigger an explosion.. Do not attempt to move or interfere with any such explosives.
5. Calling the Police if you notice any illegal activity whilst out metal-detecting, such as theft of farm equipment or illegal metal-detecting (nighthawking). Further details can be found by contacting Historic England/Cadw or the 'heritage crime' contact within your local police force.
This section is still awfully muddled and shows the same wozzy thinking that was in the first Code. First of all the intention to record archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities needs establishing before 'detecting' them, and not after. Likewise, as the Nighthawking Report showed (recommendation 7), it is not enough merely to 'report' finds to the landowner, but get title individually signed over to the finder before they are taken away (and for instance placed in the hands of an employee of the PAS) .

In the case of British artefact hunters, the point about export licence requirements should unequivocally read: 'If you wish to send artefacts and archaeological material older than 50 years old out of the UK, you will require an export licence' as this is the mechanism by which archaeological evidence is most often turned into a commodity. 

As noted above, the original point about 'finding something large below the ploughsoil' has been moved up. The human remains has had 'a likely burial' added, an archaeologist would be useful here though, not just the police.  

There is nothing here about the artefact hunter writing anything up themselves. Yet the PAS data fields are not sufficient to record everything that could be said about the objects found in a field, their patterning and what happened to them. Likewise, there is nothing here about the form in which a 'responsible' artefact hunter uses or disposes of their collection. Does a 'responsible' artefact hunter sell finds for example? Who to, how, and accompanied by what documentation?

The final point in this section is highly interesting: 'Being responsible means... informing the authorities 'if you notice any illegal activity whilst out metal-detecting', that stands to reason, and is no more than what any responsible citizen should do, no matter where they are and what they are doing at the time. What is interesting is that artefact hunters are being explicitly called upon to 'snitch' on fellow artefact hunters. The significance of this is that one will very frequently hear 'you all know who is involved'  in illegal artefact hunting (like at Glemsford, known to Sukisal, or another local detectorist who knows some; Norman Smith knows some too). These people are now automatically declared by the New Code of Practice 'irresponsible' if they do not report their knowledge of these people and their activities to the police. And so they are. This is the automatic corollary of the 'we are not nighthawks, we hates them' defence. So let us see a massive reporting now of nighthawks known to the British artefact hunting community. 
Finding out more about archaeology and metal detecting
§    You can find out more about the archaeology of your own area from the Historic Environment Records maintained by local authority archaeology services (in England) and the Welsh archaeological trusts (see contact lists at show/nav.1549 and Also the Heritage Gateway - (in England) and Archwilio - (in Wales).
§   For further information about the recording and reporting or finds discovered by the public and the Treasure Act 1996 contact the Portable Antiquities Scheme ( / / 0207 323 8611).
§    For further information about how you can become involved in archaeology contact the Council for British Archaeology (tel 01904 71417 / who ( / 01904 671417). They can also supply details of local archaeology societies.
§   You can find out about metal detecting via the National Council for Metal Detecting ( or the Federation of Independent Detectorists (
Revised 23 October 2017
This is interesting, the original Code was written under the assumption that these people would be interested in 'finding out about archaeology'. Well, they are not, they are collectors and few collectors of costume barbie dolls will be contacting the local ethnographic society, and - apart from the non-judgmental FLO that legitimates their hobby - few artefact hunters are in any way interested in rubbing shoulders with archaeologists. So the Code's authors added a bit about 'Being responsible means... finding out more about metal detecting'. Bonkers. You can find out more about the archaeology of your own area by joining a library and borrowing a few books. 
This Code of practice is voluntary, but the following organisations have endorsed it has been endorsed by: National Council for Metal Detectorists, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Country Land and Business Association, Federation of Independent Detectorists, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments Royal Commission on the Historical and Ancient Monuments of Wales, Council for British Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales / PAS Cymru, Society of Museum Archaeologists, British Museum / Portable Antiquities Scheme, National Farmers Union, English Heritage Historic England, Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, Institute for Archaeology (University College London). 
This final section is interesting. Leaving aside that some of the organizations that consulted and then endorsed the original code have now changed names or disappeared (and one body who refused to endorse the original code now has), it is extremely interesting to note that this version of the Code appears without the endorsement of the NCMD and FID. That is highly significant.  I am disturbed to see that my alma mater the Institute for Archaeology University College London has stooped to endorsing Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record - I wonder whether that applies too to the areas of the Middle East where they do their research (and if not, how do they explain the illogicality of that?). Bonkers. Who else?

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