Saturday 17 August 2019

"Stories Can be Told Across the Chasm of Years"

David Barnett ('Real-life detectorists: The metal hunters who are digging up a treasure trove of British history', Independent 16 November 2017) interviewed a Cambridgeshire detectorist, Steve Critchley former chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, who has been metal detecting for 40 years. Among other gems, we learn this:
Metal detecting is an often solitary, slow pastime, which more often than not turns up little more than a few buttons or a sewing needle. But wait, for in such innocuous items buried in the soil, there’s a picture of an England lost to time. Buttons, hairclips, loose change – that’s what detectorists like Critchley call “casual losses”. Things not buried deliberately, but just accidentally discarded. And through such finds, stories can be told across the chasm of years. “Imagine finding a bit of loose change, then some more further along, and some more,” says Critchley. “Then it emerges that there was probably a path across this field at some point in the past. Or say you find some buttons. You can imagine men working the field on a hot day, taking off their waistcoat, a button pinging off. A little further away you’ll perhaps find a needle, lost by one of the farm-worker’s wives who sat at the edge of the field, sewing, while the men worked”. These are visions of a time long gone that will never be turned up by professional archaeological digs, which mainly take place at sites where there is some hard evidence of a major find, or at the behest of commercial developers who are requested to carry out a historical survey before commencing work on a new housing estate. Minor they might seem, but all the same, the army of detectorists – especially those who, like Critchley, log and extrapolate their data – are uncovering and preserving our very history.
Unless of course the field is subject to a fieldwalking survey as part of a landscape archaeology project, in which case he and his fellows will have stripped the site of a large (but unknown) proportion of the diagnostic artefacts. Just imagine.

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