Saturday 2 January 2021

BBC Article Promotes Irresponsible Artefact Hunting in Tier 4 region

Wales is in Tier 4, but the BBC has decided that it would be a good idea to promote metal detecting with your buddy (BBC, 'Covid: Metal detecting 'an escape from pandemic stress'...', 2nd Jan 2020).
Owen Thomas says metal detecting has been his escape from the stresses of the pandemic. The writer from Tongwynlais, Cardiff started metal detecting after bumping into his long-time friend Bob Wiseman - an avid detectorist - during lockdown. [...] he has discovered artefacts dating back to the 13th Century. Owen says he has fallen in love with his new-found hobby and it is "the link with a life that's gone” that appeals to him so much. 

The film shows him and his buddy camouflaged Bob Wiseman detecting away ("Bob's been metal detecting for more than 20 years, and estimates his findings are worth a few thousand pounds"). All the time they are on established grassland. Are those earthworks we see there? Note the guitar music reminiscent of that accompanying the warm-and-fuzzy comedy series "Detectorists". 

Nowhere here in this facile piece about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is there any mention of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to record the recordable bits from the fishing-tackle-boxfull Mr Thomas has accumulated. Neither is there any mention of the fact that due to the Covid regulations [which in Tier 4 means he should not be doing this "exercise" with a second person not from his household], the FLO will not see him either. So those finds are not being recorded, just shoved loose (unlabelled) in a box - proudly and candidly displayed to the camera.

This is just an utterly irresponsible article. The BBC should know better. 

England and Wales have had a Portable Antiquities Scheme since 1996, nearly quarter of a century. Can you imagine what would happen if it were staffed by people with balls that, the moment an article like this appeared, picked up the phone or shot off an email to the production team responsible telling them in no uncertain terms about what this programme does not cover (pasture, Code of Best Practice, recording, "responsible metal detecting" and labelling and care of finds). Imagine that they'd been doing this 25 years.  What are the chances that after 20 years taking a consistent position on this and persistently keeping the media informed of the wider issues, that the British public would still be getting this fluffy crap from a major broadcaster? What are the chances that a bloke taking up the hobby would just throw the lot loose into a plastic box and be filmed looting a site under grass? If the PAS want to get "best practice", it's no use them wringing their lily-white hands bemoaning the fact that "detectorists don't listen" to them. They actually have to call out every single bad example that gets shown and written about in the public domain. Why are they not doing this? Especially when there is a lockdown, so face-to-face interactions with finders are not taking place, freeing up a lot of time for other forms of public outreach.

With 27000 people already out there selfishly filling their pockets from Britain's archaeological record without any record being made at the best of times, the last thing we want is vacant "news" reporting to encourage others to take it up to "escape pandemic stress" (when many metal detectorists in the UK are too thick and self-centred to be all that bothered about the virus anyway). 

hat tip Dave Coward and Nigel Swift 
(I expect the other archaeologists annoyed by this notified the PAS, 
Rescue, CIfA and SAL to get them to react, no?)

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