Sunday 2 May 2021

UK Metal Detecting, Something Has to Change

Andy Brockman's lengthy and thoughtful  takedown of the tangled ethics of artefact hunting in the uk and commercial artefact hunting rallies in particular concludes with some optimistic predictions:
metal detecting rallies are also increasingly advertised by rally promoters as being close to, or even on, known or suspected archaeological sites. This raises again the suspicion that the aim is less recovering fresh knowledge regarding the history and archaeology of the sites than attracting paying customers through offering the prospect of finding plenty of buried artefacts, unknown numbers of which end up unseen and unrecorded in private collections, or which may sold privately and perfectly legally, through platforms like E-Bay, or even by commercial auctioneers. At least one such company, Derbyshire based Hansons, employs a metal detecting specialist Adam Staples, who as thePipeLine explored previously, also has links to the metal detecting press. Indeed, the terms and conditions of many commercial rally companies now include a monetary value below which artefacts can be sold by the finder, including at auction, without reference to the landowner. While landowners are generally paid a fee for the use of their fields, and would normally receive half of any treasure award resulting from a treasure find on their land, this practice could see landowners, who are in Law are the owners of any non Treasure finds, denied potentially hundreds of pounds from commercial sales which they might never know anything about. Money which would go instead straight to the finder. [...] 

Brockman looks a little into the future: 

the current, increasingly uneasy, status quo between archaeologists and metal detectorists may not stand. As a result of increasing number of difficult questions regarding the practices of the organisers of commercial metal detecting rallies and of the impact of those rallies on the archaeological record, with archaeological artefacts effectively becoming a new cash crop harvested by detectorists, the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport is widely expected to be planning restrictions on such events. Many archaeologists and metal detectorists also expect that when the report and recommendations arising from the DCMS consultation regarding possible amendments to the Treasure Act are published, new regulations may be placed on the activity of metal detecting itself. If outside regulation is indeed the result of the DCMS Consultation, many will conclude that the world of metal detecting, and particularly the large commercial rally promoters like Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallies, will have only themselves to blame.

Of course, commercial rallies are not the only problem with current laissez faire legislation on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales, but as a nuumber of us have been arguing for a while, rallies are the most obvious weak link in the chain of logic concerning supporting artefact hunting. Dealing with them is an obvious first step in tidying up this problem.

Building on existing legislation, what could be done is to build on the existing 'X coin finds in the same area' and 'group of prehistoric bronze objects' designations and declare by a change in the decree of the Secretary of State  [Treasure Act section 2] create a category of objects that should be reported in the same manner as individual items of precious metal (etc.) for reasons of their potential 'outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance' as a group. These could be defined as 'group finds of objects older than 300  years found in the same discovery event by more than three different finders within a 36-hour period' that have to be handed over with the documentation. This would recover material from site assemblages within the search area and allow their recording, analysis and eventual public presentatyion as such. Decisions can then be taken on what will be retained for public collections (probably a minority of most site assemblages recovered in this manner), and what returned to the landowner/finder to be split as they see fit.

What this needs is enough archaeologists (getting the public involved too and) pressing for such a change to happen, and showing the reason why it is necessary by drawing attention to the damage caused (as well as the lack of feasibility of sorting this out by milder means such as the creation of an Institute of Detectorists that has been utterly rejected by most of the UK detecting community).

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