Tuesday 31 August 2021

Sussex Heritage Community's Heritage Protection Guide on Illicit Metal Detecting

In the post below it refers to a tweet where some guy says "Please see my guide on the subject https://davidbexhill.wixsite.com/sussexheritage/security-guides" referring to a document called a "Heritage Protection Guide" on Illicit Metal Detecting. It turns out that the organization is a project by Daryl Holter ("Inspiring communities to enjoy Heritage") who is a police officer in the Rother Police team dealing with rural crime (see here too). That clears up one mystery, about the authorship of the document which is not clear at all from the document itself :"Ownership, Concept, and Interview: Daryl Holter Text, design, and photography (except where stated): David E P Dennis LCGI RAF'). Weird. No date or place of publication given either. 

I'd not bothered to look at this before, but its "owner" having plugged it so many times, thought I'd see what it says. I wish I had not, now. It starts off:
Illicit Metal Detecting [..] the incentive to find and take metal objects, coins, and artifacts for trophy pieces of financial gain [...] Many finds of coins, jewellery, ancient artefacts may not be handed in to the County Finds Officer in accordance with the law on Treasure. This may be a deliberate crime – or it may unfortunately default to crime through ignorance of the law, or ignorance of the value of the discovered metal artefact
Gawd. First of all, many people artefact hunting illegally are not necessarily out to find saleable items. Artefact hunting is about collecting, and a searcher might want to add to their own collection without having to bother about the niceties of where it comes from, or dealing with a landowner is he finds something that the landowner would like financial compensation for if they take it away. This is one of the most common misunderstandings about this facet of the activity. Archaeologists get confused about this too and this is the message they pass on to the public (and police officers).
But there is no excuse for the second. The problem is not "county finds officer" is not there to receive and record Treasure ("in accordance with the law on Treasure "- that's the Coroner). The PAS was set up to deal with non-Treasure finds. PC Holter might have ascertained the facts.

Page 6 (Dennis's text now) says "There is an official code of practice on metal detecting"... and then passes over that (see blow) and starts talking about Treasure (pp 6-8) and the PAS is there to "tell you if something is Treasure". Ummm, no, that is not its primary function.

Then, page 9-10 there is "An Interview with Mr Daryl Holter" as "a leading expert in heritage preservation". It's rather chaotic, and most of it is about unexploded ordnance. It ends (p. 10):
"The majority of hobbyists care deeply about shared heritage and record their finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Unfortunately, a small number of detectorists exploit their hobby in order to obtain archaeologically important artefacts and attempt to profit from their illegal activity. The United Kingdom is very fortunate to have a great community of ethical detectorists, together with positive and dynamic working relationships between detectorists, archaeologists and the local police officers and staff we are as one team able to prevent illicit detecting, raise awareness and encourage reporting, this will hopefully result in bringing offenders to justice. and reduce illicit metal detecting. Please consider taking all finds to your local Portable Antiquity Scheme Officer (The Coroner’s Finds Officer) for recording. Provenance, understanding and the historical record are so important, so please do not ignore the value of our shared heritage. Thank you.
This is just fluff.

"The majority of hobbyists record their finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme", is simply fallacious. Demonstrably, the majority of the 27000 artefact hunters in England and Wales don't care at all about shared heritage, they selfishly keep their finds to themselves and rarely record them with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Why say otherwise? (I notice it is so often policemen who come out with this mantra.)

What does it mean: "a small number of detectorists exploit their hobby", which depicts artefact hunting as something else than a search for archaeologically/historically important/interesting artefacts to collect and enjoy.

"a great community of ethical detectorists, together with positive and dynamic working relationships between detectorists, archaeologists and the local police officers and staff we are as one team able to prevent illicit detecting" Hooray, but how, actually? Fluff.

"Encouraging reporting" for 25 years has not really made much of an inroad into non-reporting has it? Fluff. And anyway what has that got to do with illegal artefact hunting?

What's this "Coroner’s Finds Officer" reference (outside Norfolk)? 

Page 13, Problems caused by Illicit Metal Detecting [...] "Illicit metal detectin
g can also damage the reputation of responsible metal detecting". That begs the question what reputation people who take spades to archaeological sites to selectively and randomly remove elements of it for their own entertainment should have anyway. In most of Europe and beyond they would be called looters and cursed for destroying that shared heritage and the knowledge these sites and contexts contain. In Britain, a "heritage" organization worries about their reputation. 

There is a confusing series of headings on page 14:
"The National Council for Metal Detecting
The NCMD has a Code of Practice:
Code of Conduct 1. Do not trespass. Obtain permission bef
Yep, that's all. What this disorganised pile of words does not tell the reader is there is a national Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and it can be found on the PAS website (and is currently not endorse by the NCMD). And this is the one that actually defines what is understood by "responsible metal detecting", the ones whose reputation the text's authors are so worried about preserving.

There is more, but really I've had enough. This document could have been consulted with Rescue but was not, with the PAS but was not. It regurgitates undigested mantras, engages wishful thinking more than facts and really represents all that is wrong with the British apathetic and superficial response to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record.     

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