Wednesday 10 November 2021

Entanglement: The Use of HER Data for Commercial Artefact Hunting in the UK


Where do UK archaeologists that support artefact hunters imagine many metal detecting books suggest searchers look to find new “productive” sites? Funnily enough, the targeting of known sites, harvesting the fruits of archaeologists' fieldwork, is not a topic that is even touched upon in the wishy-wasky Code of best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales. A recent story highlights this issue (Pipeline, 'Council Acts After Accusations Metal Detecting Company Used HER Data to Target Archaeology' November 8, 2021):

Following thePipeLine’s recent story suggesting that leading metal detecting rally company, Sovereign Metal Detecting might have used data from the county Historic Environment Record [HER] for Shropshire to target known archaeological sites for pay to detect rallies, Shropshire Council has confirmed that it has taken steps to limit the location data available to users of the on-line version of the county HER. [...] “Clearly the council is concerned that HER information is being used by the organisers of metal detecting rallies who do not co-operate with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and we have therefore now taken steps to reduce the location information available via the Discovering Shropshire’s History online version of the HER [...] However, the restriction of access to HER records needs to be balanced against the requirements to make the HER a publicly accessible resource [...] [HERs] were never designed to [...] facilitate metal detectorists in finding locations to search, let alone provide locations for mass participation events where tens, or even hundreds, of detectorists pay to dig, and are under no obligation to report any finds to the HER, except those falling under the remit of the Treasure Act 1996. [...] [N]obody from Sovereign Metal Detecting had contacted the Shropshire county archaeology team in advance of the rally. Neither had Sovereign Metal Detecting paid for any searches of the HER, which is normal practice in searches related to the commercial use of the data.
this is a dilemma faced by archaeologists all over Europe. They have a public duty to inform society about the location of material relating to the past, yet if they do, looters with metal detectors and spades are also informed where they can most easily find artefacts to hoik out, collect or sell. What is the solution here?

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