Monday 6 June 2022

More Complicity and Wobbly Logic in UK Debate on Artefact Collecting

Talking to a brick wall. British archaeologist Paul Blinkhorn (one of the few who actually writes on social media about the problems with British artefact hunting instead of following the shoulder-shrug trend that predominates among his peers) writes:
Well, the PAS, instead of issuing annual reports saying how fabulous everything is could say "We've been doing this for 20-odd years now and the vast majority of MDers still aren't reporting any finds so maybe it's time to legislate accordingly" / I mean, if the gov't keep hearing from the people who are effectively their interface with artefact-hunters that everything is just dandy, they aren't likely to change anything.
That seems like a sensible point. Unless you are a shoulder-shrugger. Dr Simon Maslin (PAS FLO):
@spmaslin 17 g.
The government certainly don't hear that from us. We've been complaining about the lack of resources and available to tackle the problem for years. Sometimes they listen, hence the 2019 review of the T Act.
First of all, the Treasure Act has not had even a comma changed since well before that "2019 review", nor since. So that is scant evidence that HM Government are listening to any concerns about artefact hunting... which are by no means focussed on how the Treasure Act works. Helen Geake adds:
Under-reporting is caused by lack of funding, @spmaslin is right. Everyone who works for @findsorguk knows they can't record all finds they know about. Legislation to force recording won't work without more ££ and staff. Banning detecting will lead to nothing being reported at all.
The PAS FLO and PAS Finds Advisor were parrotting the only mantra the metal-detecting-supporters can muster, "if there were more resources to record finds, more of the 27000 artefact hunters would come running to record their finds". Evidence against that is that the official Code for Best Practice for Responsible Metal detecting in England and Wales that uses this as a criterion for "being responsible" has a far, far lower uptake than the NCMD one that does not. Dr Maslin, along with the Ixelles Six and "Bonnie and Suzie" promote the picture of the community of metal detector users as largely a group of cuddly-wuddly history enthusiasts eager to share. In my own view, the forum evidence shows very clearly that there is a very substantial base of grabby, oikish greedy collectors who you'll not get through to, no matter how much you have in the way of resources. Now we are hearing that the cuddly-wuddly camp has run out of resources, which is why it "just happens to be giving the appearance" that my view is right ("Give us more money and another 25 years and we'll prove the other camp wrong"). Pfah. This is fantasist delusion and issue-avoidance on a Boris-Johnson scale.

Also look what Helen Geake sneakily did there. Nobody mentioned "banning metal detecting", but she had to pretend they did so she could get in the next little trite MD-supporters' mantra "because then it will go underground". This avoids the fundamental issue that there are figures out there (that nobody has challenged with any hard evidence to produce any others to replace them) that indicate that it is quite likely that in the current state of things some 90% of metal detected and hoiked artefacts from England and Wales are simply vanishing unrecorded. That would mean that some 90% of the hobby is being done clandestinely already, it would mean that it already is far-more-than-tip-of-iceberg underground already!! The only difference is if there were laws, those doing it and getting caught can be punished for the destruction of the cultural heritage as surely as if they'd been caught setting fire to a 16th century wooden church.

Wendy Scott says
"the PAS needs way more funding, strong leadership and support from all areas of Archaeology. We need to stand together to resolve the problems. Licencing would be a start so we could educate new MDs..[...] everyone has an opinion, no-one is doing anything".
Part of the reason for that, surely she would agree, is that for 25 years the PAS has been promoting the message that "everything is more or less fine", rather that addressing the underlying problem that is ripping up the archaeological record so a selfish minority can collect "antiquities". The PAS have been busily promoting also the idea among archaeologists, lawmakers, the media and the general public, that this massive destruction is OK if we can just get a bit of broad "x-marks-the-spot" information about the otherwise totally decontextualised archaeological evidence destroyed. As part of their public outreach,
a "strong leadership" from the PAS should be promoting an entirely different and more holistic/balanced picture of what damage artefact hunting is currently (as we write) doing to the archaeological record. If they do not do that, then how will the public (who pay for it) know? What use is a complicit PAS?


Brian Mattick said...

"Licencing would be a start".

I'm afraid I disagree, despite the fact that has been said so often.

Like NHBC Membership, the Code(s) of Responsibility, Club membership and infinite assurances, a license is zero evidence of good behaviour yet all of them could be used to obtain detecting permission.

When licenses were required on beaches a naughty person applied for one saying their name was Eddie Nighthawk and got one back by return.

Brian Mattick said...

Comment and reply on the Heritage Journal Contact Us section (first posted 17 April 2010):

“Is there any consensus on how the law needs to be changed to stop mass detector plundering?”

Yes, Lord Avebury, there is indeed a worldwide consensus that the way to prevent it is to make it a crime.

Hougenai said...

The whole issue of nasty arkies bullying poor history buffs could be side-stepped by legislation aimed towards landowners. (to some extent this was seen within certain revisions of 'Stewardship', though the issue of a lack of enforcement were as apparent as ever). If landowners have to balance the potential for a lucky win, betting on some chancer, against a penalty for not doing things properly, them i'm sure they would be a little more reluctant to allow access.

Personally, I don't see much issue with dropping the 'Acting in good faith' assumption in favour of a more hostile one.
Is there any actual evidence to show that the touchie-feelie approach increases declaration of finds, or is it just an assumption based on the threats of those who probably don't anyway? 'We'll stop recording' really doesn't carry much weight when so much isn't being declared anywaay.

Even the threat of 'driving detecting underground' is all a bit playground. It's one thing to go out on a nice bank hols to wave a coil over some smr site or other as a bit of entertainment, or join a rally, but how many would actually go out in the dead of night, cold winter's night (remembering that nighthawks, the non history buffs doing their best to find treasure, tend to target known sites and don't go prospecting-which would make them easier to catch-if there was the will to do so).

There are an awful lot more options than simply 'licensing' users, but when the organisation supposed to be dealing with the problem starts from a position of appeasing the (alleged) masses, it's not even likely these options would be discussed, never mind implemented.



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