Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4th December 2012: What Kind of "Relationship"?

 Rob Middleton, 'Metal detectors plunder heritage site', Northampton Chronicle and Echo, 4 December 2012.
"these men are not out-and-out treasure robbers. They clearly had some sort of relationship with the local finds officer at the county council and their local archeological society.”
and what kind of "relationship" would that be? Would the PAS like to comment?

Friday, September 28, 2012

28th September 2012: Seeding the Record

To what extent are the PAS compiling at public expense a database full of false data caused by the constraints of being compiled in part in "partnership" with commercial organizations organizing artefact hunting rallies? 
A search of the PAS database reveals as many as 19 hits for "West Ilsley", a little place in Berks. The "heritage heroes" have been out there in force with their metal detectors it seems, indeed there was a "beginners dig" held there by 'Leisure Promotions' a while ago. The trouble is that the organizers announced that prior to this "we are going to be burying several hundreds of finds which will include Roman coins, hammered silver coins and masses of other coins and artefacts " (see here too). West Ilsley folks, the artificial archaeological site - and how many more have rally organizers seeding fields created, and (bearing in mind how important PAS attendance at rallies is considered for boosting record numbers) how many of those false findspots have got into the PAS record? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

19 September 2012: Question to the PAS About Commercial Artefact Hunting Rallies

Heritage Action wrote a text about the Polish artefact hunters' rally on Crown Estate land at Offley, Herts and published it in their online journal. The PAS Hertfordshire Finds Liaison Officer saw this text and added a comment saying he could put the preservationists' minds to rest because.... the finds were being recorded. He seems oblivious to the real point which was the propriety of holding a commercial artefact hunting rally at all when it results in the concentrated, but selective, erosion of the archaeological record.

So here is a question to the PAS generally, can the holding of erosive commercial artefact hunting rallies really be justified through the voluntary and selective recording of the "finds"?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

8 September 2012: What Outreach on Discarding Evidence?

In a post on my main blog ("Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Archaeological Iron, Hedge Fodder or Discrimination") I discuss what artefact hunters are throwing away:

UKDN Member "Hawyoo" (Sep 02, 2012 10:33 am) asks: "What should i keep[?]":
Hi all.I find a lot of what some people may call junk.I seem to keep it all.Most is just rusty old iron but some of it looks interesting. [...] i am thinking they may just be a little something in there. 
Obviously most of us can see that among the iron objects taken by artefact hunters from archaeological sites will be a number of fragments of iron archaeological items, hardly "junk". One UKDN respondent however calls these artefacts "HedgeFodder (HF)" implying he just throws this sort of material into the hedges (interesting that some tekkies are concerned about contamination of the rural landscape with metal in contaminated Green Waste, while others are quite happy to litter the hedgerows with metal fragments produced by the hobby). Another member admonishes: "Firstly you shouldn't be digging rusty old iron should you? try a little discrimination". 

This is followed by a series of horror stories on what people have "pulled from the scrap bins". Including this one from a "Puffin" (Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:46 pm):
Even after 7 years, a few months ago I had to pull a Saxon/Viking 4 way strap divider out of my scrap bin. Many because of a post on here, you really need to be 120% sure of what you are weighing in! 
"Weighing in" of course is tekkie slang for what artefact hunters discard from their artefact collections and sell by weight for melting down for scrap. How many tens of thousands of archaeological items end up that way as a result of this hobby each year?

Of course anything that made its way into a tekkie scrap bin, but is pulled out weeks, months or years later because it is recognised to have been something of significance has by then irrevocably lost the information about its findspot.

Carried out in this way the hobby of artefact hunting is destroying vast quantities of archaeological information because many of these people which current UK policy lets loose to pillage archaeological sites to gratify their collecting hobby are ignorant (or careless) of just what it is they are finding and what information they should be observing, collecting and recording. Having a Portable Antiquities Scheme has not made the slightest dent on this problem.

Now, if the PAS was doing its job, it would be on the UKDN forum  like a shot to give an answer to the question posted there.

In answer to "what should I keep [when rummaging in the archaeological record for collectables]?" the only possible answer is, "every piece of archaeological evidence". Anything less is destruction, and if you do not know what is and what is not archaeological evidence, then leave the archaeological record well alone. Surely, in order to instil 'best practice', this is the point they should be making EVERY TIME this question arises in the practice of ten thousand people in fifteen years. Why aren't they?

Friday, September 7, 2012

7 September 2012: Do PAS Take Money from Artefact Hunters' Pockets?

There seems to be a potential problem in the manner in which the PAS publishes online the images of objects owned by somebody else ("UK Scheme Gives Away Detectorists' Money").  According to the UKDN forum, the PAS are quite happy to let others use their images free of charge for non-profit-making purposes ("They are happy not to be asked for permission to use them if no money is to be made by the user").

This raises the question of whether that applies to photographs supplied by self-recording detectorists. As we have seen, some of the latter count on being able to make 500 quid a photo of some very mundane finds. Obviously in such cases they are losing out if they make the same photos available to the PAS who then make no charge for their use. Even though most metal detectorists will claim to "not be interested in the money" it seems that this is an obvious mechanism which would reduce their willingness voluntarily to record such finds with the PAS when doing so puts them out of pocket.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

6 September 2012: What is PAS Doing About Artefact 'Orphaning'?

Two recent threads on a metal detecting forum about an old detectorist who was in a 'sheltered residence' (old people's home) who'd given a heap of artefacts to a metal detectorist raised a number of questions. Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Carelessly Orphaning Artefacts :
Retired detectorist hands over some finds
by egon999 » Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:41 am 
similar story here:
 Veteran detectorist shares his finds
Postby egon999 » Wed May 30, 2012 3:00 pm 
In neither case is any mention made of handing over the information where each individual item came from, nor that the new owner is a bit concerned about this. Since the new owner is asking for help identifying them, I think we may fairly assume that they are not recorded on the PAS database (which would give that information).  Archaeological sites have been emptied of artefacts, no records made of what came from where, there is no possibility ever of marrying the "information" of a box or bag of loose archaeological artefacts and the archaeological contexts from which they came.  One "Clint" (Stansdad) muses: 
it does make you think what to do do with all the stuff we dig up when we are to old or ill to carry on detecting, what will happen to it, will anyone want it?
Not without any proper information they will not. Artefact hunters by their carelessness not keeping such information in a form which can be associated with each item have effectively "orphaned" them, as the collectors' terminology goes.

So, what is the Portable Antiquities Scheme doing to actively combat this problem?  Certainly not enough.

UPDATE 8.09.12
And the detectorists? Well, well what a surprise, following my links (which worked  when I wrote this post) brings you in both cases to:
"The requested topic does not exist".
What of course they mean is that they are pretending this issue does not exist. But pretending, censoring and deceiving does not make a problem go away. It just makes facing up to it all the more difficult.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

5 September 2012: Finds From Nationally Important Sites in Private Hands

There are reports about the prosecution of a nighthawk in Suffolk ("More Criminals Caught with Metal Detectors"). Two metal detector users have admitted stealing coins and other artefacts from a protected Roman site in Baylham (Baylham Rare Breeds Farm), near Needham Market.  (Colin Adwent, 'Baylham: ‘Nighthawkers’ admit theft of Roman artefacts', East Anglian Daily Times, Wednesday, September 5, 2012). In a subsequent post ("Focus on Metal Detecting: Baylham Done Over") I discuss another aspect of this situation, from the discussion of the case on the detecting forums, it emerged that nighthawks are not the only people that can have material from nationally significant sites now protected by law in their hands. One detectorist (a  fertlingjohn ) comments [Wed Sep 05, 2012 4:31 pm]:
"Brings back memories in 1976 we had full permission from the then landowner a lovely site in those days the present law on scheduled sites was not in force" 
[Presumably he means the site was not then scheduled, because the laws were certainly in place PMB]. In 1976 however the site was already a known Roman site of importance. It has a good set of cropmarks, had produced all sorts of archaeological evidence in investigations. Here we have a clear case of the targeting of a known site of importance by metal detectorists.  How many other known sites in the region have similarly been done over since the mid-1970s?

Maybe some attempt should be made to track down  those who had permission to hunt for artefacts at sites of national importance (ie subsequently scheduled) and document what was taken from them?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2nd September 2012: Rally Finds Unreported?

A You Tube rally-flick made two years ago intended to convince people that "artefact hunters are not taking much out of the archaeological record" is worth revisiting ["Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Just Three More Years"] (warning: gratuitous stone-throwing scenes).

Add caption

My original remarks on this concerned the number of recordable finds made and the announcement that:
All finds have been recorded but will not be released to the PAS for 5 years at the landowners request.
This raises a number of questions, mentioned in my post. The Code of Responsible Detecting says that detecting without reporting to the PAS cannot be considered responsible detecting. Just three more years and two months to go.

There's now  under my original post an interesting comment by Nate Weizel about one of the finds (or was it one of the finds?) Apparently a silver annular brooch.

What steps are the PAS taking to make sure finds like this, bragged about in public media, are duly reported and recorded? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

28 August 2012: How Many Treasure Convictions?

In recent years there have been upwards of ten thousand artefact hunters out in the fields of the UK looking for Treasures. Some report them, others do not. Two years ago British authorities made an attempt to bring a case against one of them but it failed on appeal (' Two Years Ago: UK Treasure Convictions Down'). Has this discouraged them from making any more attempts? All sorts of things have gone through eBay.uk in the intervening weeks and months. How many charges have now been made?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

24 August 2012: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"

One of the benefits for the pro-collecting lobby in the use of terms like "nighthawking"  (as in "we are not nighthawks, nighthawks are not bona fide metal detectorists") is that the term is so vague. We recall explanations like the classic "I'm notta night'awk cuz I go out in the day" and so on. For the past few weeks in the UK there has been a counterpart to the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the public debate about portable antiquities. Glasgow University's "Trafficking Culture" project. This has recently produced a new definition of "nighthawking" ('UK Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: The Significance of Glasgow's New Definition of "Nighthawking"). One of the four definitions jives perfectly with what Heritage Action have been saying for a long while about finders' agreements etc all along. According to this new definition, among other things, a metal detectorist is guilty of nighthawking when they have:
  • Searched on private land with permission from the landowner, but then failed to disclose what was found, especially items of financial value or items of Treasure, constituting theft from the landowner and/or the Crown.
I think quite notable the differences in the UK codes of ethics/practice/conduct on this point. While the Official Code says: "Report[..] any finds to the relevant landowner/occupier", the one most tekkies adhere to - the NCMD one - says "Report all unusual historical finds to the landowner". The FID code is a cracker "Report all your finds to the landowner, even those that must be declared to the Coroner as well" (surely it is primarily the planned removal from their property of potential Treasure finds of  which the landowner must be appraised from the earliest moment!). How often, though, does it happen that tekkies get blanket permission (in writing say) to turn up on remote fields whenever they want, do some artefact collection, and take the stuff home without showing how many buckles, hobnails and Roman grots and pieces of lead they've taken each time? How many after detecting then seek out the farmer, perhaps engaged in activities the other side of an extensive farm? Or drop in at the farmhouse each time to say 'thank you' and lay out their finds? How often does "wellying" take place (showing the farmer the finds in the finds pouch when leaving the field, but avoiding showing him the find concealed about the person - here metaphorically dropped down the top of a wellington boot)? Never happens even though the practice has a name?  

Basically what this is saying is that anyone, whether or not they have an agreement with the farmer, who leaves the site of a bout of metal detecting without showing the farmer exactly what they are taking is a nighthawk. Obviously in the light of such a definition, to make everything clear, it would make sense for the finder to get some kind of itemised release form signed at the end of each search. That would then sort out problems about on whose land something which subsequently is sold on eBay or to a dealer was actually found, whether it was licitly obtained, or was 'nighthawked' according to the new broader definition now being proposed by the Glasgow team. Obviously a find being sold on the open market in the UK which has no release form signed by a landowner that he has seen the object and approves its removal from his land is, by the new proposed definition, potentially nighthawked.  A finder wishing in any way to profit from the exhibition, lending or commercial use of such items would have to show such a form for each of them in order to prove they were not nighthawked. This new definition from Glasgow indeed makes the differentiation of licit from illicit finds in the UK (English and Welsh primarily) context much more precise. 

Does the Portable Antiquities Scheme fully endorse this definition? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18th 2012: Archaeological Asset Stripping in Cambridge

In two posts on another blog:
Detecting Under the Microscope: Eleven Rings from Avebury
Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: Vandalising Artefacts

I describe how I was alerted to an eBay seller of dug-up artefacts by a reader (who coincidentally also happens to be a pal from Heritage Action) who was doing some Internet trawling (or is that "trolling", eh, BM?). The name of this Cambridge-based internet dugup antiquity seller is "decorativehandpainted2010". The first post discusses eleven quite clearly metal detected objects all for sale by this individual, and all stated to be from Avebury.
The second post describes what this seller is doing to metal detected archaeological artefacts. Items such as this 'Stunning Medieval Bronze Ring Cleaned &  Polished'. "Stunning" is not a word I would use, but certainly "cleaned and polished" it is, so much so you can see the seller's reflection in it and it's not a pretty sight.  
Polished at my local jewellers with a jewellery polishing machine. Bright. Circa 15th century AD. Found in Eynsham,Oxfordshire. Lovely condition. Inner diameter 19mm. Ref 2003.
Funnily enough in the PAS notes for conservation of finds made by "members of the public", no mention is made of the use of a "jewellery polishing machine". I doubt whether there are many archaeological conservators trained in their use. If you look at this sellers current offering of 126 antiquities on sale, 79 are brought up be searching the description for the word "polished", and only 25 for the word patina (five of those refer to all traces of patina REMOVED). This seller has transformed the artefacts he is selling into glittering geegaws. Glittering wearable trophy geegaws for showing off  ("Oh that? Yes'it's quite unusual, isn't it? Medieval you know, isn't it just so cute?"). But that is not all this (Cambridge?) jeweller can do to ancient artefacts, oh no! Read the original post.

Once again, is Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme going to take an interest in any of this and take a stand against this kind of treatment of archaeological material? Don't hold your breath.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

9th August 2012: DIY Best Practice Guide

Concerned about the damage to the reputation of their hobby, a UK metal detectorists' forum has attempted to fill the gap with what the CBA and PAS between them could not manage to cough up in association with their television "Secret Treasures" show: UKDN "Britain's Secret Treasures" Beginners' Guide. This starts off rather inauspiciously:
With the long awaited start of the detecting season coinciding with the Britain’s Secret Treasures ITV programme we can expect a rush of people joining the hobby, if that programme has not wetted (sic) peoples (sic) appetites to detect[,] then nothing will. Well done to the finders of all those Treasures for unearthing our past, filling our Museums with tourists, raising the Nations (sic) esteem and to the Portable Antiquities Scheme for all their hard work in their outreach, recording, conserving, researching and on occasion getting down to earth excavating the hoards. 
There's clearly been lots of value in those fifteen million pounds worth of outreach if the result of their involvement in a TV programme results in a "rush of people joining the [site-depleting artefact hunting] hobby"!  This 25 page guide is obviously well-intentioned, but it is a shame that it was not consulted with their PAS "partners" and elsewhere.  Where was the PAS version? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18th 2012: Why No "Outreach" about "Metal Detecting" Magazines?

Heritage Action refers to a post of mine where I highlighted the contents of the June 2012 number of “The Searcher” magazine "which of course show, in a way that cuts through all the comforting platitudes from PAS and the Culture secretary like a knife, just how money-oriented every one of the suppliers and (what must be) a massive number of the exponents of metal detecting are". I pointed out that it is “worth popping along to the local newsagent’s and getting a copy, just to see what these people get up to, what they think is worth talking about, and what they do not”. As Heritage Action points out, though PAS is currently heavily involved in the organization of the magazine's "Best find" competition, PAS is nowhere on its website as part of its "outreach" urging members of the public to use the magazine to find out "what these people get up to, what they think is worth talking about, and what they do not”. Or join any metal detecting forum. Why not, if they see what their "partners" as doing as some form of amateur archaeology? Could it be that PAS is actually aware that it is not true, and that closer familiarity with what metal detectorists do in England and Wales would show that to be the case? Why do the PAS apparently consider it unnecessary for members of the public to find out for themselves what "metal detecting" is actually about?

Friday, May 4, 2012

May 4th 2012: Why is there no Bibliography on Artefact Hunting and the Antiquities Market?

I wonder why there is no reading list on "portable antiquity issues" for public benefit on the PAS website? A text called "Congenial Bedfellows? The Academy and the Antiquities Trade" points out that not only has the role of "facilitating actions of academic experts" previously been overlooked in studying the antiquities trade (and here the PAS certainly is a prime culprit). It argues that "academic expertise is indispensable for the efficient functioning of the trade" and suggests that:
a knowledge-based ethical environment for academic practice would allow scholars to make more informed choices about the propriety or otherwise of their involvement with the trade.
I would broaden that to "with artefact hunting" as the two are inextricably related. In such a situation, is it not a hindrance that Britain's mega-million public funded outreach Scheme for dealing with portable antiquities issues does not have on its website a section where the public who pay for it can find information on the issues surrounding collecting of archaeological artefacts? A search of this "resource" will not bring up even a smidgen of information for the general public who pay for it can find information on the issues surrounding collecting of archaeological artefacts (except the section on "how to buy antiquities"). Where is the bibliography containing the link to that article? Nowhere. The PAS do not consider it part of their 14-million-quid outreach to provide such a basic piece of information even as a few dozen bibliographic references, so if the PAS is not going to do it in Britain, who is? (see the 1970 UNESCO Convention article 10).

On what basis are archaeologists at present in Britain making their decisions to make more informed choices about the propriety or otherwise of their involvement with artefact hunting and the trade? Certainly, I would suggest, nothing balanced coming from the PAS. the latter just present one side (the 'propaganda of [their own] success') of the story.

Where, after fourteen years of so-called "outreach" and fourteen million pounds of public money thrown at it  is the PAS bibliography of  Portable Antiquity Collecting ISSUES?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Apr-01 2012: Why are there no Reports for When the PAS gets out in the Field?

While it seems a bit pointless asking this too.... If it wanted researchers to be able to understand the biases inherent in the records they create, why does the Portable Antiquities Scheme not write reports for each commercial artefact hunting rally they attend? Such a report would set out the various factors which will affect the information acquired (precise boundaries of area searched, intensity of activity across different parts of the areas), what is likely to have been missed (or simply walked-off with without recording), and most importantly reflecting on the state of what is left of the archaeological record at that spot when they leave. That's how to allow researchers using their records as a source of information can learn what biases may have been introduced by the way the information was collected in each individual case, and only that will allow them to use that information in any form of analysis more sophisticated than a simple and crudely macro-scale presence-absence-here dot-distribution map. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feb-2 2012: Portable Antiquities Wishes Looted Finds Database....

Portable Antiquities wishes the web resource Lootbusters:
"Good luck! Hope the Polish axis of one eyed mantra leaves you alone".

Dorothy King, creator of the page, replies: "Paul & I are on the same side in that similar aims".

One would have thought that since the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to do archaeological outreach about people finding stuff and what should be done with it, that organization and I were also on the same "side" with "similar aims". It would seem not.

The PAS quite obviously would prefer to be "left alone" to get on with being "partners" to those that exploit the archaeological record for collectables for personal entertainment and profit without anyone looking over their shoulder. It is, however, precisely in that part of its current activities for which I think it should be held accountable to us all.

But then, am I not expecting too much? How can one possibly account for that? So they content themselves with ignoring discussions like that begun last year by Professor David Gill and insulting one-eyed Barford among themselves, and hope not too many other people start ask awkward, but pertinent, questions. Well, I hope they do, before it is too late to stop the enormous damage being caused by these Bloomsbury policies.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Feb-1 2012) Who Will "Outreach" to Landowners with “No reporting – No permission”?

The new Stop Taking Our Past (STOP) campaign being promoted by British conservation group Heritage Action (see here) couldn’t be more beneficial as it simply asks farmers to ensure all finds made by artefact hunting metal detectorists get reported. The campaign takes a stand which can only be beneficial for archaeology, archaeologists, landowners and the public. They write:
Unlike the original STOP campaign it’s not going away so hopefully every landowner in Britain will hear about it. We’d really appreciate some help though. So as we said before, if you’re a history lover, archaeologist or ethical detectorist please spread the message – “No reporting – No permission”. Why wouldn’t you?

It would be good to see now the appearance of a webpage detailing the damage done to the archaeological record and the public's knowledge about the past caused by artefact hunters and detectorists taking and not reporting what they've taken away. Obviously Heritage Action are more than capable of producing such a piece of public outreach about portable antiquities. But there IS, isn't there, an organization in England which over the years has been getting a lot of dosh for doing precisely that and has been accumulating quite a bit of experience in talking to the public as well as the media on (one presumes) precisely that. How about it PAS ladies and gentlemen? Will you fall in behind Heritage Action and help them promote the message that artefact seekers reporting finds to the PAS (to yourselves!) is the only responsible way forward? Or will you give it a miss and leave it up to them to do?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jan 2012 - 1) Balance of 2011

Looking at the figures for PAS "success" reveals a disquieting problem. Statistical analysis of the database for Saturday 1st January 2011 until Sunday 1st January 2012 Total records from artefact hunting: 50,032 (66067 objects).

The Heritage Action Artefact Erosion counter indicated that at a minimum (because I now feel the number of active "detectorists" used in the algorithm is several thousand short) 265,350. I think there is every reason to accept that this is indeed a reasonably reliable indicator of the scale of the depletion of the archaeological record due to artefact hunting, indeed I feel for a number of reasons it is an even more conservative estimate than it was when the counter was set off ticking back in 2005.

That would mean that four in five instances of recordable objects discovered in England and Wales with a metal detector in 2011 were dug up, and disposed of one way or another with no public record being made to mitigate the erosion. If in the UK, the hospital system was able to treat only one in five cancer patients, the welfare authorities were able to save only one in five children in serious danger from abuse, only one in five young married couples could find a home of their own, one in five school leavers find a job, the conservation services and planning system save one in five grade one listed buildings from demolition, nobody in their right mind would be saying that British policies are a "success".

After coming up to fourteen years of liaison and partnership, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is still a pathetic temporary "better than nothing" knee-jerk, ad hoc reaction to a problem which it can increasingly clearly be seen needs resolving another way. How long can this go on?