Before heavy ploughing threatened our past. Ploughing 51 B.C. by W M Goodes
In his thought-provoking articles on the pros of metal detecting (In praise of metal detecting 1-10) John Hooker writes –
Even since the adoption of the tractor, agricultural machinery has been getting much heavier and this has resulted in speedier soil compaction. A hard layer will form in the earth where water will not drain easily. If all of this was not bad enough, the actions of fertilizers and pesticides also destroy the equilibrium between the interior of an object and its environment… in certain environments, freeze and thaw cycles can also attack the integrity of the object once it gets to within five to three inches of the surface. Monoculture and the absence of allowing fields to fallow adds to the problem…
Thus, the detectorist automatically becomes an environmentalist and conservator by their very actions. The idea that the archaeologists will eventually save everything, and do this faster than nature can destroy it is an absurdity…
Sadly, there are activities by some metal detectorists that are illegal and which are also damaging our past. We must not, however, ignore the fact that objects can and are being destroyed by both intensive farming practices as well as through other manmade (and natural) land disturbances. Nor should we ignore the fact that, without the contribution of responsible metal detectorists, we would not now be gleaning so much information (not to mention cultural appreciation) from finds such as the Staffordshire and Bedale Hoards.
Before heavy ploughing threatened our past. Ploughing 1950ce
Above, tractor driver Tom Rout holding a gold torc from the Snettisham Hoard. Tom discovered the Icenian torc at Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk, south-east England while ploughing there in 1950. The Iceni were a British tribe who inhabited (1bce-1ce) an area corresponding (approximately) to modern-day Norfolk. Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in 60ce or 61ce, during which an estimated 70,000-80,000 British and Roman lives were lost.
The Great Torc from the Snettisham Hoard, now centrepiece of the Snettisham Hoard display at the British Museum
The Trustees of the British Museum
See also our earlier feature, The Mildenhall Treasure by Roald Dahl, where Roald Dahl, in the preface to his book, The Mildenhall Treasure explains how, in 1946, he read a newspaper article about the remarkable find of a hoard of 4th century Roman silver unearthed by Gordon Butcher, a ploughman, in a field in Suffolk, England (the Mildenhall Treasure is now also on permanent display at the British Museum).