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Alan Graham excavating the Frome Hoard

Sam Moorhead, Finds Adviser, Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum writes on the British Museum bog here

When working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the concept of a ‘forward job plan’ is somewhat laughable – your work patterns are largely dictated by finds made by detectorists. Some discoveries can completely change your career as the Frome Hoard did for me when it was found by Dave Crisp in April 2010.

Dave had dug down a foot into the ground when he started to pull out pottery and coins from the clay soil. When he realised that he had found a coin hoard, he made one of the most important decisions of his life – he filled the hole in, walked away, and contacted his local PAS Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire, Katie Hinds. Katie contacted her opposite number in Somerset, Anna Booth, and a professional excavation of the site took place under the direction of local archaeologist Alan Graham.

 
 
A selection of Roman coins discovered by metal detectorists in Worcestershire in 2011
 
Sebastian Richards, writing for the Cotswold Journal, reports that the Broadway Museum and Art Gallery is exhibiting the Bredon Hoard of Roman coins until the end of May –
 
Two metal detectorists discovered the hoard, the largest ever found in Worcestershire [West Midlands of England], in June 2011. The hoard dates back to the 3rd Century and features 16 different Roman Emperors. Following the discovery, the county archaeology service took over the excavation and it became evident that not only had a hoard been found but also a settlement site with a long and intriguing history.
 
More here.
 

A rare Anglo-Saxon penny bearing the name Jænberht.  Jænberht was Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 8th century. The penny is only the second of its kind known to be in existence
Source Ferrari Press Agency. Image credit Dix Noonan Webb
 
The penny was found by a metal detectorist in a field in Faversham (southern England) last September. Mr Carlile, who found the penny, is reported as saying that at first he thought it was just a button. “It wasn’t until I took it back to the finds tent that I realised it was a coin and it was found to be Anglo-Saxon.”
 
The full importance of the coin did not become apparent until it was examined by experts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
 
More here.
 
 
 
One of the Roman coins discovered by metal detectorist Stephen Squire. The coin dates from around 37ce
 
Kerry Ashdown, writing in the Staffordshire Newsletter, reports on the discovery of more than 2,000 Roman artefacts in a field in Barlaston, Staffordshire, England –
 
MORE THAN 2,000 Roman artefacts including coins have been declared treasure after being unearthed in Barlaston. Metal detectorist Stephen Squire made the discovery in a field in his home village. His find included rare coins and the British Museum has expressed interest in acquiring three items. The Potteries Museum in Hanley plans to exhibit other items. Mr Squire, aged 49, told a hearing at North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court: “I was on my own that morning but quickly phoned my wife and son to come down when I found the objects.”
 
Councillor Terry Follows, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for greener city, development and leisure, said: “This is a significant find because of the number of coins involved. They were found in broken pottery vessels just one metre below ground. It is a real credit to the finder for treating the discovery so responsibly and reporting it correctly.
 
Full story  here.

University of East Anglia student, and metal detectorist, Tom Lucking. Image credit Antony Kelly

Emma Knights, Arts Correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich, England, reports on the discovery of Anglo-Saxon artefacts in Norfolk.

A collection of artefacts discovered in an Anglo-Saxon grave in Norfolk has been declared as Treasure, an inquest has heard. University of East Anglia student Tom Lucking and his friend Stuart Isaacs made the discovery between December 21 2014 and January 7 2015. The inquest in Norwich yesterday heard that the historical items were found near Diss and that a report from the British Museum described them as “an assemblage of artefacts most probably deriving from an early Anglo-Saxon female furnished burial.” Among the items are a Merovingian coin pendant, two gold biconical spacer beads, a gold openwork pendant with the form of a Maltese cross, a coin pendant with a gold suspension loop, another pendant with a Maltese cross design, a continental pottery biconical bowl, an iron knife and a collection of copper alloy chatelaine rings.

Tom has been a metal detector enthusiast for more than a decade and is reported as saying that the artefacts should end up at Norwich Castle, being the best place for them because it keeps them in the County for people to see.

Full story and images of two of the artefacts here.

 

 
A 3,000 year-old gold torc recently found by a metal detectorist in a Cambridgeshire field
Image credit Dominic Lipinski/PA
 
The torc is so big that one expert thinks it may have been worn to protect a pregnant woman. It is made from 730 grams of almost pure gold and is regarded as the best found in England in more than a century. The workmanship is astonishing. “The torc was shaped from a square section bar of gold, and then twisted and burnished. “If you take callipers, and measure the gaps between the twists, they are absolutely spot on accurate.”
 
More by Maev Kennedy in The Guardian here.
 

Can Detectorists be Archaeologists? News by Roy Goutté of an upcoming conference.

The author ‘sweeping’ the line of a long lost track-way
Image credit and © Roy Goutté

 

On the 21st November 2016, PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) are staging a conference at the Museum of London. It is headed ‘Can Detectorists Be Archaeologists?’ and features many speakers during the day.

Nowadays most archaeologists recognise that responsible metal-detecting has a role to play in archaeology, though there remain concerns about the (seemingly) haphazard searching techniques employed by most finders. This conference explores the various ways in which detectorists (working alone or with archaeologists) have undertaken archaeological fieldwork, and looks to a future of further cooperation for the benefit of archaeology and public interest in the past… Dr Michael Lewis (British Museum).

As a detectorists myself and an amateur archaeologist that has worked with qualified archaeologists where my detector was called upon, this promises to be a very interesting series of talks. Any form of education, as long as it is a balanced appraisal of the subject, is most welcome as irresponsible detecting without giving thought to the archaeology is without doubt a serious matter and hopefully will be discussed at length.

There are two types of detectorists apart from the many thousands out there that, in my opinion, are irresponsible in respect of their lack of concern for our heritage and unseen archaeology. One is the blatant ‘night-hawk’ who purposely sets out to steal artefacts from areas of known ‘hot-spots’ and the other is the genuine beginner/casual user of a detector who seem totally unaware that they could be damaging the archaeology as they have not followed the Metal Detector Code because, on the whole, they are not recognised metal detector club members. As a member they would have been well versed in the rights and wrongs of metal detecting.

This doesn’t make the latter a bad bunch – just an uninformed one that are venturing out for a day’s enjoyable and relaxing detecting with thoughts of finding the odd coin/ring/watch on a beach or local scrub land. They are by far the majority – the ones that have a day out occasionally and not the day in day out detectorists.

To return to the subject matter – Can Detectorists Be Archaeologist? – well of course they can, just as well as anyone else if they are interested in the subject… which undoubtedly some will be of course. If they used their obvious knowledge of our heritage for the good and not just for personal gain as a night-hawk would, then fine. But let’s be quite clear on this – the major hoards and finds in the UK are being made by your bog standard detectorists who report their finds and not night-hawks who don’t and in places not generally being looked at by archaeologists because that is not in their remit.

Another heritage website doesn’t seem to allow for this and offers no credit to the ‘good guys’ seeing the majority of all detectorists as stealing our heritage and the vast number of them not declaring their finds. So where do they think all the hoards and other antiquities found came from if not reported – out of fresh air! The dark or negative side is always highlighted by them and virtually no credit given to the huge amount of detectorists out there doing the right thing! They need to wise-up and smell the roses!

However, not wishing to linger on this negative side, I believe this conference is perfectly timed by PAS and should open up a few eyes and minds with the range of the talks they are encompassing at the event and the quality of the speakers enlisted for it. I hope it is well attended and appreciated by a level-headed audience and hopefully gives the naysayers something that will pacify them a little – but don’t hold your breath!

Here are some more details and the table and time of events:

Can Detectorists Be Archaeologists?

Portable Antiquities Scheme Conference – Weston Theatre, Museum of London. Monday 21st November 2016. 10am – 5pm.

10:00 Roy Stephenson (Museum of London): Welcome
10:10 Dr Michael Lewis (British Museum) & Dr Pieterjan Deckers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel): Working Together.
10:30 Dr Felicity Winkley (University College London): A Font of Local Knowledge: Metal-detectorists and landscape archaeology.
11:00 Dr Phil Harding (metal-detectorist and self-recorder): Metal-detecting in Leicestershire: Insights from detailed recording.
11:30 David Haldenby (metal-detectorist from Yorkshire): Detecting the Landscape.
12:00 Lindsey Bedford (erstwhile metal-detectorist): Detecting a Path into Archaeology.
12:30 Lunch (not provided).
14:00 Faye Minter (Suffolk County Council): The Use of Systematic Metal detecting in Suffolk as an Archaeological Survey Technique.
14:30 Carl Chapness (Oxford Archaeology): Metal-detecting and Archaeology.
15:00 Samantha Rowe (University of Huddersfield) Archaeology of the plough-zone.
15:30 John Maloney (National Council for Metal Detecting) The Future of archaeology and metal-detecting.
16:00 Dr Mike Heyworth (Council for British Archaeology) The Future of archaeology and metal-detecting: Building or burning bridges?
16:30 Finish.

Worth noting that there will be no refreshments provided. If, like many others, you are contemplating taking up this wonderful hobby, the following link to a very informative Beginners Guide to metal detecting is a real must. Check it out!

 

 
Fragment of a Bronze Age copper/alloy knife recovered from a previously undiscovered burial site near Morecambe Bay
Image credit Stuart Noon
 
Dalya Alberge, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports that –
 
A significant early bronze age burial site, believed to date from 2500BC, has been discovered near Morecambe Bay. Grave goods could include objects ranging from daggers and ceramic vessels to jewellery, textiles and material such as amber, jet and gold. The site will be excavated in July. Archaeologists were alerted to its existence by Matthew Hepworth, a nurse, who unearthed a well-preserved bronze age chisel using a metal detector.
 
Ben Roberts, a lecturer in later prehistory at Durham University and the British Museum’s former curator for European bronze age collections, said: “The potential is huge because untouched, undiscovered sites are very rare indeed. What’s really special about our site is that no one knew about it before … The barrow appears to be intact and it’s pretty substantial.”
 
Hepworth followed the correct procedure on discovery of the chisel, notifying the authorities under the portable antiquities scheme. He is now being given a rare opportunity to work alongside the professional archaeologists in an excavation that is being partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Morecambe Bay excavation is being partly financed through a crowdfunding project, DigVentures, a social enterprise founded by three archaeologists – including Wilkins – to address the severe cuts in local authority and university-funded research archaeology.
 

The Anglo-Saxon site (not shown) in Lincolnshire is thought to have been a monastic or trading centre
Image credit and © Jon Boyes/incamerastock/Corbis

Haroon Siddique reports in The Guardian that –

The remains of an Anglo-Saxon island have been uncovered in Lincolnshire in a significant find that has yielded an unusually wide array of artefacts.

The island, once home to a Middle Saxon settlement, was found at Little Carlton near Louth, Lincolnshire, by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield after a discovery by a metal detectorist. Graham Vickers came across a silver stylus, an ornate writing tool dating back to the 8th century, in a disturbed plough field. He reported his find and subsequently unearthed hundreds more artefacts, recording their placement with GPS, thus enabling archaeologists to build up a picture of the settlement below.

A huge number of sceattas (Anglo-Saxon coins dating from the 7th and 8th centuries) have been unearthed
 

Dr Hugh Willmott, from the university’s department of archaeology, said: “It’s clearly a very high-status Saxon site. It’s one of the most important sites of its kind in that part of the world. The quantity of finds that have come from the site is very unusual – it’s clearly not your everyday find.”

Willmott praised Vickers for reporting his find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, describing it as a “really nice collaboration between the general public and the university”.

More here and here.

 

 

The first day in the life of a rookie Metal Detectorists. By Roy Goutté.

Well, Christmas had arrived and with it a metal detector in my stocking. Wow! I knew it was coming of course as I made mention of it in Part 1 of this article, but now it had. In waiting I found myself reading all sorts of articles and watching YouTube clips on detecting and detectors themselves and I couldn’t wait to get started! Everyone seemed to be finding coins, modern-ish and otherwise, with all the other stuff such as ring-pulls, fencing staples and bits of wire conveniently overlooked. That was encouraging and I couldn’t wait to get out there!
 
However, I needed first to become ‘accustomed’ (as the supplied video advised) to the detector and its settings. Blimey, looking at them it reminded me of the inside of the cockpit of a stealth bomber! There were settings for All Metals, Jewellery, Relics, Coins and what they termed a ‘Custom’ one. A table showing the depth the object was at from 2” down to 8”+. Buttons were various… Power, Mode, Sensitivity, Discrimination, Pinpointing and Eliminator. That last one sounded rather ominous I thought! But wait, there was more to come, as it could also distinguish by way of bleeps and their tone, the type of metal it was. Magic!
 
Well that was Christmas, but due to the appalling weather we have been having I wasn’t able to get out and give it a test drive until very recently, and only if I wore waders and a trench coat! Jeepers haven’t we had some rain! Anyway, after playing around with a few modern coins buried in various places around our lawn I set off into the big wide world with my detector slung over my shoulder for my first trip out on a windy dull day with showers.
 
As I mentioned in Part 1, I am very fortunate inasmuch that I have loads of land at my disposal owned by various friends, but for starters I chose a 50 acre field very close to home because if the weather really broke I wasn’t far away from the dry and warm!
 
I had chosen to ‘sweep’ an old track used many, many years ago by church goers who had a one and a half mile walk from a hamlet of about a dozen cottages to a chapel in the closest village. Naturally I had gained permission to do so as it is the number one rule. In the summer it would be an idyllic walk, but not on the day I was there it wasn’t! Slopping about in mud on a gravelly base, I was frequently finding an odd selection of rusty pieces of metal. One find was expected… the old fencing staple from the sheep netting fence that had been erected along the length of the path and was now a sorry sight, rusting away as it was so old and not galvanised. The other objects I was not sure of but I suspect were broken bits off a plough hitting the gravel under the topsoil and no doubts some more fencing bits. Doesn’t seem much does it but keeps you totally focused on what you are doing.
 
I never found a thing of any real interest (I mustn’t say value because in some quarters I’d be seen as a heritage thief) but actually had a very successful day in respect that my detector was a joy to use and for the first time realised why the hobby is so popular… the complete concentration that takes you over and clears your mind of all your worries and problems. It is extremely therapeutic and calming while at the same time very exhilarating which is a wonderful experience.
 
 
My first finds
 
Getting home earlier than planned because of the weather and having time to spare, I once again began doing a bit of trawling on the net with detecting in mind as I had decided to buy what is known as a ‘pinpointer’. It is a hand-sized small version of a metal detector with a projecting point on it to seek out the actual position of the ‘find’ amongst the removed earth which may have to be broken up a little. Now ordered off the ‘Bay’, I await its arrival from China (where else eh to keep the price down!).
 
While I was doing this I received a call from a pal. He said I would be disappointed to hear that once again detectorists were getting another panning from a familiar ‘heritage’ website. I thought, ‘Here we go again’. Sure enough, on checking it out someone was hell-bent on stirring up trouble for them once again. It is a sad state of affairs when detectorists can’t go out for a weekend’s legitimate detecting without someone spoiling their fun isn’t it. To certain sad and misguided people everyone brandishing a metal detector is more than capable of being a heritage thief, raping our land of artefacts and not officially reporting them (70% of them apparently). Capable certainly, but no guarantee that they will, but let’s heavily suggest they might would seem to be the name of the game!
 
The situation this time was that a rally that had taken place in 2014 on land that had an interesting historical background was going to be repeated again this year, in March, the writer believed. Prior to the said 2014 rally taking place they had implied on their website that detectorists would be ‘pocketing or destroying’ artefacts that would then be beyond the reach of science. Quiet a claim that isn’t it, giving the reader the impression that the event was going to be packed out with unscrupulous villains without a decent and honourable one in sight! At first I thought it sounded like an illegal activity was going to take place but the truth was that it was a perfectly legitimate and organised event and each detectorist would be paying £35 for the weekend, or, as it was so cynically put by the usual suspect… ‘for just £35 you can help yourself for the whole weekend’! Sounds like heaven to a hobby detectorists but a nightmare for an over-reactive anti-detectorist don’t you think.
 
The land in question had no Scheduling on it and was not a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as far as I am aware and they had full permission to ‘sweep’ it which more or less confirms that, yet again the reader was being seduced into believing they were likely to be a bunch of villains plundering a site for their own benefit!
 
Nobody seems to have shown an interest in carrying out investigations or excavations there previously, so my first thoughts were that it would be a great opportunity for the detectorists to find out more if they were fortunate enough to discover things of interest which would then filter its way back to us via their clubs or finds officer. They gave no idea how many clubs or individuals were taking part in the rally and I don’t suppose for a single moment they even troubled to find out either, but you can be sure that because of their Codes of Conduct nothing was going to be ‘pocketed’ that shouldn’t be while they were on site and observed, but of course the anti-detectorist obsessives always think differently because they seem to be predisposed to think that way. Protecting our heritage is one thing, and to be applauded, but to give false impressions another thing altogether and shameful.
 
And forget commenting on one of the myriad of MD articles on said ‘heritage’ website. If you don’t agree with them you will be treated as I was; your comments are likely to be binned and you will be asked not to post there again. You won’t even be met half-way. There didn’t appear to be a balance struck at all, you either agreed with the article or were asked to leave as I was. My comments were only used when it suited them and some not published at all unless sections within it were selected, but only in an attempt to put me down to the other readers who were then denied my completely unpublished posts because, to do so, would reveal a few truths. I thought it a very cowardly and discourteous way of doing things and in doing so confirmed to myself what I always suspected about the way an individual can operate, so tossed in a few remarks of my own to balance things up a little.
 
For example, I asked a perfectly reasonable question on this ‘heritage’ website which was, ‘Where did the solid proof come from claiming that 70% of finds were not reported’? What I got back was a claim that four separate entities had said the same. That wasn’t ‘proof’ to me unless I and other readers could see the written documentation to back that up so asked for it. Common sense told me, as it will to others, that there is absolutely no way that every single ‘find’ found can be witnessed to substantiate such a claim so to claim that the 70% was a proven fact was complete nonsense. Where for instance was the person watching me on my first venture out in the field in case I found a significant artefact and did a runner with it… hiding up a tree? Of course the readership was denied that post and instead was told that they would not be hearing from me again! Neat eh!
 
It’s a great shame really as some good stuff has come out of that website, particularly when written by a certain person that I have met and who always gives a good account of himself in print with his well-balanced views and interesting well researched articles. That’s how it should be done.
 
Moving on, it is quite obvious that by far the greatest number of important metal artefacts found underground in the UK are discovered by amateur metal detectorists and not by professional archaeologists who, on the whole, are not looking for treasure of that kind and certainly not where the majority are found. Without detectorists there must be a very high percentage of those fabulous artefacts that would never have seen the light of day again without their help. Of course there will always be detectorists that don’t play by the rules and that will never stop no matter what legislations are put into place, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. I’m also sure that most level-headed people understand that obvious statistic and accept it, but some are so obsessed with only seeing the bad side of things that they treat people like idiots for thinking otherwise. I know someone like that. Good intentions without a doubt, but unrealistic.
 
Finally, check out this small sample of fabulous finds which without the help of metal detectorists may never have been found and I’ll catch up with you all again shortly.
 
 
The Silverdale Hoard 2007
 
 

The Hoxne Hoard 1992

  

A very small part of the 3,500 piece Staffordshire Hoard 2009

 
 
And finally the Jersey Hoard 2012
 

Garston Philips, Collections Ambassador at the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, holds the recently acquired Iron Age gold stater donated by an anonymous benefactor
Image credit Jonathan Barry

James Forrest, writing for the Evesham Journal, reports that –

AN anonymous donor has given a “rare and wonderful” ancient coin to Museums Worcestershire. The donation of the 2000-year-old gold coin saw Christmas come early for museum staff, who were left in tears of joy by the “special” gift. The inscribed Iron Age gold stater, which was produced in about AD 20-40 in the last years before the Roman conquest, was discovered by metal detectorists in the Droitwich area.

Angie Bolton, finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Worcestershire, which works with people who discover rare objects, said: “This Iron Age coin is so special in many ways. It was found by two metal detectorists who record their finds with us, changing what we know of Iron Age and Roman Worcestershire.”

Deborah Fox, curator of archaeology and natural history at Museums Worcestershire, added: “We’ve been collecting archaeological finds at Museums Worcestershire since the 1830s and in those 180 years we have only acquired two gold Iron Age staters. They are a real rarity so this donation is overwhelming.”

More here.

 

 
Three of the coins were issued by Mark Antony in 31bce and were still in circulation nearly 200 years later
Photo Credit: Wales News
 
Archaeology & Arts reports on a hoard of Roman coins, and two medieval rings, which were declared treasure at Cardiff Coroners’ Court last week –
 
Silver coins dating back nearly 2,000 years to the Roman period and two Medieval rings have been declared treasure about a year after being found in a field by walkers using metal detectors. The coins and rings were declared treasure, among other items including a brooch and a Bronze Age hoard by saw senior coroner for Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Andrew Barkley at Cardiff Coroners’ Court last week.
 
The Roman silver coins were discovered by Mr. Richard Annear and Mr. John Player while metal detecting in a field at the village of Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan on 13 December 2014. The coins were found partly scattered by previous ploughing and the finders left the undisturbed portion in the ground before reporting the finds to Mark Lodwick, Co-ordinator of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales (PAS Cymru) and archaeological curators at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. This allowed museum staff to lift it intact for detailed excavation in the museum laboratory.
 
More here.
   

Coins dating from 286–293ce from the Frome Hoard. The coins depict the usurper Roman emperor Carausius

A new exhibition now running at the British Museum focuses on the practice of hoarding in prehistoric and Roman Britain –

People have been placing metalwork and valuable objects in the ground and in water since the Bronze Age (c. 2200–800 BC). These prehistoric hoards are widely accepted as having been deposited as part of ritual practices. Later hoards were traditionally seen as a response to invasion threats and economic upheaval – riches buried in the ground to be retrieved at a later date. The 2010 discovery of a huge Roman coin hoard in Frome in Somerset raised many questions about this traditional interpretation, suggesting that ritual practices also played a part in the burial of Roman hoards.

This display showcases some recent discoveries of hoards reported through the Treasure Act and studied at the British Museum. It begins with the large metalwork deposits of the Bronze and Iron Ages such as the Salisbury hoard and weapons found in the River Thames at Broadness.

The exhibition will run until 22 May 2016 and can be found in Room 69a of the Museum. Admission is free. More here.

  

A metal detector in my Christmas stocking. By Roy Goutté.

I have to say that I have longed to own a decent metal detector for some years now. Yes you can buy cheap versions in stores that you would be lucky to find a metal dustbin with just 1” under the soil, but at my age and with time on my hands I am about to have my wish come true, as I am being bought that decent one for Christmas!

It wasn’t what was planned though as the family had asked if I would like to have a quadcopter (drone) as a Christmas gift so that I could take aerial videos of stone circles and the like, being my main hobby these days. Having the whole of Bodmin Moor to ‘fly’ over subject to permission if required, it was very appealing. However, on checking out the prices for the type of one I would prefer, it soon became apparent to me that it would be a very costly purchase for them, so I declined their generous offer but suggested an alternative. ‘Could I have a decent middle-range metal detector instead please?’.

So that’s where I am today and really looking forward to owning one, especially as we have our own field to ‘test drive’ it in. So now, instead of flying above ground, I’ll be digging beneath it for the time being!

My interest in archaeology and the metal detector are not far apart these days and I’m rather hoping the two will go well together when the approved occasion arises. MD’s are widely used by archaeologists today, but by a strict code of practise as I was to discover when I went out of my way to get the low-down on where exactly you could use them.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t use them ANYWHERE without permission,  unless you happen to own your own land and it’s not already protected that is. That was a surprise for a start as I assumed you could still pretty much wonder down to any public beach, park and scrub land and detect away. Not so these days it would seem and for good reason for there would appear to be much going on that is spoiling things for the everyday detectorist out for a quiet and relaxing day in the countryside or beach hoping to discover a few old coins or lost rings instead of the regular flow of ring-pulls, bits of wire and rusty nails associated with metal detecting.

Over more recent years and probably since the introduction of more powerful depth seeking metal detectors, fantastic hoards of gold, jewellery and coins have been discovered along with literally 1,000’s of individual items of antiquity and very often in areas where nothing was ever expected and certainly where archaeologists had no reason to take an interest in!

This has led to a number of those everyday ‘weekender’ detectorists turning to the dark side and purposely targeting these items of great value and not declaring them… an illegal and prisonable offence! Commonly known as ‘Nighthawks’ these thieves are selling off our heritage for personal gain and giving the honest and respectable detectorist who are members of local clubs a bad press. In other words, they are stealing from the nation and whilst doing so bringing honest metal detectorists into disrepute. It has to be stopped.

So how exactly is the law, archaeologists and detectorists working together these days to resolve this situation?

In an article written by Alex Hunt of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and updated in 2011 he explained much of that early history:-

‘A 1995 survey on metal detecting in England, by the Council for British Archaeology, pinpointed some gloomy facts about the impact of the hobby. It concluded that of the hundreds of thousands of artefacts recovered by detectorists every year, only a fraction was being reported to museums.

Even worse, three-quarters of archaeological field units had experienced raids of their excavations by detectorists, and between 1988 and 1995 illicit metal detector users damaged at least 188 scheduled ancient monuments (archaeological sites of national importance, protected under law, where special permission is required to dig or to use metal detectors).

Two particularly high-profile cases of looting were the illegal removal of a hoard of fine Romano-British bronzes from Icklingham in Suffolk in the 1980s, and the plunder of the site of a Roman Temple at Wanborough in Surrey in the 1990s.

This kind of looting appals archaeologists and responsible detectorists alike, because the combined effect of both looting and non-reporting of finds is that crucial information about archaeological sites is being lost’.

He continued :-

‘Archaeology lives and breathes on context. Knowing exactly what comes from where, the soils in which it lies, and the relationships or associations between artefacts, features and other forms of evidence, is critical for interpreting archaeological remains.

An object on its own may tell us quite a lot. For instance, using some of the many scientific techniques available, we might find evidence about the technologies and resources used in its manufacture. Or the form and design of the object, and the way it shows evidence of patterns of wear or repair, might tell us about its function and use. Techniques such as radiocarbon dating also allow us to work out the age of some artefacts. Yet there may be little point in doing this work, if we know nothing of where the object was found.

By contrast, understanding an object in relation to other objects, and to the deposits in which they are found, can allow a much more powerful level of interpretation. An artefact of one type, for instance, which can be dated, can – if looked at in its proper archaeological context – also help date whole layers and features and other kinds of artefacts, which cannot be dated in any other way.

In the light of this, some archaeologists have advocated a much stronger regulation of metal detecting, but others suggest that the best approach is to foster a responsible approach among the detecting community, through better liaison and education’.

Finding common ground:

‘In Norfolk for instance, the late Tony Gregory recognised early on that not all detectorists behave irresponsibly. He set about forming fruitful links with those whose primary interest was in the sense of discovery and a real interest in what they found.

For instance he sought the permission required for a group of detectorists to systematically survey the Roman temple site at Caistor St Edmund. This was to assess the damage being done by groups of treasure-hunting thieves who were regularly working over the monument by cover of dark, and to pre-empt any further damage. Bit by bit Tony and successive archaeologists built a lasting relationship with responsible detectorists across the county, who helped foil this vandalism.

In areas where archaeologists have been constructive in this way, detectorists are much more confident in reporting their finds. And they have been recovering a lot of useful material – metal detected finds have, for instance, significantly contributed to understanding Iron Age coinage, and also the deposition of Bronze Age metal hoards in south-east England. Finds can be reported to Finds Liaison Officers of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and metal detector users continue to contribute to the archaeological process and historical studies’.

Read more here:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) mentioned above, has an interesting history. It is a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funded project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of objects are discovered, not just by metal detectorists, but also by people out walking and even just working in their gardens.

In July 1996, the Treasure Act was passed. The Treasure Act replaced the medieval law of Treasure Trove in England and Wales. This Act gave some protection to certain archaeological finds, acting to encourage their reporting. However, a great many objects were being found by members of the public which were not ‘treasure’, but which were nonetheless important in building up knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.

In the past, finds such as these were, in some cases, taken to local museums to record. However, many more finds were unrecorded as there were not always systems in place to do so, often due to lack of resources.

A further problem was presented as the removal of an archaeological object from the ground without properly recording the circumstances of the find can lead to loss of knowledge of an object’s context, or provenance. Context is vital in archaeology in order to be able understand past human activity. Archaeology is not simply about studying isolated objects. How these came to be where they were found, their relationship to other objects and stratigraphy (position in the ground), among other factors help build up a picture of the past as a whole. These unrecorded or un-provenanced finds meant a loss to knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.

The Act has been subject to ‘improvement and change’ since its introduction and it can be read here in full.

So, it is no longer just a matter of driving down to the local park or beach and getting on with it, although by all accounts, some still do. Permissions have to be sought and other rules complied with. And it’s not just about finding the odd 50p or a bit of modern jewellery and having a relaxing day out in the fresh air anymore for some it would seem, but the possible theft of our heritage by those who flout the rules and are in it just for the money gained by not reporting important finds of antiquity and selling them to private collectors or indeed keeping them for their own collections.

Looking at the rules of a local MD club in my area below, their rules are quite clear and I wonder if in the main the protagonists are loners with no connections with clubs whatsoever. It is supposed to be a hobby and certainly for the much greater majority and honest ones it still is, but how do you deal with those who are in it for profit and blatantly disregarding the law without an apparent care in the world?

Typical Metal Detector club rules:

  1. All members will hold a current membership of the NCMD. These will be shown to the club secretary upon joining.
  2. Do not trespass. Obtain permission before venturing on to any land.
  3. Respect the Country Code, leave gates and property as you find them and do not damage crops, frighten animals or disturb nesting birds.
  4. Wherever the site, do not leave a mess or an unsafe surface for those who may follow. Always re-fill your holes, do not leave unwanted finds in your hole remove them from the field.
  5. Membership of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXX will be open to all members of the public interested in metal detecting as a hobby and who are willing to both, support the interests of the club by keeping to its rules and make the payment of the current membership fee(non refundable).
  6. Before being accepted as a member of this club, applicants will be required to declare that they are not already members of any other club. If in the past applicants have held membership of any other club or clubs, they must have given formal notice of resignation to their previous club or clubs before their application will be considered.
  7. Members of this club may not join any other metal detecting club without immediately forfeiting both membership and member’s rights to this club.
  8. If you discover any live ammunition or any lethal object such as an unexploded bomb or mine, do not disturb it. Mark the site carefully and report the find to the local police and landowner.
  9. Help keep Britain tidy. Safely dispose of refuse you come across.
  10. Report any dead or injured livestock to your land owner.
  11. Remember it is illegal for anyone to use a metal detector on a designated area (e.g. scheduled archaeological site, SSSI, or Ministry of Defense property) without permission from the appropriate authority.
  12. Acquaint yourself with the Treasure Act 1996
  13. Remember that when you are out with your metal detector you are an ambassador for our hobby and club. Do nothing that might give us a bad name.
  14. Report all finds assumed older than 300 years to the local F.L.O.
  15. Never miss an opportunity to explain your hobby to anyone who asks about it, you never know, it may lead to new permissions.
  16. All club obtained land will only be detected on via an organized club search and at no other times.
  17. Annual memberships will run from the 1st April to 31st March with an annual fee of £XX
  18. Officers of the club, Chairman, secretary and treasurer shall be elected at the AGM.19. Club search fees shall be £X per member unless stated otherwise and payable on the day

Returning now to my own plans and how I am going about things so that I can enjoy this hobby without falling foul of the law.

My first move is going to be to contact a local MD club and become a member if they have vacancies and will accept me. By doing this I am hoping that I will be able to become really conversant with the accepted and approved rules and legislation in place, and of course to have detecting days out with them learning the ropes. I will only join a club that is registered with a recognised National authority as that has to be the only way forward for a newbie surely. See here for more information.

I have already found out how I go about obtaining permission and a permit to use a MD on the foreshore and by all accounts it is a very simple matter and free… but you must have one!

I am also very fortunate in having many farming friends with hundreds of acres of land that I hope I will be given access to and in time maybe also the club I decide to join. I’m in this for the enjoyment and relaxation and of course that glimmer of hope that one day a magic moment will arrive when something special makes its presence known to me and I can add just that little bit more to our understanding of our past. I see it, as in all aspects of my archaeology research and work, as my chance to put just a little something back in appreciation of our great ancestors gifts from the past, whether it be stone circles, dolmans, long barrows or Saxon gold and jewellery lying tantalisingly close just out of sight beneath our feet.

Footnote:

I don’t feel I can finish an article on metal detecting and its connection with archaeology without mentioning the wonderful BAFTA winning BBC4 television mini-series called Detectorists that is currently on our screens. Wonderful entertainment with superb acting from a brilliant cast all put together and including Mackenzie Crook (Andy).

It centres around detectorist pals Andy and Lance (the brilliant Toby Jones), their local club the Danebury Metal Detecting Club and its members and their love lives (or lack of it in Lance’s case). Adding further to the cast are two members of a rival club affectionately known as Simon and Garfunkel.

They typify the classic hobby detectorists in my book. Out all day in a world of their own finding ring-pulls, rusty wire, bits broken of ploughs and the occasional coin to keep the interest and enthusiasm alive… and all the time in the back of their minds is the possibility of them hitting the jackpot and discovering a Saxon hoard… something that unbeknown to them they have already walked away from being right under their feet at the end of yet another fruitless day!

Andy (right) and Lance (left) in Detectorists

According to Mackenzie, there is some skill involved in the whole exercise, and he’s now one of an astounding 30,000 enthusiasts who practise this hobby in the UK alone. “They’re not anoraks,” Mackenzie insists. “They’re amateur archaeologists.”

If like me, you are, or were contemplating taking up the hobby, do check out this very excellent and informative ‘Beginners guide to metal detecting’.

And finally, this clip from Series One of Detectorists. I loved it when Becky, Andy’s partner, suggests he may have missed a lot whilst he’s been detecting. What follows just about sums up their luck. Superb.

 
2,000 year-old Roman figurine of Mercury
©
Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)
 
Ben Miller, writing in Cuture24, reports on –
 
The 1,000th officially recorded archaeological find of the year in Yorkshire… Registered on May the 15th – the day of the festival of Mercury – a 2,000-year-old figurine of the Roman god, found by Dave Cooper while he was metal detecting in a field near Selby, is a remarkable reminder of Roman times.
 
“It honestly was pure coincidence – but a very happy one,” says Rebecca Griffiths, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the York Museums Trust.
 
Read more here. You can also discover more about the figurine here, and Public Finds Days will be held by the PAS at Hull and East Riding Museum on July 31, September 25 and November 27 from 11am-1pm and at the Yorkshire Museum on June 5, August 7, October 2, December 4 from 10am-1pm.
 

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