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Editor Mike Pitts
Declaring War On Metal Detectorists
Sue Beasley finds that gold and silver are not the only way to engage with the past
We often read about ‘saving rural heritage’. The sad truth is that sites will keep disappearing under the plough because Britain’s landscape is so rich, and it is not practical to save everything. But so much more could be done at hardly any cost.
Three years ago, I moved to a small parish in North Lincolnshire. It is one mile wide by three and a half long. All I knew of archaeology was what I had picked up from Time Team, but I was curious and started to look. The area is not even covered by the national aerial mapping project, but in no time at all, I had a bag full of these dull, grey bits of pottery and some that were orange on one side and grey on the other. Taking them to the local museum, I was told I had found my first Romano-British and Medieval pottery.
Since then, my new discoveries include two Romano-British sites (farmsteads?), a large Iron Age pot that is the first of its kind found in the area, a possible Bronze age settlement site and evidence of Neolithic activity and possibly burial. All of my 1,000 recorded artefacts (mostly greyware) fit into one dining room cupboard—but these tiny pieces can tell you so much.
What has all this cost beyond the goodwill of the farmer? £130 for a GPS (Global Positioning System) and the support of the local museum and Portable Antiquities scheme. Treasure is more than gold and silver; it is knowledge and all the fragments of our past.
There is far more interest to be found in local history than you would think. If you want to record rural archaeology before it is ground to dust by farm machinery, would it not be an idea to recruit local people such as myself? It would make use of all those aerial photos and the mostly dormant SMRs [now Historic Environment Records]. Results can be logged in a note book or kept on a computer database. What harm is such ‘hobby archaeology’ if it is nothing but field walking and paper research? Nothing. What are we going to learn? Something about an area that otherwise may never have been known.
So why do I declare war on our local metal detectorists? Our parish is a mere one mile wide by three and a half long, and I have found it to contain evidence of human activity from the Neolithic to the present day. Ploughing is causing the bits and pieces to be gradually eroded out onto the surface. These bits can be collected by responsible field walking and all the information that goes with such finds can be recorded before it is lost.
However, a local detectorist came to me whilst I was walking a particularly good Roman site and said he had found several coins and had already declared them to the Portable Antiquities scheme. Yet, though various ‘treasure seekers’ have been on these rich fields for years, not one item has been handed in for recording to the museum. There is nothing on the SMR.
I would ask that for all the ‘treasure’ reported by responsible people, how much more is being taken without record? How many seekers have been inspired to have a go for themselves by having all these sumptuous—valuable—finds flashed before them in the press and on television? This is not the only way of finding our heritage.
Beasley is an enthusiastic amateur who happens to live in the undiscovered county. Opinions to email@example.com
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005