My Lord Essex
Old stones and the sea
Riding into history
The folk that lived in Liverpool
So tyger fierce took life away
Editor Mike Pitts
From Ian Pearce
In ‘Declaring war on metal detectorists’ Sue Beasley says that ‘hobby archaeology’ can play a valuable role in researching and recording rural sites (Opinion, March). Here in North Yorkshire we have taken this a step further, with groups of volunteers working in seven different parts of the county, all guided by professional community archaeologist Kevin Cale. Our group, the Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project, has been operating for two years with funding from the Local Heritage Initiative and the Nationwide Building Society. Our 20 or so active members have found two important sites (Mesolithic occupation site and 18th century Alum Works boil house), and researched and recorded more. We are now starting to look into other aspects of local history. And we all have a great time, even field walking in the rain.
It seems to me that the setting up these Community Archaeology Projects is a wonderful way to provide solutions to some of the problems worrying Sue Beasley.
PS We all think that your magazine is a really good read, informative and interesting with no trace of academic stuffiness! Honest!
From Chris Tripp
I read with interest about Sue Beasley’s sterling work in Lincolnshire to save parts of our heritage before it is lost under intensive agricultural practices.
However, I was dismayed by the article’s heading. Metal detectorists are part of the communities that professionals are trying to re-engage with, after our backs have been too long turned against the public. The Portable Antiquities Scheme [PAS] is being driven, for the most part, by their work and voluntary reporting of finds.
Let us be partners and understand the similarities of interest that drives us all to search for artefacts that were made by our ancestors so that we may transcend time and touch past lives.
From Philip de Jersey
While I share Sue Beasley’s frustration with detector finds that go unrecorded—and have been doing my bit to try and improve the situation for the last 12 years—declaring war will achieve nothing. What’s needed is dialogue, as the powers that be eventually realized when the PAS was set up. I suspect that talking to the detectorists in her parish will get better results for Ms Beasley than declaring war on them. In the meantime, some of these same detectorists who have not been into the nearest museum may have recorded Iron Age coins with me, and I would invite Ms Beasley to contact me to find out!
From RFJ Kings
The majority of detectorists do not record their finds and prefer to either put them into their collections or sell them. Things are improving with the PAS, and the appointment of more Finds Liaison Officers [FLOs]. Hopefully more detectorists will co-operate with the scheme.
When I began detecting in 1979 I was aware that taking surface finds from the ploughsoil without recording, was nothing short of treasure hunting. I have been recording every find now for 25 years, and so have members of the Midland Archaeological Research Society, since we were founded 20 years ago.
The MARS record of liaison with archaeologists is second to none in the metal detecting world. Yet we still encounter antipathy from the MD fraternity who believe we are on the ‘wrong side’. I invite readers to get in touch. Our website is at www.MARS-fieldsurveys.co.uk.
From Wendy Scott
In Leicestershire we have had a network of volunteers, including many detectorists, undertaking field research for over 25 years. Their results, including the negative ones, are added to the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR), revolutionising our understanding of Leicestershire (we are planning an exhibition on what community archaeology has revealed).
SMRs are NOT dormant; they record all known archaeology from all sources, including air photos and public discoveries. It is our main tool in protecting archaeology, being used to comment on planning applications. It also informs volunteers such as Sue Beasley of areas which would benefit from research. Most detectorists are undertaking the same sort of archaeology as she is and for the same reason, to preserve the past. Without them so many artefacts would be completely lost, as metal objects are destroyed by agricultural chemicals and plough damage.
I admit there is a very small minority who seek financial reward. My experience shows that some detectorists did not report finds in the past as they felt archaeologists wouldn’t be interested. This is the very reason we have the PAS! The SMR is crucial!
From Ron Wilcox
Before the arrival of the Roman army, Britain comprised self-governing tribes developing their own brand of native civilisation and prosperity. It was only when the Roman Empire came to an end that the native people could return to their own British cultural and political development.
Since the Roman period was an irrelevance, it is really a waste of resources to make it the subject of academic study or, apart from the native ones, to excavate the dozens of repetitive sites that it has left behind. Such courses should be abolished.
From Richard Lewis
I can understand John Owen’s viewpoint on national identity (Letters, January). Is it mere coincidence that David A Hinton in his review of Offa’s Dyke: History & Guide, can write: ‘How much more appealing are milestones, legions and the Picts than earth banks, ditches and the Welsh! [his exclamation mark]’? I find it odd to have such an Anglocentric viewpoint in British Archaeology.
From Peter Walker
After all the excitement of the wonderful discovery of an undisturbed Saxon tomb in Southend, it is worth considering that the reason the archaeological excavation took place was in preparation for a public inquiry starting on 3 March into Southend Borough Council’s plan to convert the existing Priory Crescent into a dual carriageway.
The council’s determination to see their road built is undiminished. The fact that they have possibly Europe’s finest unexplored Saxon site right in their midst, in a park donated to the people of Southend ‘for perpetual public use’, is of no interest to them: all they want to do is cover the area in concrete.
The public inquiry could still save the park and its secrets for future generations, but not if the council have their way. The leader of the council and the town clerk have both been quoted in our local press as saying that these discoveries will make no difference.
From Roger Pitts
The wording on the cover of your March issue ‘They died for us, Now we dig them up’, as well as much of the writing upon ‘Who owns our dead’, has disturbed me.
I was an airgunner during the 2nd World War. If I had been buried beneath the waves, or buried beneath the sod, I would have wanted my body to have rested in peace, my soul having flown.
I see no good reason for disturbing the serenity and calm of those buried, say, during the last 100 years, when records and communications can tell us all we need to know.
From Paul Stamper
Should we dig up RAF aircrew for fun? No, of course not if the initiative comes via ‘aircraft archaeology’; it’s bunkum to suggest we learn anything of academic value thereby, and here a licence should never be granted. But if by whatever means a crash site is located, and a widow or sister wishes the recovery and burial of a loved one’s remains, then it’s hard to resist that claim. Little tells so powerfully, and poignantly, of such wartime sacrifices as a War Graves Commission headstone in a parish churchyard.
We welcome letters from readers. They may be emailed to Mike Pitts the Editor at email@example.com or faxed to 01904 671384. They may be edited.
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005