Detectorists care I read with great interest Holly Bee's letter (“The cost of treasure”, Jul/Aug/119), and in the main agree with her. However, she misunderstands how metal detecting finds are dealt with.
There are two types of detectorist: responsible people who follow the law, and “nighthawks” who are unquestionably thieves. My remarks below relate only to responsible detectorists, who condemn nighthawking as the crime it is. Metal detectorists do not go out looking for important evidence which they then treat as trade commodities. Neither do they “crave” items for their monetary worth. The vast majority of their finds are useless scrap. A very small portion consists of objects like buckles, musket balls, buttons and coins. Of these an even smaller proportion has any monetary value: 99% of what detectorists find is junk. We should also understand that metal detectorists do not “demand” money for their finds. When an item falls within the terms of the Treasure Act, it must be reported to the coroner who will decide whether it is “treasure” under the law. If it is, an independent committee will place a market value on it.
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I religiously read British Archaeology, and this section is a particular favourite of mine. However, I was annoyed by Holly Bee’s letter. To blame metal detectorists for the ills of the world is naive. Not all detectorists seek to uncover the past simply for profit (and we know that for centuries archaeologists plundered the globe to fill museums).
Some detectorists act responsibly, report their finds, respect the guidance of finds liaison officers and donate their finds to museums. The more forward thinking archaeologists have already built solid bridges with detectorists, for the benefit of both parties.
Perhaps, as some believe, we should have banned metal detecting a long time ago. Result: no Staffordshire hoard, no Frome hoard, and so on. Yes, funding for archaeology has been drastically cut, but it is easy to seek out scapegoats. Instead, work with those you damn and help weed out those that do abuse history illegally. And save your rant for those that cut your funding. Paul Nicholls, Palgrave, Suffolk
10|British Archaeology|September October 2011
The detectorist has no part whatsoever in this process, from the moment the object is passed to the coroner or the finds liaison officer (usually an archaeologist). No one can “demand” money or sell to private collectors. I fail to understand how this process of law can be termed “theft”. Many in the world of archaeology have a misconception of what detectorists do. Surely professional archaeologists can understand that detectorists who report their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, are
The joys of digging We are volunteers, of all ages, with the three-year A Town Unearthed/ Folkestone Before 1500 project, and would like to say how very exciting we have found it. We have all made new friends and experienced great camaraderie, while having a great time digging the sites, especially at East Cliff Roman villa. There we handled artefacts found for the first time in several thousand years, thus revealing a lot more about the lives of our ancestors; chilled out over a well earned cup of tea whilst admiring the spectacular views across the channel; and washed, processed and learned about the resulting finds over the winter. We consider it a privilege to be involved as members of the community alongside professionals who have patiently guided us through all aspects of the project. We hope that this will lead to more involvement in future excavations, as we feel that amateurs such as ourselves gain considerably from such activities rather than being on the sidelines. We hope that readers will be inspired
Local archaeologists work at a nationally important site near Market Harborough, Leicestershire. Roman pottery had been found in a field, but it was prehistoric coins found with a detector that led to a major excavation making a significant contribution to archaeology?
Please Holly, do not tar all detectorists with the same brush. The vast majority of us are on the side of archaeology, and really do want to play our part in unravelling our unique and fascinating history. Arthur Green, Halesworth, Suffolk to become involved, if possible, in any digs near them, as it is a very worthwhile and satisfying thing to do; and of course anyone wishing to visit us in Folkestone before the end of the project to see our progress will be very welcome indeed. Ray Duff, Folkestone, and 12 others, atownunearthed.co.uk
• The Guardian printed a correction on June 28, with reference to a film that included a shot at Folkestone of “the archbishop of Canterbury, helping out at an archaeological dig… his hair a white, fluffy windsock in the distance”: the “archbishop” was in fact digger Nick Spurrier. Ed
Fig leaves I just have to get my two cents worth in after reading British Archaeology (Letters May/Jun/118). I have a pet peeve: how illustrators clothe our prehistoric ancestors. There they are in the nude or, at most (in respect for current sensibilities), with a loin cloth (in a museum illustration I once saw, all the prehistoric men were totally nude while all the women had “fig leaves” :-).
I would like to think our ancestors had