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.
Write to the editor at email or postal address on page 3. Letters may be shortened
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 a bit more intelligence than to expose themselves to frostbite, sunburn and insect torment when at least skins were available for protection. The picture of the Cheyenne (and other native American tribes) in these same loin cloths with snow all around them, while the invaders (white man) are very well covered in protective clothing, is even slightly insulting.
As for the gods, they can take care of themselves. I'll not worry about what they wear. Hazel MWhite, St Louis, Missouri
At the movies Great archaeology movies (feature Jul/Aug/119)? My favourites are Carry On Behind (1975) and For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the former, Kenneth Williams’s professor Roland Crump leads a group of students in an excavation of a Roman “encampment” at a caravan park. He excavates a mosaic and sinks a few boreholes. Though littered with inaccuracies, the film nevertheless presents a reasonably credible picture of student summer digs – exciting archaeology, basic accommodation, evenings in the pub, and (ahem) romantic engagements – that I think many archaeologists would recognise.
In For Your Eyes Only, James Bond investigates the death of Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist and mi6 agent. Havelock's daughter, Melina, carries on his work, and we see her engaged in some underwater excavation, although her grasp of chronology could be improved. “Careful, James, that's 5,000 years old”, she tells Bond after he's bashed a Doric column with a mini-sub. Edward Biddulph, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire
After a hectic week's digging under the tuition of Richard Atkinson at Dorchester on Thames in 1949, during which the principles of trench “hygiene” had been thoroughly drummed into us, a group of us travelled into Oxford for an evening at the cinema. The A film was Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith (1941), in which Howard plays a professor of archaeology who goes into war-torn Europe to rescue refugees. Halfway through the film he broke Atkinson's rule No 1 by climbing out of a deep trench and sitting on the very edge of his cleaned section, whilst his students crowded within inches of the brink. Our group broke into cheers and laughter, much to the bewilderment of the rest of the audience. In spite of this directorial faux pas, it was a memorable archaeological film, made without the gimmickry of 21st century technology, and still well worth watching 70 years later. James Dyer, Luton, Bedfordshire
Stokes Croft James Dixon’s efforts to engage the practice of archaeology with contemporary society and politics may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I applaud both him and British Archaeology for giving space to this innovative and essential application of archaeological analysis. Why then was his article examining the recent riots in Bristol’s Stokes Croft district (“A true people’s archaeology”, Jul/Aug/119) turned into a police wanted poster, with photos of individuals suspected of violent behaviour? I hope for the author’s sake that these were thoughtlessly included by the editorial team and not by him. Daniel Rhodes, Edinburgh
• The photos were published online by the Avon & Somerset Constabulary, and several are still there at the time of writing. They were included with the feature by the editor (with thought). Ed
What is now Wales Thank you for the item on the work of Toby Driver (“Seen from the air – the story of Wales”, Jul/Aug/119). However, I think in some ways it’s wrong to talk of the “archaeology of Wales”.
Does Wales have a constant cultural or political identity? The people along what are now the Welsh Marches had much in common, and it’s wrong to confine them to modern boundaries. The archaeological difference between [the Celtic tribes] the Silures and Ordovices, both occupying land in what is now Wales, was greater than that between the Silures and the Dobunni, who were in what are now separate countries. Is it not possible to have an objective archaeology, untainted by modern divisions? John Owen, Caerphilly
And finally… The debate over TV's archaeology programmes will continue (Letters May/Jun/118 and Jul/Aug/119). I can only add that the likes of Neil Oliver show amateurs like me and countless others what an exciting and worthwhile subject archaeology can be. They spurred me on to enrol upon a course of study by distance learning with the University of Exeter, where I graduated with a diploma in archaeology and a BA degree in humanities. I am currently three quarters of the way through the University of Leicester’s MA degree course in archaeology and heritage.
I am well into my retirement, I am simply doing it for the interest. Each time I am asked how and why I got involved in this passion, my answer is the same. “It all began with TV programmes.” And I am proud of these roots. John Clancy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Having had some experience in TV land, I feel I must point out that the much maligned Neil Oliver has very little to do with the shots that seem to irritate people so much. It is the people behind the camera who “call the shots” and decide how the presenter delivers content. Mr Oliver is directed, and I suspect, given the choice, he would prefer not to “pose dramatically” or “walk purposefully”. James Mindham, email@example.com
Archaeology is not a science, but an adjunct of the entertainment and tourism businesses. Yes, it is interesting, and it is nice to know about our past, but it does not matter in the overall scheme of things.
If archaeologists want to continue they must learn to communicate with interested people, and to learn to fund these operations from the presentation to the public from books, TV or public lectures: the expenditure of taxpayers' money cannot be justified when most of the world is starving or at war. Too much archaeology is cliquish and kept within the halls of universities for longer than ought to be allowed. Neil Oliver is on the rights (but needs to visit a barber). Brian Robinson, Brentwood
British Archaeology|September October 2011|11