Communicating the values of archaeologists to detectorists and embedding metal detecting into professional practice

Posted on June 17, 2020


From the public’s perspective, metal detecting is a current and significant element within the heritage and archaeological environment. The accessibility of the hobby and the media propensity towards stories of ‘treasure’ offers the public a tangible link to our portable past whether through active participation or visually through news articles and museums exhibits. To many, the discovery of an artefact equates to success resulting from physically searching into the past, whilst little is understood as to how the interpretation of contextual information to be gained from a find spot can further the collective knowledge of our heritage. With artefacts being a depleting resource, it is important to address the social divide between academically educated archaeologists and the hobbyists protecting their current freedoms. How should archaeologists communicate their values in order to positively influence the mindset of detectorists? Is there value in recognizing the potential of the metal detector by embedding their use into professional practice?

Keith Westcott, The Association of Detectorists

Where to detect? A review: metal detector surveys on developer-funded investigations

Systematic metal detector surveys are increasingly being undertaken on archaeological investigations although their use is still relatively low and is confined largely to the south and east. This paper will briefly review metal detector surveys on developer-funded survey and excavation projects using the evidence of recent fieldwork together with the research and analysis of metal detector surveys undertaken by the Roman Rural Settlement Project.

Stewart Bryant (Freelance, formerly Head of Historic Environment Hertfordshire County Council)

Using structured, supervised metal detecting surveys as a technique for investigating archaeological potential in commercial developments

Since 2010 the Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service have been requesting archaeological contractors with the support of local metal detecting clubs to undertake structured supervised metal detecting surveys on sites subject to planning applications. The aim of this survey is to assess the application areas potential for subsurface archaeological remains not identified by historical mapping. This approach has been used effectively on a number of sites, in some cases allowing the identification of particular locations which may require further investigation or concluding that the archaeological potential of an area has been addressed by the recovery and analysis of the plough soil assemblage. Using the work of the Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service as an example I hope to show how supervised metal detecting surveys have a valuable role to play within professional archaeological practice either alongside other techniques such as fieldwalking and geophysical survey or as a standalone approach.

Vicky Nash (Senior Heritage Consultant for Mott Macdonald)

The Current State of Hobbyist Metal Detecting in Scotland – Where do we go from here?

My paper would summarise the results of the recent research and reflect on the relationship between those who metal detect and the heritage professionals in the various areas across Scotland. The paper would look at where co-operation has led to mutual benefits and would also look at the techniques used for metal detecting survey. Ultimately a set of CIfA standards and guidance is required to ensure that the metal detecting surveys being carried out by Archaeological Units (whether employing skills from metal detecting groups/clubs or otherwise) are consistent, systematic in their approach, and are using appropriate equipment. More generally, the paper will highlight that work needs to be done to encourage closer working relationships between metal detecting clubs, groups and individuals and heritage professionals.

Warren Bailie (GUARD Archaeology)

Advocating a more archaeologically minded approach to hobby metal-detecting

For 20 years the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has been working with the metal-detecting community. In that time great strides have been made, with large numbers of detectorists now willing to engage with archaeologists to record their finds and work alongside archaeologists in other ways. Also, has been developed a Code for Responsible Metal Detecting, outlining (for the first time) a base-line for best practice, and (through the HLF funded PASt Explorers project) a mechanism for detectorists and other people to be trained to record their own finds directly on the PAS database.
However, it remains a frustration that many detectorists still refuse to engage with the PAS, seemingly happy to relish in the contribution of metal-detecting to our knowledge of the past but not actual add to knowledge themselves. This paper explored the dichotomy between those detectorists who are keen to contribute to archaeological knowledge and those that do not, and ask the question ‘what do archaeologists do about that?’

Michael Lewis (British Museum)

Metal detecting and local authority archaeology services

After the core activities of development related advice, HER provision and agri-environment consultations, metal detecting is the most significant (and increasing) call on the time of archaeology service staff in Gloucestershire, not only the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO). It is also a major source of new archaeological information available to our HER, exceeded only by planning led commercial archaeology and aerial prospection (NMP projects). This paper will aim to highlight some of the issues that arise, such as the difficulty of funding and staffing emergency rescue excavations in a period of austerity, the increasing costs of managing and hosting FLOs, the negative impact of commercial rallies and their relationship with stewardship schemes, and also wider compatibility issues between PAS and HER datasets. It will also attempt to stimulate debate regarding the use of detectors/ists more consistently in archaeological practice, what training might help, and ask whether the subject should actually be mentioned in revised CIfA S&G documents.

Toby Catchpole (Gloucestershire County Council)

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