Saturday, January 1, 2011

What the PAS and Candice Jarman Will not Tell You

[category: metal detectorist lobby nonsense]

Candice Jarman reckons that...
Mr Barford's response shows just how little this self-proclaimed 'expert' (but in reality total ignoramus) knows about metal detecting.
There is of course much I would still like to learn, preferably straight from the words of metal detectorists themselves, even though I have already spent a fair amount of time trying to understand the various aspects of this hobby.

Artefact hunting with metal detectors is an erosive form of exploitation of the archaeological record which is the common heritage of everybody, not just individuals who want to take bits of it away for private entertainment and profit. It therefore follows that everybody should be fully informed about this type of artefact hunting, who does it, how and why, and more to the point what its actual effects on the archaeological record are (both positive and negative). To what degree are we informed about that? The metal detecting forums are for the most part closed access, members-only so one has to register first with them before being able to see what goes on behind their closed doors. What have they got to hide? (Please register with one and see). There are books and promotional videos as well.

I'd like to look at one of the latter here, Steve Timewell's Complete Guide to Metal Detecting which is currently available on YouTube. I'll present the video itself on my main blog, but here I want to use it to show where Candice Jarman is trying to mislead his readers when he asserts the following.
It would be nice to know 'productive sites' Mr Barford, but the truth is most metal detector finds are found on private farmland, far from known archaeological sites, and most represent isolated losses. Does a 50p piece lost in the street have a context? Of course it does n't and yet this is really what most metal detector finds are - isolated losses that happened long ago.
This is what the PAS reportedly was telling US coin collectors when Roger Bland went to Washington. How true is this? Well, the PAS record is no good for working that out, the details of what was found precisely where and with what are not displayed there. What we can do to address this problem is listen to artefact hunters describing how they find places to "detect".

Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 1) 1:31: "the landscape is constantly changing, where a primitive village once stood you might find a modern tower block or housing estate, or better still for [artefact hunter]s the land could be ploughed fields or grazing fields"

Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 2) [Norfolk Wolf shows how to use a machine to find collectables]

Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 3)

4:20: "Once you have permission to search a field, its a good idea to walk the field first and look for tell-tale signs of habitation and use. You will soon learn how to read a field and the features surrounding it" [4:36: Norfolk Wolf explains how, "we've definitely got habitation here" - "to give you some idea of the areas where you want to be doing it [looking for collectables]" 5:40 "this is the kind of thing you are looking for"]

Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 4)

1:24: "Researching sites", tools to help the artefact hunter find potentially productive sites. Sadly at 1:40 minutes Adam Daubney, Lincs. FLO and pop star allowed himself to be involved in this video. Great guy, but what exactly is he telling artefact hunters how to do?

Then several other detector using artefact hunters independently:
2:03 - "settlements that have vanished, tell-tale signs as shadows and shaded areas [ie cropmarks] within the crops" 2:20 "look at aerial photographs [...] marks in the ground" [cropmarks again] 3:15: "anything interesting [found in?] the area before" 3:26 aerial photos, "you can see circles where there's definitely been something there" "lost village" (3:30). Norfolk Wolf again at Castle Rising 4:20. "What you are looking for is evidence of past occupation [...] you can get the aerial photographs and you are looking for cropmarks" (6:50 too). 7:01 Targetting house platforms. "When I get on the field I'm looking for ... well I'l be hearing nails, oi'm looking fer pottery, I'm looking for oystershells, this is a sure sign of habitation. Once you've found this po'ery and the naily areas, then you can go to town, otherwise it really is pot-luck [..] it is very important that you do this field walking first, [...] it saves time in the long run". Then a boring bit on beach detecting - "some people make a living out of it".

Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 5) , Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 6), Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 7) - commercial artefact hunting rallies ("on prime sites" - 7:06), Complete Guide to Metal Detecting (part 8).

So far from wandering blindly around the open countryside hoping to stumble across the odd coin dropped by a careless ancient wanderer lost in the uninhabited forests, it seems that the detectorists interviewed in the video had their own methods to pinpoint sites where there had been human activity in the past, such as lost villages, habitations, archaeological cropmark sites. Candice is (and I think deliberately) misleading his readers suggesting it is otherwise. One is not going to go fishing in a river devoid of fish because heavily polluted on the off-chance that one rambo mutant fish survives somewhere in it. You go fishing on stretches of the river where there is a fair chance that there are fish. In the same way the detectorists in the video are examining maps and books showing where there are likely sites for searching with a fair prospect of finding artefacts.

I think it is worth noting what Norfolk Wolf lets slip:
"When I get on the field I'm looking for ... well I'l be hearing nails, oi'm looking fer pottery, I'm looking for oystershells, this is a sure sign of habitation. Once you've found this po'ery and the naily areas, then you can go to town,
Let us consider whether Norfolk Wolf (John Lynne) has a huge collection of ancient nails to rival that which the excavation of that site would produce? Does he have boxes and boxes of pottery and oiystershells systematically collected and catalogued from these sites, or did he just cherry pick the archaeological finds, keeping just the most collectable non-ferrous artefacts? There is a very clear difference between what can be recorded about a site from what a collector takes from it when looking for geegaws to add to a collection, and what an archaeologist gathers as part of the investigative process. This is a fundamental reason why the data recorded as a result of artefact hunting can in no way be treated as archaeological data and severely restricts their use for archaeological (and many other) purposes.


Jakob said...

No question that a claim that most detector finds are "isolated losses" has no basis. As a detectorist myself I would rarely just pick a random field and walk it because random losses are so rare that nothing would be found.

After reading your blog for some time I'm curious how you consider the metal detecting practice in European countries outside the UK.

I myself metal detect in Denmark where both the legal basis for and the practise of metal detecting differs from the UK. Do you see any flaws in the way metal detecting is done in Denmark? Besides of course the occasional idiotic/illegal behavior we sadly sometimes see here too.

As far as I know (and I've tried to study it) no danish archaeologist has been critical of the practise here in the last 25 year so I would honestly be a bit surprised if they all got it wrong for all those years.

Paul Barford said...

" No question that a claim that most detector finds are "isolated losses" has no basis. As a detectorist myself I would rarely just pick a random field and walk it because random losses are so rare that nothing would be found."

Well, this is just a good example of the disrespect these people have for the truth, saying whatever comes into their empty heads to get their practices and those of their mates "off the hook". Candice Jarman knows that what he said is not true and is just trying to tangle up the discussion.

So I am grateful for an actual metal detector user coming on here and confirming that what I have said. It is a shame that it was not one of the ten thousand British metal detectorists who are "partners" of the PAS who said that Candice was lying - but after all, he's doing it on behalf of them all.

I guess you, coming from the land of danfae, you must look at the doings of the British with mixed feelings.

Thanks for your question about the Danish legislation, since you ask, there are a few interesting features about it, so I'd like to answer that on my main blog in a few minutes (here:

Thanks for your support of my blog.

Jakob said...

Thank you for your respons. It however seems that a few minutes is a little longer in Poland than in Denmark as I still can't see the piece on danfæ in the main blog :)

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I am sorry, I put something up briefly but then wanted to change something and hid it again. I've been awfully busy for the last couple of days. I'll try and get round to it tomorrow.

I want to do it properly, as you raised a point that I only really realised the significance of when I started to write.

Jakob said...

Still waiting patiently :)

Paul Barford said...

but not very observantly...

Paul Barford said...

My comments, such as they are, are here.

On the PAS Blog Michael Lewis says the upper date for coins to be danefae is 1536, is this a typing error, or is this the cut-off date?

Jakob said...

Thank you.

The cut-off date for coins in general is 1536. It used to be 1650 but that changed some years ago - 2004 I think, but I can't remember for sure. Hoards (2 coins or more found together), gold coins and large silver coins (rule of thumb: more than 9 grams) after 1536 are also danefæ.

As far as I understand the reason for the change was an increase in the number of finds that lead to considerations about what really had to be declared danefæ. And that the general cut-off date for danefæ was 1536 (except for finds made of gold or silver), the traditional end-year of medieval times in Denmark, so the coin-date seemed a bit odd.

A graph of the coin finds in later years can be found here: (might need to enlarge the graph). The ligth blue column is the number of coins the royal coin collection have received each year. The development in danefæ in general can be seen on , slide 36. The graph shows the number of danefæ-locations with the detector-locations marked in purple.

At times it has been troublesome for the National Museum to keep up with the increasing number of finds but in recent years it has been better. Seems that people rarely now have to wait for several years to hear if what they found was actually Danefæ.