Acceptable Practice for Metal Detecting Excavations
by Peter Tompa
While the rest of the world is celebrating the discovery of a large hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins that was excavated with the help of a trained Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer, the archaeological snobosphere is going full out criticizing everything about the find. Yet, the finders were detecting on private land with the permission of the landowner. It's highly unlikely that any British archaeologists would have ever surveyed the site on their own and if the find were made in a country like Greece it's also highly unlikely any such find would ever have been properly reported much less recorded.
In this observer's opinion, it is unwise to arbitrarily dismiss archaeological criticism of the methodology of this excavation as "jealous resentment."
I believe that it would instead be valuable to have ongoing discussion of how excavations could best be conducted to preserve as much archaeological context as possible, whilst still addressing the realities of metal detecting practices.
I do not believe that Gill and Barford are arbiters of acceptable practice, but surely British archaeologists with an open-minded practical perspective could and should be consulted as to how important finds such as this ought to be excavated.
If a cooperative international approach to managing discovery and disposition of artifacts is ever to emerge, it is vital to have ongoing communication and serious discussion between detectorist, collecting and archaeology interests.
The above was submitted as a comment to Peter Tompa's blog. To further pursue these thoughts, I believe that the interests of all parties would best be served by cooperative monitoring (and constructive criticism) of metal detectorist excavation practices by trained field archaeologists.
No one can be expected to achieve optimum practices in any field of endeavor immediately without helpful monitoring and coaching.
Gill and Barford have raised a point worth considering in their criticism. Whether it is valid and ought to become part of an effort to improve metal detecting practices can, in this observer's opinion, best be determined by involving field archaeologists who have established relations with detectorist clubs, and can constructively communicate suggestions for improvement in a manner that will be understood and respected by detectorists. When approached in a constructive and helpful manner, detectorists are likely to demonstrate a desire to cooperate with archaeology interests.
This observer views confrontational, repressive attitudes and policies as the enemy of progress toward resolving problems of illicit excavation, smuggling and trafficking in antiquities and other archaeological artifacts. Cooperation is a far more effective approach, and ought to be pursued to the maximum extent humanly possible. Once that has been done, the limits of the cooperative approach will be clear and whatever confrontational, repressive attitudes and policies are still needed can then be cooperatively agreed upon.