Professional Vandalism – And Not a Detector in Sight!

by John Howland

John Howland

John Howland

Britain’s archaeologists are apparently world leaders when it comes to maltreating artefacts. This depressing lack of an efficient recording and classification system makes that which is happening in Egypt look almost regimented. That hundreds of thousands of precious artefacts hoiked from excavations by ‘archaeologists’ (often by assorted work experience ‘yoofs,’ or students whose only motivation is the possibility of an ‘off piste’ leg-over at base-camp) are languishing unrecorded and unclassified, is nothing short of a national disgrace. Heads must roll.

The scandal broke in the wake of a report by the BBC’s, News Northern Ireland correspondent, Kevin Magee who reported that, “Hundreds of thousands of archaeological items recovered from historic sites in Northern Ireland are lying unclassified in plastic bags and boxes.

They are often being kept outside the jurisdiction because there is no proper facility to store them. One estimate says up to 24 container loads of archaeological objects are being stored by private companies.

The Institute of Archaeologists in Ireland (IAI), said it was “a very serious problem”. It said no tangible progress had been made to find a solution […] “It cost millions of pounds to dig the material out of the ground, but because of storage problems, neither students nor the general public can access them,” his report claims.

To no-one’s surprise at all, archaeology’s top brass have so far escaped censure, nor are resignations expected any time soon. In a perfect world, resignations would be a matter of personal honour – but we are dealing with cavalier archaeologists – some of whom clearly don’t know their dutiful arses from their ethical elbows. This putrid state of affairs demands the guilty ones be de-frocked, or whatever it is they do with disgraced archaeologists, whose next job (for which they are apparently under-qualified) should include the work mantra, ‘Do you want fries with that.’

But what do we get from archaeology’s arrogant element in reply to this national disgrace – you know the ones, them that’s always banging on about detectorists not recording ‘finds’?  Nothing! Not a peep! Schtum! Behind-the-scenes apparently, there’s a concerted damage limitation exercise under way to deflect public attention away from the scandal by turning up the propaganda wick to encourage the belief that the real scourges of the heritage are detectorists. It reveals a particular mind-set amongst these Artful Dodgers: Go on the attack and sweep any deficiencies under the carpet. Well that bullshit won’t work here and certainly won’t for as long as I can tap the keys on my keyboard.

For a start, we have the ‘random number generator and AEC diviner’, Nigel Swift, giving hectares of space on his pisspoor blog over at the Heritage Journal posing the ersatz question, ‘So what IS responsible metal detecting?’ No doubt this incisive question causes enormous erectile functions amongst the dimmer of his male commentators’ along with the holier-than-thou ‘responsible detectorists,’ he’s got in tow.  The question he should be asking is, ‘So what IS responsible archaeology?’

In one breath, this out-of-touch, detector-hating Grampy (one of Barford’s UK sock-puppets) berates detectorists for all manner of heritage crimes, whilst simultaneously ignoring the UK’s greatest heritage scandal of all time – one that’s going on right under his nose, and he can’t, or won’t, come to terms with it. You couldn’t write this stuff!

The millions of alleged heritage crimes ‘Grampy’ Swift attempts to lay at metal detecting’s door pales into insignificance by comparison to this latest archaeological outrage.  But what of gobby Barford? You know the chap, the British fellow who claims to be an archaeologist who lives and works in Warsaw, Poland. Surely this scandal is right up his alley, innit?  What’s his take on it all? “The problem, however, is one that affects museums throughout the British Isles,” he writes accusingly, but on what evidence he’s based that fact, he remains his usual coy self.  Perhaps the Council for British Archaeology, always keen to be at the forefront when it comes to hammering the hobby, have something to say?  Nope…f**k all!  Could it be those who’ve caused this debacle are affiliated to the CBA? What one wonders, does the CBA and the Museums Association make of Barford’s all-embracing claim of UK museum inefficiency?

So it’s hardly surprising to my mind and others, that heritage matters are of such vital importance they MUST NOT be left in the hands of people who simply can’t cut the heritage mustard.  If ever there was a case for archaeology as a whole being legislatively bound to report their activities to a body that can actually do the business, then PAS is precisely the organisation to do it.

Tax-payers hard-earned money has been squandered by the millions on ‘archaeology’ and which now ought to be diverted away from incompetent ‘archaeology ‘and ploughed into the PAS to ensure nothing like this scandal ever happens again to our heritage. What will the Minister responsible make of it?  Well if there’s any guts in Government and considering the amount of piss-taking, insults, and criticisms levelled at Conservative Culture Ministers – let me remind you Minister…Nigel Swift, Editor, Heritage Action is in the vanguard; read his blog to get the full flavour, Show us Minister, what you’re made of and get stuck into archaeology, Big Time.  Save us taxpayers even more money…PLEASE!

The last thing archaeology needs is more money – they’d only squander it on useless conventions, piss-ups, and ‘Lefty’ conferences designed to condemn you and your government.

It’s the PAS that needs more cash so as to manage that which archaeology is clearly incapable of doing; properly recording and classifying OUR heritage, which is far too important to be left in the hands of the current crop of nincompoops.

If you believe that public money ought to be diverted from ‘archaeology’ and into a scheme to reduce the hundreds of thousands of artefacts piling-up every day in unsuitable warehouses and storage facilities, then make you views known to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, at:- Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 100 Parliament Street, London, SW1A 2BQ. Tel: 020 7211 6000. Or email at: – marked ‘For the attention of the ‘Sajid Javid, MP.’


Burke or Hare? The Sound of Silence.

Non-archaeologist digs up human remains – shock horror!

Archaeologist digs up human remains and puts them on show in a glass case for people to gawp at? ….Deafening silence all round, and especially from Warsaw Wally along with others of his particular ilk.

One man’s alleged body-snatcher (?) is another man’s student of prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artefacts, inscriptions, and monuments (!) Jeez…give us a break!



“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters”… Harvey Mackay

I’ll see y’all in the bar!



Filed under Metal Detecting

26 responses to “Professional Vandalism – And Not a Detector in Sight!

  1. Robbie

    GREAT entry Mr. H. ,
    While Mr Barford did put up a blog (short one) on the subject, he is presently directing his readers to the Nat Geo show about bone finds by a detectorist. He loves to misdirect away from any archaeological wrong-doings and go after the collector and metal detector user.

    So hundreds of thousands of artifacts are stored away for lack of room…..this is pretty normal here. BUT– How is this benefiting the publics knowledge of the past, if the items and all the archaeology “secret reports” aren’t available to the public to view and read for themselves???

    • “archaeological wrong-doings”…? Nah Robbie, not in a million years.

      • Robbie

        What was I thinking?!?!?

      • Hi Robbie:
        This scandal has made utter fools of Messrs Barford, Swift, Knell, and Gill, not to mention the Council for British Archaeology I am delighted to say, and gives lie to their the slur that metal detecting damages the heritage.

        It shows beyond any shadow of doubt that the UK’s PAS database is the way to go. Barford’s fanned the flames with the allegation that the problem is widespread throughout the museum world, and seeing as how he’s an archaeologist (of sorts) it looks as though he wants to jump ship. The only difference with this sinking ship is that the rats are still on board.

        John H

  2. Lisa

    Good blog, John. I am tied up the next few days, but have no fear, I will comment.

  3. Bob Sickler

    The Archeologists who did this versus Detectorists…. It’s now starting to look like the “gold-plated kettle calling the pot black!” Nothing like people who deceitfully consume tax payer money and try to absolve themselves of any wrong-doing. Bravo John, excellent exposure!

  4. Robbie

    Need to rename Barford’s AEC—— the “archaeologist’s error concealment”…………………

  5. Big Tony from Bayonne

    Great reporting – thank you for sharing!

    AEC? Almost Escaped Condescension!

    We are not inferior and we are shocked and appalled at the likes of this warehouse and those responsible for the antiquities held within. Shame on you all! Duping the public into believing that you are in control of such treasures. Bunch of crap for sure.
    Now I wonder if this will hurt PAS? Will respectable folks who detect and report items of interest think twice on their next find?

  6. bill from lachine

    Great post and it does show the hypocrisy for what it is… least we’re upfront and detect as a hobby on permitted sites.

    Me thinks they should clean up their own dirty linen before throwing rocks at our community.

    Deep Digger Dan just posted up a video on Youtube yesterday which is getting quite a bit of attention….let’s say I had a few exchanges with an archeologist on that thread….lol…

    Regards + HH


  7. Big Tony from Bayonne

    That is a huge bunch of old crap for sure! I wonder if anyone dropped any artifacts in those barrels? Too bad they don’t use metal detectors when performing archaeology
    Those old barrels are cool looking though and I am sure a great eBay item.

  8. Hi BT from B:
    There’s an unsubstantiated rumour doing the rounds that an archaeologist from Poland was brought in to investigate the contents of the barrels – and had to wear a special suit so as not to contaminate the shit contained therein!

    John H

  9. Wow, you guys are so rude and condescending. How embarrassing….

  10. He was only going through the motions!

  11. Lisa MacIntyre

    Hi John,

    I’m so very sorry in the delay in responding. I had to have a nasty little medical procedure. And no, it was not to remove a trowel from where the sun don’t shine, but close.

    So what is Responsible Archaeology? In a perfect world it would be trained professionals following in the footsteps of their predecessors all the while improving on methodology and keeping up with technology. It would be a world where funds are unlimited and help is plentiful. A world where students and teachers alike would dig a thousand shovel tests, maybe excavate a wonderful pre-contact mission, and collect bags upon bags of samples of artifacts and ecofacts. There would also be a photographer taking a multitude of digital evidence. A world where giant repositories are just waiting with hundreds of eager students, pen, plastic bags, rulers, and weights all lined up in anticipation of the next box or artifacts to clean, sort, weigh, measure and catalog. The advanced GIS student would be available to digitize the site adding in the photos as visuals. These boxes would then pass into the hands of the eager grad student with the ever available professor waiting to analyze, research, and document. They would then take a year, or two, to publish the results and wait for the controversies, rebuttals, agreements, and demands for more research. All of these artifacts would then be beautifully and respectfully displayed, along with the research findings, at the state-of-the-art museum the city has built with the blessing of the taxpayer’s money. And that unfortunate archaeologists not in the teaching sector, well he would get his funding approved in less than ten years. And it would include hundreds of able bodies to do all of the above, and more. In a perfect world.

    The fact that there are thousands of artifacts sitting in warehouses is no surprise to me. I’m sure the problem on your side of the pond makes our problems look miniscule, but it’s a problem here as well. So how do you fix a hundreds of years of back log? I’m not sure there is a quick and easy “fix”. Money, of course. Buts LOTS of it. Warm bodies. But seriously, this degree is one of the lowest funded at any university and one of the hardest (if not nearly impossible) to find a job in after graduation. I was even “encouraged” to look along another line for grad school. Even history!

    Does this make it okay? Certainly not! But in defense, these items, if they are indeed cataloged properly, are at least a part of history that have been documented. Those that are not are no different than anyone, not just a detectorist, walking along and picking up an artifact and taking it home to put on a shelf. There is no history documented so it just becomes a show piece.

    Let’s face it, people love to scream and yell about losing our past but fight tooth and nail when asked to crack a pocketbook to help preserve it. If I were in this situation I would not apologize. I don’t feel that there is one entity to blame here. It is a universal problem with no universal solution. Would you, as a detectorist, be willing to volunteer once a week, for years, to help sort and catalog artifacts? Would anyone? If so then maybe that is a start.

    As far as the pot calling the kettle black, you may have a valid point. A degree does not give one a license to scream and yell at others when they themselves are guilty of the same atrocities. However, I would like to think that if they had the resources this would not be something we would even be discussing.

    As far as accusing detectorists of every problem on earth, well you know where I stand on that one!

  12. Hya Lisa:
    Glad to see you’re up and about and feeling well.
    “But seriously,” you say, ” this degree is one of the lowest funded at any university and one of the hardest (if not nearly impossible) to find a job in after graduation.” It also strongly suggests that archaeology, Stateside at least, is hardly regarded by those who wield and dole out the ‘Greenbacks’ as important. That too, in its own way, is cultural vandalism. It also explains why so much manure is thrown our way.

    That said, archaeology’s problems are archaeology’s problems and they must solve them. The stockpiling of unclassified artefacts and not just in the UK is cultural vandalism of the highest order; all paid for by public funding, private developers, and civil engineers, complying with legislation brought in by…er…um…archaeologists — at least that’s the scandal in the UK.

    Archaeologists in the UK — many operating as private enterprises — are kept in employment by the public and private sector only to renege. They are by any other name, treasure hunters albeit academic ones, but treasure hunters nevertheless, and operating for profit by digging up the Past. Unlike treasure hunters however, they are not recording what they find. They are in many cases, simply not delivering that which they have taken the money to do…to record, and classify for public consumption and study.

    There’s no difference with what these academic cowboys, or ‘Dayhawks’, are doing and you buying something from an on-line auction house and not receiving the goods. It’s fraud, it’s cultural theft.

    So what’s the answer? We start again. There has to be a meeting of minds on both sides and a coming together to move forward to record the common heritage, in whatever way that heritage is uncovered. Certainly there is no disgrace in selling or collecting artefacts PROVIDED they have been recorded and provenance issued. In the UK, I firmly believe that the Council for British Archaeology be kept out of the loop and treated as pariahs. They are simply not needed; indeed, since this droll organisation threw its weight behind the unscientific and ludicrous, Artefact Erosion Counter, has shot its credible bolt.

    Secondly, metal detectorists/treasure hunters need to understand that they are not archaeologists, and archaeologists need to remember they are not at the top of the food chain.

    Thirdly, metal detecting/treasure hunting is a stand-alone undertaking with its own terminology, and methodology, and deals with recovering casual losses from the ages past, and can be a useful adjunct to orthodox archaeology, in the same way that archaeology is useful to metal detecting.

    I imagine archaeology/metal detecting co-operation will be easier to achieve in the US that in the UK, though our PAS is vibrant. A viable PAS-type of experiment in the US could open doors and knock down prejudice. Don’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fall through your fingers.


    John H

  13. Lisa MacIntyre

    John….. I would like to mention that I do not have a full knowledge of the workings of archaeology across the pond. By that I mean the laws, protocols, etc. Does that make me a moron? Nah. That makes me an honest human. I cant know everything, tho I try. I thank you for enlightening me further. I agree that your problem is ten fold over ours. But, if we dont watch out we could end up in the same situation.

    I understand that some people are also bothered that I used mostly academia in my response. I am not sure I see the problem in this as a problem is a problem no matter its source. I was simply pointing out what I know first hand and making a comparison. Ahh but narrow minds get lost in the gutter.

    If indeed these so called archaeologists are getting paid to do research and are shirking the most important part of the job, then yes, they should stand and face the music. And yes, it is cultural theft at its finest. Hiding behind a degree gives no one a free ride. You are correct in pointing this out and you bring up some very valid points that should not be ignored. As I have said before, I see it here and it bothers me immensely.

    But I also see a way in which we could lessen the damage. Working together, archaeologists and detectorists, would be superior to what is happening at present.

    • Big Tony from Bayonne

      I think we need to invite construction companies including road builders and dredging workers into the mix or discussion about preserving artifacts. We as a civilization have been building upon older sites since we left the cave behind. Lets face it the real stuff we all want to see is deep below the surface. So modern detectors are only hitting surface items to about 9 or 10 inches at most in great soil conditions.

      So can we expand the meeting of the minds to include other groups? Maybe you will have your own ideas to add to this equation.

      • Lisa MacIntyre

        Very interesting, Tony. The problem I have seen when it comes to construction, etc., is this. Developers. No developer wants its site shut down while archaeologists come in and dig around and possibly find the next big lost civilization, which could ultimately shut the site down for who knows how long. This is also true when it comes to any kind of environmental issues (endangered species found). I’ll give you an example. We have this huge outdoor mall that was built here a few years back. (It is bizarrely crazy busy all the time). We also have in this area the highly protected gopher tortoise. It is a keystone species making it even more valuable. When I was in college I did a project on the tortoise for an environmental class. My partners and I started digging. Come to find out, after many months of digging, many tortoises were buried alive on this property because of an old law and lots of money flowing back and forth. These developers have so much money and power and so many politicians in their pockets that they get done what needs to be done. Granted, sometimes we get ethical people who will report things, and for those people we should be grateful to say the least. It would be very interesting to hear from that side of the field.
        I should say, many developers. Here I am lumping a group, something that I constantly gripe against. Sorry to any ethical developers!

      • Big Tony from Bayonne

        Lisa, point taken. So this goes deeper then just folks with metal detectors, right? How about the city fathers that turn away and just have dirt dumped over a site then find a reason to develop it for a park or houses or whatever. This as I said in a previous post didn’t just start happening. Folks like us are just bringing artifacts into the light of more interested people.

  14. Hi Lisa:
    You say, ” I would like to mention that I do not have a full knowledge of the workings of archaeology across the pond.” You are not alone…ours don’t either!

    I can’t fault your last paragraph…it’s the way to go. Progress doesn’t need to be getting bogged down or diverted with the likes of Barford, Gill, Knell, or Swift, and their often puerile sixth-form arguments. Though they have provided me with endless ‘sport’ their only value to my mind is that they are ideal training grounds for newbies to hone their political skills.

    The resistance to progress is firmly entrenched in the archaeological camp. They need coaxing out of their foxholes. With a few exceptions, most arkies that I’ve met at conferences and such like, were ale-swilling, spit-‘n-sawdust types who liked an off-colour joke ….the men weren’t too bad either. In many cases I happened to be one of the first treasure hunters they’d socialised with over a few beers. Attitudes changed rapidly…on both sides!

    This must change. Just take a look at the CBA’s website…it’s arrogant, high-handed waffle. Here they are telling us how to run OUR hobby in a way to suit them and their needs. They have got to come to terms with the facts that metal detecting exists, is followed by more enthusiasts than in archaeology, is wholesome, and contributes to the overall knowledge and should be respected as such. If they want proof then the UK’s PAS is there for all to see.

    You cannot surely be alone in your views and progressive outlook? Perhaps you should head the posse for a high-level pow-wow, pipe of peace and all.
    There’s an awful lot of goodwill out there on our side…it just needs tapping into!

    Good luck and best wishes

    John H

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