John Howland, Via the Malamute Saloon…


Two archaeologists promised themselves if one of them would die, he would return to visit the other and tell him about Heaven. One night the dead one visited the other and says,  “Fred, I am visiting you as promised and I have two bits of news; first there are lots of excavations up here, and secondly, you will be directing one next Thursday.”




All detectorists are heritage thieves, hoikers, heritage looters of their respective countries for profit, denuding the archaeological record of valuable information, and who wilfully fail to report or record finds; and worse still, are artefact collectors uninterested in history. Their activities MUST be curbed, even outlawed.

Who says so? Nigel Swift does for a start. He lives in England and a leading antagonist-cum-snooper for the ad hoc and colossally pompous, anti-detecting collective known as Heritage Action (or more accurately, ‘Heritage All-Talk and No Action’). When he’s not slagging-off the Government, the PAS, National Trust, English Heritage, detectorists in general, and anyone else who won’t toe his bossy heritage line, he’s known to lurk in and around metal detecting retailers earwigging on private conversations between detectorists to use as damaging ‘evidence’ for publication on his Heritage Action blog. He also prowls detecting forums for similar ‘evidence’. I’m told that every retailer within a fifty mile radius of him has his picture.

Swift is underwritten by Paul Barford, another Brit who describes himself as a “British archaeologist living and working in Warsaw, Poland. Since the early 1990s (or even longer).” He is the undistinguished ‘gobby’ half of what has now become a comedy duo… known colloquially as Heritage Harry and Warsaw Wally, and arguably ‘Harry’ is the intellectual colossus of the two.

This comic twosome has gone to heroic lengths to sully and tarnish the reputations of metal detectorists and collectors worldwide, and Barford especially, takes a narcissistic pleasure in portraying them as uneducated, intellectual dimwits, and thugs. To denigrate hobbyists even further, they dreamed-up the Artefact Erosion Counter (AEC), a fact-free, fantasy database of detector-based heritage crime bearing all the hallmarks of having been roughed-out on the back of a beer mat in a downtown Warsaw speakeasy. The AEC database purports to show that over twelve-million (12,000,000) of archaeological artefacts have gone unrecorded or stolen by detectorists (who they compare to shoplifters) though are more than coy about how their ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ are collected.

Most detectorists and many archaeologists are familiar with Barford’s caustic opinions, but less acquainted with Swift’s, Heritage Action melange. Writing on his own blog, Paul Barford is unsurprisingly toe-curlingly embarrassing, with his hammy, saccharin, toadying homage:-

“Heritage Action is a grassroots organization […] a group of volunteers passionately interested in the historic heritage […] One of the topics of their recent concern is government policy towards artefact hunting and collecting, damaging archaeological sites in Britain on a worrying scale with very little being done by the authorities to prevent it.”

[Ah! The aroma of burning martyr! DS]

Excruciating or not, Thursday, 27 November 2008, again saw Barford ‘bigging-up’ the preposterous AEC on his blog:-

The Heritage Action Erosion Counter

“I should perhaps admit that to some extent I was involved in the creation of the Heritage Action counter (though it is not by any means my own work or based solely on information I gathered) and I know how much thought and work of a number of dedicated volunteers passionately interested in conserving Britain’s historic record actually went into it. I need not add that it did not cost the taxpayer a penny, but addresses questions that bodies that do should have been answering about the common archaeological heritage and how it is being “managed” (which in this case seems a loose use of the term).”

So just how kosher is the AEC’s accuracy? Data compiled by a man who describes himself as an archaeologist (whether he is, remains unclear) and his co-author described impressively as a “grassroots volunteer,” then it would reasonable, you might think, for that data to be forensic. But not everyone took it at face value least of all the British Museum’s Dr Roger Bland, Head of the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) who wrote on the Barford blog:-

Equally, how can anyone put any credence into Heritage Action’s Artefact Erosion Counter when the basis on which it is calculated is not stated? 316,000 finds a year? How impressive to be so certain on so little evidence. For you simply to say that you believe it to be accurate is hardly adequate.”

Commenting further, Dr Bland pressed-on…

“Paul, I was not scoffing but simply asking a question: what is the basis of the Heritage Action Counter’s claim about how many archaeological objects are found by detectorists? We cannot be expected to believe it without knowing the assumptions that underlie it. People will no doubt draw their own conclusions from your reluctance to answer the question.”

On the 28 November 2008, and to use a boxing metaphor, Barford ducked, dived, and weaved, but always outclassed by the ‘Basher’ Bland in what was – for Barford at least – the ‘Bungle in the Jungle.’ Pinned in his own corner and on the ropes, Barford suddenly blurted out:-

Well, until the book comes out with the details of the basis of this estimate, you can take it or leave it. But if one rejects it out of hand, one question remains. “By how much would it have to be wrong for the current situation to be acceptable”? People will no doubt draw their own conclusions from the reluctance of the pro-collecting lobby to answer that question.”

Unable, or unwilling to answer this perfectly legitimate enquiry about the precise foundation of the AEC’s data, the whole caboodle imploded, irreparably damaged. Though Dr Bland rightly stated in regard to the AEC data, that, “We cannot be expected to believe it without knowing the assumptions that underlie it,” the Council for British Archaeology’s Director, Mike Heyworth, who one assumes knows which way is up, swallowed this pseudo-academic claptrap in a single gulp, “It provides a reasonable basis from which to consider the scale of the loss of knowledge caused by metal detecting,” he enthused (Oh, no it don’t, and you fell for it, mate).

Barford, Swift, and Heyworth, seem oblivious to the fact that science is founded on two principals: hypothesis and data. If the data does not, or cannot support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is wrong.

Barford apparently, (and to a lesser extent, Swift) appears not to have learned from his ‘Bungle in the Jungle’ bruising as both still trot out the same old, hoary, threadbare, and comprehensively discredited AEC, clinging to its ‘data’ as drowning men to straws, in manic desperation to stigmatise a wholesome, legitimate, and educational hobby that has contributed massively to the common heritage. Indeed, 426 scholarly research projects are currently under way and all based on data from metal detectorists. The precise number of similar projects based on the Barford/Swift AEC database is unknown.

Metal detectorists have proven to be valuable assets to the greater understanding of the heritage as their catalogue of amazing and breathtakingly wonderful finds recorded with the PAS, not to mention a prime time television series, visibly demonstrates. Whether the same can be said of Barford, Swift, or Heritage Action, is doubtful.

Comparing the fact-driven PAS database to the illusory AEC, people will as Barford says, “… no doubt draw their own conclusions…”


TAKE A GOOD LOOK at these clowns; for these are precisely the sort of people who want us all to entrust them with the exploitation of the archaeological record.  Take a good look and decide what you think.


In 1987, a Polish anti-Communist dissident and Solidarity member, was walking through the suburbs of Warsaw when a black car suddenly stopped and a man was thrown out at the side of the road. The car sped off. He ran over and saw that it was his old friend Moishe who had been beaten almost to death by the Communist Secret Police. He was barely conscious, his eyes opening and closing.

“Moishe, Moishe,” he cried, “It’s me, Abram. Don’t you remember me? We were in Auschwitz together.”

“Ah, yes,” said Moishe dreamily, “Ah yes…Auschwitz.”


The Phone Rings…

“Mrs. Brown, please.”


“Mrs. Brown, this is Doctor Finlay at Saint John’s Laboratory.”

“When your husband’s doctor sent his biopsy to the lab last week, a biopsy from another Mr. Brown arrived as well.”

“We are now uncertain which one is your husband’s, and frankly, either way the results are not too good.”

“What do you mean?” Mrs. Brown asks nervously.

“Well, one of the specimens tested positive for Alzheimer’s and the other one tested positive for syphilis. We can’t tell which is which.”

That’s dreadful! Can you do the test again?” asks Mrs. Brown.

“Normally we can, but the Lab will only pay for these expensive tests one time.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do now?”

“The folks here at the Lab recommend that you drop your husband off somewhere in the centre of town. If he finds his way home, don’t sleep with him.”



Many of the insights of the saint stem from their experience as sinners…Eric Hoffer

I’ll see y’all in the bar!

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Filed under Metal Detecting

9 responses to “John Howland, Via the Malamute Saloon…

  1. Big Tony From Bayonne

    John, you should submit this story to Marvel Comics…it sounds like they can use a good laugh from these two characters!

    • Hi Tony:
      Oh, Wally is a superb natural comic talent. Cop a load of this tosh on his blog for Wednesday, 5 November 2014 for a sample:-

      “ISIL and its Antiquities Money
      […] I am really sorry to be so blunt but, WTF? I rather suspect unknowable information is being planted. Who needs to make the Islamic State look worse than it is and does!?”

      Yep, here he’s moaning about ‘unknowable information’ when it suits him and his wretched cause, but has no compunction in using similar ‘planted’ and ‘unknowable information’ to pose as factual for his decrepit, lying database, known as the Artefact Erosion Counter.

      I’m sure it’s legitimate to ask, based on his contrary comments, whether Barford is best suited to be an archaeologist. He’s no Lisa Macintire apparently.

      Happy hoiking!

      John H

  2. Stan

    A really enjoyable read however I don’t think the fun police & co will be getting real jobs anytime soon so we can all expect a lot more comedy. Keep up the good work!

  3. danhughes1

    My twist:

    Two archaeologists promised themselves if one of them would die, he would return to visit the other and tell him about Heaven.

    One night the dead one visited the other and says, “Fred, I am visiting you as promised and I have to tell you, I’m in absolute paradise. We wake, up in the morning, make love, eat breakfast, make love til lunch, eat lunch, make love til supper, eat supper, then make love til bedtime.”

    And Fred says, “Good grief! Heaven truly IS a paradise!”

    And the other guy says, “Heaven? Who said anything about Heaven? I’m a jackrabbit in Wyoming!”

  4. Big Tony from Bayonne

    John, you know I have a better idea for these two…how about one of those British shows like Faulty Towers? These two would be the prime characters who everyone makes jokes off of like the one paragraph that you posted above.
    But not Benny Hill stuff – they are too far off the mark for that show.

    • Hello Tony:
      Just look at how Barford describes Prof. David Gill, his BFF (but not for much longer I suspect). The blog he refers to is Stout Standards and the Malamute Saloon in particular:-

      “On a metal detecting blog near you:

      The success of the PAS, […] effectively gives the seal of approval to metal detecting and collecting”,

      at great expense to the British taxpayer and the British archaeological heritage. This is why there is an urgent need for some proper and broad public discussion of the whole setup. Ass David Gill pointed out to me about an ongoing discussion elsewhere, […] ”

      I’d wouldn’t know whether David Gill is an ‘Ass’, but what makes Barford think he is I wonder?

      Happy Daze!

  5. Big Tony from Bayonne

    John, the more I read your comments the more I understand about how PAS works. If it were ever to happen here in the US then the tax payer portion might be a game changer. That item of funding would have to be addressed by maybe private monies like philanthropies or some other donation. At least you and Dick are attempting to get folks to work together on saving history’s relics unlike other groups who have gone back to sit on their soft chairs or have left the building as they say in Vegas

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