a response to a response on metal-detecting and open-source analysis

Last spring, I published a quantitative analysis of open-source data on metal detecting for cultural property: [an] estimation of the scale and intensity of metal detecting and the quantity of metal-detected cultural goods in Australia, Austria, (Flanders and elsewhere in) Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, (the jurisdictions of England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland within) the United Kingdom and the United States (Hardy, 2017a).

This summer, Pieterjan Deckers (in the Netherlands), Andres Dobat (in Denmark), Natasha Ferguson (in the United Kingdom), Stijn Heeren (in the Netherlands), Michael Lewis (in the United Kingdom) and Suzie Thomas (in Finland) published a consideration of the complexities of metal detecting policy and practice: a response to Samuel Hardy, ‘quantitative analysis of open-source data on metal detecting for cultural property’ (Cogent Social Sciences 3, 2017) (Deckers and others, 2018).

Happily, Deckers and others believe that extensive quantitative analysis may be ‘an important way forward to develop legislation grounded in a thorough analysis of all relevant variables’ (2018: 330) and that ‘it may serve as a starting point for the development of much more sophisticated, testable algorithms that express the impact of legislation and policy on public interaction with heritage’ (2018: 331). That is all I would expect or hope, as it currently offers only ‘tentative’, ‘least worst data’ (Hardy, 2017a: 27; 41).

However, they also believe that it is based on ‘biased assumptions and simplistic dichotomies’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 331). As I explain in this post, I would quibble with these assertions. Both are open-access publications and there are open-access copies of (almost) all of the other texts that I use here, so everyone – archaeologist, detectorist, citizen – can read (almost) everything that they want.


I do not consider myself a supporter of prohibitive/restrictive policies or a detractor of permissive/supportive policies, only a follower of evidence, which is why I have unconcernedly published data on Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe.

In fact, I had actively avoided the subject of metal-detecting in my work because of the bitter divide between “pro-detecting” and “anti-detecting” factions; I only started addressing it because international institutions wanted data. Still, I am aware that, in this rancorous debate, I am categorised as anti-detecting, even though I know archaeologists who are “pro-detecting” as well as ones who are “anti-detecting” and I have worked and socialised with detectorists.

If I remember rightly, the last time I was accused of being a propagandist before I started working on detecting was by professional propagandists in 2010 and the last time I was physically threatened was by an intelligence official in 2007.

Since I started working on detecting in 2015, academics have accused me of being a propagandist, professionals have implied that I need an apologist (because Paul Barford responded on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, while I was working on a piece about a colleague who is unjustly imprisoned in Turkey, a piece which I paused to get this post out of the way) and detectorists have intimated that I am going to get a knock on the door.

So, I have to say (publicly, as I have said privately) that, although I believe that the study of metal-detecting can be insightful and I enjoy academic discussion (and although a sideline of work on metal-detecting is inevitable), I would like to devote my time and energy to (and enjoy the collegial atmosphere of) research into organised crime and political violence.


It seems peculiar to assert that I employ a ‘simplistic frame of reference that distinguishes licit and illicit detectorists, permissive and restrictive regimes in an overly dichotomous way’, which ‘obscures crucial nuances’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 324), or that I ‘simply… conflate hobby detectorists with commercial entrepreneurs’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 325).

As evidence, Deckers and others appear to cite the point where I explicitly state that ‘[m]uch “hobbyist” metal detecting… inescapably encompasses detecting by commercial entrepreneurs and private collectors as well as by amateur archaeologists’ (Hardy, 2017a: 2), which I believe both recognises the complexity and draws a distinction.

Amongst other points, I note that it is ‘difficult’ even to analyse legal detecting, because some detectorists have ‘falsely denied selling antiquities legally…, in order to maintain an image of hobbyist collectors rather than commercial traders’ (Hardy, 2017a: 3, based on Thomas, 2012: 55).

Contrarily, Deckers and others (2018: 322n2) explicitly ‘use the terms “non-professional”, “hobby”, “leisure” and “amateur” detecting/detectorists as interchangeable terms…, to distinguish the practice from both the use of metal detectors by professional archaeologists in the field, and by illicit detector users driven primarily by financial motivations‘.

That frame of reference obscures legal detectorists who (primarily or secondarily) detect to supply (other) private collectors (and sometimes public institutions) for financial motives, as well as illegal detectorists who primarily detect to supply their own collections for personal motives.

That frame of reference also produces other points of confusion, such as the assertion that hobbyist detecting to supply one’s own private collection is ‘far less damaging to cultural heritage’ than commercial detecting (which they appear to reduce to illegal detecting) to supply others’ private collections, ‘even if finds are not (immediately) reported’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 325).

Perhaps, if one legal detectorist who only targets cultural objects from archaeological sites in plough soil is compared with one illegal detectorist who only targets cultural objects from stratigraphical contexts of archaeological sites, it might be assumed that the illegal detectorist does more cultural damage. However, legal detectorists take archaeological deposits from stratigraphical contexts and illegal detectorists take easy pickings from plough soil as well.

Furthermore, if there are more legal detectorists who do not restrict themselves to plough soil, precisely record their finds and comprehensively report their finds than there are illegal detectorists, then the legal detecting population does more cultural harm legally than the illegal detecting population does illegally.

Moreover, some illegal detectorists report their looted antiquities as legal finds and thereby get paperwork that facilitates the laundering of their dirty assets. This also increases the statistics that ostensibly represent the number of legal detectorists and the number of legal finds, plus pollutes the archaeological record by misplacing the looted antiquities in order to fabricate evidence of their legal acquisition.

It seems peculiar for Deckers and others (2018: 326) to conclude that I have ‘inappropriate[ly] reduce[d] individual behaviour to such a duality as licit/illicit’, rather than ‘define[d] cultural damage in a more nuanced fashion’. Precisely for the factors that I have reiterated here, I try to estimate the legal and illegal (and so total) detecting populations in territories under analysis, then assess the scale and balance of legal cultural harm and criminal damage, in order to try to identify legal systems in which the least total cultural harm is done.

It is difficult to query that England and Wales could ‘be described as very permissive, but [t]here metal detecting is still prohibited without permission in certain areas’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 325), unless, to be very permissive, metal-detecting would have to be permitted absolutely anywhere. Either way, I have only categorised the jurisdiction as ‘permissive’, since it only requires detectorists ‘not to trespass or steal from the landowner’; ‘not to commit criminal damage’; and not to conceal treasure, ‘for which they are rewarded the market value of the treasure by the state’, if the state chooses to acquire it (Hardy, 2017a: 16).

While I would love to see an international comparison by ‘the degree to which a prohibition is actually enforced – as measured, for instance, by the number of convictions (where these are discernible in police and court records)’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 325), I fear they are rarely discernible in such records.

Cultural property crime is rarely policed, rarely successfully prosecuted and rarely seriously punished. Records for statistics on cultural property crime are commonly lamentable – incomplete, inconsistent, even unidentifiable as records of cultural property crime. So, (almost) any statistics would be meaningless (though there are exceptions, such as Italy, Turkey and Lebanon).


Because ‘systematic sampling was limited to discussion in English, in order to ensure that the samples were reliable and manageable’ (Hardy, 2017a: 24), Deckers and others (2018: 326) relayed that I had made a ‘decision to exclude non-English evidence’, which ‘did not assist with the representativeness of the sample. Not only did it largely limit the analysis to the Anglophone countries within the sample, but it also precluded the inclusion of many countries for which no English-language information was available.’

However, for better or worse, English is the “most” international language. French, Spanish, Turkish (or mutually intelligible Turkic languages), Arabic, Russian and Chinese are less global, more regional. English is (or global Englishes are) even a lingua franca for speakers of other international languages.

French-language searches would primarily find results for north-western Europe and Africa. Spanish-language searches would primarily find results for south-western Europe and Latin America. Turkish-language searches would primarily find results for the north-eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia. Arabic-language searches would primarily find results for West Asia and North Africa. Russian-language searches would primarily find results for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. And Chinese-language searches would primarily find results for East Asia.

Deckers and others do not explain which of the world’s other (international, regional, national and/or local) languages should have been used in searches for open-source data. Instead, they (albeit rightly) suggest that France and Poland would have been interesting subjects of study.

Deckers and others (2018: 326) suggest Poland because ‘the estimated number of 50.000 to 100.000 (!) detectorists’ who are supposedly ‘active under [its] restrictive legislation… might have affected the overall conclusion regarding the effectiveness of liberal versus restrictive schemes’.

First, as demonstrated by their own citation of English-language sources, the study of Poland was not precluded by a lack of English-language sources. Second (though it was officially published in a belated volume of Public Archaeology from 2016), I published a study of Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine this spring (in official and open-access formats), which used sources in all of the local languages, as well as English.

Third, it is unfortunate that Deckers and others (2018: 326) repeat the highest estimates of 50,000-100,000, rather than the widest estimates of 10,000-100,000, which were provided by their source. This is particularly unfortunate, since their own source states that ‘there is no valid basis for any of those estimates’ (Makowska, Oniszczuk and Sabaciński, 2016: 174). Still, there do appear to be at least 58,000 (or, accounting for inactive members of online communities, 54,184, cf. Hardy, 2016: 220; 224, based on data from Makowska, Oniszczuk and Sabaciński, 2016: 174).

Fourth, it is true that this estimate ‘might have affected the overall conclusion regarding the effectiveness of liberal versus restrictive schemes’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 326 – emphasis added). However, the evidence suggests that these numbers actually reflect low capacity for cultural heritage work and cultural property law enforcement, plus the “shock therapy”-induced transformation of post-communist Eastern Europe, which has increased personal insecurity and institutional instability. In turn, they have produced a “legal nihilism” (pravovyy nigilizm/pravovogo nigilizmy) or increased willingness to commit crime for personal benefit, regardless of social cost (Hardy, 2016: 226-227; 227-228).

Flanders and Belgium

It is true, I noted, it had been ‘estimated that “up to” 85% of finds’ in Belgium ‘were not reported despite an “unofficial policy of tolerance” of illicit detecting in return for the reporting of illicitly-detected finds’ (Deckers, 2013: 14, paraphrased by Hardy, 2017a: 11). Understandably, this led Deckers and others (2018: 323) to conclude that ‘national statistics’ for Belgium had been ‘confused with those from the Flemish region’.

Based on the evidence that appeared in the results of open-source research, there were not equivalent national statistics or regional statistics for all regions. For example, none were presented in comparison with those for Flanders in the article on Flanders. So, I used the available regional estimate as a substitute for an unidentifiable (if not non-existent) national estimate.

basic assumptions

Deckers and others (2018: 323) assert that it is ‘fundamentally wrong’ to make the ‘basic assumption’ that ‘metal detecting is far more destructive than archaeological excavation’, that ‘the number of finds recovered by metal detectorists, but not recorded by archaeological professionals, equals irrevocable damage to the cultural heritage of an area’, even though it is ‘undoubtedly true in cases where “treasure hunters” (whether using a metal detector or not) remove an object from its archaeological context’.

They reject this basic assumption because, ‘to be considered “cultural damage”, a find and/or its associated information would have to be irretrievably lost’, whereas ‘the majority of detector finds in North-West European countries originate from the plough soil’, so ‘any contextual associations of an object in the soil have been compromised‘ (Deckers and others, 2018: 323) and ‘most detectorists, at least in the permissive jurisdictions considered by Hardy, record’ the find’s geographical location ‘to varying degrees of precision’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 324).

Acknowledging that it is ‘true that a number of finds go unreported, even under a permissive legislation’ and in a territory ‘with a recording scheme’, they observe that the ‘unreported information is not necessarily lost‘, as ‘often detectorists keep private records of their finds and finds locations’, which they may be willing to share in the future (Deckers and others, 2018: 324).

Deckers and others (2018: 324) conclude that ‘unreported finds are not damage, but at worst a zero-gain (as they may not have been picked up by regulated fieldwork, or may have been lost through damaging agricultural activity), at best information that may become available in the future’.

By this highly theoretical logic, no knowledge would have been lost even if the detectorist died without reporting any of their finds, because their descendants might later recover the finds and associated records, piece together the fragments of information and release those archives to the public.

Seemingly, the overwhelming majority of finds are not reported, even when the metal-detecting of cultural objects has been legally protected and reporting of finds has been officially facilitated for decades. Even if an absolute majority of finds are recovered from plough soil, a significant minority are recovered from stratigraphical contexts.

Even if discussion is restricted to metal-detecting on unprotected sites under arable agriculture, detectorists advertise that they target newly-exposed, not-yet-protected sites (detecting media instruct their consumers that it is ‘time to dust off that drone‘ to identify sites for targeting in heatwave-dried soil), because they are “productive sites”.

Furthermore, while objects’ contextual associations may have been compromised, their locations – particularly their combined locations, in the form of (sub-)surface scatters and clusters – may still reflect and indicate archaeological features underneath the plough zone. After all, that is why ethical detecting may be archaeologically informative; such site signatures ‘often… still lie within the general area of sub-surface archaeology’ (Daubney, 2015: 86).

How ‘often’ do detectorists produce and preserve comprehensive records, which would enable the reunification of metal-detected finds with their archaeological sites, let alone the identification of archaeological sites from metal-detected finds? How ‘many’ detectorists are willing to share their records, when asked (and how many archaeologists are required to ask them)? How often are records transferred, when finds are exchanged, sold or inherited? How often are inherited collections donated (with records), rather than dumped, particularly when they are private collections of commercially “low-end” objects that have little commercial value (or even aesthetic appeal)?

online statistics

Deckers and others (2018: 326) rightly ask, ‘[h]ow representative, for instance, is the membership count and content of Facebook groups and fora that are accessible to an outsider living in a country that prohibits metal detecting?’ It is a very difficult question. For that and other reasons, I explicitly state that my ‘data are manifestly the least worst data, rather than the best, which may make them difficult to compare’ (Hardy, 2017a: 41).

Certainly, the open-source data for Poland (Hardy, 2016: 220) would be significantly different if the membership of the largest online community had not been published in a study on metal-detecting (Makowska, Oniszczuk and Sabaciński, 2016: 174). However, equivalent questions may be asked if private online communities are monitored. By definition, there may be other private online communities to which the monitor does not have access.

Although the problem must be compounded by low levels of internet access, unsurprisingly, statistics of public online communities are lower in some prohibitive jurisdictions, such as China. Yet statistics of public online communities in the ostensibly restrictive or prohibitive jurisdictions of Eastern Europe (e.g. Belarus, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, cf. Hardy, 2016: 219; 220; 221; 222) are proportionally (and sometimes numerically) larger than any in the permissive jurisdictions of Western Europe (Hardy, 2016: 224).

So, there is no automatic reason to assume that such statistics are unrepresentative, particularly when policing, prosecution, conviction and punishment are so rare as to enable illegal detectorists to operate with practical impunity.

inactive members of online communities

Deckers and others (2018: 326) also query a measure to try to account for inactive members of online communities when using the membership statistics of those communities, because the measure is ‘derived from one (non-professional) survey that is over a decade old’, so the data may be outdated and they may not be applicable in ‘every cultural and national setting’.

However, as explained and shown (Hardy, 2017a: 39 – table 25), that detectorist’s survey had more participants than the sum total of professional surveys/polls in Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom (and internationally, including my own netnographic review).

The detectorist’s survey was conducted by the webmaster of the largest online forum in the United States (with an international audience), so it was likely more acceptable and appealing to detecting community members than a professional survey. This is also suggested by the significant difference in answers to one survey by a detectorist and another survey by an archaeologist (even though he was a pro-detecting archaeologist) in Austria. I also use the ‘irreconcilably wide’ difference in those answers to reaffirm ‘the tentative nature of all of this evidence’ (Hardy, 2017a: 27).

Likewise, Deckers and others (2018: 326) observe that, ‘[m]ost importantly…, it may be surmised that the proportion of forum members’ who are visible online yet not active offline ‘is not a constant, but tends’ to increase. This is inevitably somewhat true, although at least some online communities periodically refresh the registration of their members, thereby removing inactive ones. At the same time, if increasing numbers of active detectorists are becoming online detectorists, they may crowd out the increasing number of inactive members. At a more basic level, are there more Facebook fans of Manchester United than there are fans of Manchester United?

It may be risky to organise visibly online, due to the risk of severe punishment; it may be difficult to organise visibly online, due to a dearth of internet infrastructure or the disruption of internet access; it may be uncommon to organise visibly online in national rather than (internal) regional communities, due to expansive geographical ranges; it may be uncommon to organise visibly online in national rather than (international) regional communities, due to differing geographical distributions and cultural habits amongst detecting communities; or it may simply be uncommon to organise visibly online at all.

Moreover, it is unrealistic to assume that insignificantly few online detectorists are not members of the largest online community. Likewise, it is unrealistic to assume that insignificantly few active detectorists are not active online at all.

So, ultimately, accounting for inactive members (who include family and friends of administrators and other organisers, and cultural heritage workers who are performing public engagement and/or monitoring those communities, as well as inactive detectorists) and all of the other factors, it is still unrealistic to assume that the membership of the largest online community is larger than the size of the detecting population. For all of these reasons, the membership of the largest online community is likely to represent a minimum estimate of the detecting population.

inconstant constants

It is peculiar that Deckers and others (2018: 326) query the ‘constants’ that I have ‘inferred…, which do not sufficiently take into account regional variations throughout the study area’, such as find frequency, land accessibility, weather conditions and cultural variation.

I do not assert or imply the existence of ‘constants’. The estimate of the rate of finds during metal-detecting is explicitly based on data from the United Kingdom (Hardy, 2017a: 36; 37; 40). Like all of the rest of this evidence, it offers a tentative impression of the situation.

I highlight the ‘difficult[y]’ of using the data on the time that is devoted to metal-detecting, due to the ‘imprecision’ of ranges in surveys/polls (Hardy 2017a: 25), and the ‘impossib[ility of] control[ling]’ for demographically-influenced variables, such as available time and adequate health, due to the limits of information (Hardy, 2017a: 38). ‘So, when varying levels of activity were indicated, the lowest level of activity was assumed; when ranges of hours were stated, the lowest number was used’ (Hardy, 2017a: 25).

Rather than presenting or implying the existence of ‘constants’, I highlight how my netnographic review of the time that is devoted to metal-detecting accounts for variations, because online detectorists testify to ‘variations’ such as ‘work, weather, family and health’ when they estimate their own ‘average levels of activity’ (Hardy, 2017a: 28).

On top of that, amongst other reductions and minimisations to ensure a reasonable estimate, I specifically try to (double-)’account for moments of bad weather around the year, seasons of extremely bad weather and other such disruptions to detecting’, by calculating the difference in reporting of finds between the peak in the spring and the trough in the winter, assuming that detectorists’ testimony ‘reflect[s] the best conditions in spring, whereas their real average levels of activity resemble those during worse conditions in summer, autumn and winter’, then reducing the estimate of the intensity by 40.78 per cent (Hardy, 2017a: 34; 35; 36).

As I observed to an editor last summer, it would be possible to disable such tentative estimates of the time that is devoted to metal-detecting or the rate of finds during metal-detecting ‘by requiring adjustments for all sorts of factors, such as the shorter urban/industrial histories of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; the density of population, urbanisation and industrialisation of all of the territories under analysis; the various environmental factors that affect the preservation of objects underground and underwater in all of those territories (and their interplay, such as Canada’s shorter urban/industrial history but more extensive reporting requirements)’.

To reiterate (publicly, what I have said privately), I am only trying to test whether it is possible to get useful numbers and establish a “least worst guess”; I am perfectly happy to be queried and corrected; I would be worried if no-one else had better numbers or better ways of estimating them. The benefits of open methods and open data include the potential for other research to expand and refine the data on any particular territory or community, indeed to expand and refine the methods for all territories and communities. I hope and expect that such empirical work will be done. I simply cannot do it all.

harm reduction

It seems peculiar for Deckers and others (2018: 329) to say that prohibitive/restrictive policies on metal-detecting ‘see archaeological heritage as a finite resource of public interest that needs protection’, whereas the supposedly ‘converse stance’ believes that the ‘public should be able to responsibly participate in archaeology in an informed way’.

The belief that the ‘public should be able to responsibly participate in archaeology in an informed way’ is not a converse stance to prohibitive/restrictive policies. Personally, I do not know any supporters of prohibitive/restrictive policies on metal-detecting who are detractors of community archaeology or other public engagement in public archaeology, including ethical metal-detecting, such as participation of metal-detectorists in scientific survey/excavation. Their concerns are restricted to unscientific – thus, irresponsible – exploitation of a finite resource.

Likewise, do permissive/supportive policies on metal-detecting see archaeological heritage as an infinite resource, as something that is not of public interest and/or as something that does not need protection? Surely, all reasonable approaches share this perspective.

It seems peculiar that Deckers and others (2018: 327) illustrate ‘no clear distinction between permissive and restrictive regimes’, by citing the estimates of minimum average person-hours of (illegal, legal and overall) detecting per year, number of reportable finds per year and total number of material finds per year (Hardy, 2017a: 39-40 – tables 26-28).

Those tables ultimately reflect the estimates of the numbers who engage in detecting (illegally, legally and overall), ranked by scale within the population of the territory (Hardy, 2017a: 22-23 – tables 6, 8 and 10), but do not display the scale within the population.

While there is inevitably a wide range and it is naturally impossible to categorically distinguish between permissive jurisdictions and restrictive or prohibitive jurisdictions simply by comparing the numbers, there is a clear trend towards greater scales of detecting in permissive jurisdictions and lesser scales of detecting in restrictive or prohibitive jurisdictions. Again, it is a tentative, least-worst estimate. As is demonstrated by the data in my study of Eastern Europe, such analyses are very complicated and I do not ‘confus[e] co-variation with causation’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 327).

metal-detecting tourism and other transnational metal-detecting activity

Finally, it seems peculiar to assert that I am ‘neglecting the transnational character of both detectorist fieldwork and their participation in social media’ (Deckers and others, 2018: 323), when I note the possible effect of ‘numerous metal-detecting tourists’ who travel between jurisdictions (and even within transnational jurisdictions, such as England and Wales or the United Kingdom) on statistics for metal-detectorists (Hardy, 2017a: 20; see also 41-42); and the possible effect of metal-detecting tourism on reporting of finds within jurisdictions over the course of a year, as detectorists may detect elsewhere during holidays (Hardy, 2017a: 35).

In the study of Eastern Europe, I note the existence of ‘international [online] forums’ (Hardy, 2016: 218); highlight advertisements of ‘workarounds’ for illegal metal-detecting tourists to escape punishment in Russia (Hardy, 2016: 217); observe that ‘a notable amount of looting is transnational’ (Hardy, 2016: 225); and emphasise the ‘difficult[y]’ of using statistics when there is ‘significant potential for regionalization or internationalization of originally national online organization of metal detecting’, which is demonstrated by the data (Hardy, 2016: 222; see also 219; 224), as well as suggested by the possibility that a ‘regionally disproportionate number of Belarusians participate in ostensibly Russian and explicitly international groups’ (Hardy, 2016: 219).

There is also an opposite phenomenon, where statistics may be disproportionately low, because ‘detectorists may disproportionately restrict themselves to local or regional groups in Russia that serve communities over wider expanses than national groups in other countries’ (Hardy, 2016: 221).

In a complementary article on digital data for Eastern Europe, which was published last autumn and released as an open-access article this spring, I highlight ‘rapid [international] regionalisation of facilities for access’ to online communities, such as the provision of multilingual services for online platforms (Hardy, 2017b: 7).

In three forthcoming book chapters, for which open-access postprints were released this spring, I discuss metal-detecting tourists in South Asia (forthcoming a); metal-detecting tourism, transnational metal-detecting partnerships and international online communities in South-East Asia (forthcoming b); and metal-detecting and international online communities in East Asia (forthcoming c). Unfortunately, in the absence of empirical data, it is impossible to account for metal-detecting tourism and transnational social organisation empirically.

6 Responses to “a response to a response on metal-detecting and open-source analysis”

  1. the collegial atmosphere of […] research into organised crime and political violence“…\

    I think that says it all about the public debate about the object-centric “partnership” (sic) extending back several decades between a certain group of heritage professionals and the exploitative private collectors of archaeological artefacts .

    In particular the inability to reach a middle ground over this is to a large extent related to the simple inability of those professionals who are for supporting the continued private Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record to address the points and perfectly valid questions raised by others who are concerned about the details of the long term effects of such policies.

    The believers in the object-centric “partnership” are unable (still) to produce any real concrete data or reasoned rebuttals of the underlying conservation-grounded concerns voiced by preservationists – which they anyway tend to dismiss as less important from their point of view than ‘finding things’,

    Like the collectors they foster and bolster, they all too often resort to gatekeeping tactics together with attempts to shout down the preservation concerns raised and obfuscate matters by erecting a smokescreen of side-issues. The dismissive reaction of Deckers et al. to your original paper is an egregious example of precisely this.


  2. Below is a response by Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis and Suzie Thomas. Pieterjan submitted it on the 26th of August 2018, but it triggered the spam filter; because it had been filtered as spam, I wasn’t notified that it had been submitted. Thankfully, Pieterjan e-mailed me this morning and I found out what had happened.

    As authors of the response paper that is discussed here, we are thankful to read this measured, rational reply to several of the points we raised. Like you, we feel that our paper too has been misrepresented in reactions elsewhere on the internet, sometimes in an unnecessarily vitriolic manner. Contrary to what some commenters have read in it (perhaps illustrating to what extent this debate is polarized and entrenched, as you also point out), it should be obvious that it was not intended to propagate a liberal, ‘pro-detecting’ viewpoint as a one-size-fits-all solution; indeed the approaches across our jurisdictions (Denmark, England, Finland, Flanders, Netherlands and Scotland) vary considerably.

    We discussed two principal topics in our paper. The first could be considered a critique of your analysis. The second, serves as a necessary complement to and nuancing of your conclusions.

    Your analysis is methodologically intriguing and relevant to the question at hand. However, by adopting the quantity of artefacts recovered through non-professional detecting as a direct proxy for cultural damage, regardless of circumstances, your study is grounded in a fundamentally erroneous and, in our view, biased assumption. Furthermore, the analysis is marred by a number of factual errors and other limitations.You have commented on many of these in your blog post. Nonetheless, we remain unconvinced of the ‘clear trend towards greater scales of detecting in permissive jurisdictions and lesser scales of detecting in restrictive or prohibitive jurisdictions’ you propose, and look forward to further analysis supporting this hypothesis. Meanwhile, however, these issues render the conclusions you have drawn problematic and potentially inaccurate.
    Regardless of the soundness of the analysis or the reliability of the conclusions drawn from it, a permissive policy may serve aims other than protecting in situ cultural heritage. These might include increasing scientific knowledge, promoting public awareness of and engagement with archaeology, and mitigating other threats to in situ remains (e.g. agriculture) and informing heritage management. From your perspective, this might come at the cost of greater ‘cultural damage’, an unwarranted depletion of the finite resource that is the archaeological record. However, in the light of clear benefits, others might feel the gains of a permissive approach outweigh that (potential) cost. This is not a theoretical argument: permissive policies have been adopted by several northwest European countries and regions, often with flanking measures to support responsible detecting; likewise, even in countries/areas were detecting is further limited, or prohibited, this does not necessarily mean detecting (albeit illegally) is not common.

    Ultimately, striking this balance between the benefits and costs of metal detecting policy (and public heritage policy more generally) is a political decision. In contrast to what many contributions to this broader debate seem to have as their point of departure, in our view there is no universally ideal way to deal with non-professional detecting since any approach must work within the wider tradition, culture and legal environment of individual jurisdictions; the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland is a case in point. That does not mean, however, that these political decisions should not be informed by a thorough understanding of the phenomenon it is trying to regulate. So far, only limited progress has been made towards this latter goal.

    The main contribution of your paper, then, is that it helps to step away from mostly ideologically driven perspectives on metal detecting (i.e. ‘heritage engagement for all’ vs. ‘tragedy of the commons’) and offer a more data-driven approach towards assessing the effectiveness of policies within their local context. Making further progress in identifying the relevant factors and their relations, and collecting data in a quantified or otherwise analytical format, remains an important task for the future. play an important role


  3. “… promoting public awareness of and engagement with archaeology …”
    (response by Deckers, Dobat, Ferguson, Heeren, Lewis and Thomas)

    That may well be among the “aims” of a permissive policy but I think what many of us wonder is just how well is the PAS achieving it?

    I quite understand that proponents of a permissive approach are to some degree walking a tightrope: a wish to encourage the voluntary reporting of finds by heralding them on the one hand while endeavouring to mitigate any potential damage to the archaeological record on the other. But I’d like to see a little less emphasis on object-centric heralding and a little more emphasis on explaining what archaeology actually is.


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  4. I think there is quite a lot to unpack in the comment above of Pieterjan Deckers, Suzie Thomas, Natasha Ferguson, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren and Michael Lewis. Some of this I do in my blog post on the topic. All the time the six authors seem to be under the impression (like Bangor’s Raimund Karl and Katharina Möller) that your paper was only about a dialectic between permissive and liberal legislations, missing that, as the text’s title iteself suggested, its topic is ‘[…] Estimation of the scale and intensity of metal detecting and the quantity of metal-detected cultural goods’. It surely is wrong to refer, as they do, to the quantity of artefacts removed through Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, with or without metal detectors, as merely ‘a direct proxy for cultural damage’, it clearly is damage, whether or not the Six for some reason attempt to label this ‘a fundamentally erroneous and, in our view, biased assumption’.

    It is all very well suggesting that ‘permissive policy may serve aims other than protecting in situ cultural heritage’. Pigs might fly, but until a critical analysis shows that in the country where there has been the longest running social experiment attempting to achieve such aims (England and Wales and their PAS), such results are after twenty years and millions of quid actually being achieved to any significant degree (actually, not the glib claims being made for it by its supporters and beneficiaries), then such idels are unachievable pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Your original paper challenged the reality behind the claims in the case of PAS-country, and we note which part of your paper these six authors with their clear pro-permissive stance have persistently avoided addressing, while striving to hang onto their dreams.

    I think that in the modern world where resources of everything (except plastic waste in our seas) are facing depletion levels rapidly approaching crisis, I do not see how six European academics can propose that the conservation ethic is mere ‘ideology’. They introduce now another dialectic: ‘heritage engagement for all’ vs. ‘tragedy of the commons’, apparently recognizing that their ‘partner’ artefact hunters of the PAS are actually going to carry on destroying the archaeological record at the alarming rates your paper suggests may in fact be the case, but they propose ignoring that issue (and the people raising it) for now and dressing it in new clothes and calling it ‘heritage engagement for all’. I think that is a very debatable notion, is big game trophy hunting ‘nature engagment for all’?



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