Monday, 23 June 2014

In praise of metal detecting. 6. Sharing

Ambresbury Banks, Epping Forest, London
photo: Petr Brož

Often, Iron Age earthworks are less obvious than this,
some are virtually invisible now. Many have been
reported by metal-detectorists.
One of my readers is a Korean researcher also associated with Beijing's most prestigious university. In acknowledging some of my posts by email, she usually starts by saying "Thanks for sharing". So this one's for you, Clare.

Whenever there are warring camps, people don't share things and information is lost. Sometimes it goes to extremes and verbal bullets are the only things shared. I would like to link to blogs that I enjoy but some people have used such connections to even attack family members of those whom they do not approve, steal their graphic work and worse. I do not even have a Facebook page for this reason. I would hate to see my daughter and my friends victimized by such bullies (I don't have a Twitter account either, but that's mainly because I am far too long-winded for that medium!).

A recent comment by an English detectorist about how farmers could be frightened off if asked to sign a "finds agreement", preferring things to be by verbal agreement, reminded me that there is a lot of information that does not become public knowledge because of hostile environments. This detectorist shared, but others are just as likely to mutter under their breath about some lack of insight uttered by an opponent, and not try to correct it. Not that such a reply always resolves the situation, and it seems that some are in it only for the conflict and do not even wish to resolve the problems (they would be out of a job if they did!).

Archaeology and metal-detecting in England both suffered a great loss with the death of Tony Gregory who could champion both sides equally as well. The clue to his success is in the biography to which I link: "...which was aided by his ability to communicate with all manner of people,...". In my own small way, I hope that I am doing something similar in this series. I am equally at home talking about Chinese ceramics in a swank St James's, London shop as I am drinking with loggers in a bar in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  No one has replaced Tony Gregory. Perhaps no one could.

One early morning, we followed the trail of a "nighthawk" to a stubble field and then saw all of the holes he had left. I was with a British antiquities dealer who commonly bought things from detectorists. He shared with me one of his greatest concerns: he could also communicate well and the detectorists would often share their exact findspot location knowing that as he was an honourable man, he would not profit from these locations, himself. Over the years, he had built up a knowledge of the Iron Age tribe who had lived in that area which far exceeded that of local archaeologists.

The field we were looking at was one of two separated by a small Roman road which was now hedgerow (unknown to archaeology). The two fields occupied an area that had contained an Iron Age settlement (unknown to archaeology). He knew its industry and he knew what coins they used. He knew all of this because he understood the local market, and he saw what showed up that the local metal-detecting club members and their friends had not found. They also knew about the nighthawk, but not his identity. Of course, they did not approve. A few can give the many a bad name.

The farmer wanted neither metal detectorists nor archaeologists on his land. He thought that if he allowed his fields to be detected, the finds would be reported and then he might need special permits to build even a cow-shed. Of course, he could not report the nighthawk either. He could not share.

My friend's consternation was extreme. He wanted to share his knowledge with the world, but he could not. "Perhaps after I die, I could will this information.", he said. He told me all of this because he knew that I would not reveal that information either. I wish that I could share it too.

More tomorrow...

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