Haven't been getting any more notices of replies to this thread for some reason. To attempt to answer some points raised...
I find it interesting that most of the arguments I have raised remain unanswered and instead people resort to accusations. I understand that you might want to explore that avenue. So to provide a some kind of defence;
Archaeologists are called in at the request of a developer because a planning authority requires it when a development takes place in certain circumstances. If a site has been metal detected it makes not a jot of difference to whether archaeologists gets paid or not.
Like all trained professionals insist on some form of training you mean? No-one has ever been excluded from training to become an archaeologist and throughout the boom many people learned on-the-job. How is that exclusive? Why didn't other people do it? I imagine for many it looked like it was too much bloody work and others knew they could make more money doing something else.
Neither do archaeologists want to exclude other people. Several times I have raised the point that if metal detectorists maintain they are "doing it for the love of heritage and history" that they form or join a local archaeological society and learn through volunteer excavations - perhaps making use of their local archaeologists (before those skills are all lost in a dying profession). Many such groups have existed elsewhere so why not Ireland? The only thing that should separate "amateur" archaeologists from "professional" archaeologists is that "amateur" archaeologists are likely to be better paid (in whatever way they make a living). I also agree with several posters' points that metal detectorists could have much to contribute in a well-managed archaeological project - whether amateur or professional.
Archaeologists don't have and don't want exclusive rights to "make money from our heritage". In fact they make very little and have a very small share of the heritage industry. Everyone in the State benefits from the large revenue generated by the heritage driven parts of the tourist industry.
Archaeology as a "science" has been developing over a couple of hundred years and many of the "amateur" excavations of the early part of the last century would put the majority of modern "professional" excavations to shame (though modern techniques can be quite striking in their results too). Why? Because we are not just interested in "preserving by record" the nice upstanding and dramatic sites, but also the very average and less interesting sites that still tell an awful lot about how people lived in the past. There is less funding per site than their ever was and we strive to make it affordable for excavations to take place and not let the vast amount of heritage that is there get in the way of all development.
There have been tens of thousands of archaeological excavations in the last decade or more in Ireland. Many have been published but mostly they are stored away as reports and await some form of synthesis. This might be a crying shame, but at least they have been recorded and knowledge of them saved. The vast majority of these would not have been found by metal detectorists or locals - I can't count the amount of times locals thought I was in the wrong place (as if I'd chosen it) and that there was nothing of interest for miles - neither would they have been spotted by bulldozers or the casual observer. Does that sound arrogant? I hope not, but don't forget that we know our business pretty well (we should do we get paid to).
That said, yes it does lack respectability, I'll be the first to admit it. What do you expect when the predominant attitude that I have come across from most people who try and understand what we do is "what's the point there's no money to be made from this stuff". How can what we do be considered worth doing when the country can't afford to pay its teachers, gardai and nurses? Heritage just isn't important enough in most people's minds and I completely understand that. Archaeologists are classed as everything between jet-setters and tree-huggers - for the most part, though, in the industries that they engage with archaeologists are considered as a costly irritation forced on them by other jet-setters and tree-huggers. So who could ever consider it a respectable profession?
Far from it my friend, archaeologists stay too silent about a great deal.
At the end of the day, archaeological excavations may in the future be consigned to the dustbin as an unaffordable luxury. We could also sell off the contents of the National Museum to wealthy businessmen and collectors. We could dig up and cut down all the resources and desecrate everything we have here for the purposes of "making a bit of money".
All these beautiful objects and hoards are next to worthless in regards to knowledge if they are not properly excavated. You can't tell why they were put where they where found and when, unless you perform a proper excavation, recording all the context and related finds in the area. This is the real importance of an object, not that it looks good in a museum. All this gets destroyed if someone with a metaldetector just digs a hole, because the md indicated that there might be a treasure.
What if a Metal Detectorist found a brooch, in the middle of a field where no one would have thought of looking, brought the brooch to a museum, along with notification and exact location of the find ?
A 50 cm hole may have been dug in a much wider area that is now known to archeologists to further investigate.
So, a possible spoiling of a ... say, square meter area, for the investigation of a potentially important site.
Either that or ... farmer ploughs and transfers soil from A to B, and no one will ever ever know about the brooch, and potential site.
... or ... someone buys said site, digs test holes (see my previous posts), upturns the entire area to engineer drainage, and septic tank, and build a bungalow on it. Brooch and potentially interesting site gone. (We did just that in our site, in the middle of nowhere, wish I'd have had the Metal Detector then_ and known how to use it). What do you know ? There could have been something on our site, and now it's gone for everyone.
... or ... this area of field is unscathed, for no one to discover, since there are no meaningful signs of its existence above ground. No one's the wiser. No damage done, no brooch to show our descendants either.
I'm sorry but to me it's like the phrase "un mal pour un bien" in French. No one can deny there will be unscrupulous metal detectorists, and that some damage may be done. However it all boils down to percentage of what may be gained, to percentage of what may be lost. And to my absolutely untrained mind, there is more to be gained.
Should the law not concentrate more on punishing those who deal with or hold on to the treasures afterwards ? Someone selling an old coin on Ebay should be able to trace it back to where it came from. Causing hassle for treasure dealers might discourage some.
You have to make a distinction between the accidental uncovering of an artefact through activities like pilot holes or development works and deliberately going out with a metal detector to find buried treasure.
The intent is different.
There might well be some folks who would go out with an md (you might be one of them) and who would scrupulously record every necessary detail, and pass this information and the find, on to the right place.
But how do you prevent the unscrupulous ones?
If you legislate against the dealers, it is too late, the damage has already been done.
These are very tough times for archaeology and this country's heritage. There might have been a time when funding was available to investigate random finds - that funding is gone, so is the possibility of investigating potentially new and interesting sites.
The chances of a site being excavated on the strength of a random md find are slim.
So should we encourage lots of 50cm square, well recorded, random holes all over the country - which are not going to be investigated? We should think about these artefacts, not as 'lost', but as 'safe' - underground.
And then we come to the grey area.
What to do with spoil heaps where the context has been destroyed by excavation for building etc.
My personal opinion is that interested and informed folk would be doing us all a favour by investigating these heaps and holes, recording their exact location, and giving any finds to the National Museum - who will be delighted to receive them, by the way, and will offer advice.
But forget about the metal detector; they don't identify pottery sherds, bone, stone, glass or charcoal, and if your eye is trained, you will spot the metal anyway.
These are the real finds. They are of no value to the treasure hunter and get damaged or discarded in the frantic search for valuable metal. These non-metal finds are the really informative objects which tell us so much about the people who lived there.
How often are ancient pieces of charcoal, or bone, or fragments of glass, or pottery sherds offered for sale on Ebay?
A perfectly reasonable question and I shall do my best to answer. Let's for argument's sake assume the law was changed and it was no longer illegal to metal detect in Ireland.
Archaeologists don't usually "think of looking" however. There is a misconception that archaeologists are on the hunt for new stuff to find when the reality is quite the opposite. There have been so many excavations that took place prior to development destroying the sites that there is no need to go out looking for sites that are not under threat. Assume at this stage that they are protected - they have been there for hundreds or thousands of years to this point.
This is a completely made up but cvompletely feasible example of what can happen. A metal detectorist goes into a field nearby - he's interested in the local history and hopes to find something interesting. He has the best of intentions. He takes something from the site (identifying a new site as opposed to metal detecting a known one) and is scrupulous enough to hand the piece over to the museum.
Is he a trained surveyor with a GPS with accuracy to less than that half a metre hole he dug through the site to record the find spot? Let's assume he is (otherwise that 50cm hole could be anywhere within a few metres or more). Now we have the exact find spot of a piece that is now in the possession of the museum. Lovely. What happens now?
Is he going to pay for an excavation to take place? I doubt it. Is the landowner? No. So the site remains as it was - except for the missing find (now conserved by - and at cost to - the museum) and the now presumably backfilled hole where once there was an undisturbed archaeological feature.
Is that the end of the story? No. He will return to look for more. Maybe he'll find more. Other metal detectorists will learn of the find spot and come to do the same. Now the museum gets worried because a number of other finds are being reported by the same man and his friends - so they go in to "rescue" excavate a site that was previously not threatened. It turns out to be an Iron Age burial ground that was unusually rich with a couple of Iron Age fibulae and some spear heads have been grave robbed. The exact context of those grave-goods are hopelessly lost. A whole host of questions that might have been answered and knowledge that might have been gained about Iron Age burial practice would have to wait until a site came up that WASN'T due to being pillaged by a metal detectorist.
The vast majority of Ireland's farmland is in pasture which poses no threat to the underlying archaeological finds and features. If it's been ploughed it's likely that it's been ploughed for centuries. If farmers spot things they often report them to the museum - they have nothing to hide, they are doing nothing illegal. Admittedly the context of finds from ploughed lands are much diminished, but there remains the threat of further digging, further exploration by metal detectorists that will do more damage to features that haven't yet been destroyed. But again - let's say that a new site is found... what of it?
Unfortunately planners are frequently very poor at determining archaeological potential and obviously we have no knowledge of the majority of archaeological sites that exist undisturbed to date. Which is why it is so important that council's employ archaeologists within their own departments - but heritage is not seen as being important enough. Even so, many developments, even one-off housing in the middle of nowhere have archaeological conditions attached - and many archaeological testing and monitoring jobs demonstrate that there is nothing to be found on many sites.
However, yes, it is of course possible that developments take place with no archaeological conditions attached and a site is destroyed. I'm sure it has happened in thousands of cases - no-one can know though.
Yes it is also possible that if a metal detectorist was to go on a site and there happened to be something metal there (most archaeological sites have no metal associated with them whatsoever), they could find the metal artefacts. Then what? If you had done this would you have forestalled your own house-building and paid for the excavation of the site? No? In fact with teh discovery of a new archaeological site it is likely to cause problems for your development and you would proabably keep shtum. So the site would still have been lost. But yes, a coin, or a brooch might have been retrieved.
So metal objects will be retrieved very very occasionally and archaeological sites will still get destroyed and no-one will know anything about them.
The vast majority of archaeological sites that have been excavated over the past decade have been done without anyone knowing of their existence before hand, with no features above ground to give them away. We have other ways of detecting archaeological sites that are implemented prior to their destruction if there is a threat to them. If you think we lack in things to show our descendants, get to the National Museum! Believe me they have a damn-site more than is on display - but the best bits that are on display are 'kin amazing.
I hope to have argued the opposite.. that there is more to be lost and little to be gained from the use of metal detectors.
I honestly don't know what measures the museum takes to prevent trade in stolen heritage, but I believe it is taken very seriously indeed, has been made illegal here and under the Valletta agreement member states in the EU also have to take measure to prevent illicit trade in heritage.
The museum has an active, though currently under-resourced, section dedicated to the monitoring of stolen heritage.
I havent read this full thread so apologies if this point has been made numerous times. Essentially what this all boils down to is a clear dichotomy in mindsets. As much as metal detectorists would like to think that their hobby is ultimately to the benefit of archaeology and national heritage, the simple fact is that it is not. At this point I should point out that Im speaking purely about amateur detectorists and preserved contexts.
Firstly, as others have mentioned, metal is only one of a number of highly important, informative archaeological materials. Archaeologists see no more intrinsic value in it then a piece of wood or bone.
Secondly any object removed from its original context by a person who hasnt been trained in practical excavation techniques is a lost object. From an archaeological point of view its next to useless.
Thirdly the argument that metal detectorists identify sites is a weak one. They may in fact identify post neolithic sites alright but that doesnt mean that its to the benefit of the site. Perfect example is the relatively recent anglo-saxon hoard find in England. It was discovered entirely by a metal detectorist, he gets full credit for that site. However he also pulled at least 4 box fulls of early medieval, enamelled metalwork out of the ground before calling the Portable Antiquities Scheme. After the find archaeologists had less of a substantial site on their hands and more a salvage operation.
What he did was entirely legal and he was even paid for his troubles but nearly all archaeologists (Ireland and Britain) would agree that as impressive as the find was, its far safer in the ground then being pulled out by an excited detectorist with no concern context or stratigraphic relationship.
Unless MD people are examining spoil heaps, beaches or other scenarios when materials would already be out of context then they are more a hindrance then a help. Just my two cents.
Ahem... marking a spot is not that hard now in fairness.
Ok so now let's simply swap the brooch for a skeleton complete with warrior gear or something, or heck it's very boggy and we'll say, a mummified man. Would the farmer or myself still have to pay for the excavation ? Would the site still be left unchecked, for others like me to pillage ?
A lot of what you are saying is very depressing, like nothing will be done anyway, we have enough, shop closed, we don't want to know.
But if the outlook is that hundreds of "small finds" are going to be left in the ground to remain undiscovered, for lack of funding or interest, well then, who can blame a treasure hunter for wishing them on their mantlepiece, or in their glass cabinet ? It's pretty likely that a person collecting "treasures" would actually show their discovery too, online, in person ... So is the brooch better in the ground, for ever and a day, or in a man's cabinet, to be shown to his friend, family, like minded people online ?
If really things are as depressing as you say, well then it tilts me more in favour of treasure hunters, who at least salvage some admittedly isolated, and possibly spoiled artefacts.
If there are not going to be excavations, if sites are going to be destroyed by anyone wishing to build a bungalow, well then, it's probably a good thing to let metal detectors loose on the case. They won't do a good job, but they will do "a" job, as opposed to all this remaining snuggly underground.
I don't think I would return for more if I was told the site was indeed interesting and important. I don't think I would divulge the location either. Again that is assuming most MDetectorists to be "bad". You know, I'm sure hunters would tell you too, that poachers are giving them a bad name, when in fact most hunters are law abiding. Should their hobby be made illegal then ?
So what's better, nobody ever knows anything, or somebody's nephew is wowed by the brooch uncle Tom found with his metal detector, and develops a lifelong interest in archeology ?
So what, is it a wrap ? We have enough ? All done and dusted ? No need for more ?
edit : I forgot : if something had been found on my site, I would probably have had lengthy discussions with archeologists to determine what would be the speediest, and most convenient way, to save said site, while not stalling construction for too long. Archeology is not something that I would expect to pay for, since like hundreds more, I pay taxes, a portion of which should be spent on preserving and protecting our heritage.
... and I want to say, I argue, but I do understand what you are saying, deep down... I suppose for anyone not involved in archeology (like me), it is hard to take the reality/mundanity of it, that's all. There are some things like funds/budgets that as outsiders appear like something you should be idealistic about, and push aside. at myself.
But at the same time, I still see my point about the MDs. Better in Uncle Tom's glass case, than in old Paddy's field for no-one to see.
Imagine for a minute that this technology could only detect broken pottery, not metal. I am pretty sure there would be next to no broken pottery detectorists around. This is because broken pottery is of no monetary value.
But it's one of the most valuable piece of evidence an archaeologist can find. Few other finds date the stratum so clearly.
Allow the treasure hunters a machine which is capable of detecting something underground of potential value (monetary or otherwise) and the temptation is just too much.
This is where archaeology differs from metal detecting/treasure hunting. The primary function of legitimate archaeology is to provide knowledge about the past through physical evidence. The secondary function is to conserve this evidence for the benefit of mankind.
Metal detecting/treasure hunting destroys information about the past.
Metal detecting/treasure hunting is an act of complete self satisfaction.
This argument is irrational.
If hunting were to be made illegal because of poaching, then it follows that archaeology would be made illegal because of metal detecting.
A lifelong interest in metal detecting/treasure hunting, is more likely.
I happen agree with you on this.
In an ideal world, the state would have enough archaeologists to form a kind of rapid response unit in the event of the discovery of something significant which is under threat from the JCB, or whatever.
The reality is that archaeology costs money, and someone has to pay it.
That's the grim reality, folks dig a hole, see archaeology and realise that they will have to pay out and face delays.
The hole gets filled in pretty quick and not a word is spoken about it.
The more I read this thread, the more I realise how crucial the laws on metal detecting are.
The laws are there because there is a history of destruction and theft of antiquities on this island.
All I see from those in favour of metal detecting is a blunt, stubborn failure to understand that their activities benefit only themselves, and that their activities destroy archaeology. They have a blunt, stubborn failure to understand that if an artefact is left undisturbed, underground and within its context - it is not 'lost', it is safe.
When an artefact is hauled out of the ground, not only is the real story lost, the artefact itself is lost. It becomes merely a trinket, a bauble, not a piece of evidence.
Metal detectorists are like children on Christmas eve. They see all those lovely presents sitting wrapped under the Christmas tree - the temptation is just too much to bear. They can't resist. They tear them open when their parents are asleep, and then wonder why Christmas day is so miserable.
I'll ask you a question.
I have 'found' an unrecorded site which has between three and five well preserved ring barrows. These barrows are most unusual because they almost overlap each other and are of an identical size.
They are in a field which has never been ploughed and is unlikely to be.
So what should I do?
Get a metal detector and see if I can find anything?
Or should I do my best to have them looked at by a state archaeologist who would determine if they need to be listed and protected?
Again Slowburner you are assuming the motives and intentions of MDorists. I know plenty of people who would indeed have interest in bones, pottery, charcoal, wood, flint... As has been said, because they probably are harder to spot to the untrained eye, they remain unfound, that is all. You cannot just blame an entire group of people for the motives of a minority. And you cannot assume they are after monetary gain, when in fact they may not be.
I'm French but have been living here a long time, and I always find it very touching, how the people in my area collect all the white stones they come across in their (stone) walls, or fields, and exhibit them for all to admire on top of piers, or in their garden. Did you ever notice that ? There is no monetary value in this, people do it because they like these stones, and they like to share what they think is interesting or beautiful. People are not necessarily as venal as you think. Self gratification yes, but not always exclusively, the desire to share is well and truly there too.
My analogy to hunters and poachers was not expressed properly. I was not placing the archeologists in that equation, archeologists are the professionals, therefore in my analogy they would be the local rangers, the people who are paid to know most about the subject. The hunters would be the good metal detectorists, who wish to abide by the rules, and not cause any damage to the ecosystem/site, and thus follow the rangers/archeologists recommendations. The poachers are those who, although they also aim to kill animals, do it without care for rules and regulations, and without respect for said ecosystem/site. These are the "bad" metal detectorists, with monetary or self gratification intent.
I hope this is clearer.
I'm sure lots of examples of good and bad metal detectorists can be found abroad. Societies of MDs who work in a manner that will least destroy, and most help, in identifying sites, and who then do not hesitate to let professionals take over.
And the bad ones examples like you said, are all over Ebay, and in the articles linked above in this discussion.
But when the artefact remains in the ground, there is no knowledge gained about the past through physical evidence. The evidence is not conserved for the benefit of mankind, since it is still in the ground, in an unidentified, unknown of location. No one is the wiser, end of.
And I have seen mentioned that a lot of land being for pasture, most sites are safer underground. I live in amongst pasture land, and the fields are either ploughed, or cleared, on a regular basis. Drainage work takes place, banks are desconstructed and reconstructed, holes are dug, soil is moved from A to B, all year round.
Agreed. Possibly the best placed people to ring alarm bells are archeologists. It has been done and whenever I hear an archeologist outlining such problems in the media, I fully support them.
Again assuming people's motives etc... Ad nauseum
Artefacts are not safe underground, unless they are in a national park or something. As I said, I am well placed to witness ground being tended by farmers, absolutely legally, on a daily basis, and ground being prepped for construction, absolutely legally, on a daily basis.
That's not safe.
Pretending things are safe in such situations is just a way to bury your head in the sand.
And yes, 100% agree, call the archeologist. But first, all these funding issues better be resolved. But if someone doesn't call quick, your newly discovered site is in real danger of being partially or entirely rearranged, pasture or not. Or sold, to build a house, complete with drainage and septic tank.
We seem to have got into a pantomime - 'Oh yes it is. Oh no it isn't.'
The thing is: if the activities of metal detectorists were respectable and beneficial we wouldn't need these laws. We could have a similar situation to the UK.
We cannot have laws similar to the UK because of the history of metal detecting in Ireland
The laws are there because of the history of metal detecting in Ireland.
I don't think I'm making assumptions - the history is good enough evidence.
(Trust me from experience, actually it is - lands get ploughed and sewn, cattle not only tread things into the ground but actually eat little flags and things out of interest - and sometimes I think sheer bloody mindedness )
The problem here is another misconception. The national policy both here and abroad is that it is the "polluter" that pays for whatever mitigation measures are necessary to protect/recover the national heritage.
Hundreds of thousands of homes have been built and endless kilometres of motorways, pipelines and other infrastructural development. Much of this has resulted in the thousands or tens of thousands of archaeological sites that have been found that were previously unknown prior to the last few years. Where these have been initiated by the State they have of course been paid for by the State, but do you really think the tax payer wants to fund yet another archaeological excavation because Joe Bloggs wants to build an extension to his large country house, or because Fred Bigs wants to construct a massive piggery to increase his business? What about Developer-Bob and his cohort of investors, who wants to build yet another block of 25 apartments on virgin land in suburbia?
Its an impossible task to expect the State to pay for all of that and I think the people of this country should not be turned against their own heritage and history because the developer thinks someone else should pay for it.
There is a large amount of heritage under the sod. Most of it not worth a penny, but still of cultural value (and how you put an actual value on that is beyond me).
i wouldnt put the lack of other postings down to lack of interest...like myself probly more like the fact i feel bullied everytime i post..by the one or two self appointed archaeology police....fek sske ye have me afraid to look down at the soil when im walking...i did think this was a discussion forum??any hoo im going out in my big yellow metal detector (jcb)and im gona dig holes all over my land and nobody can do squat about it
There are no self appointed archaeology police. All that myself and a few others have been doing in this thread is put forth the case why metal detecting is bad for archaeology, and hence, why it is illegal in Ireland (as it is in many other countries).
Good luck with finding stuff with a JCB! I've spent months monitoring machines stripping topsoil while finding absolutley nothing!
P.S. I see that you live in Charlesland. If it's Charlesland in Greystones you might be interested in the following excavation reports.
These pan pipes were found during excavation at Charlesland