The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Family Historians have their own area on the site, so look there if your main interest is in tracing your family history.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Fieldwalking and treasure-hunting

The local area is extremely rich in archaeology. There are probably between ten and twelve Roman Villas within a half-hours walk from the centre of Long Melford. I'd love to tell you where they are but I can't. The problem is with rogue treasure-hunters, who would wreck the sites before legitimate archaeologists can assess them and understand their history.

Professional Archaeologists seem to get very sniffy about the metal-detectorists, that strange band of people only interested in finding coins and other metal objects in the soil. It is true that people with metal detectors are responsible for stripping many sites around here of all the metallic dating evidence, but I believe that it is a very small minority who are responsible, and that it is the responsibility of the maligned local history societies to understand, coordinate, record and supervise the work of the metal detectorists just as it should work with the collectors of old photographs, the genealogists, map-collectors, amateur archaeologists, and anyone else with a specialist interest in the past.

I enjoy field-walking myself; It is a huge pleasure to track not only human activity but the geology, the tracks of animals and the botany of an area. Reading a field is as much fun as reading a book if one takes the time to learn how to interpret the signs. Like learning to read, it takes time and patience. I don't like using a metal detector and prefer to leave a field exactly as I found it.

Not every field has archaeology in it, but every field has interest.I can appreciate the pleasure that a skilled field-walker with a metal-detector can get from his hobby. I'm not even sure if I begrudge him the finds he gets to keep after he has presented them to the farmer, as long as they are properly registerd and recorded. The damage to sites comes from the plough, not the finder of the results of the plough-damage. It worries me that metal detectors can detect metal so far beneath the surface now because there is the temptation to dig and thereby destroy the value of the find being in context.

The problem is not with the speciality of metal detectoring, but with the occasional rogue who does it. Many branches of Amateur and Professional History and Archaeology has such rogues and it is therefore unfair to tar the entire hobby with the sins of the few. It is, surely time to integrate the work of the metal detectorists more closely into the overall understanding of local history.


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