The Study of "Grey" Data from Illegal Metal Detection: Safeguarding Heritage or Vicious Circle of Looting?
The practice of metal detection has developed considerably over the past forty years. Taking into account the risk that it posed to the archaeological heritage, public authorities, following international recommendations, have put implemented legislation to try to reduce its impact. Some nations such as England and Wales, and recently Belgium, nevertheless consider users of metal detectors more as research assistants than as a real risk to the archaeological heritage and encourage them to report their findings to the competent authorities. In addition, discoverers of exceptional objects can be rewarded financially. In France, where legislation requires administrative authorization to use a metal detector, declaratory systems are models for the detector user community who have dreamed of “active collaboration” between themselves and archaeologists. Some scientists, arguing that illegal detection is a reality that cannot be combated, nevertheless choose to record and study the discoveries of clandestine users of metal detectors, seeing in this the possibility of “saving what can be saved”. However, various examples from current events and the media show that, far from its original purpose, this practice provides a scientific validation for the detection of metals and a market value for the objects discovered, thus creating a demand for the looting of heritage sites.
In France, where restrictive legislation requires the obtaining of an administrative license to use a metal detector, the declarative systems are examples for the community of detector users, dreaming of "active collaboration" between them and archaeologists. Some scientists, arguing that illegal detection is a reality that can not be fought, respond to sirens making the distinction between "honest prospectors" and "looters". They make the choice to record and study the discoveries of clandestine users of metal detectors, thus seeing the possibility of "saving what can be". However, various examples from the news and various media show that, far from its original purpose, this practice offers a scientific guarantee to the detection of metals and a market value to the discovered objects, thus creating a demand fueling the looting of heritage.
Copyright (c) 2019 Thomas Lecroere
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