H e n g e s Ra l l y
A personal insight into Detecting near Scheduled Monuments within a Rally.

David Connolly Archaeologist



“I was wrong, and have only one thing to say….”

I arrived in York on Friday morning and walked to the stop where the PAS officers David Evans and Simon Holmes would pick me up. They warned me early on that this was going to be a tough rally. The detectorists did not want an archie anywhere near them and I was advised t o tread carefully. So we arrived a the rally and I saw what they meant, cars and motor homes spread out in endless ranks, with sour faced men wandering between them, wielding detectors and shovels, some even had small picks. They ignored us as we set up the table with the crumpled recording sheets. Simon joked when I asked about why we only had 10 sheets, that we would be lucky to get that many finds. They pocket most of it, he smiled, trying to hide the realisation that the pas was nothing but an expensive sham. I asked if I could go out into the field and see what happened, they agreed, but told me to keep out of anything dodgy that I saw.

I walked up the lane to the central Henge, where a group of detectorists were already digging, I told them that it was scheduled and out of bounds, but they ignored me or shouted threats to try and get them ####ing off and anyway they were rescuing the finds. I got to the field next to the Henges, and looked I horror as hundreds of detectorists scoured the field, every few steps digging deep into the soil and tossing another artefact into their bags. I simply could not believe it as two axe heads swiftly appeared out the ground and just as quickly went into his pocket. I went up to stop him, but was surrounded by a group that started to jostle me and shout – so I make me retreat and look back at the scene, if there are 500 detectorists here, and they are working 10 hours a day, at this rate about an artefact every 5 minutes) then this means that over 180,000 artefacts will be pulled out of the ground before this ends… I hate to say it, but people were right about what happens there.. I was wrong, and have only one thing to say…. Absolute Horse Manure!


Now do you want to know what really happened, the truth, a dose of reality not 2nd hand, not glimpsed over a hedge, but actually there, talking, helping, and walking with people. I was able to talk to around 40 people, as well as watch the PAS in action.

So strap in and listen to the facts, which I know will not be accepted by some, which is a shame, as I do suggest that they actually experience things properly before condemning.

I turn up at 8:45 in York, and the memories are resurfacing as it was 24 years since I first arrived in York as a digger on my first commercial job. I stood near Micklegate Bar waiting for the silver van to whisk me off to Thornborough. I jumped in with David Evans at the wheel, along with Chris, an archaeologist and now studying a course in osteology at York University.

We picked up and Simon Holmes the other FLO for this area and a student. The feeling was upbeat, and I was prepared with what would be expected. Soon we arrived at the Vale of Pickering, and on to the Henges, a truly stunning landscape that gave no hint of the vast and stunning Henge monuments. No signs guided me to these sites… I felt I was lucky to be here, like so many monuments, the true potential is untapped. Soon the van pulled into the carpark and next to the main tent. Inside were stalls selling coins, some artefacts and in the main parts for detectors and clothes. There was a raffle stall, which was in aid of charity, as was most of the money collected from detectorists to be on the Rally. All around was a carnival atmosphere, with people meeting up, families, friends, experts and amateurs – very well organised, camping areas, toilet areas, generators and water all supplied.

positive talk, including something which was to become a recurring theme. He talked of how detectorists (almost exclusively) wanted to report what they find, want to tell people, and would never think of selling on E-Bay, all we want he said was recognition, respect and the chance to cooperate. Not much to ask, and given the antagonism, if we (as archaeologists) were to accept that as a valid request, then we would have an incredible, enthusiastic support, rather than alienating people as thieves or looters, who care little about the past –

I was of course worried about over collection of flint scatters, and had considered attempting to record them if found, however, the PAS and Norman had made it I TALKED TO OVER 40 DETECTORISTS OVER clear to everyone that it THE 2 DAYS, AND NOT ONE OF THEM  NOT was better not to collect ONE  CARED ABOUT MONEY, EACH AND flint, unless it was a really I asked what we should do at EVERY ONE HAD AN INTEREST IN THE PAST, AS obvious and recognisable this point as it was still early, DEEP AND AS VALID AS MINE ...... EXPLAINING tool and it would require a so Chris, Simon and I went DETAILS ABOUT NEOLITHIC MONUMENTS, good grid reference (8 fig or into the field, to meet people ABOUT CULTURE AND RELIGION  WE TOOK better). – Which is why a and get a handle on the area. THE TIME TO LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.. plough battered Langdale Our first stop was of course axe popped onto the table. the Central Henge, much Better in than out in my denuded but still a powerful opinion. place. Then onto the first field, around a kilometre from the Henges. – The boundaries People were finding not much in the northeast section, of the area were marked out with flags, to ensure no and along with Chris and Simon, we fieldwalked a bit, accidental straying into non agreement land. The field collecting (and recording with GPS) a flint blade, two had detectorists spread across it, and my first contact was roman rim sherds, a tiny piece of green glaze and my with Derek. We chatted about what could be found, why favourite find… a George IV halfpenny! I was there, the quarries, Tarmac, the PAS etc. all of it was In general the fields here seemed to be quite clean of metallic finds, at least to a depth of 8”-12” You have to remember that deep signals are quite rare, as the target has to be quite big to produce such a signal, a single coin for example would be hard pressed to be found past 10”, though ground conditions do play a part.

Micklegate Bar, York

PAS Recording
David and Simon were first in line, recording either artefact or coin, with extensive knowledge and a stack of books as backup, though in many cases, the detectorist themselves had a familiarity with the objects. While they described the artefact and gave important advice on conservation, recording and storage, the find was passed to other volunteers (from the Universities of York & Newcastle or the local Ripon Community Archaeology Project) who would measure, weigh, locate the findspot on a map and finally take photographs of the artefact that would ensure that the object was ready for entry onto the PAS database. The name and contact details of the finder were also taken, to ensure that in the eventuality that more information was needed they could be contacted. The whole process took 2-3 minutes and the object was then returned to the finder – as only Treasure would be retained. No mess, no fuss, quick, easy and thus – an accessible way to record finds. I have to say that I was impressed at this method, and I took part in all elements of the process – I was also taken by the attitude of detectorists who were glad to record, as the whole point, in their words, was to let others know and see what was found.

N o m e s s, n o f u s s, q u i c k & e a s y - a n a cce s s i b l e wa y t o r e co r d

We returned down the lane past the Henges again – badly eroded by ploughing and even nibbled by quarrying but even now, even in this raw state, they are impressive and worth monuments that deserve respect and cherishing for future generations… Each detectorist I spoke to was clear what they thought... the Henges should be preserved as they are and in the landscape!

The PAS finds table was ready for recording and everyone took their place, waiting for the rush, of course now it made sense that very very few finds would actually need recording.. not unless Levi jeans buttons and tractor bits suddenly become important! Much has been said about the number of artefacts recovered from ground, but it seems important to point out that every location is different and in general (or should I say in almost all cases) the objects that are found are parts of tractors, and items dating to the 19th and 20th centuries with rubbish or nightsoil being thrown on the fields. What I saw with my own eyes was a large collection of 19th and 20th century coins, the odd lead shot, shotgun cartridge bases, lead, watch keys, ring pulls, button, tractor parts, more lumps or lead, some more buttons and even more bottle tops (mainly budweiser!)

I had many interesting discussions with detectorists, who all treated me with politeness, gentle ribbing and respect, who would offer lifts to parts of the Rally or just say hello or offer a pint! - (my lack of detector kind of gave away who I was!) Many rounded on the concept of of respect, recognition and cooperation. Nobody could see why they were so shunned by archaeologists in general, which would not make sense if you yourself had done nothing to provoke these feelings. So it was useful to explain the ‘problems’ and concerns that ‘we’ the archaeological community had. All it takes is a bit of communication. That evening I stayed behind and pitched my tent. I then had an enjoyable meal in the local pub and returned to enjoyable conversation and enjoyable Black Sheep Ale! There was indeed much enjoyment.! I was happy to be in a place where the atmosphere was one of getting together, signing, drinking, chatting, drinking and swapping tall tales. I crawled off to my tent... happy and content and mulled over the day.

Ready for the next morning. and the most controversial where detecting would be close to the Henges. I top up on a misty morning with coffee and a bacon roll (I think!). I was interested in the density of ‘holes and signals dug.. where I counted around 10-15 per 50m square..

PAS still has to learn though
As the detectorists came in for lunch, it was my first time seeing the FLOs in action… it was poetry in motion, a fluid, systematic and well prepared methodology. Of course this is only one such region and I am aware that other regions are not as prepared for these events - one notable Rally where a FLO was invited by the organisers, only to be told at the last moment they were going off on a field survey instead. This did not give a good impression to the detectorists who had asked for the PAS to be involved and could be seen as a lesson to be learned. This aside, I think the PAS has learned over the past few years and as a young organisation with no real precedent it has had to learn the hard way, not by example, but by, in some cases, trial and error. To say the PAS was perfect would be as much a lie as saying that every detectorist was a saint or every archaeologist was good at excavation We do live in an imperfect world, and as such I feel that we have to live in it with eyes open but an open mind. I looked around here and was more than happy that everyone I spoke to was honest and open. There will always be those that think they can beat a system - trying to ‘launder’ finds at a respectable Rally, but for them it is harder - the FLOs are not stupid, and can spot a find that is ‘out of place’ and can also see whether a find is unusually clean, or perhaps has a different soil matrix than the local topsoil. Add to this the attitude of detectorists, who also do not like a respectable hobby being open to criticism by the actions of a few... and things are changing. Yes teh PAS have a lot to learn, but the FLOs I met are doing just that. Pragmatic, honest and caring about what they do... I would also go as far as to say they are respected by the detectorists, and this is evident in the number of finds brought in to them

But so do we all....
It can be easy to mark out the PAS as being ineffectual, or detectorists to be only interested in the get rich quick find. And we have to look hard at ourselves to ask, why we think that. It is possible to have only looked at the minority or looked only at the failures of the PAS, or even not looked at all. I find not difficulty in supporting the work of the PAS and also support the private venture by detectorists - the UKDFD online recording and database system. I have no difficulty in supporting archaeology and local heritage groups and detectorists or well organised club rallies. After being at this rally - and one in Bannockburn - I have no real fears - The only worry I do have, is the vestiges of mistrust that remain and threaten a massive potential of cross group support and activity that is surely the best way forward for us all. Once I felt the same - mistrusting and suspicious, then I decided to find out - now I know that like me, most people just have an interest in the past, If I can work with them, rather than against, the dividends are enormous!

N o s y s t e m ca n b e p e r fe c t, N o b r i d g e s a r e b u i l t w i t h o u t t r y i n g.

All detectorists were called into the main tent before setting off for the morning. The landowner and Norman made it crystal clear that this was a Rally that required everyone to act in a way that would not discredit the hobby. The boundaries and buffer for the Scheduled sites was displayed, explained and the need for care emphasised. I happened to be sitting in a corner, finishing off my bacon roll when all this happened, and was impressed that such a speech was made (but then I may have just been showing my bias again, by thinking that such explanations and care would not take place)

If we continue the way it seems we are moving - perhaps too quick for some and not quick enough for others - we have an opportunity to all benefit. Sites and artefacts can be rescued (only if they are recorded and located to a decent 8 or 10 figure locale) It was clear there are two sides to the argument, - one being the need to retain artefacts in context, while the other was the slow destruction of artefacts with farming processes. It is a question we must ask ourselves, is it better to hold tightly to an object that will be crushed and gone in a

The image above shows the area of the henges (the scheduled areas in orange and the areas I personally walked with detectorists shown in green. As you can see I was present at the most sensitive detecting sites and had visited them with Norman to discuss them the day before. I had said that I was not that confident about finds in these areas, because of the ritual nature of the Henges, the probable use pattern, etc... however, it did not mean that nothing actually happened or nothing would be found. It was in fact from tea northern fields that the bronze axe came. A real gem of a find, all recorded and available for anyone to study. (If grins could get bigger, I have yet to see one!) The thought of some of these more fragile artefacts lying so close to the surface and being ploughed and rolled twice a year makes me realise the truth behind the English Heritage report, Ripping Up the PAST. We have to be realistic though, and realise that we have to eat, we have to cultivate the land, we have to move on.

decade? or is it better to locate them and perhaps new sites? WE HAVE TO THINK FAST! Another interesting conundrum is the problem of detectorists finding new sites - and then being told to clear off... as you are not allowed to detect on sites - clearly a Catch 22... one solved by ‘rewarding’ the finder with the ability to continue to detect the disturbed topsoil of the site on the continued understanding of full recording supporting - rather than punishing. At the end I enjoyed myself, I often thought what would be the chances of getting 400 archaeologists and their friends together for a get-to-together and a field survey? Perhaps that’s where we are missing out, perhaps we have to have fun as well as be serious, perhaps we should remember that we don’t have the monopoly on the past. Will I take up detecting? I doubt it. Did I enjoy myself? Certainly! Will I go back? Most likely. Will I support more openess! YES! Nothing is perfect, but this was a real eye opener and has my vote.

The Results
I received these initial results from David Evans of the PAS and have been kindly permitted to reproduce them here. You will see the figures of recorded finds, by type, period and recorder. It is also interesting to note the number of ‘rejected’ finds that were brought to the table but did not meet the criteria (including my George IV Halfpenny!)
215 artefact records from Thornborough representing ca 240 objects (& another 35 records from elsewhere) 103 named finders who recorded (46 for the first time ever with PAS) - 13 anonymous records But the FLOs saw finds from at least 150-200 finders given that not every find that was reported was recorde. And some of those who didn’t record said they would do so with their home FLO, and over 100+ PAS recording leaflets were given out.), Many also asked for asked for advice on conservation, etc. Overall the PAS probably made contact with well over half the detectorists there and recorded finds from the majority of those who had found anything recordable (pre 1700 only, sorry David!). (I’m not bitter! _ Ed)

The finds broken down by period are
Mesolithic/Neolithic/Bronze Age Iron Age Roman Anglo-Saxon/Viking Medieval Post-medieval Uncertain 23 6 16 1 94 66 9

and by type

coins coin weight jetons tokens brooches buckles other dress fittings strap fittings tools (thimbles, parts of knives) seal matrices vessels weights whorls flints -

72 1 2 8 7 22 10 13 12 2 7 9 18 19

axes - (1 bronze, 1 Langdale 3 polished stone, and 1 Langdale fragment) miscellaneous uncertain 7 3

These are all a bit rough at the moment, some things may change either period (where’s the distinction between medieval and post-medieval for buckles) or type (eg dress and strap fittings) when we have time to examine individual records. However some things stand out already. Firstly there is very little Roman material compared with other rallies, and none of it came from the fields around the henges. There is also less post-medieval than might have been expected, very little 16th century. And the medieval coinage was earlier than might have been expected, lots of short cross pennies and few 15th century long cross pennies. Maybe connected with the abandonment of East Tanfield DMV? Also far more spindle whorls than usual, and weights which may also be connected with wool. Not sure if this is significant yet though, and may relate to a settlement other than the DMV. Finally more prehistoric material than normal, presumably because of the henges. Though low density When we’ve done more we’ll be able to pass it all on to those interested - N Yorks County Council, Jan Harding at Newcastle Uni, Mike Grifftiths Associates (Tarmac’s archaeologists) Stephen Moorhouse (a landscape historian who’s worked on Thornborough) etc. Final Thanks : BAJR would like to thank all those who invited, allowed to assist, work with, chatted, discussed, and generally made this a memorable time. To Norman, Simon, David and too many others to mention, and special thanks to Christopher Bourne-Arton.

British Archaeological Jobs Resource, Traprain House, Luggate Burn, East Lothian, EH41 4QA


H e n g e s Ra l l y

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