The Female Archaeologist ‘Bites her Tongue’

20th August 2016 — 39 Comments

the-guardian-oIn my younger days I used to read The Guardian newspaper, fondly known as The Grauniad, because of its propensity for making spelling mistakes. Another thing that attracted me was the clever headlines, usually of the punning or alliterative variety, which I tried to emulate in my own scribblings, and still do. They were usually wittier than those beloved by the tabloids. Now you know who to blame!

Then I grew up. An eminent person – I forget who – stated that ‘all the stroppy people read the Guardian.’ I didn’t see myself this way at all, but WAS becoming tired of reading about one-parent families, third world countries and homosexuality. So I stopped buying and moved to another so-called ‘quality’ newspaper. Don’t ask. Furthermore, being more of a fish and chip man, I wasn’t partial to antipasti, aubergine parmigiana, braised endive and, if truth were known, I didn’t really know what those dishes were anyway!

So, what’s this all about and why am I treating you to a potted life history? Apart from buying the occasional copy of the Sunday Times, most of which I don’t read and the rest I throw away, I now get most of my news online. You don’t end up with inky fingers that way and you don’t dirty the duvet!


‘Archaeology is hard work. You need patience to cope with red tape, dedication to painstakingly record finds at digs – and a touch of eccentricity always helps. A penchant for Indiana Jones hats and other strange headwear will help you to fit in well.’ Illustration: courtesy Michael Driver 

The Guardian is currently asking readers for ‘candid’ stories of what work is really like, and asking doctors, cleaners, teachers, etcetera to write about the job they do. You don’t have to give your name. They want to know exactly what the role involves and are willing to pay £100 for ‘your troubles’.

A female archaeologist has answered the call and states that she never joined the profession as, “a result of a long-held romantic notion of making great discoveries and solving mysteries.” She never had those expectations and talks candidly about her job in an illuminating article entitled, ‘The Secret Life of an Archaeologist: Soil in your Sandwiches and Sexism on Sites.’  There is a section where she talks about metal detectorists:

… metal detectorists can be the stuff of nightmares when on a dig. Those acting as treasure hunters, operating without a licence, digging under the cover of night, are not likely to be keeping detailed records. Once an object is removed from a site, it loses its context and its informative value is decreased to almost nil, depending on the artefact. When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks and you have to bite your tongue.

After reading that I begin to realise that all the work done by some archaeologists and detectorists to foster better relations is falling on stony ground. I wonder how enlightened archaeologists like Stephen Young (who told in a recent Searcher article how the work and cooperation of detectorists is so important) would feel when reading this nonsense. It saddens me to see that all his work, and others, is being undermined by such ill-judged comments. See The Searcher, April 2016, Dave Does it Again.



A detectorist helps out on an archaeological dig. © PAS

Surely, if detectorists are on an archeological dig, they have been invited for a reason. Rather than ‘the stuff of nightmares’, they are valued for what their expertise can provide and what their machine can discover. I can confidently say that a detectorist of many years experience is capable of bringing more to the party than a young and inexperienced archeologist fresh out of university.

Miss Anonymous mentions the ‘tool of the job’ like spades, shovels, wheelbarrows and mattocks. Pity she hasn’t yet discovered one of the most invaluable tools in her arsenal – the detectorist. The beauty is that there is no initial outlay, and the expert in charge of the machine is completely self-propelling. So less chance of suffering from those ongoing physical issues she talks about. Wise up! Start using strategies to help make your job easier.

Then she talks about ‘those acting as treasure hunters, operating without a licence’, showing very clearly that she has been indoctrinated at college or university and cannot tell the difference between thieves and responsible metal detectorists who have been in invited on a dig. It’s all very confusing.

This Blogpost is based on an article first published in The Searcher metal detecting magazine


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39 responses to The Female Archaeologist ‘Bites her Tongue’

  1. …. Operating without WHAT licence! OMG – I’m a bad guy – I don’t have a licence either!!


  2. Bruce D Campbell 20th August 2016 at 12:24 AM

    John, I read the full blog and am wondering if I missed where she retracted her statement?
    Or am I interpreting the title incorrectly?

    • Yes, you’ve not understood what she said. She hasn’t retracted her statement. i’ve also quoted her in the blog: “When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks and you have to bite your tongue.”

  3. Is this gal from Poland?

  4. I have a drivers license, a couple of fishing licenses and a marriage license. Hope I don’t need any more.

  5. Interesting read John, as we just had a discussion about this very topic on our forum. (Official Canadian Metal Detecting Forum). It really is a shame that archaeologists and metal detectorists can’t work together. The benefits of a partnership would be great for both sides. But alas, we have those archaeologists who are pompous idiots that think they know everything there is to know about history and own all the sites, and we have those immoral metal detectorists who break the rules, invade legitimate archaeological sites and do it primarily for money.
    It seems to me this particular archaeologist, assuming she truly is one, can’t be doing very well if she has to write in a paper about her work for 100 pounds.

    • Surely the problem is exactly as John Winter writes, all that ‘outreach’ from those well-meaning archaeologists is TRULY wasted if veteran PAS-partners like John do not see immediately what the problem is in the phrase “When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks and you have to bite your tongue”.

      First of all, note “uninvited” – the people she’s talking about here are not working on the site with archaeologists, they are walking onto the site to spend the time of day with archaeologists. But the problem is what reads as a “bag of loose finds” – so, divorced from context and associations without individual bagging and labelling with findspots. After all that PAS outreach, they still turn up with a bag of finds. This is the problem.

      Twenty years (next month) of that outreach has not produced the result that above this comment are not 11 people expressing annoyance that a metal detectorist is ripping stuff out of the ground and curating it like that and bringing the hobby into disrepute just as much as the nighthawks mentioned in the previous part of the extracted fragment. .

      • Please consider your audience, Paul. Remember that we are all ‘oiks’ and ‘thugwits’, and compose your comments so that we can understand.

        I’ll book you in to Stoke Mandeville Hospital so they can lance that PAS complex you seem to have. Please advise … as I’m sure you will! 🙂

      • Mr Barford you should be well aversed with the statement ” walking onto site uninvited”
        You seem to get everywhere I know of at least one forum you have been quoting from in the past, where you were not invited touting your loose bag of finds !!

        • Mr. Barford has now left the building. 🙂

          I allowed his comment in the interests of fairness and balance but, true to form, he has abused me and all the subscribers who have commented … and is guaranteed to deny the fact. He said: (the comments on the blog) … “demonstrate what a group of unreflexive, empty-headed fluffbrains UK metal detectorists really are.” cheerio!

          Where’s Wally? 🙂

  6. It wouldn’t hurt to add the link to the very recent story about the detectorist helping with a news story on illegal treasure hunters and they found another stash of viking spoils while filming.

  7. perhaps it’s a wind-up from the Guardian. I used to buy the Telegraph for years just for the crossword, never read the paper properly so maybe no one will read this piffle either.

  8. Hi John – this article struck a chord with me. I worked in Archaeology for some time and a particular excavation that I was leading unfortunately was “raided” one evening by some very irresponsible people with metal detectors. They destroyed a lot of great work which, at that particularly point, was still at the survey and planning stage. It took me a long time to trust anyone with a metal detector after this. I am however very pleased to say that this has changed owing to the hard work and perseverance of a very responsible detectorist who helped restore my faith.
    I know there is a battle with some archaeologists to appreciate the positive contribution detectorists can offer and I suspect for some this will never change however the majority recognise this positive contribution.
    Perhaps a response to the Guardian inviting this anonymous writer on a metal detecting dig might encourage her to move over to the “dark side” and have a little more faith.

  9. Stupid women …things are going forward with folk working together …maybe to help her from biting her tongue we can shove a shovel between it!

  10. How many times does someone “walk on site with a bag of artefacts “?

    • First time I’ve heard of it too, John … perhaps she’s using some of the techniques learned in the ‘imaginative writing’ module of the arkie course. And where does this ‘licence’ come from? Does she mean ‘permission’? Her paragraph on detectorists just doesn’t ring true.

  11. Such a closed mind for someone so young. Let’s hope that she will require the services of a detectorist soon and she will realize the value that they can add to the project. Right now she is nothing more than a talking head for someone of authority within her work environment.

  12. Morning all.

    She is just another ship passing in the night

    “If to your Starboard Red appear it is your duty to stay clear.”

    Coffee time already.Jerry.

  13. Are nighthawks the only perpetrators of archaeological pilfering.
    My sister and brother inlaw on one particular day were the only two detectorists helping on a very famous Roman Fort archaeological excavation and my brother inlaw found an extremely rare Silver Denarius out of the spoil heap and and after it had been identified was placed in a finds tray in a locked cabin which my sister nor my brother inlaw had keys to and guess what this Denarius mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again and there was never any inquiry to its whereabouts.
    On another occasion when myself and my wife and a few friends were out one Saturday night in our city, I got into a conversation with a half cut barman in our city pub he had a southern accent so I asked him where he originated from and he told me and also said that he was an archaeologist but as the wages were so poor he had to work as a part time barman, and to cut a long story short as the night wore on he was drinking more freeby ale but he was also freely speaking about his archaeological work on a Saxon dig at the Isle Of Whithorn in Scotland and not being prompted he told me how he ekes out his paltry wage by shoving down his wellingtons some of the finds which he said was mostly Saxon Stycas and they would not have been missed as they were finding hundreds of them.
    I wonder how The Guardians Miss Anonymous Archaeologist would feel like if she was to read about the antics of some of her clan, the bad lads are not all on one side.

  14. It saddens me also to see such drivel. We all know it goes on but only a small percentage partake. If they were nighthawking I doubt very much they would register finds with pas.
    The NRH proudly raised money to help keep a local hoard in a local museum, all done through working together with PAS. How come such good work doesn’t get a mention in the rags ? She obviously thinks it’s only archaeologists who are allowed to be frustrated. It boils my p***

    • I mention ‘good works’ at every opportunity … and have written many stories about detectorists and their favourable working relationships with archaeologists. Perhaps you are talking about newspapers and not the hobby publications? Up to you to be pro-active. Tell them.

  15. Anecdotal accounts of archaeologists taking items off sites to sell surface from time to time and i am sure that some of them are true. However without prosecutions such comments carry little weight.
    I recall that at least one archaeologist was prosecuted a year or two back for stealing items form excavations. This may be the tip of the iceberg ,but i suspect that to avoid such unpleasant details getting into the public domian those caught are given the chance to resign and be given a good reference to be able to get employment elsewhere.

  16. A comparison for thought..

    1. Shoppers and shoplifters
    2. Metal detectorists and night hawkers

    So if all metal detectorists are working under the cover of night then surely it would be fair to say all shoppers are shoplifters????

    I would expect someone as intelligent as an archaeologist to be more open minded and realise that it’s never quite as simple as just tarring EVERYONE with the same brush.

    Or maybe I could do the same and say all archeologists are grave robbers?? But I wouldn’t be so shallow.

  17. As has been pointed out John; I too wondered about the ‘bag of artefacts’ comment. A closed mind is a terrible thing.. an that comment reinforces that statement

    Hope that you and the missus are doing well


  18. John,

    How many hoards have been found by metal detectorists on land that “had” (sic) No interest by Archis?
    In every trade and profession there are crooks.
    Even Archis. Yet Ball-ford says all detectorists are this way.
    Why does Mr Barf-ford have to tar everyone with the same brush?

    If he would like to come out from hiding in Poland and pop over to the uk I invite him to spend a couple of days with me to show him the work the honest lot put in.

    He won’t do that though because he has something against the PAS and now detectorists. I think it’s due to him not getting the Job with the PAS as chief tea boy and he’s took it to heart.

    Paul. Lighten up and broaden your vision on the hobby. If people dig deep enough they will find dirt on any profession…. Just remember that

  19. What’s that all about Stephen …. I don’t understand.

  20. I think you are wasting your time Stephen. It is better to ignore him as most of the world does archaeological or otherwise.

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