PREVIOUS   NEXT   CONTENTS   HOME 

4.2 UMDs as seen by themselves

The law and the position of the administration are currently explicit. Prospection with metal detectors is not authorised, with services dedicated to archaeology going even further by forbidding any form of prospection without official authorisation, and therefore any unsupervised prospection. Do UMDs have the same perception? If not, what could the reasons be for this? How do they see themselves?

Although there are associations and even federations of UMDs, such as the Association Méditerranéenne des Prospecteurs, Association Nationale pour la Détection de Loisir, ARBF Aide à la Recherche de Biens Familiaux, Fédération Nationale des Utilisateurs de Détecteurs de Métaux (FNUDEM), Fédération Européenne des Prospecteurs, etc., it appears that it is a solitary practice. The range of attitudes is wide, as in any community but two attitudes in particular with unwelcome consequences for good relations between UMDs and professionals are apparent from the dedicated forums and internet sites: ignorance and victimisation.

The forum of the site La Détection, one among many others, has an area dedicated to identifying 'unintentional discoveries', as described by some forum users with a sense of humour. From all the threads, the case in point is 'no. 46074R0—Bronze Hairpin', started by Théodoric on 10 December 2006. The discussion is friendly and knowledgeable. Participants do not hesitate to refer to publications and museums in their region to make identifications. Are they aware that they are contributing to the destruction of information? Nothing is less sure. What is more, it can be legitimately supposed that the person who made the discovery would not really have been listened to if the discovery had been taken to the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles (DRAC). What is of interest here is that this exchange is not without similarities to those of scholars and researchers up until the middle of the 20th century. This example brings back the necessity for raising awareness about what archaeology is and the damage that illegal collection of material without leaving an information trail can represent. DRAC or DAC comes under the authority of regional prefects or prefects of departments, and is a decentralised service of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, whose job is to implement at a regional level the priorities set by the Ministry of Culture and Communication for scientific and technical culture, museums, archives and heritage amongst others. They also offer expertise and act in an advisory capacity to the local authorities and the various local cultural partners.

It has to be remembered that UMDs are, above all, members of the wider public, some of whom have never read a scientific article, met a researcher or taken part in an excavation. I have observed the results during my activities as scientific mediator, both with primary school children, high-school students and adults. The facts are that on the one hand a large majority of children confuse palaeontology and archaeology, which proves also to be the case for many adults, and, on the other hand, archaeology is reduced to excavations, and therefore to the discovery of large areas. It is thus normal and logical that UMDs share this view, which they narrow still further by focusing their definition of archaeology on already identified sites.

This is how the Association Nationale pour la Détection de Loisir published a text to allow UMDs to identify an archaeological site from a non-archaeological artefact (ANDL n.d.). In this particular case, recognition should be given to the association's praiseworthy efforts, by mentioning not only metals but also other materials (ceramic fragments, broken tiles, pieces of glass, bone fragments, etc.) in a desire to be 'civic-minded and respectful' so that the 'honesty [of UMDs be] recognised'. Ignorance of the scientific issues of archaeological research is apparent in the document's conclusion: 'You can very well find a lost purse full of Roman coins in a zone of a few square metres, but if in the surroundings you notice ceramic fragments, you should immediately have doubts'. A Roman purse discovered by itself in situ is not considered as scientific evidence because it is isolated, which leads to an image of an archaeological site considered as a structure or a vast space. It can clearly be noted from this text that the association is mistaken about what a piece of archaeological evidence really is. In the association's defence, it can be admitted that the professionals themselves only started defining what archaeological evidence is during the last decade or so, and some still consider only evidence coming from an excavation as being archaeological, thus forgetting that built examples have been seen, both industrial and older. The 'Open letter to archaeologists in France', by Fédération Nationale des Utilisateurs de Détecteurs De Métaux (FNUDEM), also deserves acknowledgement. In this case, this federation has the merit of attempting to rally professionals towards an arrangement allowing UMDs to practice their hobby and scientists to accumulate data. In acknowledging the archaeologists who are in contact with them, it would seem that an alliance is already taking place.

However, UMDs are not always so quick to engage in dialogue. Although cases involving individuals are rare, examples of associations are unfortunately less so, andand enter into the scope of victimisation. For example, a forum user with the pseudonym Choubi wrote on the forum Archéologie of the Futura Sciences site: 'Hello everyone, while surfing the net I came across several detection sites with just fibulae, coins, and other archeo artifacts. I tried to explain to them the legislation about surveying (with or without detector) but for them if they have the landowner's permission and it's an unlisted site, they can do what they want! So with this lack of understanding what can we do to stop this situation? (I contacted a seller of these little machines who told me he was out of stock he sold so many) I have the impression that if we don't act, they will end up sacking everything.' Although it may be thought that this discourse is exaggerated, it would not be surprising if some refuse to recognise the evolution in legislation and research.

The reply by the Fédération Européenne des Prospecteurs (FEP) to the CNRA's report is an example. The reply by Pascal Gervoise (n.d.) shows a population which is deeply entrenched in its attitudes. Indeed, as has been seen, although the report stigmatises illegal prospection (while recognising the contribution of voluntary archaeology), the FEP's reply attacks the report which 'is very careful not to make the slightest allusion to scientific advances or to positive results due to surface prospection, however undeniable: anything which does not arise from a certain official archaeology would be part of "grey archaeology" without interest and even without scientific existence' (Gervoise n.d., 2). In addition, as the report explicitly mentions, associations and federations of UMDs are trying to present their activity as a leisure pursuit 'like hiking, fishing, mountain biking, walking or mushroom picking' (see Détect+), by insisting on recognition in the preliminary deliberations for the Heritage Code law of December 1989. Other than the FEP, the site Détect+ also mentions the remarks of an elected deputy and a Service Régional de l'Archéologie (SRA) in support of this assertion of leisure activity, which displays a lack of knowledge of the law at the date of the post, and an error in its interpretation. However, these preliminary deliberations are not yet official texts. This way of approaching the subject shows more of a desire to influence the development of research to the advantage of UMDs than facilitating dialogue with professionals by accepting a move towards practising within a framework, revealing a mindset which authorities will have to take into consideration.

In addition to individuals, associations and federations, the economic issues related to this activity should not be forgotten, nor consequently the involvement of companies selling the devices and other related products, whose magazines have flourished over the last fifteen years. If, as the CNRA's experts highlight, there is a metal detecting lobby, care would need to be taken not to get the wrong target. Any discovery made in undisturbed soil is archaeological evidence with contextual value. Similarly, any discovery made in recently disturbed ground (works, terracing, etc.) is scientific information for the potential location of an archaeological site. Quite rightly considering that there is no such thing as leisure detection from a scientific point of view, the CNRA's experts criticise UMDs' position, notably by underlining that their dialogue 'is now moving towards a desire to establish themselves as archaeology's providential assistants, to allow research to benefit from their, albeit illegal, discoveries' (CNRA 2011, 2). This is effectively what was discovered at the meeting of 8 December 2010 between the FNUDEM and the Amicale Auboise de Prospection (Prospection Association of the Aube Department) and authorities from the Archaeology Division of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. However, it should not be forgotten that the use of metal detectors has been demonised for a long time by the scientific community, to such a degree that it was frowned upon even to use a metal detector officially on site. In fact, the conditions for their use have not been subject to methodological research such as for excavations. Proposals to intervene as archaeology assistants could be a part of the solution. Even HAPPAH today underlines the advantages of metal detectors for helping with survey, excavation planning and in collecting objects from the spoil heap (HAPPAH n.d. b).


 PREVIOUS   NEXT   CONTENTS   HOME 

Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

University of York legal statements

File last updated: Tue Mar 5 2013