Q&A with Adrian Green - Museums Association

Q&A with Adrian Green

How the Salisbury Museum has built a strong relationship with metal detectorists
The Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire is launching a display this week in its new £2.4m Wessex Gallery dedicated to local metal detecting finds. It’s a hobby that is often viewed with some reservation by archaeologists and curators, but Adrian Green, the director of Salisbury Museum, says the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has helped to change that perception, and the exhibition is intended to celebrate the good relationship the museum has built up with local metal detectorists.

Why did you decide to make metal detecting finds the subject of a display at the museum?

Metal detecting has made a major contribution to our understanding of the archaeology of the region and has resulted in some of the greatest archaeological finds we have in our collection.

Our good relationship with detectorists has been significantly helped by the PAS and we feel this is something worth celebrating - hence the idea for a small exhibition. The highlight object for me has to be a 3,000-year-old late bronze age sword from Winterbourne Stoke which was found broken in two pieces.

There has been some tension in the past between professional archaeology and amateur metal detecting. Has the PAS succeeded in changing that relationship?

The tension has partly come from the fact that there are an incredibly small number of people who are not responsible detectorists - and then an assumption has been made that all detectorists are the same, which is simply not true.

The PAS has shown that the majority of people, in all professions and hobbies, are responsible people who do not trespass or detect on scheduled ancient monuments, do not dig through intact archaeological layers and are willing to share the information they have found. 

New finds are being added to the PAS database every day, showing that there is widespread support for the scheme. The Frome Hoard and the Staffordshire Hoard are exceptional examples of what is a very successful initiative.

How important is metal detecting to archaeology in general?

I would say it is very important. Most metal detectorists are interested in artefacts and archaeology. The search for fresh sites and new discoveries can often lead them to look on land that has never been researched by professional archaeologists.

This can reveal the locations of new sites, which in turn helps to inform archaeological research in universities and museums, as well as the planning process. This information doesn't necessarily mean that detecting has to stop or the site becomes an archaeological dig. I should also add that metal detectors (and detectorists) are routinely brought onto archaeological digs to help locate finds.

In what ways has the museum been working with metal detectorists, and what advantages does this kind of collaboration bring?

The Salisbury Museum mainly works with detectorists through the PAS - the finds liaison officer for Wiltshire is based at the museum. Objects are sometimes donated by finders, but we also acquire objects via the Treasure Act. The most notable finds recently have been two late bronze age hoards from west Wiltshire, the Wardour Hoard and the Hindon Hoard.

Both have gone on display in our new Wessex Gallery, where there is a wealth of finds made by detectorists, ranging from the 9th-century Warminster Jewel to the bronze age Monkton Deverill gold torc. The new gallery is a good example of the benefits of a good working relationship with detectorists.

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