Detectorists Win National Archaeology Training Award

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In October 2016, Keith Westcott, a historian and metal detectorist, set out to prove his theory that a high-status villa was situated in the vicinity of a sarcophagus burial of Romano British woman, on the Broughton Castle Estate, near the town of Banbury in north Oxfordshire.

His theory was correct. Keith discovered one of Britain’s largest Roman villas – roughly four-fifths the size of Buckingham Palace.

The discovery had a knock-on effect: it kindled a desire in Keith to raise the profile of detectorists by developing a new educational program based on archaeological principles.

Metal detectorists who assist on archaeological sites are held in high esteem by the archaeology community – but the relationship has sometimes been uncomfortable in the past. A very small number of people, known as 'nighthawks', use metal detectors for criminal activity.  The metal detector has thus been underutilized as an archaeological tool.

An experienced practitioner, educated in archaeological methods, principles and including site awareness, can be of great value to the archaeologist. Keith believed that a course that aimed to widened detectorists’ knowledge of archaeological practice and context (the environment to be preserved) would be of great benefit to detectorists and archaeologists alike.

Metal Detecting for Archaeological Projects: An Introduction

On the 24th November 2018, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education and the Association of Detectorists Community Interest Company partnered to launch their first-ever course for metal detecting – ‘Metal Detecting for Archaeological Projects: An Introduction’ – with Keith Westcott acting as Course Director.

The day school was run as part of our ‘Courses and Workshops in the Historic Environment’. Sessions throughout the day addressed such topics as the ‘Code of Practice’ and ‘Treasure Act’, stratigraphy and the matrix, recording and context, trial trenching and evaluation, health and safety and certification schemes, and the need for standardised methodologies.

Dr Edward Harris MBE, world renowned Bermudia-based archaeologist and inventor of the ‘Harris Matrix’, wrote in support of the course: 'I commend the efforts of the Association of Detectorists and the University of Oxford to bring together archaeologists and metal detectorists with a course that includes vital discussions on the stratigraphic method in archaeology.'

National recognition

The course earned plaudits from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), which gave its first-ever endorsement to metal detecting as a subject – allowing the course to be taught throughout the UK, and issuing all attendees on the Oxford course with a personalised CIfA Continuing Professional Development Certificate.

And in April 2019, the course picked up a national award: the Archaeology Training Forum Award was presented to Keith Westcott  and The Association of Detectorists CIC at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists Annual Conference.

Toby Martin, Departmental Lecturer in Archaeology, said, ‘It’s a prestigious award – and the course was up against some stiff competition from much larger organisations, such as Historic England, which had won in previous years.’

The future

Ultimately, Keith’s hope is that metal detecting would be embedded into professional practice, and a UK ‘Bank’ of consultant-detectorists will be available assist on archaeological projects.  

'This is the first step in a more ambitious journey,' said Keith Westcott. 'The Association for Detectorists aims to develop a nationwide educational program based on archaeological and conservational principles. We want to give encouragement and training to detectorists whose motivations are based in the research and preservation our National Heritage. I am, personally, very grateful to the University of Oxford in giving us the opportunity and support to enable the first-ever course for detectorists.’ 

Commenting on the Department’s role in offering the seminal course, Dr Toby Martin said, ‘Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education was very happy indeed to offer this course as part of our academic programme, and proud to advocate for responsible metal detecting, as well as for the embedding of archaeological methods in metal detecting practice. We certainly look forward to planning future courses with the Association of Detectorists.’

Find out more information about our courses in Archaeology and the Historic Environment

Published 14 September 2019