I would be the last person to claim that the discussion of artefact hunting and collecting in the UK is simple. The issues involved are certainly much more complex than they will appear from the outside (especially from a coin cabinet the other side of the Atlantic). The author of the 2008 PAS Review has therefore our sympathies because it seems she was under-resourced to conduct this key policy document. She writes
Because of the short timescale, much of this review was done on the basis of information in websites, magazines and other publications, and I am sorry that it was not possible to speak to a wider range of people or to visit more groups.
She forgot to mention that (perhaps under the influence of the campaign being conducted by antiquity collectors) the websites and magazines she consulted were chiefly those of “metal detectorists”. Much of her deliberations over the options available for the future organization of the PAS seems to have been done on the basis of talking to PAS staff and metal detectorists and their supporters. In her acknowledgements she cites “Kurt Adams, Roger Bland and his staff, Gail Boyle, Harry Bain, Steve Critchley, Paul Gilman, Suzie Thomas and Pete Twinn.” This is an interesting collection of names, in part it’s a somewhat incestuous selection. Kurt Adams is her local PAS Finds Liaison Officer, he is based in Bristol City Museum (Bristol is 28 km from Wotton-Under-Edge), where Gail Boyle works as Curator of Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology Peter Twinn is a metal detectorist from the Bristol region and one of the organizers of the campaign to keep a “detector-friendly” PAS. Steve Critchley is the chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, Harry Bain is the editor and publisher of “the Searcher” metal detecting magazine. The bibliography of just 15 references hardly give the impression that the author has cast her net widely in weighing up the various options for a sustainable PAS.
The passage quoted above is more or less the only statement of the methodology used to gather information on which the review is based. The 1995 CBA report “metal detecting in England” was produced in a similar timespan, but a comparison with the rather fuller presentation on the sources used, its acknowledgements and list of references shows what can be achieved, given the resources. Two questions remain, why was this review under-resourced (and how much actually did it cost?) and why did Kate Clark Associates take it on, knowing that?
The 2008 Review takes a very narrow view of what the PAS does. For Kate Clark, it’s apparently all about a “partnership” with “metal detecting”. This is perhaps a reflection of the atmosphere engendered by the anti-MLA campaign launched by UK “metal detectorists” in the months preceding the review. A count of words with the root “detect-” reveals that in the 44 pages, it appears 180 times, while the word “finder” appears 78. If however the latter are examined in context, it can be seen that in the majority of cases the writer is using the term to refer primarily to those who find archaeological collectables with metal detectors. The word “accidental” (as in accidental finds) does not appear, and the word “chance” (as in the "chance find" of the Valetta Convention) only refers (once) to the chance of finding treasure – with a metal detector. A number of people who have reported something to or otherwise helped the Scheme or archaeologists are mentioned by name at various points in the text. I counted sixteen. Every single one of them is a metal detectorist; not a single non-collecting member of the public is mentioned as having contributed anything at all significant in this review. That is despite the fact that they comprise almost a third of the people reporting finds to the Scheme in the past few years.
The PAS was formed partly to mitigate damage to the archaeological resource caused by “metal detecting” as if that was some kind of substitute for preventing it. The New PAS however is to reflect a “partnership” and “balances the views and interests of finders” and “training finders (sic) to help record the finds” (which are for the most part the products of artefact hunting). One of the new aims is to include “creating a positive role for detectorists”. By this means they move from coping with and mitigating the damage to servicing those who cause it and thereby conferring specific approval on them. This is further emphasized by promoting the record of the products of artefact hunting as some kind of a valuable resource, more valuable than encouraging the preservation of the archaeological record itself, by which the NuPAS becomes an operation that puts Britain even further at odds with world opinion. The notion of "balancing the views and interests of finders" telegraphs the fact that it is primarily “metal detectorists” that the New PAS will be servicing. What "views and interests" do individual normal accidental finders have? None.
The whole of nine million pounds worth of a decade of operation of the PAS is summarized in just five pages (Chapter one pp. 9-14). The next five pages of the review are devoted to a rather simplistic and somewhat rosy-spectacled presentation of “metal detecting” (Chapter two, pp. 14-18). There is no equivalent chapter on the reporting or outreach to the accidental (chance) finders of archaeological finds who are currently NOT collectors of portable antiquities. This is despite the fact that in terms of sheer numbers, outreach to them should be a priority of the PAS, both old and new. Why is this whole sector of “finders” and potential finders treated so dismissively in this review? There are over 54 million people in the British Isles who not only have never held a metal detector and made personal collections of artefacts removed from archaeological assemblages , but are unlikely to ever want to. Yet all of them are the target of PAS outreach, all of them are encouraged to keep their eyes open for any potential archaeological finds and know where to report them. Kate Clark’s review and proposed NuPAS leaves this outreach totally out of the picture, but devotes most of the text to a study of how the New PAS can best, as it were, “serve” in some kind of “partnership” the eight to ten thousand exploitive individuals that collect artefacts. This totally changes the emphasis of the Scheme. Instead of being central to a resource management based archaeological approach, the NuPAS seems set to become a marginalized aberration, an appendage of artefact collections.