Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Britain's "Missing" Bronze Age Portable Antiquities

Metal detectorist Candice Jarman declares:
Oh dear, Mr Barford is up to his silliness again. [...] Here Mr Barford looks on eBay to see what British Bronze Age antiquities are for sale - he finds 22 listed! Well, by the way the silly 'Heritage Action counter'/'Artefact Erosion counter' that he and his cronies set up had been clocking up dugups, I would have thought you might expect to find at least a couple of hundred listed!
It is not clear why detectorist "Candice Jarman" thinks that should be. The Portable Antiquities database of objects found by members of the public in general today has 421203 records in it, but only 4215 (one in a hundred) refer to Bronze Age items. The UKDFD, a database dedicated as its name implies to artefacts largely found by metal detecting artefact hunters, today has 25679 objects showcased, and only 145 (one in 175) of them are Bronze Age. This suggests the sort of ratios of the finding by metal detector using artefact hunters of Bronze Age metalwork to the metalwork of other periods. It may also be a pointer to how the methods used by detectorists to find "productive" sites do not find those rich in Bronze Age metalwork as frequently as those of other periods, thus if we rely on these data, skewing our understanding of the landscape.

This ratio presumably is an accurate reflection of the proportions of finds of different periods actually made by metal detecting artefact hunters. we may also assume that many UK metal detectorists are adding many of Bronze Age items they find to their own collections. Only some of them will be selling them in the UK (and it should be remembered that I was just looking at those sold through UK dealers). A figure of 22 items offered for sale in a week is therefore on those grounds by no means incompatible with the figures of Heritage Action. See also here for a discussion of the HA figures. I really do not think that Candice has produced any evidence against the general applicability of the Heritage Action model. Neither in fact has any other of the opponents to accepting it as a true indication of the likely quantities of information lost year in year out to this erosive hobby.

[Whose approach is here "flawed"? Those who point out that there are serious problems implicated in current British approaches to artefact collecting and attempts to explain why, or those who glibly assert there is no problem really, that questioning these policies and the nature of its effects is mere "silliness"?]
Vignette: Dave Chapman's Bronze Age Foundry (Why can't people collect these to "learn about the past" from them? Why does it have to be a dugup?)

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