Wednesday, 29 December 2010

PAS has Set Targets?

In his reply to David Gill's paper, Trevor Austin of the National Council of Metal Detectorists asserts that there is a reason why more finds are not being reported by the PAS, despite the high values of the "guestimate[s] of yearly detector finds promoted by some protagonists". Apparently the total number of such finds would in any case "be impossible for the PAS to ever record" as mitigation for the information loss. According to Austin, "to blame detectorists for under recording is totally without foundation as the resources of the PAS are simply too few: accordingly at this funding level it can only ever achieve a token figure". Austin seems to lose sight of the fact that to carry on causing erosion of the archaeological record knowing that there is no possibility of mitigating that damage by recording is hardly what one would term "best practice" or responsible behaviour. Austin says however that information loss is not the fault of the metal detectorist, but the fault of the PAS, or rather the MLA, for according to Austin,
Under its current funding masters, the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, the PAS has a set target of 55,000 items recorded per year.
I am not clear whether he means "artefacts" or "records". Let us assume he means the latter (recording the findspot details of a bag of twenty Roman sherds, or a pot of Roman coins on the database takes little longer than the handling time required to do the same for a single find). What that figure represents is 25 objects recorded a week (five a day then) by each FLO [not counting attendance at rallies] and each one costing the taxpayer 23 quid.

The latest of a series of figures for annual recording numbers to emerge from the PAS reveals an interesting contrast to what Austin asserts:

Records Finds recorded Year of recording
3476 4588 1998
6128 8201 1999
11323 18106 2000
11481 16368 2001
8164 11996 2002
14657 21684 2003
26383 39000 2004
33919 52202 2005
37502 58311 2006
49308 79052 2007
37455 56449 2008
39981 66481 2009
112893 190091 2010

Basically there is not a lot of evidence from this that the PAS has been reaching that alleged upper limit of the annual number of records, only in 2010 is there more than Austin's figure of 55000 records coming onto the PAS database (this was achieved by incorporating a pre-existing database compiled by somebody else). Even if we take Austin's words literally and look at the number of individual objects represented by those records, we see that only from 2006 onwards the alleged upper limit set by the paymasters of the PAS has been exceeded, in 2007 and 2010 quite considerably. In the years before 2006 however the alleged upper limit set by the MLA paymasters cannot explain the smaller numbers of both records and finds entering the PAS database from the collecting activities of 10 000 metal detectorists over a period of thirteen years.

If the PAS was receiving enough artefacts to keep it working to a 55000 objects/year capacity, it would have reached its 400 000th record within seven and a half years and not thirteen.

This is just another of those self-justificatory deceits put out by collectors isn't it? It's yet another attempt to shift the blame from the artefact collector (portrayed as a victim here) to the archaeological establishment. We've seen this so many times before with the ACCG, British metal detectorists are no better. Austin's texts like the detecting forums are full of this "it's not are fault" nonsense. I suggest if collectors (and that goes for metal detectorists as well) want to be seen as responsible, they should take responsibility for the way they conduct their hobby and take responsibility for the effects of what they do, and not constantly attempt to show that it is the 'other side' that is responsible for what can only be seen as their failures.

Nobody MAKES them go metal detecting. What is asked of them though is that they do so in a manner which is sustainable and as non-damaging as possible, and where even minimal erosion of the archaeological resource is mitigated by proper and detailed recording. The reason why the PAS is not getting more records in its database is that (though it busts a gut to get them), the truth is not all detectorists are showing all their finds. But then the "number of objects in the database" is not the most important characteristic of PAS outreach. Austin's text shows clearly just how much of a failure those other aspects have been and are likely to ever be too.

I bet neither Trevor Austin nor any of the metal detectorists he represents (so that's ten thousand of you) can post up here in the comments a single reference to a document in the public domain which confirms the existence of an official '55 000 objects a year' fixed limit to PAS annual activity set by the MLA, beyond which the PAS is not permitted to extend.

1 comment:

heritageaction said...

My goodness.

As you imply, it's almost certainly baloney. Even if it wasn't it would beggar belief that a metal detectorist was made privy to the existence of a cap on recording when nobody else had been told.

It does serve to illustrate what a muddle the NCMD is in though. Does it support the Code of Responsible Detecting or not? (A hard question since it also still has it's own, entirely different Code!)

The reason I ask is this. The advice in the official Code is that if the farmer says you can't report what you find you mustn't detect. So it would follow, would it not, that if a responsible/ethical/history-loving detectorist is told - by PAS - that he can't report what he finds because they're up to their 55,000 capacity.... then he shouldn't detect? Or have I missed something?

I suspect not. Let PAS apply a 55,000 cap by all means, and let detectorists demonstrate to the lawmakers what an ethical, responsible, history-loving lot they all are. I trust Mr Austin would be first in the queue to "not take one (or indeed many) for Britain" ?!

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