Well, it had to happen didn't it? The Museums Journal is reporting that the PAS is announcing that "archaeological finds are up by 36%". That's a laugh isn't it? The overall number of archaeological finds made by archaeologists, members of the public and metal-detector armed artefact hunters is of course much the same as it was the previous year or so, what the author of this article means is that the PAS have bumped-up the numbers of objects in their database by a fair percentage. That is not at all the same thing. What is important is the number of the things being found which contribute information to public knowledge, which however you measure it, it a very small proportion of the finds coming out of the earth year after year, many of them as the result of people going out equipped to deliberately seek them for collection and sale.
Interestingly it is also noted in the Museums Journal text that there was a 10% rise in treasure finds over last year. Since reporting is compulsory, that number is a statistical reflection of the amount of searching going on. That would seem to suggest that the number of people going out to plunder the archaeological record for collectables might be rising by about that percentage a year now the rewards for doing so are being so regularly trumpeted by the national press (led by the PAS). [A conclusion I came to recently on the basis of other sources - I'll write about it and its implications some time].
Ed Vaisey goes metal detecting, you can spot the Minister, the one who goes out in the fields in his clubbing-jeans and town-shoes and manages to keep them clean.
Ed Vaisey, the metal-detecting culture minister, added helpfully that the PAS:
“really is incredibly effective. It’s cost effective, it works and it’s probably the envy of the rest of the world. It connects amateurs and experts, and ensures that what is uncovered underground gets recorded, gets researched and, importantly, often gets displayed to the public”.The Minister's mind is not really focussing on the issues (perhaps it has been addled by those electromagnetic waves from the metal detector he's been waving, or contact with artefact plunderers masquerading as archaeology's "partners"). Like many a foreign coiney he apparently confuses the Portable Antiquities Scheme with the Treasure Act with that 'displayed to the public' bit. Different things Ed. Most of the finds reported under the PAS disappear entirely into scattered and ephemeral private collections. the only ones (briefly) on 'public display' are those offered on eBay. In what way does the PAS "work", Minister? Has the Minister seen (and understood) the Heritage Action Erosion Counter? (go on Nigel, send a short presentation and the link to Cockspur Street). As for what is "uncovered underground" (sic) being preserved (surely what is most important), there's precious little of that going on, being properly "researched" likewise.
Minister Ed should be advised that the rest of the world does not "envy" English archaeology's crackpot Scheme to partner plunderers of the archaeological world. He is confusing the artefact trade with the "rest of the world". The French see right through it. In mid 2009, French metal detector users carried out a campaign to persuade the French government to adopt the British system which they tried to present as the ideal form of heritage management. The French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand was not persuaded and issued an official statement that pointed out
‘Si ces mesures ont effectivement permis d'augmenter le nombre des déclarations de découvertes d'objets archéologiques métalliques, elles n'ont en rien permis de réduire les atteintes au patrimoine générées par l'utilisation de détecteurs de métaux. Tout au plus permettent-elles de mesurer avec plus d'exactitude l'ampleur de ces atteintes’.Les Journaux Officiels, 11th August 2009 page7867
So would Minister Vaisey claim that the UK is now 36% closer to mitigating the massive losses to the archaeological record caused by his government's policies on artefact hunting and collecting? I say this is a misleading illusion. This problem is not being addressed at all neither by British policy-makers or apathetic shoulder-shrugging British archaeologists.
Rebecca Atkinson, 'PAS announces 36% rise in archaeological finds' Museums Journal online 25th May 2011.