Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Fluffy UK Metal Detecting Survey

How does an archaeologist know they've been working too long with metal detectorists? I'd say when they start writing like one, forgetting how to use apostrophes and writing fluffy bunny talk. Felicity Winkley, former Bristol undergraduate then a Headly intern at the PAS and now doing a PhD at UCL seems to have reached that stage to judge by a letter she's sending out to a number of metal detecting clubs all over the country. She announces (second notice down, see also here, here, here, here and here [to Norman Kennedy!] etc.) that she is:
conducting research on metal detectorists and their attitudes to landscape and objects [sic] findspots. I have the backing of the NCMD and am hoping to get 1,000 responses to my questionnaire, so I am really hoping your club might want to take part. [...] I have also attached a word doc version in case any of your club members would like to complete it on paper? [sic]
If you open the document you will find the young lady would appear not really to have sought any advice (or if she got some, I hope she did not pay good money for it) about the construction of a questionnaire. Try filling it in if you are not a member of a club for example and see what happens. You still have to answer whether "your club" collaborates with the PAS - well, if you don't belong to one, then what can the answer be? Sadly "dunno" was not an option. Mind you, since she's sending it out through the clubs perhaps the problem does not arise, it will not be reaching a whole segment of the artefact hunting milieu in England. She goes on:
This survey is on the subject of metal detecting, landscape and object findspots. The aim of the survey is to gather information directly from metal detector users about their attitudes to these issues. This information will be used to better understand what it means to detect in England today and to assess the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Whooppee, about time too. Will this survey achieve that? Well, what are the questions?

To see all of her questions, you have to fill in some answers because you can't get onto the next page without doing so. I filled in some, but did not press send (if you did see it Felicity, mine was the one where the anonymous respondent says his fave find was the "gold torc"). So just for readers of this blog I can reveal the questions of the "PILOT Detector Users Survey" (why is it a "pilot" one when she says she's tested it out on some kentish detectoriosts?):

1. What is your gender? (two options)
2. To which age group do you belong? (list of options)
3. How do you search? (options Metal detector, Trowel, 'Eyes Only')
4. Are you a member of a metal detecting club? Y/N
5. What is the name of your metal detecting club? (free comment)
6. How long have you been metal detecting? (...Years)
7. How long have you been a member of your current metal detecting club? (...Years)
8. Does your club have a relationship with the local Finds Liaison Officer? (Y/N If no, why not?)
9. Do you record with the Portable Antiquities Scheme? Either on your own or at club meetings (Y/N - only)
10. Do you record with another forum? (Y/N: If yes, which?)
SECTION II - When do you detect?
11. On average, how often do you go metal detecting? (Options)
12. Do you attend metal detecting rallies? (Y/N -Please give a reason for your answer).
SECTION III - Where do you detect?
13. In what area, and county, do you mostly detect? (free comment)
14. Is this area close to your home? (Y/N)
15. Thinking of the land on which you detect most often, which one of these best describes how permission was obtained from the landowner? (You may choose more than one). (Several - rather weird - options, Felicity seems a bit lost about what "Clubs" do, they are not land OWNERS for example)
SECTION IV- Your favourite findspot
16. Do you have a favourite findspot? If yes, please describe why it is your favourite.
17. From 1 - 6, where 1 is the most important and 6 is the least important, please rate the following in the order of importance in your favourite findspot:
Easy Access
Exclusive permission to detect
Good relationship with landowner
High-quality finds
Attractive landscape
18. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?I feel very attached to the landscape on which I detect regularly (options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
19. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?I have a sense of the history of the landscape on which I detect regularly (options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
20. To what extent do you agree with the following statement? It is important to me to understand the history of the landscape on which I detect regularly.(options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
21. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?I am protective of the landscape on which I detect regularly. (options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
22. Thinking of any area in which you detect, have you ever had to actively protect this from other people? If yes, please describe.(Y/N)
SECTION V - Recording and metal detecting conduct
23. Are you familiar with the National Council for Metal Detecting's (NCMD) Code of Conduct? (Y/N)
24. Do you abide by it? (Y/N)
25. How do your record you object findspots? You may choose more than one option.
Don't record
On a map / atlas
Other (please describe)
26. Thinking of an object findspot for a particular object, where 1 is not at all clearly and 10 is extremely clearly, how clearly do you think you could recall or visualise the location? (1-10)
27. To what extend do you agree with the following statements? Archaeology belongs to everyone.(Options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
28. To what extend do you agree with the following statements? Metal detector users have a duty to detect responsibly.(Options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
29. To what extend do you agree with the following statements? Recording with the Portable Antiquities Scheme fulfills this duty to detect responsibly.(Options 1-5 from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree" with the option "no opinion")
30. From 1-5, where 1 is the most important and 5 is the least important, please rate the following in the order of importance in a find:
Information it contains about the past
Monetary value
Collectable value
Condition / state of repair
31. Thinking of your finds collection, please indicate whether you have ever or would in the future ever:
Swap your finds? (Y/N)
Sell your finds? (Y/N)
Donate your finds? (Y?N)
32. Thinking of your favourite find, what is it, and why is it your favourite?
33. Many thanks for taking the time to complete this questionnaire. If you have any other thoughts or comments, please add them here: (free comment)
(It said it would take a metal detectorist "five minutes to fill in" - that's a laugh. They are mostly slow readers Ms Winkley.)

Now I think rather than being objective research this is pretty blatant pro-PAS fluff. Who is the academic supervisor who agreed this with her? I am curious to know what literature she used to set her research design.

First of all, this says on the box it's a "detectorist" (ie artefact hunter) survey, so what's the junk question about "searching with a trowel"? Trowels do not bleep when held over buried metal. Neither do trowels investigate landscapes.

It's not really clear why there is so much attention to club membership. This is a PAS trope (in the sense of Cliché). But since there is, there is missing, isn't there, whether a tekkie is a member of more than one club.. Or been a club member and left/club disbanded. This rather skews the statistics on club membership. If the author wanted to see the tekkies' attitudes to the history of the landscape, then why not here a question on membership of any other heritage or - shock - archaeological or other heritage societies?

Question nine is a significant one, but look how it is "flattened".
have you ever... and in what circumstances, (a) on my own, (b) at a club meeting, (c) at a rally, (d) a Treasure find (e) other (specify). In each case please indicate if this was 0-10 times, or more than 10 times.
A bloke detecting for 30 years on a multitude of 'productive' sites up and down the country with a shed full of metal finds, might have recorded three finds in his life at a rally where a pretty female FLO was sitting at a table in a low-cut blouse or some other-such reason. He could truthfully answer 'yes' and figure in Ms Winkler's statistics alongside a detectorist who records all of the thirty recordable finds he makes a year on a regular bimonthly basis with 10 figure NGRs.

I really cannot work out why in her question 10, Ms Winkley calls the PAS a "forum". It has not been a "forum" in any sense for a great number of years. And what about adding the question "WHY" when the stated aim of her research is to study how effective the PAS is being?

Its difficult to see where some of these questions are leading, what kind of information she is gathering and for what purpose. Section IV- "Your favourite findspot" seems to be the core of the "landscape" part of the questionnaire, but what is missing wholly is relationship with the landowner in determining the searcher's attitude to particular areas of land. Some of these relationships can be very close.

What does Ms Winkler think detectorists understand by "sense of the history of the landscape on which I detect regularly"? She does not define it, and this means she assumes it will be the same as her own . I wonder though (after all she worked for the PAS) to what extent her sense of history is as artefact based as that of the artefact collector. Is there not a danger here that without adequate definitions the researcher and subject are talking about different things? (I assume that as part of her research she's been/will be reading up on all the stuff on intangible values, sense of place, places of memory and all that stuff.)

"I am protective of the landscape on which I detect regularly". "Thinking of any area in which you detect, have you ever had to actively protect this from other people". Interesting question. Protective of course is another way of saying "I want it all to myself". I can see the resultant PAS spin now "96,8% of respondents said they "felt very protective of the landscape on which they detect regularly", so farmers may be sure letting artefact hunters onto their land will help keep nighthawks off".

I do not understand why, given there has been for some years a Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting agreed, this researcher asks (questions 23-4) about another, less stringent one: "Are you familiar with the National Council for Metal Detecting's (NCMD) Code of Conduct? (Y/N) Do you abide by it? (Y/N)". No mention here of the other one(s). Why? Now I realise her thesis is about landscapes, and the NCMD code is about such stuff as shutting gates and not scaring the farmer's sheep etc, but her additional aim seems to be saying something about PAS and the effectiveness of its "outreach"... I wonder how many people she expects to say that they do NOT abide by the NCMD Code of Conduct?

Again I wonder about asking metal detectorists to answer to what extent they agree with the statement: "Archaeology belongs to everyone". I'm not clear myself what she means. Archaeology is the name of a discipline, so its like saying, "do you agree Chemistry/Conchology/Dendrology/Astrophysics/brain surgery/train spotting belongs to everyone"? Its a nonsensical question. Without definition, it's going to be impossible to interpret the answers. "Candice Jarman" says archaeology belongs to "the People" but he means artefacts, as does metal detectorist Steve Taylor (who it seems sells them under the eBay name Flying2Blue) saying the same. Whether or not that is what Felicity Winkley had in mind is anyone's guess. I would like to think she was actually asking a different question about the common archaeological heritage, but then why on earth did she not say so?

Likewise question 28 is a no-brainer, to what degree the respondent agrees with the statement: "Metal detector users have a duty to detect responsibly". Now those of us who have spent any time on a detecting forum will know (can name) a number of detector users who without a thought will say "no" just for the frisson of being a troll. Metal detecting forums are plagued with that sort of individual - some of them try to spill it over here into my comments section. The rest however will all solemnly intone that they cannot imagine any other way of taking the nation's past and putting it in their own pockets. The trouble is most of them are going to be the 'grey' detectorists (most recently here and here) who would not know "responsible" if they fell over it on the way to the pub. Again is that NCMD-responsible or UKDFD-responsible, or is it Code-of-practice-This-Survey-Does-Not-Even-Mention-Responsible? Ms Winkley has failed to define what it is she is asking these people. Her question 29 is also therefore misleading. Is it OK to hoik stuff out from a depth of 32 cm with yer depth-advantage detector on an earthwork site under permanent pasture giving a six figure NGR and throwing away everything except a few coins and the funny brooch with the knobs that will fetch a couple of quid on eBay IF you report the brooch (but not the coins) to the Portable Antiquities Scheme? Is that "responsible detecting"? Is it "best practice"? I'd say without hesitation no. As a number of cases I have highlighted here (and many more I've seen acted out and not written about here) would suggest, most metal detectorists would probably see nothing wrong with any of that (it's voluntry innit?). So I think unless there is a agreement that the researcher and subject understand the same thing by "responsible detecting" this survey is just "junk science".

Also, in passing Ms Winkler, we should be talking about "reporting to" and not "recording with" the organization in question. UKDFD (falsely) argues it is "recording finds" but that is not the same as reporting them to the PAS from where the record goes to the HER.

Question 30 is again "flattened". Finds are of a variety of types and meanings for the collector. A heavily corroded Anglo-Saxon knife is not going to be seen by all in the same way as a coin in decent condition of Caligula, or a heavily worn one of Edward I, lead pipe fragments from a Roman bathroom, pieces of tile and tesserae, oyster shells, completely corroded "Roman grots", greyware potsherds, erotic samian fragments, and nail shank fragments are all treated by artefact hunters differently. What meaning is treating them all together in a simplistic question in this survey?

Question 31 just made for the PAS fluffy-bunny-talk propaganda, isn't it? "Not in it fer the munny, but the 'istry" is the mantra from the early days. I think many have sold finds, even if its a bucket of lead 'scraps' to a scrap merchant. I think it's quite frequent that some sell "Roman grots" which they no longer collect themselves in any quantity, but which they keep finding, they end up in the bulk lots from the UK which I have highlighted on this blog on sale in the US. How many will honestly admit to it is doubtful, when some at least of the forums are so keen to get people not to admit to it happening. Far more useful would have been here a nuanced question like what kinds of finds and in what circumstances, and approximately how frequently. But actually I simply do not see the relevance of this (like a few other of these questions) to the question of "metal detecting, landscape and object findspots".

It seems to me that this questionnaire is not particularly focussed and also Ms Winkley is trying to duplicate to some extent what Katherne Robbins is doing - interestingly getting information in part from the same group of clubbing detectorists (11 notices down).

It is disappointing that the final question is not: "would you be agreeable to discussing these matters with me further? If so, please include add you email address and/or phone numbers below, they will not be passed on to anybody else and will only be used to contact you in connection with my research". I suspect that not many would want to divulge much more, but including it would at least suggest that the researcher was intending to gather somewhat more sophisticated information than what this crude survey seems likely to produce.

This is a great shame as we desperately need some proper surveys of artefact hunting in the UK after 13 years and 13 million quid of public money thrown at PAS "outreach". It obviously is too much to expect that PAS could actually provide any reliable information about what they have learnt about the activities of the artefact hunting people current oh-so-p.c.-parlance sees as their "partners". It's nice to see students taking up the questions that have for so long gone without answers, but it is a shame that this could lead to us getting only very superficial, unfocussed and amateurish results, which through ambiguous questioning and failure to provide nuanced data produce a misleading picture. That could be more damaging than no information at all. This is just typical of the whole British fudged approach to this whole sorry issue. I'd be interested to know who is Ms Winkley's academic supervisor at UCL, is it a PAS staff member by any chance? What is going on?

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