Wednesday, 14 December 2011

PAS Annual Report Sideshow

The PAS has launched the latest in its series of annual reports, see here and here. In keeping with PAS "partnership" with Treasure hunters, their annual report was also published in the December issue of Treasure Hunting magazine.

Treasure Act

In England and Wales, 778 Treasure cases were reported in 2009, and 860 Treasure cases were reported in 2010. Of those found in 2009, 34% were acquired by museums (the outcome of 29 cases is still to be determined). Metal-detecting accounted for 95% of 2009 Treasure cases, just 5% then were accidental finds (39 and 43). It is reported that 113 parties (either finder or landowner or both) "waived their right to a reward" in just 71 Treasure cases in 2009 (actually the reward is DISCRETIONARY). It is not recorded how many finders had the reward reduced due to not adhering to the Code of Practice of the Treasure Act. Probably none as usual. The number of Treasure finds from non-ploughed contexts (pasture and below-plough-level) is not given. The number of sites investigated properly by archaeologists at the time of the report or afterwards is not given. The number of previous years' Treasure finds which have now been properly and fully published is not given.

Portable Antiquities Scheme

in 2009, 67,089 finds were recorded by the PAS; in 2010, 90,099 finds were recorded by the PAS. The running total of finds recorded on the PAS database since it started is now given as "over 740,000 finds", but that is in fact 476,546 records (

The PAS database is intended to help provide information about sites needing conservation protection. It shows that 88% of PAS finds found in 2009 and 2010 were found by artefact hunters out to find collectables for entertainment or profit. According to the figures on the PAS database, only 12% of the finds being removed from archaeological contexts in 2009 and 2010 were the result of accidental discoveries made during the operation of natural erosion or man-made changes. These records therefore suggest that most of the damage being done to archaeological site assemblages in England and Wales today is therefore being done by metal detecting.

72% of PAS finds in 2009, and 74% in 2010, were found on cultivated land. The PAS suggests that this is where:
"they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes"
The PAS (note the name - hinting at what this publicly funded body deals with) however has NEVER produced any kind of detailed study of these effects, and quantified them according to soil type and agricultural regime, it simply trots out the SAME "justifications" of artefact hunting and collecting as their artefact-collecting "partners" instead of publishing a proper study of this issue. How many of the items on the PAS database actually show these effects? With 740 000 items collected there, how many objects can they actually show us that exhibit these effects? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands, Tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands? PAS, show us all the actual evidence for this statement please.

According to the PAS:"90% of PAS finds in 2009, and 88% in 2010, were recorded to the nearest 100m2, the minimum requirement for findspot information to be most useful for Historic Environment Records"... 90% could be located to an accuracy of 1 are (a square ten meters by ten meters)? Really? I think they are trying to confuse their readers by not using the proper term for the land measurement I assume they really mean, hectare (ie the grid size of a 'six-figure NGR'). Actually a 100m latitude in determining the position of a findspot is not sufficient for many archaeological purposes(for example of a hoard or other find removed from below plough level, linking it with the position of other more precisely located foindspots - for example in a fieldwalking survey, or with respect a cropmark complex).

1,741 outreach events were organised in 2009 (71 226 attendees, including 12 865 kids) and 1,881 outreach events were organised in 2010 (104,822 attendees, including 29,794 children).
But still, the British general public has very little idea about the issues concerning artefact hunting and collecting, or (I would hazard a guess) what archaeology in a broader sense is all about. My Mum went to one and said the girl was useless.

"During 2009 and 2010 the PAS's Finds Liaison Officers had regular contact with 177 metal-detecting clubs, attending 1,619 club meetings in 2009 and 2010 (732 and 887 respectively)". And this of course is where a lot of the finds recording is going on. Also at rallies, the summary annual report gives no details of the numbers of fnds recoirded from these two types of FLO activity. It would be useful to see a proper breakdown of these to offset the claims being made about "recording by metal detectorists" which do not take this factor into account.

Ed Vaizey, the metal detecting Culture Minister, said:
"It is widely recognised that both the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act 1996 have been a great success. They are both helping to enrich museum collections, with the most important archaeological discoveries being acquired for the nation. It is a tremendous achievement that the Staffordshire and Frome hoards are now on display in public collections where they can be enjoyed by all." [and we got much of the Twinstead hoard back, didn't we?]

A "tremendous achievement"? To what degree however are current policies leading to the protection of the archaeological record from being dug over in the search for randomly selected collectables for entertainment and profit? To what degree is the PAS "succeeding" in mitigating that, and ensuring "best practice"? What has British archaeology lost in the "partnership" with artefact hunters in addition to a huge amount of credibility?

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