Thursday, 29 November 2012

Focus on UK metal Detecting: Portable Antiquity Crisis - Double the Funding Immediately, or Halve the Destruction

The recent junk-fluff piece on the Portable Antiquities Scheme from an arts newspaper (Cristina Ruiz, 'An embarrassment of riches', 29 November 2012) does not stray far from the prepared screed supplied by the British Museum press office.  It claims that in 2011 "nearly 100000" objects were recorded. The actual figures are 84471 objects, 55985 records. The important statistic is the number of records, not how many sherds or pieces of tile in a bag were collected from the field. So the actual number of pieces of archaeological information is half that given in the newspaper article. That's 55986 records made by 39 employed FLOs (and a load of voluntary recorders). That actually works out at about four objects a day. But Roger Bland is quoted as saying:
"We are struggling to deal with all the finds that are coming in. We have 39 locally-based finds liaisons officers but we have enough work for twice that number”. 
Hmm. Obviously these people would be busting a gut to record eight finds a day. One Roman coin or buckle an hour?

This workload is coming from 4503 "finders". Now of those 1076 records were generated in 2011 by chance finders (agricultural, building, gardening, dog-walking). How many of those finders generated multiple records? Then another 3834 records were generated, not by members of the public but by archaeologists, the vast majority from fieldwalking (why are fieldwalking surveys being processed by the PAS?). That means that of the 4503, possibly as few as a half are actually not ordinary members of the public, or sneaky archaeologists getting the PAS to do their work for them, but artefact hunters. They generated between them over 50900 of the records. 

So what basically Roger Bland is saying is that artefact hunters (the ones that report finds at all) are currently removing archaeological finds at a rate twice as fast as we have the means to record them, let alone get those who are currently NOT reporting finds to come forward. In order to keep heads above water and get the missing information recorded, Britain needs to double its current spending on the Portable Antiquities Scheme right away. If this is not done, sites and assemblages are being dismantled with no hope of there being even the barest, most simplistic or mitigation. If the funding is not taken away from other areas of public expenditure and the PAS funding immediately doubled, then perhaps other means should be sought to curb the pace of destruction. Or perhaps just shrug your shoulders and walk away, pretend it's not happening.

 Discuss (or not).

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