Sunday, 15 December 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Treasure Hunters Keep the Cash

Metal detectorists are really happy that they have the British Museum on their side as "partners". The "Britain's Got Treasure" presenter Bettany Huuighes let slip the other day that a report is to be published in January by the British Museum which says that "an increasing number of people" are waiving their right to claim a reward for Treasure finds acquired by museums. The detectorists are revelling in self-satisfaction (for example: “Keep the Cash” say Detectorists! John Winter blog 8 December 2013).  There is not a little superficiality in the way these statisticss are being presented. Let's take a closer look. This is what the British Museum and Ed Vaizey (UK Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries) said a year ago about this in the Treasure Annual Report 2010 (see also here):
2010 was a record year, with the number of potential Treasure finds reported increasing to 860 in England and Wales, a 10.5% increase since the previous year. Of these items, 299 have been (or are to be) acquired by museums. It is especially satisfying that the number of interested parties waiving their right to a reward for Treasure finds remains high, with 86 individuals waiving their share in 70 cases. These donations have allowed 37 museums to acquire finds that may otherwise have not been available for the public to study and enjoy.
1) The suggestion that it is a "great success" that only 34.7% of the "Treasure" finds (and a much, much smaller number of the non-Treasure finds) end up, properly documented and curated in a museum is a rather strange notion. It means that over 65% of the hoiked archaeological finds falling into this category are not ending up being properly curated, because they are returned to the landowner and finder to dispose of as they please. If they are (as many are) items pulled from undocumented archaeological contexts below plough level, then this is nothing short of reward-driven wanton destruction (in other words, looting) of the archaeological record. And the Minister of Culture calls this a "success". Bonkers Britain.

So, how does this look on a longer-term perspective? If we look at the information publicly available for England and Wales over the past few years, the breakdown is as follows (2005-6 figures modified as per 2007 report):
2005: 197  objects acquired in 592 Treasure cases
2006: 119 objects acquired in 665 Treasure cases
2007: 249+ objects acquired in 747 Treasure cases
2008: 265 objects acquired in 806 Treasure cases
2009: 261 objects acquired in 778 Treasure cases
2010: 299 objects acquired in 860 Treasure cases
What that means is an the last five years for which figures are available,  4448 items or groups of items have been subjected to the Treasure process, and of them, only 1392 (31%) have been acquired by museums. The other 3056 (69%) have slipped through the system. In the latter cases the finder does not even get offered a reward, they and the landowner get the finds back to flog off, add to their collection or send off for melting down, do what they want with them.

2) What should be noted is that the totals do not reflect the full story, in 2005-2006 according to the BM figres, of the total, "282 new Treasure finds have been, or are being, acquired by museums across the country, while 557 have been disclaimed, 206 were deemed not to be Treasure and 212 cases are still to be determined" [of the latter 34 were subsequently acquired, it seems the rest were disclaimed]. In 2007 (report p. 8) the breakdown of figures was similar: "303 new Treasure finds have been, or are being, acquired by museums, 306 have been disclaimed, 124 were deemed not to be Treasure and 14 cases are still to be determined".

This then raises the question, at what stage of these various processes were the rewards figuring in the BM statistics rejected by landowners, finders or both?

3) Let us look at these "waived reward" statistics. This is the way they are presented in the same official reports. Note first of all the total lack of information about how those figures break down, between responsible landowners donating their portion of the reward and responsible finders (and how they in turn break down between metal detectorists and other members of the public relative to their participation in the Treasure 'process'). Here are the numbers:
2005: 85 interested parties waived rewards (total 592 Treasure cases)
2006: 44 interested parties waived rewards (665 Treasure cases)
2007: 58 finders and landowners waived rewards (747 Treasure cases)
2008: 51 finders and landowners waived rewards (806 Treasure cases)
2009: 71 cases one or more parties waived reward (778 Treasure cases)
2010: 86 interested parties in 70 cases waived rewards (860 Treasure cases)

Note that interesting shift from "number of people" to "number of cases' and back again. If we look at the figures without the PAS "pander to the partnership" spin, the number of cases has NOT gone up, but has in fact declined relative to the total. This is utterly typical of the unhelpful spin the PAS puts on all the figures it publishes, which serve two purposes and two purposes only, to make themselves look good and take the criticism off the artefact hunters they "partner". What these figures do not do is present information allowing a balanced and objective assessment of the archaeological and social effects of current policies on artefact hunting in England and Wales. The reader might reflect on why that is.

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