Monday, 16 December 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What the PAS Say and What the two Hobby Magazines Tell us

I have already discussed what Mike Lewis of the PAS has said recently about artefact hunting. His organization has just published its 2012 annual report in Treasure Hunting magazine, so he cannot ignore what one can learn from that magazine. I'd like to look at just one aspect of what he said on the official blog of his public-funded organization (Michael Lewis, ‘When a find is recorded, it is truly discovered’: metal-detecting and its contribution to archaeology' PAS blog, November 28, 2013). After pointing out that most metal-detectorists search on cultivated land, he suggests:
it may be argued that recovering these items ensures they are saved from being completely destroyed by agriculture and natural and artificial corrosion processes. 
We find the same thing in the PAS annual report actually embedded in the middle of Treasure hunter magazine. There, on page 36 we find, as bold as brass a firmer statement, finds in cultiated land:
 where they are vulnerable to agricultural damage and natural and artificial (sic) corrosion processes
(wassat, artificial corrosion?). This is an old argument used in self-justification by the greedy artefact-grabbers. Here we see the PAS uncritically repeating it. Since they will not, let us have a closer look at whether this model is sustainable. Long-term readers will know I have always questioned this argument, but let us test it once more. On most of the land concerned, ploughing and the use of fertilizers did not begin yesterday. In Britain, many areas of farmland today were already being ploughed in the late Medieval period, if not before, and were regularly having dumped on them acidic and anion-rich manure  (as well as other material) from that period on. The same anions are now supplied in required quantities by artificial fertilisers. So if what Mike Lewis is saying has any validity whatsoever, we should be seeing on the pages of these two magazines, with their multitude of photos of finds, mostly of the more reactive non-ferrous  metals, plenty of evidence of that ongoing mechanical and chemical damage he is claiming.

 Is there any evidence from these hobby magazines that artefact hunters are "saving" demonstrably threatened artefacts from further damage? Looking at the finds in those magazines reported as having been "rescued from such damage", we find the following statistics for the "Searcher"*:
 144 PAS-recordable (datewise) coins and 13 later ones. There are 112 objects. Of the coins two were clearly plough-damaged, and of the objects two, slightly.
There is quite an interesting difference in the selection of finds displayed by those writing for the Treasure Hunter. Here are the figures:
 136 PAS-recordable (datewise) coins and 18 later ones. There are 126 objects. Of the coins none were clearly plough-damaged, and of the objects two, slightly.
If you look at the photos of the artefacts shown, the number that are broken perhaps by the plough is very small (less than 2 percent). the number that are bent or even scratched by the plough is about the same. There are a larger number of broken objects where it seems to me that this is ancient breakage. The evidence of chemical damage is even more difficult to see on the pictured objects. Can anyone point out even one in either magazine which shows clear evidence of this? Most of the coins and artefacts shown in both publications are whole, virtually undamaged and show no evidence that they were 'rescued' while in the process of being attacked by agricultural chemicals. In effect the artefacts hoiked by metal detectorists featured in the current numbers of both Treasure Hunter and Searcher magazines look exactly the same as the artefacts hoiked by them pictured in previous numbers, and artefacts hoiked by them pictured on eBay, and artefacts hoiked by them pictured on the PAS and UKDFD databases. I really do not see how the PAS can say that there are any grounds at all from this to support the tekkie argument that "recovering these items ensures they are saved from being completely destroyed by agriculture and natural and artificial corrosion processes". They've all survived precisely the same situation over centuries already, why should the fact that a guy with a metal detector standing over them change any of that?

When are we actually going to get some facts instead of "what if" from the PAS, a fifteen million quid public scheme? How much more money do they want to gobble up on skipping round the issues to perpetuate their cunning "Scheme" before the public who pay for it will hear them telling it like it really is?  Where is the evidence, good hard evidence, to replace the pro-tekkie spin? Certainly not on the pages of the detecting magazines available on the shelves of British newsagents.

* Here I have omitted articles showing just "Roman something" and several photos showing groups of artefacts at too small a scale to see whether they are recently damaged or not (though I suspect they are not). Also the "auction roundup" page etc are omitted.

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