Friday, 7 March 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Not Doing the Service to History People Say

Systematic field survey data

I spent a bit of time explaining to the detectorist who asked a question about surface evidence what the problem, from an archaeological point of view was ('Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What's this all about?') Although he did not thank me, he had no further questions or observations. I assumed the job was done. Unfortunately it is a mistake to imagine that these people think the way the rest of us do. I think most of us if we do not understand something ask, and do not pretend we understood what was said, hoping nobody will notice we have not got a clue. The metal detectoriust goes straight ahead and shows he's not the foggiest notion of what those dots on a picture represent (it surely is not ALL that difficult is it?). The hapless Mr Baines, for whom I wrote what I did, is caught writing this:
Dont you think we have our eyes open when walking looking for pottery shards and flints and any other non metallic items? Yes, improvements need to be made in areas but overall we do a great service to history.
Results of random hoiking - not data
Well, here's another picture which shows what "having our eyes open for sherds and flints and other non-metallic items" is going to look like in normal artefact hunter searches. Its the same site as in my original post, just searched by a different means and with a different purpose. Quite a difference in information value don't you think?

How can random hoiking, even with full and detailed reporting, in this manner be considered a valid way of "doing a great service to history (sic)"?

I think we'd all like to see the PAS  provide some more discussion of this point, linked, as behoves an archaeological outreach organization, to the current literature on the investigation of surface sites.

The English Heritage policy document "Our Portable Past" would be a good starting point - at the time of writing, it is not even linked on the PAS website.

Not that I think many metal detectorists of the calibre of the hapless young blogger discussed above will get it, but the PAS is not there to 'outreach' exclusively to that milieu - far from it.


Steven Broom said...

Hi Paul... Surely though the differences in the plots would be the same if a metal detector was not used as many of the target plots would be underneath the soil and therefore not visible through field walking.

This is where I see the evidence that metal detecting can produce being of benefit...accurate metal detecting plots tied in with field walking plots would surely provide even more historical evidence for a site...???

Paul Barford said...

Right, so what we are saying is that to "be of service to history" it's not enough to do an ad hoc "keep eyes open for bits I can pick up" but to systematically document ALL available information. That is point I am making.

And that is not what ten thousand or more artefact hunters are doing. Hence the concern to which Mr Baines insists on being oblivious.

Steven Broom said...

Absolutely Paul...! Most detectorists would not even identify or pick up the other items that you are identifying in your posts. However, if what we do is going to be of any benefit then we should be doing it and logging the location of any interesting surface finds. (GPS)

However, the formal recording of these "additional" items would cause a few headaches I would imagine

Paul Barford said...

So basically you are saying is that the current system of dealing with archaeological data systematically collected by members of the public cannot work, and never can work, and therefore does not and cannot provide real archaeological information about this type of site. Exactly. They are just having select diagnostic items hoiked from them with no real attempt to relate them to anything else in and on that site. Whether or not these decontextualised and loose individual finds are reported and therefore recorded is not here the main question.

Do you see any discussion on how to overcome this hurdle in PAS circles? Is it something vigorously debated in the clubs?

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