|Roger Bland asserts that one quarter of these folk will "never find anything in their lives worth reporting". |
I bet that's not true even of the Bobble Hat Searchers
The PAS Guide for Researchers produced as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded project '
"Thomas suggests there are 12,500 detectorists; Barford believes there are around 9000 detectorists; whilst Heritage Action uses an estimate of 8000 detectorists. Based on all these figures there are (sic) ~9500 metal detector users across England and Wales. Of these only ~7125 detectorists are likely to recover finds that could be recorded by the PAS as it is thought that a quarter never find any 'recordable' artefacts" (Robbins 2014, 14)The latter comment is expanded in the footnote:
In part because not all detectorists hunt on farmland - some search beaches instead where archaeologo\ical objects are rare (pers comm, Bland March 2012).Leaving aside the issue of foreshore archaeology, is it true that so many metal detectorists do their hobby while permanently being in a state of "finding nothing"? What kind of person goes out in all weathers with their anoraks, headphones and wellies on, day after day coming back home with "nothing" in their finds pouches, week after week, year after year? This seems the very caricature of a wasted life. It's also what the "Detectorists" sitcom ridiculed with "Lance" and his collection of "ringpulls through the ages". Yes, it is clear from forum discussions that there are people who take a perverse pride in representing themselves as a "Lance" (just as there are the bombastic individuals showing off dozens of pieces of metal or a spectacular find from one recent trip - some of the latter certainly faked). But is their sum "a quarter"?
1) It should be noted that my "8000 in England and Wales" (which Robbins uses as the starting point of her calculations) came from two established UK metal detector dealers as the number of "active metal detectorists" which, as one helpfully explained, meant to him "who would be looking for a second machine". Maybe some sad sap finding nothing might blame it on the machine and not their own methods and technique, but on the whole the discouraged finder of nothing is not likely to be investing in yet another expensive electronic tool of failure. I rather feel that the two dealers (whose figures agreed, though they were writing independently, and pointed out that at that time the two hobby magazines each had reported circulation figures of 15000 each) had already factored in the "sad sap" factor.
2) Another clue to the reliability of Roger Bland's claim is the content of a metal detecting forum near you. The home page says it has "Total posts 572868 • Total topics 62879 • Total members 6824". It has a separate section for beach detecting, and this contains 2405 topics and most posts in this section get less than a dozen replies. Even if some of the other sections contain material also relating to beach detecting, this does not suggest that 1700 members of that forum go out exclusively on the beaches. Also it is noticeable that many members writing on that forum of their beach detecting are at other times of the year writing about their searching (and finds) on farmland. Relatively few detectorists, listing nerdishly their equipment in their signatures, list a sand scoop or other specialised beach hunting tools.
3) We might use some other information from the PAS Guide for Researchers to test Roger Bland's idea. The Guide's author is (like most of the PAS) obsessed with distribution maps and the 'constraints' which affect a dot distribution, and one of these is where tekkies go a-hoiking. So she did some research using PAS resources and found (Robbins 2014, pp. 69-70 fig 27) that the majority of artefact hunters go up to 20 km from their homes to do most of their detecting, while they may travel further (rally) on the odd occasion.
It therefore follows that if a detectorist devotes all his or her time to beach detecting, the official PAS figures suggest that they are going to live more or less within 20 km from the coast. John Howland's trip to the stretch of beach where apparently he could be seen detecting many days a week is 8.61 km from his home, for example. Andy Baines lives within a similar distance. A line drawn on Google Maps 20km inland from the coasts of England and Wales is 2149 km long (407km of which is in Wales). It contains both highly populated areas (Newcastle, Merseyside) and sparsely populated areas of course. The area of this zone however is some 42,980 km2 , which is somewhat less than a quarter of the total land area of England and Wales and contains well less of a quarter of the population (and therefore proportionally less than a quarter of the metal detectorists in that population). But, the fact that somebody lives near enough to the sea to be able to go detecting does not mean they all do.
Constraints on beach detecting are:
1) Ownership, you need a permit or are forbidden from doing it on certain land,
2) The beach is not easily accessible, cliffs, mudflats etc,
3) There are plenty of historic sites in the 20-km zone, and the presence of thousands of artefacts reported from precisely this area shows that artefact hunters within this zone are not at all unhappy detecting on dry land sites.
In short, there really is very little evidence to support such a high figure as "a quarter" of detectorists who find nothing because they have nowhere to go, except beaches. I see no reason why the dealers' "8000 active detectorists" cannot be used in calculations, assuming that the people who have metal detectors but are not very active with them are outside the calculation from the outset (remember these are figures from coming up to a decade ago and the number of active detectorists has, I think it is clear, has increased). .
Multiplying Robbins' co-efficient by 8000 instead of her 7125 gives 791,930 artefacts dug out of the ground each year - that's 799 a day. Interestingly enough, HAAEC figures - reached by more empirical means - have a value which corresponds to 795 per day. The PAS figures give a higher result than the HAAEC ones. The adjusted ("x8000") PAS figures reveal that less than one in four hoiked finds are being recorded, and an estimated total of 3,902,793 recordable finds have vanished into artefact hunters pockets and some ended up by now in skips without any kind of proper record.
If anyone wants to visualise that, using the 'chalk-line from Marble Arch up Edgeware road' model I adopted earlier for our own figures, the PAS estimate - at one centimetre per unrecorded find - would reach Berkamsted.
Now whether Doubting Dullard Detectorists in Denial and others prefer the PAS own figures of Heritage Action's is immaterial, there obviously is a very serious question to be addressed here. Let me make it easy for you, by how much would the PAS' own figures given in the 2014 research guidelines have to be wrong to make this situation in any way acceptable?