The story goes that the "vast majority" of UK metal detectorists are "responsible" and "law abiding", while only a "very small minority" are nighthawks. Of course nobody will quantify those generalisations for you, but it is, they insist, a very small minority, and in the next breath they assure you are roundly condemned by all artefact hunters. That's the story. It's the one the PAS goes along with, it's the one they tell the public. How does it look on the ground? Is this what those charged at public expense with 'liaison' and 'partnership' with the artefact hunting community are saying among themselves? Or are they hiding something from the public? Do we not have a right to know? Or is this too one of the facets of UK heritage management which "partners" would like to keep from being discussed by what they refer to as "Trolls" (members of the community concerned about what they are doing with all that public money)?
A fragment of text written by an FLO on the PAS' hidden forum, now made public by the BM information officer, reveals another story about the hidden scale of illicit artefact hunting. At the end of December last year, an FLO is justifying to her colleagues why instead of excavating it more methodically, in a few hours she had scooped it out into a plastic carrier bag and tipped the contents loose onto a kitchen table. She had to do it like that she argues:
I doubt we could have guarded it over night as the critic suggested. There were 160+ detectorists there, some may have been bad guysIt seems that nobody in that thread made accessible to us questioned or corrected that assessment. Think about that for a moment. What she is saying is that in her opinion (based on 40 years experience) if you take any 160+ UK detectorists, among them may well be the sort of "bad guys" from whom no measures taken by the rally organizers and landowner to guard the site (including hiring a security guard?) would protect it. The sort of bad guys who could seize an opportunity to come back and steal the lot from under everybody's noses. As I have said here before, my old estimate of a total of 10000 active UK detectorists now needs increasing I feel to somewhere around 16000. That means that the 160 who turned up in a December field in Buckinghamshire was just one percent of the UK archaeological community. What the FLO seems to be saying is that her observations lead her to believe that in any one percent sample of the British archaeological community there is an appreciable risk that there will be "some" ultra-bad-guys capable of stealing a national Treasure from us all, the finder and the landowner. While there are not enough data in what she said (the size of the risk is not defined) to work out just how many ultra-bad-guys there would have to be in the total population for that to be the case in every random one-percent sample, but it seems to me that this seems to indicate that the FLO is suggesting that she does not believe that it is a "very small" minority, but quite a sizeable number within the detecting community as a whole.
Of course, what we can infer from the results of my FOI request in general is that we'll not see the PAS actually coming out in the open and honestly sharing this (or any other) information with the salary-paying public.
What else is being kept hidden from the public on the PAS forum? Why is it that when archaeologists are urging transparency of the antiquities trade and in artefact collecting, the archaeologists of the Portable Antiquities Scheme are being more opaque than mud about the realities of their interactions with the artefact collecting community? What have they got to hide? Why do they so dislike answering perfectly reasonable questions and concerns about what they do? Why does it take an actual FOI request to access such information?
TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people who want to grab more and more millions of public quid, no questions asked, to represent archaeology to the public and make artefact hunters into the "partners" of the British Museum and archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look at what the PAS are hiding from the public in the process and decide what you think about that as a "policy".