Sunday, 28 September 2008

Three Hundred Thousand: Grounds for PASimism

On Friday September 14th 2007, the Heritage Action Erosion Counter ticked to the figure of ten million, “being a conservative estimate of the number of recordable artefacts removed from our fields and scuttled home with or flogged by metal detectorists, the vast majority without a word to anyone else”. On Friday 26th September, just over a year later the counter passed the ten-million–three-hundred-thousand mark. The significance of this is that until recently the Portable Antiquities Scheme was boasting that in ten years of outreach they had managed to get records of 300 000 finds from ALL members of the public (including metal detector users) in England and Wales. In other words eight million pounds and a lot of work is managing to mitigate just over 10% of the losses occurring week after week, month after month to the British archaeological record.

No doubt “metal detectorists” will claim that the HA figures are unreliable (admittedly they are indeed a model, nobody really knows how many artefacts are being taken away without anyone knowing about it – because nobody knows about it except the silent takers). “Metal detectorists” will claim that HA don’t take into account that most of what they find is "rubbish" (they cannot read enough of HA’s small print to see the word “recordable”). In fact, this rate of erosion represents the equivalent of each collector finding just thirty archaeological artefacts (including Roman “grots”) a year and either keeping them, selling them, or discarding them in the field unrecognized or “uncollectable”. Many collectors haviung access to a "productive" site or two and going on a few metal detecting "rallies" a year annually probably add far more artefacts to their personal collections than that. One "metal detectorist" in the Bristol region for example reports that he has recorded with PAS alone, "300 recordable finds each year". Other personal collections made by "metal detecting" are known to contain thousands of archaeological artefacts. I think the HA counter is in fact a rather conservative estimate.

Photo: Metal Detecting at Sunset.Marge Pickens - Sacramento, California

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