Monday, 8 November 2010

How Many "Metal detectorists" in Scotland?

Generally trying to extract any meaningful information from the 'statistics' trotted out in Britain about artefact hunting and collecting is rather like banging your head against a brick wall. One of the points I have been making for years is that the propaganda of success figures like those in the PAS annual Reports only make sense if we know how many artefact hunters of what types (for there are several) are doing what where. It is blindingly obvious that the people who should be gathering these data are the body charged with liaison with them and which is required to report on progress. Well, since after a decade or so of that body not doing this and merely making stab-in-the-dark guesses (ones favourable to the propaganda of success story of course) I had to produce some information on it myself for something I was writing.

One of the areas I had difficulties with was Scotland , where "metal detecting" operates in somewhat different conditions than further south in the British Isles, and also the law on finds is different(NB, the area is not covered by the PAS). There is for example a paucity of metal detecting clubs compared with regions south of the border. If the proportions of metal detectorists to non-metal detectorists north of the border are the same as those south of the border, it would mean that there should be somewhere in the region of 850 active "metal detectorists" in Scotland. This has always seemed to me a rather high figure for a number of reasons. I was interested therefore to come across an estimate in a rather nicely written (apart from the dreadfully corny title) article ('Can you Dig it?') by journalist Peter Ross in the Scotsman on 25th July 2010. He does not give the source of the estimate, but for what it is worth, he says:
Hacket is a slender man of 61 in a baseball cap and jeans. He lives in Edinburgh and is secretary of the Scottish Detector Club. There are around 200 serious detectorists in Scotland, and a few hundred more for whom it is a passing fancy.
Now it may be that this is just a quote of the membership numbers of the Scottish Detector Club, the website of which does not give the number of members. But then there are, or have recently been, a number of other metal detecting clubs in Scotland:
The Scottish Artefact Recovery Group
The Scottish Searchers
Ayreshire Research Detector Group - no website
Antonine Metal Detectors Club - wot, no website?
Grampian Detectorists Club - defunct
Highland Historical Search Society
ICI MD Club - one connected with a place of work, now apparently defunct.

Is it in fact the case (given the difference between the two estimates) that in Scotland somebody "only intrested in the histry" is four times less prone to becoming an artefact hunter than in England and Wales? To what might this be attributed? The difference in the legislation abouyt what happens to finds? The absence of a PAS telling everybody what a wonderful thing it has we have people draining archaeological finds out of the archaeological record into scattered ephemeral personal collections? Or the fact that its so cold out most of the year that walking around a field for hours on end is less fun? Or perhaps Scottish people have in general a more responsible attitude to the archaeological record than those down south? What is clear is that however many of them there may be, they are less prone to forming themselves into clubs (and using the internet to propagate the hobby) than their southern counterparts.

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