Wednesday 15 December 2010

"Secret Treasures" UK Detectorist Recording Not Usable

Over on a metal detecting forum near you, an archaeologist puts them straight:
most excavation is targetted at development sites where there is good reason to believe that there will be surviving archaeology - from historic documentation, earlier excavation reports, local information and old reports from local historians, surviving upstanding remains of some sort or other. I spent years working in development control, advising on where and when there should be archaeological evaluation to test for the presence, nature, extent, type and state of preservation of archaeological deposits. Out of hundreds of evaluations or recording conditions I placed on planning applications, not one came from detecting finds being a primary factor - possibly because most detectorists don't actually record their finds systematically with the local HER - so the HER relies on finds recorded with the PAS which is a sample rather than a proper record of what is out there. Until all detectorists record all their findspots with the HERs this is likely to go on being the case. Most (not all) of what you find is actually fairly useless from the point of view of development control work as it is not recorded adequately for these purposes. Now I will sit back and await large numbers of folks to jump down my throat about this - before you do, read carefully what I said - its from the point of view of an archaeologist WORKING IN DEVELOPMENT CONTROL IN A COUNTY PLANNING DEPT who spent years wishing that the few detectorists who would occasionally come in and report finds would somehow transform into the many hundreds that are out there finding stuff in the ploughsoil and not recording it. On several occasions we got local outrage that we hadn't protected or conditioned a site "because everybody knows that X or Y had been found on it" - well no everyone bloody didn't because X or Y had never been reported or recorded!
Interestingly when challenged a little later on in the day to say whether finds are better off recorded with the PAS or direct into the HER the same contributor had this to say:
Personally, from having done the jobs I have, I would prefer to have records direct to the HER where they can be accessed for any research needed (in my case both for planning and information for site management in various jobs) - the PAS is a far more selective record so produces an even greater bias than is inherent in any recording system.
many years ago the hawkshead Review told the PAS that it should be spending much more time addressing the criticisms "archaeology's biggest outreach" was getting from fellow archaeologists. It never did that, ignored that advice. Today we are seeing the fruits of this, more and more voices are being raised questioning the glib assurances being passed out. David Gill has something coming out soon, for example, which it would be nice to see answered properly by the PAS. It is precisely when we move away from the "wottalotta shiny stuff" aspects of the Scheme to its use in conservation and heritage management that we see the problems emerging.

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