Sunday 9 January 2011

The Heritage Action Artefact Hunting Erosion Counter is Back

There has been much consternation in the artefact hunting world that somebody dared attempt an estimate of the degree to which the hobby is eroding the archaeological reord. It was something no official body has been prepared to do recently, and so it was a grassroots conservation organization which stepped into the breech and did it and drew upon itself the flak (Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter). Nobody wanted to accept the figures, nobody wanted to discuss their implications, nobody wanted either to say by how much they would have to be 'wrong' to be acceptable, still less produce their own figures. All the supporters of artefact collecting erosion could do was gripe and snipe. There was elation and jubilation when a few weeks ago the webpage carrying the counter vanished preparatory to it moving to a new website.

The good news is that it is back, the algorithm unchanged (though I now suspect even more than I did a while back that it is ticking slower than it should be). The bad news is it shows massive unmitigated depletion of Britain's archaeological record. There is now a new text accompanying it - as thought-provoking as the last.
[...] Why some say it "has" to be wrong [...], Why it can't be [...], Why it ought to be discussed [...], The words of both Dr Moshenska and Mr Austin illustrate the need for a debate that doesn't start from an unquestioning perception that PAS is a success irrespective of the amount of information being lost or destroyed. That defies logic. Yet somehow that is exactly the situation that has arisen. The number of recordable artefacts that are being taken by artefact hunters is the essential information required before PAS and the whole of Britain's portable antiquities strategy can be sensibly evaluated. An entirely unsupported and highly dubious account of that number seems to have been put about. But then, artefact hunters and collectors can be perfectly adequately characterised as at war with archaeological guardians over the disposition of part of the buried archaeological resource and everyone knows what is the first casualty in war particularly if, mid-battle, some of the cavalry forget which side they are on. The Counter should be treated seriously. The depletion and information loss due to legal artefact hunting appears to be on a far larger scale than the public is being told.
No matter how much supporters of artefact hunting erosion of the archaeological record wish to dismiss the existence of this counter the questions it raises can be neither dismissed or ignored.
Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme:4,088,696
Overall Total since 1975:10,960,489
Today the PAS website reports:
422,721 records of 673,041 objects
according to the HA model, nearly 90% of the recordable items taken out of the soil by artefact hunters since the PAS began were removed with no record surviving; where are these four million pieces of lost archaeological evidence now? If these figures are true (and I see nobody advancing any serious reasons why they are not), by what twisted logic can such a massive archaeological heritage "management' botch-up be so widely lauded as a "success"?

Vignette: PAS, road sign to resource conservation success?

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