Sunday 10 April 2011

"18,857 people involved" in PAS

The PAS loves big numbers, and true to form, its website home page announces the statistics related to its database:
436,893 records, 692,934 objects, 18,857 people involved, 2,881 accounts.
They might have added "Hooray for us".

That figure 18,857 people involved is pretty interesting if you analyse it. It seems to be the equivalent of the word "finders" ("finders" of artefacts who've reported them to the PAS). The use of the term is a bit misleading because in that "public" there are accidental finders and those who've found artefacts because they've gone out looking for them in places most likely to produce them. A measure of how well PAS is doing in dealing with the information loss to the archaeological record due to the activities artefact hunters of course is how many artefact hunters are coming to the scheme regularly with how many of their finds. But that figure is pretty hard to come by from the numbers that PAS supplies (one can only speculate why).

However, reverse engineering of the statistics of the annual reports reveal something about this. The number of non-detectorists coming to the scheme with objects for reporting is given in the annual reports. Many of them will be people coming on finds days with single items they have found accidentally. They will be responsible for single records on the database and on the whole they will not be repeat recorders. Their numbers therefore can be subtracted from that 18857 to give the number we are after. We are not told how many of them there were in the first year of PAS recording, it can't have been a large number. The sequence of reports from 1988-9 to the end of 2007 is continuous. In total they come to 9873 people. The figures for 2008, 2009 and 2010 are not yet known (!), but the trend of the annual reports 2005-7 (2416, 2216 and 2542 people respectively) suggests they might be as high as 2000 a year. If that is so, we are looking at a figure for 1998-2010 of some 15000 recorders. That means the number of metal detectorists who have been recording with the PAS (some of whom showing only one item each) might be as low as 3900 people. That is out of a total of 8000 (Bland's estimate) in the region covered. Less than half.

True, 18,857 might seem like a large number, but given that taken with other big numbers published by the PAS it suggests that maybe more than a half of the artefact hunters in Britain have never recorded anything with the PAS, it really looks a bit pathetic.

This just highlights once again the need to have a proper study of what is and is not being recorded as a result of British archaeology's "partnership" with metal detector users and collectors and a review of current policies and superficial thinking, and what is NOT getting recorded by the voluntary Scheme that has now been in place 14 years which has obviously reached the limits of its capability to cope with mitigating the information lost through artefact hunting.

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