Thursday 8 December 2011

How Many Active Metal Detectorists Are There in Austria?

Reportedly, Raymund Karl estimates that in Austria there are "between 2-3000 metal detectorists" busily finding Treasures which they are not then reporting. I wonder on what basis he arrives at these figures, since this would mean that the hobby is twice as popular there as it is in the UK. With a population of 8415000 people, the mean of the range of Dr Karl's estimate implies that one in 3365 is a metal detectorist, whereas in Britain the number was more like one in 6000 (at least until recently). If the proportions were the same as in the UK, the number of detectorists in Austria would be nearer 1400 (so about one seventh of the UK tekkie population). So what is the evidence that the number is higher? How many of them use their machines to seek archaeological material (as opposed to WW2 militaria as is predominantly the case in nearby Poland with similar legislation)?

Vignette: Maria doing landscape archaeology near Salzburg.


Raimund Karl said...

Dear Paul,

this will be a response in two parts.

My estimation of c. 2,000-3,000 metal detectorists is based on a number of sources. These mainly consist of a) the registered members with Austrian IP-Adresses on Austrian internet fora for metal detectorists, b)a questionnaire survey of Austrian metal detectorists, asking them (among other things) for an estimate of the size of the metal detecting community in Austria, c) estimates regarding the size of the metal detectorist community in Austria by Austrian archaeologists, d) not fully confirmed numbers about annual metal detector sales in Austria. In the article in which I discuss the issue (I can send you an electronic offprint if you have not seen it yet, just drop me an email), I explicitly say that there are at least a 1000 Austrian metal detectorists, but more probably somewhere between 2000-3000.
At any rate, whether the actual number is just 1000, the 1400 you estimate based on population comparison with the UK (which has somewhat more reliable figures than other countries, but by no means certain numbers either, leaving aside that we canot necessarily assume an euqal populatity of the hobby everywhere), or the 2000-3000 I have estimated as the most probable actual range, is pretty immaterial for the point I am making in my article. This point is (mainly) that only a minute fraction of members of the public, and virtually no metal detectorists, reports finds to the authorities because of the legal situation - in 2008, only 107 finds reports, by precisely 31 individual members of the public were received by the national heritage agency(of which only 17 reported on their own, the remaining 14 in collaborative reports with professional archaeologists). Note, that's not treasure in the English sense, that's ALL finds reports by members of the public. There were more regular professional archaeological excavations in Austria in 2008.

to be continued...

Raimund Karl said...

This means that at best, something like 3% of all detectorists report finds, at worst somewhat less than 1%. Neither figure is particularly encouraging, given that - again based on surveys in the community - the average detectorist is out searching c. 140 hours per year. Unless one assumes that pretty much all of them are exceptionally unlucky yet extremely persistent in looking for stuff they virtually never happen to find, but rather assumes that they find stuff (which again, at least for some cases, I can attest they do), the number of reports received is extremely low, while a lot of stuff must be found and not reported.
Also, any false dichotomies between 'archaeological material' and 'WW2 militaria' (which judging from you post I take you do not consider 'archaeological material', something I would have to fundamentally disagree with) are of no help here. Even if one assumed that most detectorists were out searching for WW2 militaria - which may well be the case in Austria - then a) they would still certainly also find pre-WW2 'archaeological material' which they would have to report, and b) if strictly compliant with the law, would also have to report the WW2 militaria, since Austrian law doesn't distinguish between WW2 militaria and other 'archaeological remains', which, however, are equally not reported (in fact, they are reported even less than other 'archaeological material').
What's more, before the law was tightened up in 1990, when there were certainly considerably fewer metal detectorists around, many more finds were reported by members of the public, including by metal detectorists. Whether that were 10%, 20%, 50% or even more of all finds made by metal detectorists back before 1990 is something we can probably debate forever, but it matters little: what is absolutely certain is that a higher percentage of metal detectorist finds were reported before the law was tightened. Nor has the tightening of the law reduced the number of people taking up metal detecting as a hobby, since it is equally certain that their number has considerably increased since the tighter laws were introduced.
From that, there follows a necessary and unavoidable conclusion: tightening the law in Austria has not improved the protection of archaeological heritage, but has in fact considerably worsened it. And that not just where protection from metal detectorists is concerned: it has also not helped archaeologists to get more information about where archaeological sites that might need additional protection, e.g. from potential development, natural erosion or indeed metal detectorists might be found. In fact, it has reduced the amount of such information received from the public to practically zero. Whatever damage such sites we have never heard of may have suffered, it is certainly greater than the damage they would have suffered had we known about them.
It thus is difficult to pretend, and even more so to argue, that any law that has such counter-productive and damaging effects can be a sensible solution for trying to improve the protection of the archaeological heritage. Rather, as I allude in the title of my article, it's not just a road, it's a highway to archaeological heritage hell.



Paul Barford said...

Hi, you can't send longer comments anyway, so best to split them...

If you look down the bottom of the longer post on this text, I say I later found the original text which I am busy reading in between other things. I will probably do a whole new post on it next week rather than revise what I wrote about the BA article as the author seems to have got a bit lost.

I saw the "1000" estimate of the real one, the reason I extrapolated from the UK figures was because it seems odd that metal detecting should be more popular in a country where it is more difficult to do it legally and where it is frowned on than a country where anyone can do it and get roundly praised for it. I have the same problem with estimates in Poland (and I see the Austrian situation is the same as ours here in so many details). Hence my interest in comparisons.

Paul Barford said...

Ray, I am busy this weekend with editing texts about Leo Klejn which is taking up a lot of time.

I am withholding posting your second comment here until I have time to deal with it (which I can see is going to need a separate post) otherwise I think you are playing right into the hands of the likes of Tompa et al. Maybe that is your intention, I don't know, but I'd prefer Tompa et al. to have to ignore what I answered before they quote what you said in support of their ideas - especially with the Cyprus MOU renewal coming up and his instructions to the coineys. These are complex situations and there is no one answer (which is why I think it needs to be widely and frankly discussed). I can't see myself getting round to it before Monday this rate. I'll post your comment up and answer the points it makes.

Could you just clarify before I do? I agree that WW2 remains are archaeology worthy of protection (but are they all?), but I got the impression from what I read on the UNESCO and IFAR legislation database that it is not protected by Austrian law - but I suspect that database does not contain all the relevant laws.

I have now read the original article and have a number of comments, questions and a suggestion.

Raimund Karl said...

Fine, I'm busy myself writing a paper for a conference proceedings, so keep it delayed until you've got the time.

Just to clarify, whether WW2 remains fall under the provisions of heritage protection law depends on what kinds of remains they are, what aspects of the heritage protection law are concerned, and to some extent on how one wants to interpret heritage protection and 'common' law (the latter according to Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch).

In a nutshell:

Where finds of weaponry of types created only after 1850 are concerned, these are not considered 'heritage', but need to be reported to the police anyway, who will confiscate the weaponry for safekeeping / destruction according to the provisions of the Waffengesetz (weapon law).

Where export licenses for archaeological items (which come under the provisions of the Denkmalschutzgesetz) are concerned, finds less than 100 years old are exempted from requiring those: so WW2 remains are still exempt from requiring export licenses.

However, all finds of goods without apparent owner in Austria must be reported to the authorities:

If they are archaeological finds (defined as being 'things which apparently could be subject to the provisions of [the Denkmalschutzgesetz] because of their location, form or nature', which includes WW2 remains found in or on the ground), they must be reported to the National Heritage Agency (though a report to the police will also do, who have to pass that report on to the National Heritage Agency within 3 days of receipt).

If they are finds of any (other) valuable object with no apparent owner ('common law' treasure), they must be reported to the police for investigation of ownership.

If they are objects of low or no apparent value, they must still be reported to and deposited with the police for return to its original owner should anyone report the item as lost within a year after having been found.

So, regardless of what it is, the only question regarding WW2 is whether they are weapons or whether one wants to consider them as archaeological finds, as 'common law' treasure, or as 'lost objects'. Depending on how one answers that question, the authority the find needs to be reported to changes (either National Heritage Agency or police), but not the fact that it must be reported.

I hope this clarifies the issue.

Paul Barford said...

TAG too?

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