Wednesday 11 April 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: 2500 Holes a Year

. I would like to thank Paul Zoetbrood for drawing my attention to this text and spotting its significance. It starts off badly, with the word "GOLD ring" capitalised. Usual bla-bla, "dates back almost 2,000 years", "officially declared Treasure", "British Museum declared interest in acquiring it", "his golden find almost never happened". The near obligatory feelgood "lucky-discovery-just-as-he-was-about-to-give-up trope:
At 3pm Mr Spencer made his way back to his car, and while the people he was travelling with were chatting the vehicle next to him moved off, so he decided to scan the spot – and that’s when he heard a bleep. He said: “I heard a bleep and dug up a clump of earth, then saw a little shine. I took it out of the clump of soil and it was a gold ring.
Anyway Mr Bean says that this ring was found by Peter Spencer, from North Leeds, "during a dig in a field in Riccall on November 6, 2010". During a what?
Mr Spencer, who has recently retired, has been metal detecting for about 16 years, and although he has been on previous successful digs, this was probably the most significant find of his time with the West Riding Detector Group. He said: “It’s the first gold item I’ve ever found. I worked out each year I probably dug 2,250 to 2,500 holes, so probably about 35,000 before I found anything gold. Some people find it relatively easy to find nice things, but I obviously found it more difficult.”
That's not actually true, he has found several other Treasure finds, the Knaresborough Hoard in 2010, and also found a silver Roman ring in Dunnington in 2008. So that's one Treasure per 5.3 years, better than the lottery. But I'm more interested in this guy's estimate of 2250-2500 holes dug in archaeological finds spreads each year. Readers will remember the scornful denial that any mention of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is met any time it is mentioned. The algorithm postulates that the people concerned find on average just over thirty recordable artefacts a year, some fewer, some more, but this averages out to thirtyish. Mr Spencer has dug 75 times that number of metal artefacts out of the ground. Less than one in seventy five of Mr Spencer's signals were a recordable collectable archaeological object? Sadly we do not know what kind of machine he has, or what kind of discrimination settings he uses, but I bet after 16 years in the field, he's not digging up the novice's milkbottle foil caps and ringpulls etc every time he puts a spade in the ground. Or even seventy-four out of seventy five signals. What would a treasure story be without a bit of tritely romantic narrativisation? Here it is:
“It was on a site that produced nothing else. I like to think someone in the second century had walked or galloped across the area and lost it.”
Dan Bean, 'Finding Roman gold ring in Riccall field was ‘pure luck’...', The York Press, Monday 9th April 2012

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