Tuesday 24 July 2012

Metal Detecting Under the Microscope: "Almost a Million Finds"

Incessantly through the hype given to the dreadful "Britain's Sceret Treasures" the figure of "nearly a million finds" found by members of the public and recorded by the PAS was waved in the public media to attract attention. What "million finds' are the publicists talking about? Prominently on the PAS webpage is a counter - obviously aping the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter - which reveals that today in the PAS database ore records of:
800,516 objects within 511,420 records. 
If we take into account that these are the cumulative figures of 15 years work, neither of these figures is "nearly a million" really is it? This is just unjustified spin.

The reality is that the number of records is the number of findspots reported/recorded, if a finder comes in with a handful of Roman potsherds picked up on a villa site, it is one record ("group of 24 Roman potsherds") but 24 "Finds" [though I have seen attempts even here to make more records by splitting them into fabric groups, amphora, samian etc]. I argue that the record is the important number, and not how many times the finder stooped to pick up pottery before he got bored, or the bag too heavy. Twenty four is therefore a less significant figure in terms of archaeological information than "one investigative activity at one findspot". But the PAS in claiming "nearly a million finds recorded by the PAS" are representing to parliament and the Exchequer the group of 24 Roman potsherds as "24 finds" in order to justify funding.

Now I am sure that if they deemed to answer the implicit question, the PAS would claim that the shortfall of 200 000 "finds" (but I guess not the 489000 lacking records) is achieved by adding the count of Treasure finds, some of which are individual coin hoards with contents of "finds" running into the thousands. This however is confusing the issue, these arrive in the public record by a different mechanism and a different route, their reporting is mandatory, they should not be presented in a manner which confuses them in the public eye with the PAS mechanism for reporting non-Treasure finds.

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