Friday 7 December 2012

Ed Vaizey: "a Good Statistic" or Deceitful Government Fob-Off?

Ed Vaizey Britain's  Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries has a blog too. In one of his latest posts he touches upon archaeology ("Britain: top of the hoard league tables", DCMS Blog 3rd Dec 2012). In this he writes:
A little known fact I discovered this week – Britain tops the league table for hoards. I am told, we have more archaeological finds every year than any other country. Whether this is per square foot or per head of the population, I am not sure, but it is a good statistic so I’m going to use it.[...] Most are discovered by enthusiastic metal detectorists, the vast majority of whom, I am pleased to say, understand and respect the system and make sure their finds are recorded and properly preserved [...] This is a special ecology – amateur enthusiasts, working with experts, and funded by Government and the Headley Trust, as well as Local Authorities. It’s important – the public love these kind of discoveries [...] Long may it continue. 
The "public just love all these discoveries", the  glittery gold and silver, bread and circuses, the edutaining dumbed-down stories the archeaeologists obligingly spin around them the colourful characters that find them. Ooo-ah. Instant kudos and warm, fuzzy feelgoodery.

Just on what PRECISE data does Mr Minister base his Ministerial pronouncement that "the vast majority of [metal detecting artefact hunters] understand and respect the system"? They "understand" the system Mr Ed? Yes, you sure of that? And what, pray, actually do you mean by that Sir?

Good move indicating that those in the "vast majority" not only "record" their finds, but they also "make sure" their finds are "properly preserved". That's part of what conservation is all about isn't it Mr Minister? Yes? Where and how are the vast majority of these objects "properly preserved"?

Please take a look, Mr Minister at the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter, just a quick look, it won't take much time. Now, tell us what you make of it.....  I see there that since metal detecting began in Britain under policies that basically have not changed an iota since it did, it says there have been at least  11,512,800 recordable and collectable items enthusiastically hoiked out of the archaeological record by these understanding enthusiasts. Where are the first 6.8 million of them "preserved properly"? Can you tell us please ? Can you now tell us where are the next 4.6million preserved and how do you know they are what we could consider "properly preserved"? Like with minimal even data on where they were found and what their PAS record number is and all properly conserved and stabilised?


Indeed very many more archaeological finds are hoiked out of the ground in Britain by any Tom, Dick and Hamid with a spade, but the Minister is shutting his eye to the fact that the vast majority are simply disappearing. Gone, vanished, in somebody's pocket, or by now in a skip. 
Mr Vaisey, please note the discrepancy here:

- Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme: 4,641,000 objects taken out of the ground by enthusiastic collectors with metal detectors

- Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, less than 827300 objects (contained however in a maximum of just 531598 records) reported by those same enthusiasts.

Can Minister Vaisey explain to use why this is evidence that  "the vast majority of whom [...] understand and respect the system and make sure their finds are recorded"? If the HA Erosion Counter can be believed (and I see, Mr Vaisey, that your Ministry has presented absolutely NO evidence which suggests it should be disbelieved), that would seem to be an untruth, a government lie on a massive scale. Can you explain that?  Or would you prefer to ignore the question? Yes, I guess you would. 

In reality, seen in the broader context of the preservation of the archaeological record, the PAS is simply not working, never has, and never will. Except to provide the Great Unwashed with their bread-and-circus glittery dumb-down story geegaws to gawp at and thank the government for.


Anonymous said...

There's not an archaeologist, artefact hunter, antiquities dealer, official or Minister that can show your description is wrong and that the situation isn't therefore unacceptable as measured by any archaeological yardstick used beyond these shores.

"and what their PAS record numnber is"

.... is my favourite bit. Yet PAS has just been pointing the Minister's silly head at their records and murmuring "wot a lot we got" while deliberately steering him away from asking "wot a lot- wot a massive, massive lot - you haven't got." It's sickening.

Or maybe we're both just making it all up, without evidence or reason?

Jakob said...

"I am told, we have more archaeological finds every year than any other country."

I can't help to think that a bit of fact checking would be in place here. Told by who? Is it per capita, square mile or something completly different? The minister says he doesn't know but then why didn't he ask when he was told? Where did they find the number of finds from all other countries? Are we talking about finds, objects or find spots? Is it the number of finds made or the number of finds recorded? Or the number aquired by museums?

Statements like that make me want to say: "No, someone must have told you a big old lie, cause Denmark has more archaeological finds every year than any other country". Just because it's so pointless without solid statistics.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks for that, of course the whole point is nobody has any real interest in actual FACTS, let alone putting them into any kind of context. It is all fluff propaganda which is supposed to be repeated parrot-like and not examined closely.

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