Sunday 24 February 2013

Focus on UK metal detecting: One Day's Detecting in 2013

Metal detecting naysayers claim lamely that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter presents a false picture of the scale of damage the hobby is causing. They never set out to prove it is wrong, mind you, but merely glibly claim that metal detectorists "cannot possibly find" as many recordable finds as the model shows. Yet time and time again they keep posting up stuff on their forums (some of which you can see, most of which you cannot) which really give the lie to their lame excuses. Take for example just one real case highlighted by something posted on a metal detecting forum near you by Norfolk member deltron (not his real name, obviously). This anonymous guy obviously thrives on the admiration of other forum members when like a bragging schoolkid in the playground showing off some geegaw, he shows them what he's found. So over the past few days he's been posting up "look at me!" posts reflecting what he's currently finding. The results of his searching and hoiking in the first seven weeks of 2013 are thus visible for all to see. The first of these posts worth noting also adds (though he himself fails to admit the significance of it) the element that the resource he is exploiting is a finite and fragile one ("After a 17 year wait...." Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:46 pm). He has found that his "best field", set aside 17 years ago has just been ploughed, this should be bringing up lots of new finds from the subsoil to replace those already taken from the ploughsoil above. Mr "Deltron" however is disappointed with the results, the destruction of the fragile and finite archaeological resource did not go nearly deep enough for his selfish purposes:
four roman grot, still glad to find them. Years ago, if i didnt find at least 30 nice coins and a couple of brooches i had a bad day. 
He announces that he is going back with a different detector as he cannot believe that after 17 years of doing it, he's "had everything on the field". Well, I think the rest of us can. Finite means finite Mr Deltron, and indeed it is possible that one person can have "had it all" and ruined it for the rest of us.

Note that the Heritage Action counter does not take into account that the resource itself is already running out. In the past (17 years ago?)  Mr "Deltron" was taking up to 30 Roman coins a day from the archaeological record here (where are they all, where is the record of what was taken?), today - with more tekkie experience behind him and no doubt better equipment, he can only find four. That is a seven-fold decrease. Nevertheless that is four items found in one day that should be appearing on the PAS database to go some small way to mitigating the information loss. So where are the objects he's taken? Where is the information from this sustained and concentrated activity targeting a known site?

However there is more.  The same member reports presents a picture showing that he's been finding "A few roman brooches" (Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:39 pm),
"thats all i've got left. i sold the really nice ones to buy toys. I found them over 5 years. In one day i found 28 brooches".

This haul is only part of what he's found. The ("not in it fer the munny, really") detectorist has already flogged off some of what he's found (where are these items now, where are the records of them and their findspots?). We have also the the information that with a metal detector on some sites, he can/could find "28 in one day". Twenty eight eminently recordable items found and hoiked out of the archaeological record in one day, when the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter assumes that he'll find the equivalent just over thirty recordable items a year. In one day "Deltron" can almost fill the model's individual quota, but there are 365 such days in the year.

So, we are not surprised to learn that this is not the end of his archaeology-gobbling activities. On top of the coins and fibulae, we have this: ("Saxon Brooch and siliqua" by deltron Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:22 pm) "First time out with my T2 [ a model of detector], I found these....[Anglo-Saxon brooch and siliqua]" and this ("What is it?  Deltron Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:37 pm) "Hi All, i found this today. It came from my roman field. It's 4cm across". Then there is this: "What is it?" by deltron Sun Feb 03, 2013 8:43 pm): "Hi All, I found this today and i haven't got a clue". Now while the unidentified thing is not a PAS-recordable item (a Georgian personal accessory), he slips in at the end: "Thanks all. i also found a saxon pin head". Now today, Deltron writes "went out for a few hours.... " (Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:41 pm) "this is what i found. Looks like i've got my mojo back" (reply by Gozzy23 [Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:56 pm] " Is this the field you said that if you didn't find at least 30 coins you were doing bad? That's a bloody good haul! They all Roman? Them artifacts are really nice, love the Roman stuff!"). The reply was "Thats the field" and  "All roman mate" and he's already engaged in cleaning the enamelled metal item (he does not say how).

So already in the first weeks of 2013, this particular detectorist has gone a long way to finding the number of recordable metal items the HA Artefact Erosion Counter predicts he will, not only the ones he ("look at me!") shows, but other less spectacular pieces of metal which are nevertheless also archaeological finds. No doubt in the remaining 45 weeks of this year, statistically his hoiking will more than make up for several other artefact hunters who obviously will not find so many things (the Counter is a statistical average). It is clear from the number of times  we see from tekkie bragging on their forums (and in You Tube videos etc) that the HA Artefact Erosion Counter quotas are being met with ease by many detectorists, many of whom are capable of finding much more in the course of a year.

Personally I think these people who are quite happy to brag about how much they personally have taken from the archaeological heritage should be personally accountable for what they have given back. That seems only  fair arrangement. Can the PAS tell us how many of the items found by "Deltron" are in the PAS database? Unfortunately very few of the people from whom Deltron has taken those pieces of the common archaeological heritage can check that for themselves (because those data are hidden from them), but that is a vital statistic if they are to have any understanding of what is happening to Britain's buried past. Information of crucial importance to public debate is hidden from the public by the PAS

In addition, here we have a case where we learn of a field containing a 'productive' Roman (?) site which has been systematically emptied by one man over a period of at least 17 years. If we wanted to pull together all the archaeological information (information taken by that one man over a period of seventeen years) what safeguards have been put in placer by current British conservation policy (I use the term loosely) to allow that? Where are all those finds? From which points in that field did every one of them come from? What can we say about that site from the records Mr "Deltron" made of those findspots and what he found there? What records are there of the material he found ("detected") but did not add to his growing collection or take to sell off ('to buy new toys")? Or has this site - like many others countrywide - simply been destroyed to all intents and purposes through the selfish exploitation of individuals out to add to their ephemeral collections or make a few quid on eBay without anything more than the most basic and simplistic (as well as incomplete) record entering the public (PAS) domain? 

Meanwhile, just a few posts below, we see the pattern repeated today (Post by kopparberg "2 hrs today" Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:4 see also here) and here). He's feeling under the weather today, but anyway went out after work:
and found a few bits of lead and these 3 romans. so was well happy 
So, three PAS-recordable finds (plus other artefacts) in just two hours detecting, Mr Kopparberg no doubt will be finding his quota of 27.3 more within the next few months when the weather is warmer and his cold wears off. 

 Casual remarks like this quite clearly show that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is by no means fantasy, but a relatively realistic (and conservative) indication of the sort of damage some 10000 active artefact hunters are doing to the British archaeological record, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year and now decade after decade.

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