Sunday 24 February 2013

What Does the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter Say? And What Does the British Museum Say?

In the post above I mention the implications of detectorist-bragging for understanding the significance of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. It might be interesting therefore to take a look at it as it stands tonight, just before midnight.

A running total of the number of recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (mostly without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).
  • Today: 776
  • This year: 43,560
  • Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme: 4,703,255
  • Overall Total since 1975:11,575,048
This should be compared with the PAS figures, the addition of 13 new records to their database on Saturday has brought the total up, they proudly proclaim, to:
Even taking the "number of potsherds in a bag" statistic of 842000 objects (instead of the more archaeologically significant number of records), there is obviously a huge recording shortfall of almost four million objects since the Scheme began. Four million objects totally vanished. The HA model suggests we are in fact seeing recording of less than one in five artefact-hunted finds.* Four fifths (80%) of these objects are simply entering ephemeral personal collections, or going onto the market, without any record whatsoever. We are losing 80% of the information and all of the archaeology they formed part of, and its costing millions of quid.

The Heritage Action figures suggest that what is being presented by the interest groups involved as a conservation success is in fact a conservation disaster without precedent
Frankly, I must say I find it moderately surprising that although the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter has been ticking away quietly and revealing its disquieting warning in the public domain since it was created in April 2005, the supporters of the "partnership" approach to artefact hunting and collecting (so basically Bloomsbury's Portable Antiquities Scheme and its camp-followers), remain silent. They assume that they have done their duty towards the public who pay their salaries solely by dismissing such attempts to assess the scale of the problem as mere "trolling". In fifteen years there has in fact never been any attempt made to actually assess the number of items being dug out of the archaeological record to serve the curiosity and greed of the PAS' metal detecting "partners". Why not? A while ago the Scheme claimed it had at its (fifth) aim
To define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
Then a few years ago it mysteriously claimed it had "achieved" this aim. How it did this without ever accurately defining how many objects are involved yearly as a basis for these costings was never explained. Like many others, the PAS simply arrogantly ignored such questions. 

Let us have some answers from the British Museum and its Portable Antiquities Scheme. How long do they think that they can continue to spend public money without engaging in some public debate about the way they are doing that? Time for some transparency. Time to discuss what the Truth is. Time to stop the name-calling and get on with telling the public who pay for all this the true and full facts about artefact collecting in the UK.

*not all the finds in the PAS database come from artefact hunting. 

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