Sunday 24 March 2013

UK Metal Detecting: Quiet From Jacksonville

Just two days ago, a freshly graduated ("but I knows bulls__t if I sees it") archaeologist from Jacksonville Florida was noisily telling metal detectorists that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter - which she had only just come across mind you - was "tosh". Her reasons were that she did not understand where the data on which it was based come from or how they were analysed (or by whom) or what they mean, so she decided that this must mean that the model is "flawed".

The above-mentioned Counter was put together in England, and addresses a specifically English situation and a specifically English problem. As far as can be determined, the American graduate has not published anything on metal detecting in the United Kingdom (and I am willing to be corrected on this as I am always on the lookout for more literature on the topic) . She seems not from her comments to have been following the earlier discussion on the subject. She just breezes in via Butch Holcombe, issues a few loudmouth dismissive remarks and waltzes off, leaving us all none the wiser about just who she is, what she represents and just who she thinks she is.

Yesterday my tracking software shows she spent some time reading some other stuff on my blog, one wonders whether as an archaeologist from the USA she is on the side of those that raise issues about the destruction of archaeological sites by collectors and the antiquities trade or whether she sides with the looters, collectors and dealers. But then, actually, who cares what she thinks if she's not got enough nouse to find out what it is she is criticising before she puts pen to paper? There is far too much shallowness as it is in the antiquities collecting discussion to encourage any more

But, since she has gone, I'd like to draw readers' attention to three more things about the HA Counter, and in particular to put it into the context of Lisa MacIntyre's new friends the Texas metal detectorist and his viscious friend.

1) The HA Counter takes as the basis for its algorithm a figure for the total number of metal detectorists in the area covered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme as 8000 individuals (based on figures independently supplied to PMB by two metal detector dealers). This rejects (because it is a conservative estimate) the figure of 180,000 (!) being toted a few years earlier by the CBA/EH (Denison and Dobinson) survey which I hope wannabe critic Lisa MacIntyre will know of. It is believed this was concocted by the FID to make the detecting lobby seem stronger than it actually was. Likewise the HA Counter rejected the figure of 25,000 based on the circulation of the hobby magazines in the 1990s. Likewise it rejects the estimate of 40,000 published in the first PAS Annual Reports (on the basis of their reading of the CBA figures). One of the variables of the HA Counter is based on figures which are therefore considerably lower than those estimates used by others. It certainly is much lower than the number (650,000 machines sold) being championed recently (but post-Counter) by Lisa's new friend John Howland.  Lisa Hume MacIntyre reckons that the Counter is "tosh", but the numbers it produces are far fewer than they would be if its authors had taken other published figures accepted by other institutions. The aim was not to produce an inflated result. But artefact hunters' friend Lisa MacIntyre does not want to go to the bother of trying to understand that.

2) Since it was set up, no attempt has been made to increase the rate it ticks over to correspond to the increase in the number of metal detectorists in England and Wales since it was set up. I believe (and yes, Ms Lisa, it's in the course of publication), the actual figure could now be as much as 60% higher than it was. Even Roger Bland (in IA 33) has upped his initial estimate.  The HA Counter ticks steadily away as if this increase had not taken place. The aim was not to produce an artificially inflated result. But artefact hunters' friend Lisa MacIntyre does not want to go to the bother of trying to understand that.

3) The hardest variable to determine was the number of recordable items found annually. Ms Lisa seems to think this is an easy number to obtain from UK metal detectorists. Let her try.

By the means I summarised in an earlier post, it was determined that a statistical average of just over thirty recordable (which is NOT neccessarily the same as the term "collectable") items is involved.

Obviously there are idjits who go out sporadically with some crap detector they have no idea how to use and they may find just three, four or five recordable items in a whole year. On the other hand, there are those who can find a pocketful of coins in a few hours and go out week after week. Lisa's new friend Dick Stout (March 17, 2013 "The Weather Was Good, and Damn, So Was my Body!" [sic]) was out apparently for two hours and came home with ten coins, two of them silver.  In two hours with weak knees and a bad back. Now, in Texas there is nothing to find but modern junk, but if Mr Stout lived just down the road - as many metal detectorists in England and Wales do - of a Roman settlement, villa, unscheduled fort, deserted medieval village, at least some of those coins would have been ancient or medieval. It is not clear if Mr Stout is throwing back buckles, pin fragments, studs and mounts or whatever, but on a typical UK Roman or Medieval site they're there for the finding. But artefact hunters' friend Lisa MacIntyre does not want to go to the bother of trying to understand that.

Whether or not Ms Lisa cares to believe it, the figure that the evidence HA was using suggest, which is thirty finds in a whole year is by no means a number of finds outside the capabilities of the statistical average metal detectorist in Britain with access to the sort of historical and archaeological sites (not to mention the rallies) that they have. But artefact hunters' friend Lisa MacIntyre does not want to go to the bother of trying to understand that, she wants to please her new friends by calling the awareness raising efforts of Heritage Action "tosh". Has Lisa MacIntyre ever been involved in any awareness raising activities in her long and distinguished archaeological career? With what success? Did she too have fellow archaeologists childishly throwing "tosh" at her when she was doing it? To what end?

4) Of course what really is needed to provide more soundly-based figures is for the PAS to do a complete catalogue of some metal detectorists' entire collections. Then we'd have - depending on how well and thoroughly they did the job - some more reliable figures. If she had not scarpered in such a cowardly and unprofessional fashion the moment her bluff was called, would Lisa MacIntyre have joined me in urging that the PAS make serious efforts to get such data in the public realm in the near future?

Until such a time however, in raising the issue of whether the Portable Antiquities Scheme is providing anything like an effective mitigation of the information loss through collector erosion of the archaeological record, we have to use what information we can get. IF, that is, we are to raise that question at all. Now I am quite sure there are many, Lisa MacIntyre's new friends the metal detectorists, and the Portable Antiquities Scheme among them, who'd prefer that question not to be raised at all. Is that what she wants? Why?

Perhaps she'd prefer to allow her new friends to simply dismiss such questions as unneccessary, those new friends of hers - passionately interested in History like herself. The ones who think IKEA spoons buried on a beach are a great find and "Geronimo" took part in the Great Sioux War for example.

Oh it is sure quiet from Jacksonville. 

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