Thursday 16 January 2014

Focus on Irresponsible Artefact Hunting in the UK: "Treasure Hunters" Extolled

There has been quite a bit of activity in the social media today about a spate of articles with similar content going around the newspapers and other media. Typical is the BBC version: 'Treasure hunters found nearly 1,000 items in 2012 16 January 2014 The problem is the misleading way it begins:
Amateur archaeologists with metal detectors found 990 items classified as treasure during 2012, according to figures from the British Museum.
The question on everybody's lips is whether the BM press release contained the words "archaeologists". Artefact hunting with metal detectors and portable antiquity collecting make use of (exploit) the archaeological record, but there the similarity ends. Hoiking artefacts out of the ground is not "archaeology".

The press release probably then warbled on:
"The public reported more than 74,000 other historical items to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which experts say has "revolutionised archaeology".
The year before the total was above 90000 so what's happening? Despite a probable increase in the number of artefact hunters, are the number of findable finds now dropping as every accessible archaeological suite in the UK begins to get depleted? Or is there an increase in irresponsble artefact hunting which leads to fewer finds being reported? What are the actual reporting patterns behind these feelgood global numbers the PAS keeps pumping out? When will we get a proper presentation of these results in a form which allows their closer analysis? Why is the PAS keeping so much so close to their chest? Where's the transparency?

And what is (and on what is based) the PAS' own estimate of the number of archaeological finds which are made by metal detectorists and either discarded unrecognized  or unreported by irresponsible artefact hunters. Why is there no official estimate of the scale of the scheme's success in those terms? How many unrecorded non-Treasure finds have ended up on EBay in the past fifteen (sixteen) years?

Vignette: PAS keeps recording figures close to their chest

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