Wednesday 11 June 2014

One of the Justifications" for UK Artefact Hoiking Examined Properly (at last)

The wheels of British archaeology grind (ever so) slowly. Back in prehistory, almost before we had an internet, Colin Dobinson and Simon Denison ('Metal Detecting and Archaeology in England') repeated an old tekkie excuse that "Metal in ploughsoil suffers acute and rapid degradation, throughthe action of chemical fertilizers and the mechanics of agriculture" though admitted "very little scientific work has been done on [this] the following sections summarise what is known at present". That was in 1995 and basically what was written there was in effect the last time (apart from a report by Oxford Archaeology not directed towards this specific issue) that there was any discussion by archaeologists, but the legend persists. Now, two whole decades later, the British archaeological establishment has decided that it would be good to see how true this actually is and what it means. Now a CDP Studentship Opportunity is being advertised:
Ploughzone archaeology: interpreting loss of data from metal artefact decay(rates, reasons and conservation management implications)
Applications are invited from highly-motivated students interested in applying scientific methods to study the rates, reasons for and conservation implications of metal artefact decay in the ploughsoil. This is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded PhD studentship based at the University of Huddersfield, in collaboration with English Heritage as part of the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDP) scheme. The studentship is for three years full-time starting on Wednesday 1 October 2014. The main supervisor for the University of Huddersfield will be Dr Glenn Foard, Reader in Battlefield Archaeology, with the co-supervisor at English Heritage being Dr Amanda Chadburn, Senior National Rural and Environmental Adviser.
Well, first of all let us note that the project has as a basic premise that there IS archaeological evidence preserved in the ploughsoil, which is quite the opposite of what the airbrains who support artefact hunting and collecting by metal detector hoiking are saying. Of course there is.  The advert goes on to detail the premises:
Many sites include metal artefacts in the topsoil. They may be the primary evidence or complement stratified deposits, also indicating ongoing erosion of stratigraphy. Artefacts have suffered varying decay since deposition, rates depending on metal composition and environmental conditions, accelerating with agricultural intensification since the 1950s. Decay is poorly understood, yet is a major threat to the archaeological record. It determines which artefacts remain of those originally deposited and their condition, and hence what may be deduced from them and their spatial distribution. The research will involve the analysis of existing assemblages and the collection of new samples, through metal detecting survey on carefully selected sites, to assess the factors influencing decay, thus enabling appropriate conservation management action to be designed.
Will it be "hoik it all out willy nilly by hobbyist metal detectors and show some of it to the PAS and flog off the rest for scrap"? We await the outcome impatiently. 

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