Monday 28 July 2014

UK Metal Detecting: Heritage Action Challenged Again (Yawn), by a Newbie

Paul Currell a Weston-Super-Mare (Somerset) clock repairer and metal detectorist has been posting a few comments to the Heritage Journal trotting out the usual tekkie objections to anybody commenting on the effects of current policies on the archaeological record:  “I am new to metal detecting and you are all wrong, wrong wrong, you don’t know what you are talking about” [or words to that effect]. Having had the first three of his "points" at explained to him, and before he's had time to digest it, he starts off on another tack. "The Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter [...] is ridiculous" he insists because on his club digs (he's been on two) nobody finds very much (he seems to see that in terms of the number of coins found).

PD Currell admits he belongs to a club, members of which are not very good at finding stuff on "club land" and which (because he admits to not knowing much about it) apparently does not put its members in touch with the PAS. He seems to equate "archaeological record" with "coins". He seems not to have heard of the PAS through the club (would that be Weston Historical Research and Detecting Association - WHRADA, or The Somerset Artifact (sic) Seekers?). 

I suggest that before hastily concluding that his two novice detecting trips with his "club" are representative of the whole, he might like to research the matter a little more deeply. He might for example like to look at Katherine Robbins' 2012 doctoral thesis:  "From Past to Present: Understanding the Impact of Sampling Bias on Data Recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme" in the University of Southampton Research Repository. Dr Robbins gives proper data on finds rates from her case studies (a bit more than just a novice's two trips). On page 239 she gives an estimated quantification of the numbers of artefacts being recovered by metal detectorists across England and Wales. Her result is a little lower than the HA one (but then based on a lower number of detectorists) but certainly the same order of magnitude. She concludes the annual number is ~265,000. Now it seems from the finished document that her academic supervisors did not question either her methodology or her results, her reviewers likewise. Nor did Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so much so that on the basis of her work he offered her a job in the BM  continuing the same line of research. I'd say that was a pretty good vindication of the conclusions reached earlier (by different methods than Robbins' just asking detectorists) by Heritage Action. I suggest that if the clock-loving but sceptical detectorist wants to take up the issue, he complains to Dr Robbins.

Once again, we find ourselves beset by being dragged into pointless discussions with those with a totally superficial approach to the problem and a fundamental lack of knowledge. This is Britain's awful dumb-down karaoke culture poking through. Lager lout takes on reason. It does not matter to people like this that people like Heritage Action have invested a lot of time (13 years they've been at it) and thought to the issue of quantifying and studying the effects of  the UK's policies on artefact hunting. A cocky novice wet around the ears imagines that he's got what it takes ("common sense innit") to show they're wrong. Even if he hasn't. This one's been out on two club digs with his new detector and imagines he knows everything there is to know about detecting in its wider context. In his opinion, HA "must" be wrong, cos that's wot his M8s say, and any thicko straight from the street thinks that without any reading up the issues discussed during those 13 years he will defeat them with a few pathetic stock arguments they've heard from airhead detector users on a forum somewhere. Those usually concentrate around themes of:
chip-on-the-shoulder playing the victim,
nasty ad hominems ("Did an ex-wife run away with a detectorist by chance?"),
extrapolating a vision of normal archaeological practice from something seen on Time Team,
application of a 'two-wrongs-make-a-right' argument,
and so on.

This is really pathetic, and makes you wonder just where fifteen million pounds on PAS "Outreach" has gone. What has the general public really absorbed from all that money being spent on informing them about archaeology by this organization? And the small (minority) of the British public so "passionately interested in 'istry" that they've bought metal detectors so they can rip large swathes of it up for their personal consumption, what have they really learnt from the PAS in all those years? Really. I think that by the repetitiveness of the absolute junk we see weekly emerging from this milieu, the answer is pretty obvious - not a lot. In my opinion, long term observation of this phenomenon indicates starkly that it's a waste of money trying to outreach to those that resist education. And its a waste of time British archaeologists persisting in  faffing around at the tax-payers' expense trying to achieve the unachievable for the only reason that its easier to deceive yourself and others that its different than it is, than actually taking real action to deal with the problem of collection-driven exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record head on.



Anonymous said...

Ah, so he might be in the Somerset Artifact (sic) Seekers, the club that arguably had the most oikish club rules in the world?!
That would explain a lot!

Paul Barford said...

I seem to remember an earlier version of the "Calling all landowners" section which was absolutely excruciating. I may have commented on it here, anyway, it's gone now...

Anonymous said...

No doubt they'd like it forgotten but it should never be.

In particular, see paragraph 1, last 2 sentences ....

Utter dolts.

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