Friday 22 August 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Evidence in the Scrap Bucket

A metal detectorist writes:
After finding a few lead musket balls last Tuesday I returned to the same area today with my Deus for a few hours. What did I find, more lead musket balls, all those pictured above. The place just seems to be littered in them. Some are nice and round and some all (sic) splattered. The signal numbers they were giving off ranged from between 80-85 so I just had to dig them. I like to keep the round ones, the splattered ones are ok for my lead scrap bucket.
So he'd have not recorded them if they'd given a different signal? If he could, he'd discriminate them out and just hoiked the items that gave a better signal indicating they are something more collectable? So, even if we had other artefacts in the record from metal detecting that field, we'd not have a record of the skirmish or whatever activity produced this discrete cluster of historical artefacts. Any records made s a result of this sort of activity will, in their selectivity, be a reflection of the interests of those engaged in that activity, these are not data gathered for the purpose of another.

These artefacts which he has removed from the original surface assemblage are evidence of historical activity on this site, and the "nice round ones" (collectable) are no more and no less evidence than the 'splattered' ones that had been used. Study of the distortion patterns and their spatial distributions will reveal just what they'd been used for - but because this guy is an artefact collector, only after the "nicest artefacts" for fondling and display, and not a forensic archaeologist, he's throwing away the evidence of this past activity. In fact, not only is this amateur seeker of the past failing to curate the evidence he is stripping out of the site, he is wantonly destroying it. Not only does he not mention making a record of where this evidence is coming from as he strips it out, but he's actually sending the artefacts themselves to be melted down as scrap.

Anyone who thinks that metal detecting is an ersatz form of archaeology, and can produce information that can have archaeological usage needs to wake up and take a proper look at just what it is real (not cardboard cutout) artefact hunters do and why. They might like to consider why after spending fifteen million quid for nearly eighteen years, all we are getting from the liaison of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in fact differs little from a cardboard cutout image of this hobby.

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