Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Alex Bliss Collection in February 2016

Alex G. Bliss is a metal detector using artefact collector from Sussex, and has been self-recording some of the artefacts in his collection onto the PAS database under the name ("obfuscated for security"): PAS4E2FEF1C001969. There are 117 records here. Of these 63 are verified and published, while 54 are still unverified. It is unclear whether those that are "verified" have been checked against the object by a member of the PAS professional staff. There are many questions about the karaoke recording of the LAVA PAS still unanswered.

Mr Bliss's finds come from all over the country. Here is a map of the ones recorded by him:

Most of those recorded come from Hertfordshire (28), Oxfordshire (23), West Sussex (20), and Norfolk (15), while his collection includes items from West Berkshire (11), East Sussex (8), Surrey (5), Suffolk (3), Bedford (2) and Essex (1). So one can hardly talk of this artefact hunter being a searcher for the history of his own region, exploring the familiar landscapes of his 'small homeland' which is a meme which is commonly used by the supporters of artefact hunting in Britain. Many of these finds are listed as coming from commercial metal detecting rallies. Interestingly, because they have been self-recorded they do not seem to appear in the "rallies" listings on the PAS "database" website.

The earliest date for the creation of a record of Mr Bliss's finds seems to be  Wednesday 27th July 2011  in the "Statistics" breaksdown of the database, in that period 13909 records were made by self-recorders and of these it reveals that 229 of them (containing 320 artefacts) were contributed by "650b57e2606d64572f917d1e0bba2849 abliss PUBLIC". In which case, one might ask where the other 112 records have gone.  So, in the 1658 days since that first record, Mr Bliss has recorded (in other words found and pocketed at least) a recordable item every five days, seventy a year (critics of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter please note).

To what degree do the artefacts recovered and reported reflect the composition of the assemblages from which they were taken? The materials of the objects in the recorded part of Mr Bliss's collection are revealing: Most are non-ferrous metal: Copper alloy (67), Silver (20), Gold (1), Tin or tin alloy (1), Lead Alloy (8)*. There are no iron objects at all in this group. There are just two pieces of Ceramic (2) selected for their aesthetic qualities and eighteen flint objects. So this is obviously not a bit representative of the finds assemblage of any of the sites exploited to build this collection.

In terms of the representativeness of the objects concerned, we note that - as is the case with most metal detectorists- the attention of this collector was grabbed by the coins  (68% of sample). The bulk of the other objects were decorated or recognizable objects of non-ferrous metal:

Metal objects represented
Non-metallic objects represented
The flints mostly come from two sites near Bognor Regis. 

It is clear that none of this material is a methodically-collected sample of material from a specific site, intended to reveal its nature or history.

Detectorists like Mr Bliss may consider that what they are doing to the archaeological record is in some way justified by this type of voluntary reporting. The PAS may try to convince us that their "database" contains material usable in serious archaeological research, and thus "metal detecting" should be accepted and even perhaps encouraged. There are those who consider that archaeology is more that compilation of kossinnist broad-brush dot-distribution maps, or the selection of intriguing apparently out-of-place artefacts to write cutesy stories about.  I am one of the latter and it seems pretty obvious to me that when you take (instead of glib head patting) actual cases, like this one, and examine them carefully, there really are a lot of questions about to what degree the damage done to sites by artefact hunters like Mr Bliss and his fellows is in any way being mitigated by PAS-recording. How is it?  Because it seems to me quite clear that it is not. This is what we should be discussing, and this is what greedy collectors busy pocketing stuff from these sites do not want anyone to talk about.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  


Unknown said...

I shouldn't really dignify your drivel with a comment, but I will. As a lifelong amateur archaeologist and also a metal detectorist, who works with the archaeological community to record finds and, where suitable, donate them to museums, I find your posts bizarre. Perhaps you would care to explain in what way finds from field walking or metal detecting the plough layer of agricultural land have any real 'archaeological heritage'? As long as these finds are properly recorded then they are making a meaningful contribution to our 'archaeological heritage' - as long as they are left to be destroyed by farming, erosion & urban expansion or just left rolling around in the plough soil they contribute nothing whatsoever. I'm intrigued to know what your 'perfect world' scenario would be for these objects?

Paul Barford said...

No, I think that basically you have not understood a word of what I wrote. Let's leave the discussion to people who do. OK? "Unknown" is not a name.

Unknown said...

Nor is Paul Barford.

Paul Barford said...

Well, like it or not, it is my real name and I am not afraid to put it under what I write.

On your Twitter account it says you are a 'qualified' archaeologists, here you say "lifelong amateur archaeologist". Whatever you are, it should not be so "bizarre" to consider that "finds from field walking [...] of agricultural land have any real 'archaeological [context I presume you mean]". European archaeology since the 1920s at least has developed a whole range of techniques for studying surface sites. They are the basis for any study of landscape archaeology, and therefore economic and social relations across a wider area than a site. I really cannot see where any archaeologist would have trouble understanding that ripping out 'diagnostic' finds alone from surface assemblages basically trashes them as a source of information. Leaving them in situ is not an 'imperfect world', it is a fundamental postulate of the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised), which I presume you'll have come across in the course of your archaeological education. There is nothing there about metal detector hoiking it all out (with or without "recording") as a means of Protection of the Archaeological Heritage - because I think it is intended that the archaeological element is not reduced to being merely an anarchic hunt for pretty metal objects. Where are the nails from those Roman sites you have hoiked collectables from recorded? What evidence have you actually recor4ded about each of those sites, and is doing a lot of that hoiking in the framework of commercial artefact hunting rallies the best way to achieve that? Oh, so asking such questions is "drivel" is it? As far as I can see, the drivel here is somebody desperately trying to convince people that artefact collecting is a good thing. It's damaging. That is a fact, easily seen, not, "drivel".

Brian Curtiss said...

I'd love to see the report from mr unknown detailing what was learned from his findings from the sites. What, unknown, did you discover? Anything interesting beyond the objects themselves? What did you learn?

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