Sunday, 16 December 2018

Swedish Detectorists Rescue the PASt?

The Swedish artefact hunters who want the current permit system scrapped (SMF 'Bring fair metal detecting laws to Sweden', Sveriges Metallsökarförening) reckon they can get away with the Good Collector argument. Like the underwater treasure hunters discussed by Jerome Lynne Hall, 'The Fig and The Spade: Countering the Deceptions of Treasure Hunters' AIA News August 14, 2007), they reckon they can make a case for their exploitive blind hoiking of collectables into some form of 'rescue':
New roads and housing developments which involve deep earth works go ahead every day and there are no laws saying you can't dig a swimming pool in your garden. So why shouldn't we dig little holes with our spades? Swedish authorities argue history should be preserved for future generations and that metal detecting can damage this history. But when left in the ground, artifacts are being crushed by ploughs, disolving in acidic soil, or at risk of being lost forever under carparks and shopping centres.
Sweden, land use in 2010 (%)
A lot of the land surface of Sweden is neither arable land, nor carparks and shopping centres. As for the acid soil... here we go again...
Industrial farming and the levels of acidity in Swedish soil puts archaeology at far bigger risk. Ploughs destroy metal finds with their blades and the chemicals used in modern farming are highly corrosive to bronze and other copper alloys - the most common metals used throughout history. Plus, Swedens own National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet) have research documents outlining the impact on archaeological material in Swedish soil. Written by Anders G. Nord and Agneta Lagerlöf in 2002, they tell us that soil in Sweden has some of the highest acidity levels in the whole of Europe and how it's quickly destroying archaeology. Read their study here:

Distribution of forest areas in Europe.  

Once again we have the same arguments being trotted out. Certainly the paper they quote makes some claims. I've discussed this document elsewhere and do not intend to rehearse the whole argument again here. Just take a look at the figure of those soil acidities (Fig 2) making the case for Sweden to be some special case. Then take a look at this (esp. Fig 5 showing which landuse is associated with which soil pH) and then glance at the map opposite. See the pattern? Forests cover one third of the surface of Europe and lo and behold, there are a lot of trees in Sweden. And yes, they have acid soils. Forests do. The point is that the area of forests in Sweden has not increased in recent decades to produce this effect, the fiorests are centuries, millennia old. Ancient metal objects buried in the soil have lasted there through all those same centuries and millennia. And they still have enough metal in them to be detected by metal detectors and be collectable. Funny that.

As for pollution, do take a look at the literature concerning forestry in Sweden. No need to worry, a lot of it is published in English. And that concerning acid pollution or groundwater, rivers and lakes. Surprisingly enough (duh) there are quite a number of studies showing the acidity is decreasing - except that which is due to non-anthropogenic sources, like for example the types of trees on a given soil type. Just Google it with a bit of understanding of what you are reading.

Soil acidity is a factor in the underground corrosion of bone (not found with metal detectors) and iron (because hydrogen ions are part of the corrosion process) but copper alloys corrode in a different way and theose processes are less susceptable to pH as other factors (such as organic acids). But many metal detectorists filter out the signals from iron anyway, iron was used for too many mundane things like nails.

This soil acidity argument is a false one, and the shameful thing is that detectorists know that - look at what they are pulling out of the ground and putting on eBay. Where is that "soil chemical effect" visible there?

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