Friday 1 February 2019

Friday Retrospect: How Many 'Metal Detectorists' are there in England and Wales?

The opening of discussion on the Treasure Act and its operation invites deeper reflection of how Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record has changed since it was established and set up in the middle of the 1990s. This post from PACHI, Sunday, 15 July 2018 seems very relevant:

How Many 'Metal Detectorists' are there in England and Wales?

The Ixelles Six /Helsinki Gang debacle got me thinking about the data they were trying to ignore. For the past two years I had been struggling with the implications of some of Sam Hardy's recent research and the numbers he came up with. I have long asked the question concerning the scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record as the only true background against which to measure the incessant 'propaganda of success' of the PAS and its supporters. They saw 'x000' more metal detectorists than a few years ago, and got 'y000' more artefacts in their database, all well and good, but to what degree are these figures representing any true mitigation of the information loss?

Back then (first years of the 21st century), there were some wild estimates of overall 'metal detectorist numbers', but nothing concrete. So I began to look into it. The figure I came up with in 2003 was quite a low one, 10000, with just over a thousand in Scotland. That was the basis for the figures used in the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. About 2010, I was forced to reassess that original estimate, it seemed to me that by that time the number had probably gone up to 16000 (Thomas 2012, 58-9 has a similar estimate), and I ascribed this to the PAS popularising the hobby through their support and promotion. That's when I really began to see the PAS as having a totally negative influence on the very problem that they had been set up to solve.

In 2011, the NCMD was claiming there were around 20000 metal detectorists in the UK. By 2015 the NCMD estimate appears to have risen to 25000 (see here and here), which I was inclined to dismiss at the time. But then in 2017 Sam Hardy produced his figures of 27000 'metal detectorists' (in England and Wales) and another 1000+ in Scotland. I must admit, though I thought his methods were sound and the figures he was using were the best available at the time, I really was a bit sceptical of such high numbers. Until I sketched a graph out. The two lower-left points are my own estimate, the three on the right are the NCMD's and Dr Hardy's. They seem to work together quite convincingly to tell a story of expansion of this damaging hobby on the PAS's watch. What however has not increased by the same degree is the proportion of the finds they are currently making being recorded in the public domain.

The implications of these figures would seem to be that the increase may have been of the order of 17000 more detectorists' in 17 years. That is that while PAS has been legitimising and promoting Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, numbers of metal detector-using artefact hunters have been quite steadily rising by 1000 a year.  We have no statistics on the number of scattered ephemeral private artefact collections formed in the UK at the same time.

That post ended: "At what stage are Britain's heritage professionals going to get up off their complacent jobsworth backsides and stop shoulder-shrugging and do something about this other than just smile and pat the collectors on the head?". Let us see how many people take part in the consultation  urging far-reaching changes in how this problem is dealt with. 


notsewkp said...

you call the hobby damaging, when there are afe far more responsible detectorists than there are night hawkers. if it wasn't for these people many artefacts would still be in the ground gradually deteriorating or getting smashed beyond recognition. its just has well that the decision isnt left to jealous people like you, i hope the numbers increase to 100,000 all the more important discoveries that will end up in museums.

Paul Barford said...

"There are far more wife-abusers than there are wife-killers, so leave the misogynists alone", you mean? That's a stupid argumemnt, isn't it?

Most of the artefacts in the ground are not deteriorating, though we do know a lot are damaged by being kept in a metal detectorist's shed - but this object-centred argument (ask the PAS) totally ignores the issue of what archaeological evidence is being destroyed when objects are hoiked out of the ground (ask the PAS).

I think if the numbers "increase to 100 000", the PAS will not be abnble to keep up, and since the actual definition OF "responsible artefact hunting" IS "recording with the PAS (ask the PAS) then quite obviously by that stage nobody is going to be able to claim the numbers you seem to imagine there are (ask the PAS). So I think then, there would be widespread call to ban the hobby outright as simply damaging with no possibility of redeeming itself by mitigating the damage (ask the PAS).

Does that answer your point? Any questions, ask the PAS - it's what they are there for.

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