Saturday, 7 September 2019

Some Awkward Statistics the PAS-supporters Will Not Share With You

As we all know, PAS pretends to be monitoring eBay for Treasure items (here too as 'public archaeology'), but they're not really making public comments about anything they have found there, have you noticed? This is part of something that I am (still) working on that has to be at the foreign publishers early next week. Still a draft:
"For the purpose of this paper, the UK portal of eBay ( was examined by the present writer 18th August 2019. It was found that on that day in the section labelled ‘British antiquities’ on sale by dealers based in the UK only, there were 13825 antiquities (4563 small objects and 9262 coins - 20 Celtic, 5414 Roman and 3828 ‘hammered’ coins -Anglo-Saxon to Tudor). Some were being sold in short-term ‘snap’ auctions, while others would be displayed for 30 days or until they were sold. The number of sellers involved cannot easily be precisely established, but may be estimated as upward of 1200 at the time of the investigation, but was probably more. Fay (2013, 201-2) found that 52% of the artefacts and 74% of the coins on the portal when she monitored it were actually sold during the period they were on offer. The ones that were not sold are often relisted and many eventually find a buyer.
The material offered for sale in 2008 and 2019 consisted mainly of coins and small objects but in terms of their typology(Fay 2013 pp 202-3, 204-5, table 9) the selection on sale was not representative of typical excavated archaeological assemblages. In 2008, over 38% of the assemblage was made up of ancient jewellery, mainly brooches and rings, a further 23% can be described as domestic and personal objects (buckles and clothes fasteners are common), 22% as weapons or tools (mainly axes and arrowheads). The largest percentage was made up of small bronze items 32%, with flint and stone objects comprising 16% and pottery only 12% (and iron 4%).
Leaving aside the coins, the small objects on offer on eBay in August 2019 ranged in sale price (‘buy now’ prices only were analysed) between GBP5 and several over GBP1000. Of these, 70% of the objects were on sale for 5-40 GBP a further 18% were valued in the middle range of 40-110, while the remaining 12% were offered for higher prices. [aside: I regret now that I did not do the same for hammered coins as well]
Most of these artefacts were most probably authentic archaeological finds. It seems that where one can tell, in the low price range at least 3-4% have the appearance of foreign artefacts (with odd typology or patina) being offered as British finds, and a small percentage (about 1%?) being fakes. In the middle price range,  the number of object that may be strongly suspected as being foreign finds ‘laundered’ as British rises to at least 20% (though the real figure may be higher) – these figures mainly refer to the offerings of the larger dealers. There may be some fakes here too. Most of the more obvious fake antiquities were in the higher value end of the range (particularly above 100 GBP, with some on offer for considerably more).
Very few of the descriptions of the objects being sold contain even sketchy provenances and collecting histories – and few sellers indicate that any such information is available at all. None contain the information that there is a document from the owner of the property where the object was found assigning title. Particularly shocking is that only a few sellers (in fact eleven) give the information that the objects they are selling have been recorded by archaeologists (the PAS see below), this means that only 22 items out of the total of 4563 small objects have been recorded (0.48%). Among the coins and tokens, it is even worse, only five (0.05%) have been recorded (none Roman, one Celtic, the rest medieval and later).
The considerable number of artefacts being offered through venues like eBay are of course are those that were collected in the field during artefact hunting but superfluous to the collecting needs of those that found them. The numbers on open sale hint at the size of the accumulations of decontextualised archaeological material making up unknown numbers of scattered and ephemeral personal collections of archaeological artefacts in the UK. Even if not every one of these items is sold immediately, or is not in fact an authentic artefact (and perhaps not all items marketed as British finds in reality come from British soil), this shows the scale of the market involved, and the damage being done to archaeological sites all over the country by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record".
Look at that, for all the fluffy talk about a "majority" of "responsible" artefact hunters out there and a "minority' of irresponsible ones....  only eleven sellers in a thousand give the information that the objects they are selling have been recorded by the PAS - 0.48% of the artefacts and 0.05% of the coins. The overall statistic is that of these groups of British-found artefacts being sold to collectors, is that 0.195% are recorded, that means 99.80% are going onto the market totally unreported. That's 99.80%, don't anyone try to tell me that artefact hunting with metal detectors is producing archaeological knowledge.

And why are those figures "awkward"? PAS?

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