Saturday, 11 January 2020

PAS and Ixelles/Helsinki supporters, You REALLY need to Explain This!

Fluff stats from Bonkers Britain:
In 2017, there were 1,266 reported treasure finds. The provisional figure for 2018 was 1,096, lower than 2017, but making this the fifth year in a row when the number exceeded 1,000.
But let us put that in context. I just knocked up a visual, it could be better graphically, will do another cleaner version when I have time. But it makes the point. 'Over 1000 reports' means over 1000 finds annually. Reporting is obligatory, so (if artefact hunters are as law-abiding as is always claimed), then we have a fairly measure here of finds rates. But that needs to be put in the context of number of searches and thus searchers. Here we have only estimates (the PAS has yet to provide official figures), and I have discussed this elsewhere (PACHI  Sunday, 15 July 2018 How Many 'Metal Detectorists' are there in England and Wales?). In my graphic I've put the increase in numbers of people actively engaged in 'metal detecting' (left hand column) on the same figure as the Bloomsbury graph of numbers of Treasure finds (I had to correct it, and the scale is on the right of the figure). I have also added my old '8000 detectorists' estimate on the left, though emphasise that I do not want too much weight put on that at the moment - but it fills out the picture in a rather thought-provoking (if nothing else) way.

Two lines showing increasing numbers of two related phenomena. But the relationship is not a direct one. They diverge. From the beginning of PAS the two might (see above) be seen as increasing at the same rate, the more detectorists (according to these estimates - no better ones being available), the more Treasures are being found. Up and up it goes, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. But around about 2007 the increase in Treasure find rate starts to drop off relative to treasure hunters. In fact, the PAS's "fifth year above a thousand" really represents a levelling out of the finds rate at the same time as we believe there are increasing numbers of people taking up the hobby.

What does this mean?
1) That there is more illegal behaviour (non-reporting of Treasure finds) on a massive scale?
2) Detectorists today are more stupid and shoddier in their search practices, or machines are declining in quality, so unable to detect buried hoards and other Treasure?  Or...
3) The archaeological record of Britain has been worked out, the most accessible places are emptied of Treasure and this is a process that reached a tipping point in 2007? 
Options 1 and 3 are a matter of public interest. In that case, the PAS owes the general public an explanation. Which option does the data gathering implicit in their 'outreach' indicate is the more likely of the three?

In my opinion, the third option is the correct explanation, which is why for quite a while now, I have been challenging the archaeologists that support collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in Britain to address these wider issues. Let's see if the non-jobsworths among them will this time, and how....

Six academics cool with collection-driven
exploitation of the archaeological record
The  Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang (Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis and Suzie Thomas) instead of filling out more grant applications to work with the artefact hunters and collectors might like to start the new year with this one. Go on, trash these uncomfortable arguments... I am looking forward in 2020 to some actually substantive material from them on this issue in place of their earlier attacks and ivory-tower suggestions that "metal detecting" is somehow not a threat to the archaeological record.   

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