Sunday 19 July 2020

"Saved from being destroyed by a plough blade": The evidence of a nation-wide survey

NLM-4D3C51 the clearest example
 of modern chemical damage
among a collection of 1.5 million
 artefacts recorded by PAS. But
there are not many more. 
An anonymous metal detectorist commented under a post about a coin find that I queried that the object itself had been "Saved from being destroyed by a plough blade, now it can be enjoyed by everyone.Well done mr Stoner". This prompted me to examine this glib object-centric trope - intended to justify artefact hunting.

Easily done with there being a national database of "saved" metal detector finds that has been collecting data for 23 years. I searched the Portable Antiquities Scheme database for "plough damage" (in inverted commas). The search engine says  that of the 1,500,954 objects within 960,471 records, some 9,669 objects in 2,087 records have such a phrase in the description. That should mean that 0.64% of objects (in 0.21% of the total number of records) show the effects of "plough damage". Unfounately if you start to read the actual descriptions of the objects picked out by that search, you find (again) that the PASDatabase search engine is utter crap. Because most often what the record contains is not the phrase "[this object exhibits] plough damage", but instead merely the word "plough", most often in the context of "scattered by the plough" (which refers to context and not the state of the object).

The conclusion is that less than 0.2% of the finds made by metal detecting recorded in the PAS database show any noticeable traces of plough damage. That means 99.8% show no such signs.

If you go further and examine the other frequently repeated mantra, of the same number of 960,471 records, seven of them refer to "agricultural chemicals",* and just one to "chemical erosion" (but that record actually refers to harsh overcleaning).

* One of which seems to me to be wishful thinking, one in fact seems to me to be a mistaken record of vivianite, another is the Bracknel head, and two are tokens connected with the chemical industry.

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