Saturday 17 April 2021

Neil Brodie on Metal Detected Finds in England and Wales


Neil Brodie is undoubtedly one of the more important reseachers engaged in the study of antiquities trafficking and related issues. It is therefore very heartening to see that in a recent paper he shifts his attention from the heady world of Classical and Asian artefacts to the products of humble "metal detecting" in England and Wales (What is this thing called the PAS? Metaldetecting entanglements in England and Wales  RAP 30, 85-100). I think it is a very important and enlightening piece - though have a few quibbles [declaration of interest, I have an article on the same subject in the same number of the journal and have worked on a translation of Hodder's entanglements into Polish]. In particular, the section on "Unreported (dark) finds" is a bit of a mixed bag.  Dr Brodie seems to have had a bit of a problem with attempting to say what he thinks those figures are. What's more, I fear that what he says within a few days will be appearing quoted on metal detecting forums and blogs ("the number of finds not reported to the PAS is little more than a wild guess"). It is actually a little bit more than that.

The first point that should be made is it should be the job of the PAS itself as a result of its liaison with collectors to produce that figure. Secondly several attempts have been made by concerned individuals to produce a data-based estimate.

Dr Brodie cites (p. 91) a "broad consensus that the actual number [of active metal detectorists] is in the region of 10-15000" and then gives literature a decade old to support this. But the numbers quite clearly have been growing in precisely that last decade and although Dr Brodie considers this blog (p. 95 fn 18) to be an "untapped information lode" it took me less than three minutes with the search engine of this blog to find a post that there are currently said to be 20 000 members of the NCMD , one that say Fudgie's private facebook page for tekkies has 26000 members , one that one pay-to-dig artefact hunting business has a  private facebook page with 13400 members and a post from July 2018 addressing precisely the question of "how many 'metal detectorists'..", but also with a simple graph illustrating how it appears that number has grown since the publication of the literature Brodie cites. Sometimes it pays to tap the "untapped information lode" just a mouse-click away. That's what it's there for, not to be sneered at. 

So, whatever the "broad consensus" had been a decade ago, those who cling to it today are missing out. So, if in 2017 just 4378 artefact hunters + other people reported finds for reporrting, on present estimates, that's not "just under half  of all metal detectorists were reporting to the PAS". Is it? It's something like 16% of them. 84% NOT reporting. It seems to me fairly clear that Brodie's estimate underestimates the scale of the problem (in the favour of those who urge taking no action).

There is a HA artefact erosion counter that Brodie notes. Based on netnographic work done when it was set up (since when detectors have improved), they/we found that a figure of just over thirty recordable (not necessarily collectable) items was being found a year by the statistical average detectorist. There are some that can find that in a weekend, there are others that only find an old Dinky car and a bent penny in a whole year's detecting, but 30 is the statistical average we came up with - and to this date nobody has disproved this figure by their own hard footwork on the forums and blogs. 

Dr Brodie did not tap the sidebar here that tells him the number of finds combining these two figures will produce, and its a good deal more than the 300000 annually he quotes. At the moment it stands at just over nine million since the PAS began (while they still have yet to reach a million records). And the figure this represents is a reporting rate just under 11% , not the "26-41% of all finds were reported" claimed by Brodie (again citing a 2012 estimate - in Katie Robbins' thesis - as a current comparandum). This actually would mean that nearly 90% of recordable artefacts selectively and blindly ripped out of the ground by artefact hunters are NOT being responsibly recorded, but merely being pocketed. Knowledge theft on a massive scale. This is not "the majority are responsible" beloved of the parrotting journalist. It is irresponsible use of the archaeological record hapening right under the nosses of complacent and compliant heritage professionals. 

This is not based, as Dr Brodie would have it, on "a wild guess'. Like any of the research he himself has been doing, it is based on collecting evidence as best one can from such a secretive bunch as 'metal detectorists' and setting it out in the public interest. If anyone wants to challenge that by doing their own footwork, and producing their own figures showing where they came from, then they can. Please. So far, nobody has bothered, not the PAS, not the Helsinki Gang, English Heritage or anyone else. not the  Glasgow Trafficking Culture setup to which Dr Brodie was attached. Perhaps if someone does not set out to find the information at first hand, they might consider at least referring to 'the untapped information lode' placed under their noses by those who actually have made that effort. More 'boundary work'? 


Brian Mattick said...

The Fudge Facebook page now has 27K members, not 26K. An apparently small discrepancy yet it implies an extra 2,500 bundles of unreported finds every year.

Paul Barford said...

Ah thanks, so we are up to the magic 27000 figure. Maybe somebody should write to Deckers et al. how they explain that away.

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