Wednesday, 15 December 2021

PAS Statistics For 2020. Cause for Concern?

"Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, said [...] the PAS system was “admired and emulated” in other countries" says Rachel Hall. Except in the ones where they laugh at it and deplore hobbyist looters trashing the archaeological record. The British media once again presenting the usual blinkered view of the effects of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record on the occasion of the issue of yet another Treasure Report. Some fluff statistics are produced about PAS. Ignoring the public role of the PAS we are told that:

[A]mateur treasure hunting [...] contributed to the 50,000 archaeologically significant finds that were recorded by hobbyists in 2020 and which shed further light on Britain’s history, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) annual report published by the British Museum. Among the finds was the millionth archaeological find made by the British public, a copper alloy medieval harness pendant found in Lincolnshire. The finds were recorded by 2,846 individuals and more than 1,000 were treasure discoveries. The overall number was lower than previous years as metal detectorists, who made 91% of the discoveries, were less active due to lockdowns, the report stated. The arts minister, Stephen Parkinson, launched the treasure annual report for 2019 and the PAS report for 2020 at the British Museum on Tuesday.
Let's just get a bit of accuracy here. The actual report is not online yet. According to the PAS database, the actual total number of objects for 2020 is 49490 but the number of individual records is 32293 (which means that 17197 of those finds are duplicate artefacts from the same reported find)! 

There is some fudgy phrasing in the next bit ("The finds were recorded [sic] by 2,846 individuals [...] metal detectorists, who made 91% of the discoveries"). Note, we are not told how many of England and Wales' estimated 27000 metal detecting artefact hunters reported finds, only that 91% of the [either] records, or individual finds *within* those records were reported by metal detectorists. In fact what is probably meant is that 91% of the finders were detectorists, which means that 2590 of them came forward and responsibly reported their finds. 

That in turn means that less than 10% of the region's metal detectorists are in fact abiding by the Code of best Practice and may be termed "responsible". In other words, over 90% of the metal detectorists are not reporting their finds to the PAS, just waking off with them and the knowledge they contain. Ninety percent of these looters do not contribute anything at all to "shedding further light on Britain's history", though they'll mostly all come forward if there is a Treasure reward in the offing ("not in it fer th' munny" of course).

   The Treasure Blip (needs redrawing,
I'll do it when official figures
 for 2020 are available

And here we come to an issue. Who remembers the figure (right) about the "Treasure Blip" I identified a while ago? I am sure you all do, as it raises a very disquieting fact, it seems to be material evidence that the depletion of the metal-detector-accessible archaeological record of England and Wales, at least, has reached a crisis point. I am sure I am not the only person in the world who is given sleepless nights by the possible implications of the figures. Let's put what this article tells us about more people "taking up amateur treasure hunting" and juxtapose it with the "more than 1000" Treasure finds. Even if "more than" means "100 more than 1000", there is still a shortfall. 

The question of the iconic "millionth record" after 25+ years expensive outreach to 27000 artefact hunters with their millions of finds is discussed elsewhere here.

But hey, who cares about anything like that? "Nothing to see here, move along please", yes? Just get some figures, any old figures as long as they are big, down on a piece of paper and hand them to an uninquisitive journalist or two and Bob's yer Uncle. PAS have been doing it for years. 

Rachel Hall, 'Medieval pendant is millionth archaeological find by British public', Guardian 14th December 2021.
Hat tip: Dave Coward

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