Saturday 20 August 2022

UK Metal Detectorist Responds to Comments on TV Show

 In response to the announcement of a new TV show, "Digging For Treasure", UK metal detectorist "Future Bleeps" tweeted "Looking forward to this ­čśŹ ". On being asked why added (which does not really answer the question): "History, The hobby and the possibility of treasure. Not to mention the folk that go out detecting. Plus it’s the hobby that discovers the most amount of finds / objects". Attached was this piechart.


 FaluumWWAAUPwkh.jpg (Future Bleeps)
Possibly this will be the message of the new Channel Five series, a Trumpish insistence that metal detecting "produces the most finds, the best finds, the PAS has all the best finds"  or something like that. To employ this object-centred argument for continuing ineffective policies on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record however is completely missing the point about what the PAS is for. The PAS really need to explain it better and more visibly to the general public, millions of pounds of whose money goes on financing this Scheme.

If it comes to numbers, if metal detectorists "produce" 82% of the 80,000 finds recorded by the PAS (ie c. 65600 objects), a single excavation turning a Basildon paddock into a housing estate will produce at least that many artefacts for post-excavation processing (though the place for those records is not the PAS database). 

If it comes to context, every single Basildon paddock artefact will have a better observed and recorded context than any one of the PAS's second-hand records of 66 thousand artefacts reported by metal detectorists and landowners. And of course it is context, not mere presence, that counts. This histogram has no meaning beyond being something unreflexive tekkies bandy about (like the 1995-vintage old chestnut of  "let-me-assure-you, we are not doing it for the money"), to deflect discussion from what matters about the current state of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. 

The issue is one of a disappearing resource, dismembered for collectable bits that are simply pocketed with loss of information about ground context (which is not just findspot).

That should not be too difficult to understand.

But apparently is.

"Ah, but the majority do it responsibly" goes the other mantra. That "responsible" however, it turns out when you ask them mouthing these empty words turns out not to have anything in common with the underlying issue, which (surely) should be a socially responsible use of a disappearing resource, not merely dismembering it for selfish ends as a source of collectable bits that are simply pocketed with loss of information about ground context (which is not just findspot).

"Responsible" recorders
(purple) and non-reporting
(black) artefact hunters in
England and Wales.

Without discussing that, we could define "responsible" by the lowest common denominator, that which is set down in the superficial voluntary "Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales" from the 1990s. This is the Code that most English and Welsh detectorists do not use (preferring the shut-the-gates NCMD one) precisely because it defines "responsible" in terms of reporting finds to the PAS. As I show elsewhere on this blog, the number of reported finds falls far short of what one may reasonably infer to be the oeverall number of recordable finds annually removed from archaeological contexts and assemblages by artefact hunters with metal detectors alone. So , for good measure, we should offset the first piechart with a histogram that compares the objects recorded by metal detector using artefact hunters in England and Wales that find things and record them, and the number of finds that we think are currently being found by metal detectorists in general and NOT being recorded. (the ratio is one in nine - the model predicts that 72% of finds are being pocketed and are NOT being recorded).

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