You are currently browsing the daily archive for 28/02/2011.

Eleven million. That’s the level the Artefact Erosion Counter reaches today,  being our conservative estimate of the number of recordable artefacts collected by metal detectorists (mostly without reporting them) from the fields of England and Wales since 1975 .

Despite claims it is exaggerated it is a fact that the 3 surveys there have been on the subject – by an archaeologist, a detectorist and by English Heritage & the CBA – all suggested higher figures. And it’s certainly the case that whichever total is right the great majority of the finds are not reported to PAS (according to PAS themselves). Fourteen years ago PAS was billed as a panacea but sadly not only has the Scheme been mostly ignored by most detectorists, the situation has become worse. For example:

> the National  Council  for Metal Detecting has recently suggested that (due to the publicity generated by huge rewards)  there are now more than twice as many detectorists than before;

> The commercial side has become more brazen in the pursuit of profits – with the “responsible rallies” message being largely ignored  – scores of rallies are now held at unpublicised venues (“meet in Tesco’s carpark”) and/or at named but blatantly irresponsible locations ;

> Equally, the official Code of Responsible Detecting has frankly bombed , with both the national detecting bodies that signed it bizarrely and cynically still retaining their own Codes for their members, neither of which mentions the official one or requires adherence to it or requires members to report their finds to PAS ! Anyone, detectorist or archaeologist, care to explain?!

> …and worst of all, technology has changed everything: you can now buy machines that penetrate nearly three times deeper than when the Scheme was first set up – and you can buy ones disguised as walking sticks so you can search “without arousing public interest”…

So the negative consequences of setting up a voluntary system instead of regulating the activity like happens elsewhere are both obvious and getting worse.  According to our Erosion Counter another million objects will have been taken in the next 3.4 years. But if the English Heritage/CBA survey is to be believed that will happen in only 2.4 years. And if the National Council for Metal Detecting is also right that detectorist numbers have doubled it’ll happen in just 1.2 years . And of course, whoever is right, an ever increasing amount of detecting will take place in undisturbed archaeological strata below the plough soil.

Sooner or later someone, irrespective of vested interest, embarrassment or professional loyalty, is going to have to finally openly admit to the public what they increasingly express privately – that the British have made a big mistake and it needs to be rectified. Or will the gap between the breathlessly enthusiastic press releases and the grubby net reality simply be allowed to grow ever wider?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



February 2011

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