By Nigel Swift

As 2011 ended the PAS website was showing they had recorded a total of just under 752,000 artefacts since they began whereas our Erosion Counter was showing detectorists had found 4,370,619 in that time. So either our figure is massively too high or detectorists have failed to tell PAS about more than 3,618,000 finds.

I’m not minded to accept our estimate is massively too high merely because detectorists bellow that it is or PAS carefully hints that it might be. Especially as they’re both the very antithesis of dispassionate. They are free to explain exactly how our methodology and parameters are entirely wrong and how our estimate must be ill-founded but haven’t done it – so until something more than bellowing or hinting turns up I’d have to think that over 3,618,000 recordable detector finds have disappeared without trace under PAS’s watch. And I’ll continue to feel profoundly indignant. The knowledge being lost belongs to all of us, not detectorists or PAS, so why should those two groups, each with a huge vested interest, be free to constantly persuade the public all is well?

After all, it’s a matter of plain record that PAS, was set up solely to reduce information loss caused by detecting, nothing more:
> “It is the long term aim of the Scheme to change public attitudes to recording archaeological discoveries so that it becomes normal practice for finders to report them
[Baroness Blackstone, Foreword to the PAS Annual Report 2000-2001]
> “I trust that we will now join the great majority of other civilised countries in passing a law to protect our rich and important heritage of portable antiquities”.
[Sir Anthony Grant, Commons Debate, 10 May 2001]

There was never any question of partnering, promoting or expanding the activity, so it’s clear that there has been massive mission creep relative to what was intended as well as massive under-performance relative to what was anticipated. After 14 years  it is the opposite of normal practice for detectorists to report finds and Britain has still not joined the great majority of other civilised countries in passing a law to protect our rich and important heritage of portable antiquities” – quite the reverse. Two thirds of recordable detecting finds still aren’t being reported – and the only official response is to hint that it’s not true!

A sensible, rational law to license detectorists and reduce the non-reporting rate from two thirds down to close to zero is clearly not imminent but there IS a simple measure that could be taken that would make a huge difference, one single act of outreach – not to detectorists but to landowners. Obscure or expensive it isn’t, appropriate, easily delivered and urgently owed to landowners it is. Just use the media to suggest to every landowner in Britain that they should always insist: NO RECORDING, NO PERMISSION!  We suggested it six years ago (see below) but it hasn’t happened. Why? Why should another 195,000 detecting finds go unrecorded in 2012 for want of just four words of official advice on the six-o’clock news directed to landowners, the only people who have control of the activity?

“In a balanced and well argued paper, Heritage Action also sets out an agenda for more responsible metal detecting. It states that ‘the majority of detectorists still don’t report their finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme’, and that ‘growth in willingness to participate in the scheme has been slow … Heritage Action recommends that property owners and farmers should only give permission to detectorists to carry out surveys on their land if they agree to record and report their finds. ‘All metal detecting must start with a question: “May I detect on this land?” Our aim is to ensure that everybody’s answer is always: “Only if we can be sure you will report to the Portable Antiquities Scheme”’, the site says.”  [ The Society of Antiquaries, London, Newsletter 5 December 2005 ]

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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