by Nigel Swift 

We’re big fans of student-run archaeology journal “The Post Hole” but I’d like to take strong issue with one statement in their guest article (by an ex-FLO) about the Portable Antiquities Scheme:

“The twofold approach taken in England and Wales, then, is beneficial, as the vast majority of finds are recorded with the PAS on a voluntary basis”. 

The vast majority of finds? I beg to differ. Our Artefact Erosion Counter, expressed visually here for the very first time, suggests the opposite.

Artefact Counter as at March 2013

The Counter is a harmless little concept that brings us loads of grief. If only PAS would show it is wrong! But no, it’s only rubbished. It “lacks credibility” [Head of PAS], it’s “based on nothing but presumptions and inaccuracies” [Detector retailer on Britarch] it “should be viewed with contempt” [Head of NCMD]. (I wholeheartedly concur with that last one, but not in the way he means!).

So it’s up to you, Posthole readers. We say the orange column is far larger (and growing faster) than the grey one, PAS and detectorists say the reverse and the Government says it believes them. David Lammy said detectorists were heroes – was he shown the red column? Ed Vaizey has just said “the vast majority of metal detectorists make sure their finds are recorded“. Really Ed? Were you shown actual written estimates supporting that? I think not – in fact I know you weren’t because the figures underlying and supporting our Erosion Counter are the best in the business – i.e. CBA/EH’s survey of what is found and PAS’s stats on what is brought to them!

There’s no question there should be proper controls to stem these grievous losses and PAS no doubt agrees. But they don’t say so in public. Indeed, as another statement from the article shows, they tend to adopt a detectorists’ mantra that says control is not possible: “In other countries, where more restrictive legislation is in place, detecting has remained difficult to control.” That is simply not the case, as will be confirmed by talking to police and archaeologists in Eire (where detecting is banned) or Ulster (where it’s licensed).

But it’s neither the place nor the wish of quangos to advocate changes to the status quo of which they are a central part. There’s also a concern that any plain speaking will precipitate what would be the seventeenth threat of a “reporting strike” by detectorists. But here’s the sad, awful thing: it’s not the “best practice” detectorists that make such threats. It’s not they who oppose regulation; they don’t fear rules requiring them to do what they already do. No, it’s the others, the ones who don’t report what they find, who have threatened sixteen times that they won’t report what they find. Those are the ones causing PAS to say the grey column is vastly taller than the orange one and what is going on is “beneficial”. How mad is that?


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting