by Nigel Swift

You’d think by now the artefact erosion counter would be accepted by all as a sensible evidence-based estimate. But no, a detectorist has just said it’s “a load of tosh”. Amusingly, the next day his forum colleague told him: “One wonders at the percentage of all detectorists who get the FLO to record non-treasure related finds. I’m guessing at about 15 pct” (i.e. half of what the Counter says!) That apart, the problem with calling it tosh is you’re also having to say the same about the 3 surveys it’s based on (by EH/CBA, an achaeologist and a detectorist) which are the only sources of evidence on the matter that exist – so I’m disinclined to spend time defending it other than to make two points:

First, a remarkable fact: the only people who have ever said it’s nonsense are those with a vested interest in doing so and there are no exceptions to that so far as I know! Whereas those without a vested interest take another view. Thus the CBA’s Director, Dr Mike Heyworth, says it “provides a reasonable basis from which to consider the scale of the loss of knowledge caused by metal detecting” and Professor David Gill (Volume 20 of the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology) has posed the crucial question that defeats all who claim it is too high: “how far out would this estimate need to be before it became a matter of marginal concern?”

Second, I’d like to stress the sheer scale of the loss of cultural knowledge the Counter is implying. Here’s one of my previous attempts. Viewed edge-on a typical artefact such as an ancient coin is about a sixteenth of an inch wide:


On that basis the Counter says if you lined up edgeways all the artefacts legally dug up and mostly not reported since 1975 they’d stretch for about 12 miles. That’s not tosh but it’s hard not to see it as a national shame – and yes Professor Gill,  it would still be so if it was only one mile.



More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting