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by Nigel Swift

English Heritage has announced it is setting up a study of the rates, reasons for and conservation implications of metal artefact decay in the ploughsoil“. Metal detectorists will be hoping it will validate their claim that they are engaged in rescue archaeology (“saving artefacts before they rot”). I suspect they’ll be disappointed. The study is prompted by English Heritage’s interest in Measure 4 of the National Heritage Protection Plan (management options for ploughsoil archaeology), not by a wish to justify a hobby.

It’s not the first such study (e.g. see Factors Influencing the Long Term Corrosion of Bronze Artefacts in Soil by Nord, Mattson and Tronner 2005)  but the inescapable reality is that no matter how many studies are undertaken one obvious truth prevails: artefact corrosion is always in direct proportion to the strength of factors causing it so it’s  bound to vary greatly from place to place. That being so, this new study may well finally show, definitively, that detecting, since it takes place not just where there’s an urgent conservation need but anywhere and everywhere permission can be gained, is not rescue archaeology.

Could that be why allies of unregulated artefact hunting (such as PAS) have never undertaken a survey? For fear of an own goal? As we’ve all just seen, it doesn’t matter who scores it, a decisive goal is still a decisive goal and it looks as if English Heritage is about to deliver precisely that ….


own goal



More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting



June 2014

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