Yesterday the Artefact Erosion Counter passed 12 million. “Nonsense!” many will say. No matter, it’s a lot. More to the point, Professor Gill’s famous question, “by how much would it need to be wrong to make the losses acceptable?” remains unanswered. Indeed, it is not the Counter but the ongoing failure to answer his question that hangs over the whole debate. On what basis of thinking can a country “compromise” with a damaging activity yet fail to specify how much damage it will settle for?

In any case, Dr Bland of PAS dismisses both the Counter – it “lacks credibility” and us (witheringly!) –“How impressive to be so certain on so little evidence”!  He’s right to say it is simply an estimate but it’s worth bearing in mind why we’re pretty sure it’s not wildly wrong. It’s because it has highly respectable constituent parts. It simply takes just 70% of the finds rate per detectorist revealed by the official CBA/EH survey and then multiplies it by Dr Bland’s own estimate of the number of detectorists. That’s all it does! So let no-one be in doubt: you can dismiss it as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” but you should be aware it’s effectively a tale told by CBA, EH and Dr Bland.

Update 19 August 2014: Spin it how you like, a PAS database approaching one million reported objects looks pretty limited compared with 12 million objects (i.e. 11 million unreported objects) on the Counter. And even the one million has been liberally boosted by data that has nothing to do with those to whom it is constantly attributed, the metal detectorists. Here’s the latest instance of that: 30,000 items from a card index founded in 1913 but including much earlier objects. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/aug/18/volunteers-british-museum-crowdsourcing-archeology As the dodgy PR announcement says:

“The information will be added to the huge Portable Antiquities database – recording archaeological finds made by members of the public, mainly with metal detectors – which will soon record the millionth object since it was launched as a pilot scheme in 1997.”

Hmmm.  Doesn’t that sound just a tad like a taxpayer funded organisation fiddling with reality for the benefit of itself and detectorists? Meanwhile, the eleven million are still missing, possibly under the beds of people who don’t give a damn about all that “please report what you find” malarkey.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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