By Nigel Swift
The shrinkage of the Portable Antiquities Scheme will no doubt be presented as beneficial but it’s hard to see how smaller is better. Smaller mean less reporting and less reporting means more knowledge lost to science and you and me. So an end to pretence would be refreshing. 17 years of representing the scheme as more successful than it is is quite enough. If PAS was anything like the national treasure it has been consistently painted it would now be being expanded not contracted.
It was always likely that some of the cleverer coves in Whitehall and Westminster would eventually twig that a lot of the statistics and semantics just didn’t add up (especially as, recently, PAS acknowledged our Erosion Counter was pretty truthful). 70% non-co-operation after all this time isn’t what was intended by the architects of the Scheme (nor did they anticipate that a quango would see its best chance of continued funding lay in not mentioning the figure and promoting metal detecting instead of coping with it!)
It all seemed pretty simple at the outset. A social compact in which hobbyists would behave well in exchange for legitimacy but, as is now clear, most detectorists took the legitimacy and didn’t give the good behaviour in exchange. Personally I hope that this shrinkage of PAS will eventually lead to them being forced to (and guess what? The respectable, responsible minority have no problem with that!) Here’s just one recent quote from a metal detecting forum showing just how comprehensively society has been dispossesssed by the other, unco-operative, dishonorable 70%. There really is no way it can be dressed up as untrue, is there?
“One of our farms used to have a yearly rally on it with a LOT of people detecting over the weekend. He [the landowner] then gave permission to a friend and a year later now we have exclusivity apart from the occasional guest. Why? Because nobody declared anything to him out of all those people and all those hours NOTHING of any value was ever handed in …”
Update 24 June 2015
It ought to be noted that there’s not a peep about the shrinkage of the PAS on publicly visible detecting forums. The matter has been kept to “hidden” areas where, it is to be hoped, some have put the blame on the non-co-operation of their colleagues. The only public reference to it has been indirect and in the form of ridicule of this article on the erroneous grounds that I should have used the spelling “desserts”. It’s Bonkers Britain at its finest. The main justification for unregulated artefact hunting (and non-compliance with Valetta) has been diminished and the only apparent reaction from detectorists is that three septuagenarians (combined experience of 120 years of listening to beeps in a field) argue that desserts would be better than deserts! ALL we have ever said is that that large majority of detectorists who misbehave ought to be compelled not to. We’ll stick with that view along with the vast, vast bulk of the world’s archaeologists. We’ll be on the right side of the argument in a hundred year’s time whereas most metal detectorists currently operating will be held in contempt.