The official message of the British archaeological establishment is that artefact hunting is under control through the outreach of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is mitigating information loss by preservation by record. A decade ago, HA set out to test the validity of that claim. How many noteworthy objects are removed from the archaeological record by artefact hunters without any record of them reaching the public domain? It is strange that nobody else at that time was asking this fundamental question. The counter (currently accessible at: http://www.heritageaction.org.uk/erosioncounter/) ticks over to suggest how rapidly the archaeological record is being eroded of recordable artefacts by collectors. The figures stand at just under six million artefacts removed since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (of which the PAS has recorded just over 20%), with the overall total since the nominal beginning of the hobby of metal detecting in 1975 just under 13 million.
Seven years after the HAAEC went online, and undoubtedly inspired by Heritage Action’s pioneering attempt, the British Museum published a slim publication ‘Portable Antiquities Scheme: A Guide for Researchers’ which rather belatedly addresses the same problem. While the presentation (pages 13 and 14) is very confused, the results of the British Museum’s own estimates suggest that just over 30% of the artefacts removed from the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit in England and Wales to feed a growing number of ephemeral private artefact collections are recorded in the PAS database. The rest have disappeared without trace. What kind of mitigation is that?