Our Artefact Erosion Counter recently ticked over 14 million. Here’s part of it together with some of the words we wrote when we set it up.

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  • Overall Total since 1975: 14,005,743

Since what happens in the fields is a secret known only to each individual, no-one can claim any particular total of the number of artefacts removed by artefact hunters engaged in metal detecting is right or wrong and this has left the issue wide open to unsupported claims and the public open to misinformation. There is one certainly only: the depletion is on a very large scale and we constructed the Counter simply to demonstrate this general truth to the public.

In order to emphasise that the seriousness of the issue was beyond reasonable denial we deliberately pitched it at a conservative level. It operates on a fundamental assumption (which it shares with the Portable Antiquities Scheme) that there are only 8,000 active detectorists in England and Wales – despite every other estimate being far higher. Similarly, the rate at which the Counter shows artefacts being found is far lower than all available pointers including a number of well- documented detecting events and detectorists’, archaeologists’ and official estimates and surveys.

The Counter may or may not be a precise reflection of the rate of depletion (and in our view it is almost certainly a very considerable under-estimate) but the broad picture it paints – of millions of artefacts being needlessly taken and society being wantonly deprived of most of the associated knowledge of its past – appears to be perfectly accurate and is at odds with the current “official” account.

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No doubt most detectorists will seek to rubbish the figure. Let them. They should know that the 14 million figure is based on our original estimate that there were 8,000 active detectorists whereas now there are 27,000.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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