Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Scale of the Artefact Hunting Recording Crisis in Wales

A few days ago I published a short text called 'Unreported 'Metal Detecting' Reaches Crisis Proportions in England and Wales'. The erosion of the archaeological record this implies is quite an important topic, but - as is usual - the text itself is not being discussed. But the picture I used in the post on my blog is. That's apparently very important for some. You see, the map of population density in England that  relates to just one part of the text does not (for some reason - probably that Wales is not England) show Wales. For some,  that was somehow reason to dismiss the reasoning it contained. One lady said 'to engage with people about the situation it is hardly helpful to alienate them'. Wales is being alienated she says not picturing it on a map of England. Wales should not feel 'alienated', they have a whole blog to themselves (Na i PAS ar gyfer Cymru: No to a Welsh PAS). Anyway, let us take a look at what evidence we have from Wales and see if there are grounds for saying that it is both England and Wales that we can identify a recording crisis when it comes to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record (and a lot of damaged sites and the concomitant numbers of those 'floating' artefacts decontextualised by collecting - Daubney 2017).  Or is Wales in some way different from the rest of the British Isles?
Physical geography of Wales

How many Artefact Hunters in Wales?
The population of Wales is 3.2 million, how many of them are active artefact hunters and collectors?  In 2011, I guessed that the answer might be 500. I now think this was a low estimate even for then.   Some clubs have over a hundred active members (Gwent Detecting Club for example 150). Clubs come and go, but there are ten others listed here. The Detecting Wales discussion forum recently had (Hardy 2017) around 3,356 members*  these would have included both England-based detectorists crossing the border to search as well as Welsh nationals. Specifically discussing artefact hunting in Wales, Lodwick (2008) is mainly concerned to talk about the successes of PAS in Wales, he does not actually address the issue of how many detectorists the PAS is reaching and not reaching. The first figures that have been advanced and based on what empirical data we have are those of Sam Hardy's careful research. Hardy (2017, 8.2. Secure underestimates) has estimated the number as around  1,797 Welsh detectorists ('a far larger detecting community[...] than has previously been identified'). Though it seems clear that in addition to these, English detectorists are crossing the border and taking home artefacts from the archaeological record of Wales that are not getting into the Welsh PAS system.

These numbers seem to have been increasing in recent years. We can see this in the case of the number of Treasure items that are being found. Reporting is mandatory, so if we assume artefact hunters with metal detectors are for the most part following the law (which is the position of all who support this hobby) the rise in numbers since 1999/2000 (the beginning of PAS in Wales) - oscillating between 10-15 thousand, and today (2017 - reportedly 40 cases with the comment that the numbers are still increasing) . If the ratio of 'Detectorists finding Treasure in a year: 'Detectorists finding Treasure in a year' remains more or less the same, rising Treasure find numbers can only mean rising numbers of Treasure hunters out there in the fields. In the ten years 2000-2010 the rate more or less doubled and the same (or maybe greater) rate of growth of the hobby looks like it is happening in the current decade.

How many objects are they finding? 
The research that lies behind the Heritage Action counter suggested a national average of just over thirty objects per year were being dug out of the archaeological record by the statistical detectorist that should be recorded so that archaeological information is not lost.
There is no reason why this average should not apply to the fertile farmlands of South Wales (Gwent-Glamorgan) or parts of the northern and eastern regions. This is where the majority (about two thirds) of the country's population lives anyway. So to make things fair, let us apply that value to half the detectorists in Wales of Hardy's figures (899 detectorists = 27180 objects) and let us reduce to  a paltry in comparison figure of 15 (for the sake of argument) the annual  collections of the rest in less abundant areas of the country (900 detectorists = 13478 objects). According to these figures, the total should be therefore somewhere around 40,660 objects.

How many are being reported?
Much smaller numbers. While in the previous years, the PAS records for Wales were mixed in with those from England in the Annual reports, in 2015 a separate report for Wales was published (I have not yet located online copies of the reports for 2016, 2017 or 2018, but the results will presumably not differ hugely)

Finds reporting in 2015
If we look at the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure  Annual Report for Wales 2015, (which also offers no estimate of numbers of 'detectorists' in Wales by which we can measure the extent of outreach), we find that in that year PAS recorded (p. 2) just 1126 objects (with the usual pat-head information "90% reported by metal detectorists"). This is rather odd as of these 31% (p.12) were lithic items (not detectable by metal detectors - see also Lodowick 2008, 108). On p.5 we learn that PAS normally manages to record c.1500 objects a year. In 20165, the breakdown (p. 10) is lithics 457 objects, Coins and tokens, 709 (48%!) and just 313 other metal artefacts (21%!). In addition:
Over one quarter (27.2%) of the finds recorded via PAS Cymru in 2015 were discovered in England. These were found by metal detectorists living in Wales, finding artefacts in England, but choosing to report their finds in Wales.
The system was overtaxed in 2015:
While artefacts were recorded across Wales, it is apparent that the figures predominantly reflect areas of best current recording coverage, where the PAS Cymru Co-ordinator and volunteer Steve Sell are able to attend meetings monthly. Finds from Swansea (324), Bridgend (108) and Vale of Glamorgan (222) were therefore particularly well represented. Reasonable numbers of recorded finds from west Wales: 135 from Pembrokeshire, 52 from Carmarthenshire and 46 from Ceredigion. These attest to some coverage and recording function being achieved here. The lack of finds recorded from across north-west and north-east Wales is not a true picture of what is found each year, but a symptom of current limited and stretched staffing and coverage in these areas.
So basically the evidence we have suggests that some 1800 artefact hunters with metal detectors (and an unknown number of eyes-only lithics collectors) are exploiting the archaeological record of Wales as a 'mine' for historical collectables. The figures we have suggest very strongly that each year over 40000 recordable items disappear from the record into their pockets,  and of these some 1500 annually reach the public record through the PAS. In other words, this means that one in thirty of the disappeared finds get recorded.

Even if Hardy's figures were a vast over estimate, and ours too, the results are still disturbing. Just as a thought-experiment, halving Hardy's estimate of the number of detectorists in a country with a population of 3.2 million to just 900 artefact hunters and assuming they find on average just one recordable item a month  would give us 10,800 objects found, which would still mean nine in ten items removed from the archaeological record would be being lost through current UK policies on and models of Collection Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record. But I would stress that there is absolutely no evidence to lower the figures even that far.

*Two years on, it is now  3728

Daubney, Adam. 2017. Floating culture: The unrecorded antiquities of England and Wales. International Journal of Heritage Studies 23: 785–99.

Lodwick, M. (2008). ‘Metal-Detecting and Archaeology in Wales’, in S. Thomas & P. G. Stone (Eds.), Metal Detecting and Archaeology: the relationships between archaeologists and metal detector users (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press), 107-18.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Increasing Popularity of Artefact Hunting with Metal Detectors in Wales

Dr Adam Gwilt (NMW)
The number of people finding treasure in Wales is increasing as metal detecting becomes a more popular pastime, archaeologists have said (Gemma Ryall, 'Metal detecting helps increase treasure finds in Wales',  BBC News 30 April 2017)
National Museum Wales experts said they had seen a year-on-year rise in precious items reported, such as Bronze Age and mediaeval artefacts. South east Wales, Wrexham and southern Pembrokeshire are hotspots for ancient discoveries. About 90% of artefacts are found by metal detectorists. Dr Rhianydd Biebrach said: "We have certainly noticed over the last few years that the amount of treasure finds reported in Wales has increased. "I guess it's partly the popularity of metal detecting which is growing. It's had a lot of publicity from things like [Channel 4's] Time Team and the BBC series Detectorists." [...]   Dr Adam Gwilt, principal curator of prehistory at the National Museum Wales, said "year-on-year" the number of treasure items reported had been increasing since the introduction of the Treasure Act. Some 40 items found in 2016 were currently going through the process to be declared treasure, he added, and he hoped reports of finds would continue to rise. "Hopefully, people will feel that the archaeological heritage of Wales is as important as perhaps our ancient monuments and that we're caring for them for the future so that people in the future can enjoy them as well," he added.
Replace the word "monuments" in what Dr Gwilt said with "sites" (for that is where the collected artefacts are coming from in Collection Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record  and it will become clearer what he's saying. Basically he hopes blind and selective looting of the archaeological record will continue to rise, so he can see more decontextualised objects.

Buying Back the Public's Heritage

Hoovering the archaeological record
The National Museum Wales  is engaged in the 'Saving Treasures; Telling Stories' project, with help given from the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure that Welsh museums can buy treasure found in their areas and prevent them otherwise going on the open market (Gemma Ryall, 'Metal detecting helps increase treasure finds in Wales',  BBC News 30 April 2017)  Of course if Treasure hunters were not emptying archaeological sites and assemblages of any metal item they can, then the public would not be forced to buy back their own heritage from them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is a Welsh PAS Financially Sustainable in the Long Term?

"Proof, if proof were needed,
that collectors and metal detectorists
are getting a big thumbs-up from government".
[Myopic metal-detectorist view on a blog near you]

Over on metal detecting forums and blogs, on hearing the news of a new Heritage Lottery Fund - financed project in Wales, I note that the prevalent mood is of optimism for the future of PAS Wales.  "The government [is] pouring £-millions in to it", one of them wrote. Is that actually so?

The funding of PAS Wales has been a contentious issue for some time now. As earlier posts in this blog indicate the Welsh Scheme has long lagged behind the rest of the country in the degree to which responsible artefact hunting has been taken up. Through financial and organizational constraints, Wales is already down from several (four?) FLOs in 2009-10 to just one now.  In 2010 the breakdown of PAS-Wales funding looked like this:
DCMS currently puts approximately £60,000 into the scheme in Wales, with £10,000 coming from Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (NMW) and £5,000 from Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales (CyMAL). 
So four years ago it was running on £75,000 a year. A year from now, however the main source of that  funding is scheduled to stop entirely  ("AC-NMW, Cadw and CyMAL will fund the Welsh contribution to the Scheme in equal proportions, taking full responsibility from 2015-16 when the British Museum funding ends").

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales  is just one of a number of heritage fundraising initiatives supported by the HLF. The money for the so-called "Unearthing the past" project to "create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting" is going to just one of these partner organizations (so where will the other two get the money to finance PAS upkeep?). The whole grant is going to be £349,000 for a four-year period . That's £87,2500 a year (so hardly "£-millions"), but note that out of that will come funds not only for various add-ons which do not currently form part of PAS, but also part will be gobbled up by "targeted purchases of newly discovered artefacts to develop national and local collections over a four year period 2015-2019" (already in part financed in both England and Wales by HLF money).

It would seem from this that in 2015 the PAS (PAS Cymry) will still be being funded by central funds from the BM in addition to the HLF funding (it is not stated when the HLF money will actually be in the Museum's coffers), but from April 2016 there is a distinct possibility that the PAS will be limping along on any money it can get from local government and the HLF grant which will end three years after that.

As for this grant representing any "big thumbs-up from government" (sic), the HLF is not a government department, but is administered by a non-departmental public body - the Board of Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). This in part is directed by policy directions indicated by the DCMS. In the currently evolving state of the devolved government (Wales now has its own Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport), this arrangement will perhaps be subject to modification.

It seems to me that the grounds for jubilation are sparse here. PAS Wales was late to take off, it developed slowly (despite the dedication of its professional staff) and made little headway in promoting best practice in artefact hunting (visit the pages of the 'Detecting Wales' metal detecting forum for proof of that). It was the first to be cut when central funding cuts started to affect the PAS a few years ago. the latest 'cunning plan' to keep up the façade that Collection-Driven Exploitation and exploiters have been 'tamed' is to go over from central funding from the government (through BM grants) of a service basing outreach on professional archaeologists liaising with the public, to the establishment of regional recording centres, which sound very much like the move to volunteer recording to replace the FLOs in England (Karaoke recording'). This may be "people's archaeology" but it is not the PAS.    

Instead of the new scheme in Wales being a "a big thumbs-up from government for artefact hunting and collecting" as metal detectorists like to consider it, it might be suggested that the government is in effect washing its hands of the whole problem in Wales, casting the recording institutions adrift and forcing them to seek funding elsewhere. While they can, a PAS-like system will limp along, when the funding dries up, it won't. Then metal detectorists will have to look elsewhere for legitimation of their exploitive and destructive hobby.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Welsh Collecting Culture: "like Syria without the guns"

Nigel Swift on the Heritage Action website has the following to say about artefact hunting on Welsh archaeological sites:

As the CBA says, the best way to extract evidence is via “controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation“. So it follows that the proper role for archaeologists to adopt towards metal detecting is to encourage people to mitigate their damage, nothing else. Yet the Welsh Museums (aided by PAS and the Lottery Fund) have just launched a project that effectively promotes artefact hunting providing it’s done well (or in their words, creates “a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting”.) The law of unintended consequences needs noting. Promoting detecting done well also promotes detecting as a whole, so what they regard as applying a conservation brake is actually pressing an exploitation accelerator. There are better actions they could take. For example:
That’s a press report about Syria of course but apart from the guns it describes exactly what has been happening in Wales (and England) routinely on unprotected archaeological sites for donkey’s years. PAS outreaching hasn’t stopped it (at rallies PAS often has a stall next to the artefact dealers, for goodness sake!) and nor will the latest stance by the Welsh museums. Welsh archaeologists and heritage professionals might be better employed persuading the Government to put a stop to that before they try to “create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

There's Definitely Something Wrong with the PAS System in Wales": UK Detectorist

Over on a detecting forum near you, some UK metal detectorists are currently moaning about the "service" provided to them by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Perhaps somebody should tell them that PAS was not set up for their exclusive convenience and legitimation of their exploitive hobby. I cannot see the PAS itself doing that, though. So we get remarks like this:
“going by the right channels seems a lot of hassle i could not be dealing people who do not do there jobs efficiently i dont blame people for not reporting there finds if this is the way they get treated"
or this kind of thing:
“The rudeness and antiquarian attitude of the representative in London certainly framed my attitude to PAS in that I now have 73 items in my possession that are legible for the scheme but until that guy apologises in public and it is in written form I will not record a thing.”
I like especially the accusation of "antiquarian attitude" coming from an artefact collector ! It seems detectorists are at last taking notice of the message of this blog and they themselves are noting a sad truism:
There is definitely something wrong with the system in Wales as according to the statistics on PAS regarding the amount of finds added to the database in 2012. Somerset had 1825 while the whole of Wales added just 240..... 
One "finder" countered with this:
“For your information a collection of about 200 Flints from one field in Herefordshire were with the PAS for five years when I finally had them back before Xmas. They still have not made there way onto the database.” 
So, assuming that these "flints" were indeed archaeological objects and not natural frost-shatters, PAS Wales could double their "number of finds" statistics as and when it suits them. Of course by number of objects rather than number of meaningful records. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Treasure Hunting and Finding: Finders-Keepers

What would a metal detectorist do if he found a hoard of gold coins? The supporters of the PAS will inevitably tell you that all metal detectorists are law-abiding and of course they'd do the responsible thing (ie what the law lays down they should do, that is report it to the Coroner). Not in Wales though according to a post on the "Detecting Wales" forum. One "Nfl" (apparently a "Superhero Member" of the forum) made his confession Today at 12:41:15 PM in a thread called "Amateur treasure hunter finds tiny 14th century heart-shaped gold brooch":
theres no sense in any of it ,,,,,,,when i find 50,000 gold saxon coins in a pot im selling em 1 by 1 on flea bay ,,,,,,that,ll tie the site up for a few years 
 And how many fellow forum members protested against such a declaration? When I looked, none had.  Have a look yourselves. Obviously this could easily be done if it is seen as advantageous (for example any money earnt would not have to be split 50:50 with the landowner as would probably be the case if it went through a Treasure inquest). So the question arises not whether it happens, but how often DOES it happen?