Friday, December 30, 2011

Welsh PAS "fix" a Deal Done Behind the Scenes?

The Freedom of Information request to the Welsh government submitted by David Gill to the Welsh Government (see: 'Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales: details published') has raised more questions than it has answers. What is REALLY interesting here is that the FOI request asked for all relevant emails and memoranda to be included, but it turns out from this that in the whole government system in the whole past year that this has been discussed, there have been just TWO documents generated. Two documents which decide not only a major area of heritage policy but also how several hundred thousand pounds of public money are being shifted from the original destination, to another one. Isn't that a bit odd? It looks like there is something more to this than meets the eye. Assuming that Welsh Government has released everything (both documents!), as obliged to do under the FOI act, then it becomes clear that the discussion about this has been outside normal channels, ones that leave no paper trail.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Knee-Jerk "Policy" Making

A few weeks ago David Gill submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Welsh government in an effort to understand what was going on with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The result ('Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales: details published') was quite an eye-opener. The response revealed little real information about the behind-the-scenes doings, but enough to show the usual ad-hoc-approach was being applied to portable antiquity issues.
It turns out that, after the announcement by the British Museum that the funding for the Welsh PAS would be cut, on 26 November 2010, the National Museum of Wales alerted CyMAL to the problem that Wales would need to meet the funding gap of £64K (as David notes, it is worth comparing these figures to the ones that appeared in the PAS press release in November 2010).

It seems from the released documents that almost nothing was done to deal with the problem for a year. The second memorandum from CyMAL on the matter dates from 28 October 2011 and dates from after the agitation of metal detectorists suddenly alerted (among other things by this blog, started at the beginning of October) to the impending demise of the Scheme if nothing was done. It was prompted among other things from the letters being sent to the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage and CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries by Assembly Members (no doubt prompted by "metal detectorists"). These had a fixed "time for response" term, which is why a 'final' decision had to be taken so quickly. As David Gill notes:
Interestingly the memorandum required a decision by 1 November 2011. In other words the memorandum was sent on a Friday and a decision was required by the following Tuesday. The prompt seems to have come from "metal detecting clubs in Wales".
In fact what the Welsh government say is that "there has been some publicity around the possible threat to the continued operation of the PAS in Wales, particularly from metal detectorists and historians concerned at the possible cessation of the scheme in Wales". The memorandum discusses the arrangements for an announcement: "Rather than a press release ..." it is decided (perhaps to avoid awkward journalistic questions) to keep the announcement low-key as a mere statement on the Welsh Government website, and proposes a draft text for that announcement (see the post below this). Note that the details of the funding are absent from this statement. It also turns out that the text on the PAS website of which Roger Bland claims to be 'author', was in fact penned in a government office in Wales, a long way from Bloomsbury.

These emerge from the 28th October memorandum and they are a total reverse of the original BM money-saving proposal. The expenditure reduction proposed for immediate application in 2012 will not - on this projection - occur until 2014-5. So where is the BM going to get an additional £33550 from? At what cost to other parts of the PAS system will the Welsh PAS be kept on? Where will the Welsh government find the additional £88000 for the next four years ?

The total cost of having a PAS in Wales over the next four years is projected to be £277,080. To what extent is it needed, to service the collecting activities of the handful of Welsh artefact hunters who show some of their finds to it. Let us note that one of the more prolific Welsh 'contributors' to the PAS database enters the information himself, without any recourse to the FLO system. Why does Wales need a separate PAS system ?

Spot the Difference

The draft text ("doc. 1 - Statement of Information" ) of the proposed announcement by the Welsh government recently released under a Freedom of Information request is not identical to that subsequently published ('The future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales '), and the differences are of interest. Doc 1 refers to a "revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales for 2012-13 onwards". In the published version the word "onwards" has been removed. Likewise in the final paragraph the section that "the funding package being considered" would allow for "the continuation of the role undertaken by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts", the word "continuation" has been deleted (leaving an ungrammatical sentence). Stylistic changes, or revealing that the proposed changes cannot be envisaged as a permanent solution?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Gifts to Keep the Flow of Artefacts Coming

The boys on "Detecting Wales" are discussing the Xmas gifts they give to keep their farmers sweet. The posting of "Superhero member" "Chef Geoff" was inadvertently revealing, imagine how grateful the poor sap of a farmer is:
I'm pretty predictable, a Christmas card, a bottle of wine and some chocolates for the family. [ ;wink]

Finds for 2011
Roman coins:- Nummus 96, Dupondius 2, Denarius 3, Sestertius 3, Folis 5.
Roman Brooches:- 23
Hammered Coins:- 35
Celtic Stater:- 1
[...] And every one self recorded with PAS
and all the farmer got for allowing him to add them to his collection was a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates?

Even valuing that lot at just a few quid each (not forgetting the value of the photos - 500 quid a shout according to some metal detectorists) if that is all the farmer is getting from guys like this, they are getting well ripped off, allowing these collectors to create a valuable private accumulation of antiquities at next to no cost. Perhaps farmers might as a New Year's resolution decide to take an interest in the metal detecting magazines, especially the bits about "how much are my finds worth" and how much some of even the more pedestrian "nummi" go for on eBay?

By the way, the rate at which "Cheff Geoff" has been finding the recordable finds he lists above is FIVE times the rate of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. Whether or not they are "recorded" is irrelevant, erosion is erosion, and it is happening at a huge and largely unmitigated rate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Conflicting Accounts of Welsh Portable Antiquities Scheme "Rescue"

After several months' silence, the British Museum has weighed in on the discussion of the "future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales" but only because it has only just now noticed "there have been recent concerns expressed as to the future operation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales". Roger Bland himself penned a somewhat bland announcement, which I will quote in full:
Discussions between the Welsh Government, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, the British Museum, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have now successfully addressed this issue in such a way that will ensure the continuation of the scheme, including the important post of Finds Liaison Officer, in Wales. More information is available here: -
That's it. No details about just what will be continued and in what form. The "more information" however, dated 31 October 2011 contradicts the letter previously sent out by Linda Tomos:
The Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage has agreed a recommendation to provide additional funding from Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales budgets in 2012-13 to support the continued operation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales, and identifies a funding framework for future years. This follows a decision by the British Museum to reduce its contribution to the costs of operating the scheme in Wales. [...] The Minister for Heritage is being asked to consider a revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales in 2012-13 and identifies a framework for future years. [...] The funding package being considered would allow for the continuation of the Scheme in Wales including the continued employment of the Wales Finds Liaison Officer by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the continuation of the role undertaken by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts.
Does Dr Bland's announcement indicate that the "consideration" has come to an end and the funds have been assigned? If so, why does he refer to the earlier announcement as supplying "more information" when it provides less?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are Welsh Detectorists Not Reporting FindS?

Over on the Detecting Wales forum is a telling statistic. Contributor "Alan" notes:
in the local PAS report for our county, it reported that only 32 detectorists recorded finds with the scheme, yet we know of well over 700 detectorists attended clubs throughout the year! [make of that statistic what you will!!]
I make of that, that reporting is appallingly bad in Wales. Let's stop funding their under-used Portable Antiquities Scheme. It's a waste of money.

PAS in Wales "Saved" for Now?

Time was running out for the PAS in Wales, the contracts ran through until the end of March, the British Museum had said that in order to maintain the same number of posts in England as last year, they would no longer be funding the PAS in Wales, leaving this up to the Welsh Assembly government and Museums Archives and Libraries Wales CyMAL. Meanwhile there was this guy who does not consider that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is a solution to England's artefact hunting problem who'd started a blog (you are reading it) which made a case for the removal of PAS cover from Wales being the beginning of an end to current policies of passive tolerance. There was a little stir in the metal detecting community of Wales, three or four of them glanced at the blog, shuddered at the thought of reading all those words, and moved on.

Just recently however one of their number wrote to Wales' First Minister on 14th October with a question "wottabout the future of the PAS then?". The First Minister did not know, the buck was passed, down it went until the tekkie's letter ended on the desk of Linda Tomos, director of CyMAL who sent an answer out on 2nd November.
Dear Mr Langley, Thank you for your email to the First Minister ....
The letter is published in full on the "Detecting Wales" forum. In it Ms Tomos gives a totally superfluous (in the circumstances) summary account of the history of PAS funding from 1998 to the present day and ends thus:
Following a reduction in the ring-fenced funding for the scheme from the DCMS, the British Museum advised that it would no longer be able to operate the scheme in Wales. Given its success and popularity[,] officials in CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales have explored alternative options. We have therefore been in extensive contact with the British Museum, which has agreed to continue providing some financial support. The Minister has also recently agreed additional funding from the Welsh Government. These steps will ensure the continuation of the scheme, including the important post of Finds Liaison Officer, in Wales.
It would seem that the PAS is not seen over in Wales as a means of heritage preservation (mitigation of damage caused by artefact hunting by preservation by record) but something which is "popular" and "successful". How this popularity and success are measured is not explained, the Scheme certainly had very little success getting anything like a decent number of finds recorded compared to what was lost. In fact one wonders whether that was the motivation of the BM's backtracking on the decision to cut funding. One can imagine that, instead of desultory few showing a dribble of their finds as seems to have been the case up till now, a few dozen artefact hunters from Glamorgan taking most of the recordable stuff they find along to the museum in Cardiff for recording could easily have produced the same figures as a whole year's worth of PAS "outreach". This really would have called into question the value of spending all those millions on a PAS - and those questions might have been asked this time by more than a few bloggers.

To be honest, being "in extensive contact with the British Museum" who had earlier said in effect, "you are on your own" really does not sound to me very much like "exploring alternative options". It rather says that at present there ARE no other options than a BM cash handout from its own budget. This is particularly important since for a decade or so the PAS had a fifth aim: "To define the nature and scope of a scheme for recording portable antiquities in the longer term, to access the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice", which they announced in their annual reports a few years ago they had "fulfilled" - but without revealing what their conclusions had been. Obviously they were not communicated to CyMAL either.

Ms Tomos does not reveal any of the nuts and bolts details, the promise of how much cash their pleading squeezed out of the BM, or the amount of financial backing the Welsh Government will be supplying. Neither is it explained why, is this just because the Scheme is "popular"? At what level of operation will the Welsh Government be happy that its investment has been well repaid? What obviously is needed is not just the "continuation" of the PAS but its expansion, strengthening, incorporation into the legislative and administrative measures concerning the preservation of the archaeological and historical heritage of Wales.

So, the PAS coverage (I use the term loosely) of Wales has reportedly been "saved" for now. How long it can limp on remains to be seen.

Why Are Welsh Detectorists Not reporting Finds?

In the thread that developed about the PAS having been "saved", comments are being made that Welsh detectorists need to make more of an effort to show it is needed, use it or lose it. A Llanelli club member says that when the PAS visits the club, he takes away "a dozen" of the finds which members brought to the meeting because they thought they were "worth recording". Is that really the sum total of the recordable finds made by all 78 club members since the last visit of the FLO? As commented one other forum member, they'd "better put batteries in their detectors or take up fishing instead".

In the course of that discussion that member admitted that in the past ten months (this year) he had detected in as many as 21 fields on the Polden Hills near Bridgewater, and that as a result there were 193 finds recorded in the PAS database. One detectorist in ten months. So what is happening to the rest of the finds being made by Welsh detectorists even if they are finding things at one tenth of that rate?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Na i PAS ar gyfer Cymru: The Reasons For this Blog

Three weeks ago I took my Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues temporarily offline as a result of threats to my family by a "metal detectorist" and a subsequent incident which the police are now investigating which coincided with a planned mass action by UK "metal detectorists" to try and get Google to close the blogger's account. The person responsible for these threats is a member of the forum "Detecting Wales" where three weeks ago he announced gleefully (
I would just like to announce tonight I have put an end to Paul Barford and his anti detecting blogs. [...] I think I'll change my name to 'Steve The Barford Slayer'
This, and thus by extension the methods used to achieve this "feat" achieved full approval of the Welsh "metal detectorists" (artefact hunters and collectors) gathered on that forum, such as expressed in remarks like the following:
Good for you Steve - people like that get what they deserve in the end eh
aurevoir Pauly boy
well done, Steve. [...] Barking Barford Beaten!
I've always thought that if you're prepared to wait you will have the last laugh, so to speak. Last one I thought that about had a heart attack and dropped down dead age 39.
weldone steve,
Steve, You know how I feel about the person in question - so well done [...] I am going to lock the thread now mate just to ensure there are no repercussions.
That last one is from the list's moderator. The "repercussions" to which he refers presumably include any attempt to consider just what it is the Welsh "metal detectorists" have to hide from a blog that considers the wider context of artefact hunting and collecting activities in the context of "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues". More to the point just what it is that gives them such a feeling of entitlement that for them the only right and proper reaction to an attempt at public debate is to try and force the polemicist offline by aggression and outright threats to him and his family of dire consequences if he does not stop.

In most countries of the world, people who use tools such as metal detectors to remove collectable and saleable artefacts from archaeological sites are condemned and prosecuted if caught. Most countries of the world recognise that the archaeological record is a finite, fragile and precious resource, not to be lightly squandered for personal gain and this is reflected in the legislation. Not so the United Kingdom, whose antiquities "preservation" laws have not advanced much beyond their pioneering Victorian form from 1882.

When "metal detecting" (artefact hunting) became popular in the 1970s it was rightly met in Britain with opprobrium. This changed with the setting up of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 1997, and since then artefact hunting has been getting nothing but positive press from the English archaeological community. The Scheme has done much to shield a whole range of issues connected with portable antiquity collecting in the British Isles (and England and Wales in particular) from deeper discussion and scrutiny. It is the public attitudes engendered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and those that support it that are responsible for the confidence with which artefact hunters like the "Detecting Wales" members mentioned above that they are in no way accountable to the British public for what they do.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme empowers artefact hunters (as pointed out by David Barwell) and encourages them to warn anyone concerned about the effects of what they are doing on the archaeological record to "get off our case" (Austin 2010, also here too).

Interestingly recent changes in the organization of the PAS as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review have led to PAS is facing a 15% reduction by 2014-15. One of the most significant features is the impact of devolution. It has been proposed to reduce the current contribution made by the Scheme to PAS in Wales, on the basis that these costs should be borne by the Welsh Assembly Government, through Museums Archives and Libraries Wales CyMAL or the National Museum Wales. In the texts below I would like to argue the case for abandoning the flawed PAS concept altogether in favour of other approaches to dealing with archaeological finds made by members of the public and the metal detecting problem in particular. If the PAS prop was removed from the hobby, it would have to do much more to justify its continued existence or face the consequences if it cannot. It would mean the hobby (and people who support the PAS) actually addressing the questions and issues now being raised by individuals such as myself or professor David Gill, until recently based in Swansea University. It is notable that when the latter was invited to conduct a forum discussion on the role of the PAS in the preservation of the archaeological record at the end of last year, the PAS itself refused to take part.

The Archaeological Heritage Belongs to us All

The archaeological record is a record of the history of all who lived in a given area in the past and as such belongs to all of us. It is our story. It is also a finite and fragile resource which common sense indicates that if we value it, should be sustainably managed for the benefit of us all and also (perhaps primarily) future generations and should not therefore be squandered. The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)(Valetta, 16.I.1992) talks (Article 1) of the need to protect the archaeological heritage as a source of the European collective memory and as an instrument for historical and scientific study. It reqires states parties to "prevent any illicit excavation or removal of elements of the archaeological heritage", "ensure that archaeological excavations and prospecting are undertaken in a scientific manner" and "ensure that excavations and other potentially destructive techniques are carried out only by qualified, specially authorised persons". Obviously artefact hunting stripping sites of collectable items for entertainment and profit does not by any stretch of the imagination coincide with what the Convention has in mind. In particular the Convention makes specific mention of the need to make the use of metal detectors and any other detection equipment "subject to specific prior authorisation", whenever used for searching for archaeological material. This is in order to restrict "the transfer of elements of the archaeological heritage obtained from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations".

The use of the camouflage term "metal detectorists" obscures the fact that they are artefact hunters whose aim is the selection of artefacts for their personal (ie private) collections. In removing them from sites they are destroying the contextual information used by the archaeologist, by ripping them out of the ground they are destroying the historic environment which is the heritage of us all, and by secreting both artefacts and finds away they are preventing them ever being used for the benefit of all through the proper methodological study of the sites and landscapes from which they came. This is information that can never be retrieved.

The State and Responsible Use of the Archaeological Record

The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)(Valetta, 16.I.1992) talks (Article 1) of the need to protect the archaeological heritage as a source of the European collective memory and as an instrument for historical and scientific study. States parties are enjoined (Article 2) to create a legal system for the protection of the archaeological heritage, not only making provision for the designation of protected monuments and areas, but also "the creation of archaeological reserves, even where there are no visible remains on the ground or under water, for the preservation of material evidence to be studied by later generations".

In particular the Convention (Art 2, iii) requires the institution of:
mandatory reporting to the competent authorities by a finder of the chance discovery of elements of the archaeological heritage and making them available for examination.
Britain has ratified this Convention, but does not have such a clause in its legislation. "Metal detectorists" are free to go out and di up whatever they want with no legal requirement for them to report anything that is not a hoard or gold or silver artefacts.

Article 3

To preserve the archaeological heritage and guarantee the scientific significance of archaeological research work, each Party undertakes:

i. to apply procedures for the authorisation and supervision of excavation and other archaeological activities in such a way as:

a. to prevent any illicit excavation or removal of elements of the archaeological heritage;

b. to ensure that archaeological excavations and prospecting are undertaken in a scientific manner and provided that:

– non-destructive methods of investigation are applied wherever possible;

– the elements of the archaeological heritage are not uncovered or left exposed during or after excavation without provision being made for their proper preservation, conservation and management;

ii. to ensure that excavations and other potentially destructive techniques are carried out only by qualified, specially authorised persons;

iii. to subject to specific prior authorisation, whenever foreseen by the domestic law of the State, the use of metal detectors and any other detection equipment or process for archaeological investigation.

Again, Britain falls short of these requirements. A "metal detectorist" requires no prior archaeological or heritage management authorisation to go onto almost any archaeological site he fancies which is not protected by law, and dig up and take away whatever he wants. Britain's archaeological heritage is not being "managed" just exposed to an artefact hunting free-for-all.

Article 10

Each Party undertakes [...]

vi. to restrict, as far as possible, by education, information, vigilance and co-operation, the transfer of elements of the archaeological heritage obtained from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations.

Again, Britain is ignoring this - with metal detected finds changing hands on eBay at an enormous speed and on a disturbing scale.

It should be obvious that the whole aim of the measures set out in the Convention is to protect archaeological sites and monuments from destruction, including by artefact hunters. its primary aim is not the preservation of individual artefacts or ensure the "recording" of information about individual artefacts. England totally ignored that by rejecting the mandatory reporting clause in favour of voluntary recording and not instituting any other measures to curb the destruction of archaeological evidence by artefact hunting. The Portable Antiquities Scheme does not preserve sites in any way from looting and treasure-hunting, even if that is not what the British public have been taught to call artefact hunting with metal detectors. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a failure when measured in terms of its ability to stop damage to sites by artefact hunters.

Most other countries in the world have long had legislation making the random exploitive digging up of archaeological finds from archaeological sites punishable by the same types of laws that protect the nests of rare wild birds from being looted by collectors, or the destruction of other elements of the endangered natural heritage. Basically Britain and Antarctica are among the few countries that do not yet have such legislation.

Failure to Engender a True Public Discussion

The almost universal approval in the "metal detecting" milieu of the activities of various members of the community to silence critics of current policies on artefact hunting by whatever methods they may choose is telling. It seems many "metal detectorists " in the UK are only too aware of the "Portable Antiquities Scam" currently being perpetrated on British public opinion. That is, the huge holes in the arguments put forward by the supporters of the hobby of so-called "metal detecting" and the degree to which the flimsy façade of "responsibility" and alleged "benefits" for archaeology is based on wholly questionable premises as its foundation. Sadly for the archaeological record of Britain, the number of people actually questioning these premises is still relatively small. This is partly as a result of the sort of aggression and unpleasantness (including threats) that tends to be directed at their authors (even on 'academic' discussion lists such as the JISC-run Britarch discussion list of the Council for British Archaeology, and before this forced its closure, the Portable Antiquities Scheme's own public-access forum).

This has to change and there has to be more transparency about what these people are doing to the archaeological heritage in which not only archaeologists and collectors are the only stakeholders, but - primarily - the whole of society (and internationally). The conservation policies of English Heritage on sustainable management of the historic environment (download here) state clearly that the issues concerning conservation of the cultural heritage should be a matter of open debate and consultation. This is quite patently not happening in the case of portable antiquities issues in England and Wales. This may be very comfortable for the artefact hunter and procurer, it may be comfortable for the dealers and buyers, but all the time this is going on, the evidence we have indicates that the long-term survival and integrity of the archaeological record which we aim to protect is being severely compromised.

It is undeniable that the existence of UK artefact hunting's "partner" organization, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to a great degree sheltering some extremely disturbing features from deserved public scrutiny. It is suggested here that there are a number of good reasons for the total scrapping of the Welsh PAS in order to bring out into the open the issue of what should be done about the damage caused to the archaeological record by "metal detectorists" out into the open.

The British Media

The people of the United Kingdom are woefully ill-served by the media when it comes to their reporting of portable antiquities issues. One might understand the tabloids excitedly reporting the "little man makes good/ gets rich/ makes a lucky find" stories. That's the sort of "everybody's five minutes of fame" thing tabloid newspapers write. Their reports frequently stress the monetary aspects of a "find", that "the experts" are amazed ("dumbfounded")/ surprised/ delighted, that "unemployed father of six Joe was just about to pack up for the day but decided to stop and dig one last signal on his way back to his car" and suchlike anecdotes, followed by an equally fatuous little human interest story recounted by the archaeologist ("the equivalent of a Roman brothel's takings for several months") to show how "important" the 798th pot full of coins this year is.

The interesting thing is that what used to be the 'big' papers, the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and independent all follow exactly the same pattern. The Portable Antiquities Scheme's press office (the BM press office) gives out some detailed press releases and most newspapers, whether tabloids or not, follow precisely the story as given. Investigative journalism about portable antiquities is not fashionable. It's easier just to recast what the PAS gave the journalist. Recently there has been only a single article which steps outside the sycophantic "metal detectorists are good for archaeology" bla-bla scheme imposed by PAS press releases. This was Richard Owen of the Independent about an upcoming TV proposal about which the archaeological world (atypically when it comes to anything the PAS are up to) has some reservations. The rest of the newspapers "arts" journalists (who usually cover the Portable Antiquities Scheme events and press releases) rarely step outside their role of being passive transmitters of what the PAS tells them to say about metal detecting. This is very odd because a few years ago with the next breath the very same journalists were writing about looting in Iraq and Afghanistan, without asking themselves what is the difference between digging archaeological artefacts out of the ground in a site at Isin (Iraq) or Islip (England).
Vignette, Huffington post.

The Secrecy that Surrounds Portable Antiquities

There is a total lack of transparency about just about every aspect of the collecting and - especially - trade in antiquities. For some reason the world has got used to accepting that this "has to be" some kind of a norm, without really asking why and whether it is beneficial to treat a common heritage like the archaeological resource without full transparency. Obviously it is not, it hides a whole load of egregious examples of extremely bad practice from any kind of public scrutiny.

"Metal detecting" is notorious in this regard. Artefact hunters shield all sorts of information from public scrutiny on the spurious grounds that the "only reason is" that if they do not, unscrupulous individuals in the metal detector owning community might use this information to "poach" the artefacts from "their" most "productive" sites. Of course it is precisely such sites that heritage professionals need to know about at the earliest opportunity to protect them from being exploited erosively by artefact hunting. It does not take much of an imagination to realise that this too is a reason why artefact hunters (interested in getting stuff out of these sites for their own private use) are not too keen on providing this information.

Metal detectorists like to persuade the public that the "majority of them are responsible" and it is only a "small minority of black sheep" that are the cause of the problems with artefact hunting. That is belied by what goes on in some clubs and the contents of many of the internet discussion groups in which they gather and discuss candidly what they do or want to do - most often received wholly unjudgementally by the rest of the "responsible" membership. It is for this reason that public scrutiny of these metal detecting forums would soon betray the extent of the "portable antiquity scam". It is for this reason that the majority of artefact hunters' forums are not open access, but access to the posts is restricted to approved members only. The forums take great care to make sure that critical eyes do not get to see what goes on in the closed sections of these forums.

Even among themselves, "metal detectorists" seldom write on their forums under their own name, but under an assumed "screen name" to hide their real identity. PAS does not report finders' names, so no member of the public without special access to its database can check precisely how many items a self-proclaimed "responsible metal detectorist" has actually reported. The exact place artefacts have been taken from is never reported, so again it is impossible to say whether a reported find has come actually from a known site or merely an adjacent area.

All these things conspire to hide the actual patterns nature and scale of artefact collecting activity going on under the umbrella of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Detecting Organizations in Wales and Responsible Collecting

"Metal detectorists" in Wales are organized into clubs which may be affiliated with one of the two national organizations, the NCMD or FID. It is through these clubs that the PAS meets most of the "metal detectorists" in a region and has some possibility of getting across its main messages about responsible artefact hunting and instil best practice. It is through them that it should be propagating the officially sanctioned "Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales"

There are a number of these clubs in Wales but it is quite instructive to see how they approach the problem of defining what is, and what is not, "responsible metal detecting":

Brecon Metal detecting club this refers only to the NCMD Code (which is not an adequate measure of "responsible detecting" and which the official code was intended to replace.

Cardiff Scan Club (No code mentioned)

Carmarthenshire Metal Detecting Club (no website - no code?)

Forest of Dean Metaldetecting Club (NCMD Code of Conduct)

Glamorgan Metal Detecting Club (No webpage? No Code)

The Great Orme Metal Detectors Club (no webpage, no code)

Gwent Detecting Club (No code mentioned)

Gwynedd Recovery and Search Society (No website, no code)

The Historical Search Society (Mold) (NCMD Code [warning using the rolling text website can damage your eyes])

Llanelli Metal Detecting Club (no website, no code)

Neath/ Port Talbot Metal Detecting Club (no code mentioned, "professional") You Tube.

North Wales Detecting Club
see also: no mention of a code anywhere.

Pembrokeshire Prospectors Metal Detecting Club Club has its own "Code of conduct", based on NCMD one (article 2 is incomplete, and there is no mention there of the PAS)

Rhondda Artefacts and Research Enthusiasts (RARE) No Code of Conduct, the "rules" state that..." 7. Each member will be given a copy of rules of Treasure Trove" (sic). No mention of any Code of Conduct for Responsible Detecting.

Swansea Metal Detecting Club no code as such, in the (rather odd) "club rules", the club "advises"...

Wrexham Metal Detecting Club (no website, no code)

The Wrexham Heritage Society (No mention of a Code of Conduct).

We therefore have the entirely unsatisfactory situation that not a single metal detecting club in Wales can be found (unless I missed one) which promotes the accepted "Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales" which defines what can, and cannot be considered "responsible detecting". In other words, all the Welsh clubs have turned their backs on this definition and go their own way. Since one of the fundamental tenets of the Code is that as a minimum the "responsible metal detectorist" reports all recordable finds to the Portable antiquities Scheme, it would seem that the majority of the "metal detectorists" in Welsh clubs do not see reporting anything to the PAS as necessary as even a minimum requirement to be a "responsible metal detectorist".

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Black and White (and Grey)

It is one of the maxims of the supporters of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England that "metal detectorists" are decent blokes who are doing what they do, not because they are at all interested in financial gain or want to do damage, but because they are all "passionately interested in history". As such, the "vast majority" are "responsible" and it is a small minority of "black sheep" who "get the hobby a bad name". These so-called "nighthawks" who use metal detectors without the landowner's permission and on protected sites (often under the cover of darkness, hence the name) are - the story goes, despised by "real metal detectorists" who have nothing to do with them.

The official picture is therefore a purely black and white one. On the one hand are the "black" metal detector users operating outside the law, and on the other, the "whiter than white" ones who do not break the law and are therefore "responsible". The problem is that in many areas of life there is a huge difference between what is responsible and what is merely "not illegal". This is very much the case with artefact hunting. In three posts below this I propose looking at this proposed simplistically dichotomous black and white model promoted by PAS and "metal detectorists" and their supporters in more detail and show the shades of grey that hide between the two extremes.

Vignette: Dichotomy between white angel and black nighthawking devil.

The Black Side of "Metal Detecting"

The "Nighthawks" are commonly portrayed as "the only problem" which metal detector use on archaeological sites produces. Nobody really knows how many individuals go out and search for artefacts illegally. Neither is it known to what degree individuals go out artefact hunting most of the time in accordance with the law, and once or twice for one reason or another illegally, or vice-versa. Most of the time those doing illegal activities do not tend to boast about it in polite company. A few years back English Heritage produced a report on so-called "nighthawking" (which is a misnomer, many unscrupulous detector users probably search sites illegally in broad daylight if the hedges are high enough and the site cannot be seen from the road or farmhouse). It concluded that the scale of the activity was down compared to previous years, though these conclusions remain tentative and uncheckable by the means applied at the time the report was compiled. It was suggested in some way the Portable Antiquities Scheme had played a part turning black devils into white angels. Personally I very much doubt it, and refer the reader to a series of posts on my main blog for the reasons why.

The White Side of "Metal Detecting"

The model that is propagated by the supporters of the PAS is that the awfully nice gentlemen with metal detectors are somehow doing archaeology a great benefit by taking artefacts out of the archaeological record with minimal attention to precise context so that they can be "recorded" by the Portable Antiquities Scheme "database" so everybody can look at pictures of them and read about them on their computers without getting off their backsides and going to a proper museum or reading any proper book about archaeology. The PAS is presented as a Scheme for recording artefacts, not protecting sites from being despoiled of collectable items.

Obviously it is in the interest of the PAS to persuade everyone - not least the public purse-string holders - that its doing a great job reaching all those "metal detectorists" willingly helping archaeology out by emptying archaeological sites all over the country of the more collectable items. They produce annual reports full of big numbers. The number of people that have visited their website, the number of children that have played the virtual metal-detecting game there. The number of "finders" that have brought finds for recording, the huge number of objects they have in their "database" as a result. What they do not say is what those people were doing on the website (looking for information to identify freshly dug up and unreported finds of their own which they want to sell on eBay maybe?). What they do not say is how many metal detectorists in the clubs, or at the commercial artefact hunting rallies they visited did not show their finds. What they have never studied is how large the collections of these people are and therefore what percentage of the finds they have removed in their years of artefact hunting are on record.

In the case of Wales, they have even incorporated into their database a separately-compiled database (of Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales) ostensibly to make the "coverage fuller", but with the effect of making it look to those unaware of the source of these data as if many more "White detectorists" have been coming to the Scheme with their finds.

When supporters of the PAS bang on about the "benefits" of the "partnership" with artefact hunters, they have in mind these "white detectorists" and are assuming that what they can see emerging in and from the PAS database is by now the major part of what artefact hunters are removing from archaeological sites all over the country. Nothing, I would say after a number of years looking carefully at the evidence for this, could in fact be further from the truth.

The Heritage Action Erosion Counter

The "success" of the Portable Antiquities Scheme can only be properly assessed when seen against how many artefacts are being removed from the archaeological record in England and Wales which are not being recorded. The PAS despite thirteen years of expensive liaison has not determined what that figure actually is. Conservation group Heritage Action attempts to indicate the significance of this gap in knowledge with the "Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter". This is a simple algorithm (based - for want of official figures from the PAS - on examination of what "metal detectorists" have revealed about how often they go out and what they find) which provides a conservative estimate how many finds seem likely to be being extracted from the ground a year by the minimum estimate of 10 000 active "metal detectorists" in the UK. It is estimated that statistically each finds something like 30,47 recordable finds a year (some more, some less of course). The figures produced by the counter ticking over day after day, week after week, month after month are quite shocking.
Today: 771*
This year: 220,155
Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme:4,301,690
Overall Total since 1975: 11,173,483

*(so basically as many finds as have been reported to the PAS from the whole of Wales so far this year)

If there are 500 active "metal detectorists' in Wales (see below), they should be producing over 15000 finds a year, that's 150 000 finds should have been added to the PAS database due to the activities of Welsh detectorists alone. Have they? Check for yourselves.

Vignette: emotions aroused by the Heritage Action Erosion Counter

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Common Greys in "Metal Detecting"

It is obvious that there can be no black-and-white. The Heritage Action Erosion Counter shows a shocking fact. the PAS are probably nowhere near the ideal target of mitigating archaeological information loss from the removal of archaeological material from sites all over the country by collectors. Quite apart from the all-too-frequent lack of detailed recorded observations of the exact context and interrelationships of the finds removed (without which they cease to be archaeological evidence and merely collectable geegaws), it is clear that the majority of recordable finds removed from the ground by "metal detectorists" in England and Wales do not make it to the PAS database. I made a while ago a graphic presentation of the shortfall in a post on my main blog (Thursday, 26 May 2011: From Cockspur Street to Coventry: What the British DCMS does not Want you to Think About
Let us consider [the number of finds recorded on the PAS database as represented by] the length of a chalk-line [...] along the Edgeware Road from Marble Arch. Let us say one centimetre represents one record on the PAS database. Our chalk line today would go from the foot of Marble Arch 443,085 cm to Kilburn Tube Station (Iverson Road, where co-incidentally I used to live for a while when a student). If we take the number of "objects" represented by those records, we come to somewhere like Cricklewood Road. So still in comfortable biking distance from Cockspur Street. Very impressive? Well its the combined work of many people over thirteen years and it has cost the Brits thirteen million quid in direct funding alone.

But... the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter says the number of (records of) recordable finds removed from the archaeological record would be about 4,196,418 since the PAS started. How long a chalk line is that many centimetres? It is a line that starts at the foot of Marble Arch, runs up the Edgeware Road, past Watford, St Albans and ends somewhere on the south side of Luton, more or less at the distance between the end of the runway of Luton Airport and Marble Arch. That is one centimetre for every missing find. One centimetre for every recordable archaeological find deliberately removed for personal entertainment and profit from the archaeological record which is a common resource, and vanished without trace. A line from Cockspur Street to Luton Airport.

If it cost the Brits thirteen million pounds to get enough finds to get a line a little way up the Edgeware Road, how much would it really cost to get a scheme that would be coping with the rate of erosion to get a line as far as, say - St Albans, about three quarters of the way to Luton Airport?

Obviously, too much. So the answer most British archaeologists apparently adopt is to shrug their shoulders and say it's "better than nothing" and call it a "partnership". And the metal detectorists who've got all the stuff taken from between Cricklewood and Luton Airport are laughing.

Of course there are some who say the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter gives a "false picture". They are right in two regards. The first is that it suggests we (so in other words, the PAS) actually know how many finds are taken, when - even after a thirteen-million-thirteen-year "partnership" with these takers of the past, the PAS simply does not. The Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is a model, an estimate - but its the best we have. We have to ask by how much it would have to be "wrong" to make the figures acceptable. The second area where it is wrong however takes it the other way, because it takes the UK's population of active metal detectorists as a stable 10 000 (meaning slightly more than 8000 in the area covered by the PAS, which is the figure used in the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter algorithm). I have been doing some thinking about that figure recently and while I feel it was correct (though a conservative estimate) for the period when the Counter was created, several pieces of evidence converge to suggest that the number of metal detector using artefact hunters in Britain has been growing at an annual rate of between 6 and 8% since that time. So the HAAEC should have been ticking away at quickening rate increasing by that amount each year, and it has not. The model is therefore an under-estimate of the number of finds now being lost annually through laissez-faire British policies concerning this activity.

Readers might be interested to know that the chalk line that represents the recordable finds lost to private collecting in England and Wales alone due to metal detecting from 1975 when the hobby really began to take off (one find: one centimetre) stretches from the north wall of Marble Arch to the outskirts of Coventry. But after throwing thirteen million quid at the problem, we only have a record of the ones as far as Kilburn tube station to show for this so-called "partnership".

The artefact hunters who do not show up on the radar as either "nighthawks" nor responsibly-co-operating at every step with the PAS (for example token reporters showing an odd item or two when confronted at a club meeting but with hundreds of unrecorded finds secreted away at home) are what I propose treating as the "grey" hobby, neither white nor black, but totally hidden from the public debate about the archaeological effects of artefact hunting in England and Wales. These are the "detectorists" that the supporters of the PAs really do not appreciate people talking about. They (and the scale of the phenomenon) are the weak link in the whole web of arguments that make up the portable antiquities scam.

How Many "Metal Detectorists" Are There in Wales?

A key question is how many "metal detectorists" there are in Wales searching for archaeological collectables. Roger Bland (2010, recently estimated that in England and Wales (pop. ) there were 8500 "metal detectorists" in England and Wales ( "The Development and Future of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme" pp63-85 of Stone and Thomas (eds.) "Metal Detecting and Archaeology", Boydell and Brewer page 71). That's one in 6406 of the population of the two countries. Statistically therefore there should be something in the region of just 470 "metal detectorists in Wales" (pop. 3006000), just 0.016 of the population.

The actual number might be a little higher, the PAS says (2007 Annual report) that Welsh metal detecting clubs have some 555+members, but some people might be members of more than one club (and obviously some "detectorists" may not be members of any clubs at all).

The discussion forum "Detecting Wales" has over a thousand members, though not all of them live or even search sites in Wales (some seem to be based in the USA).

It seems therefore not unlikely that there are about 500 metal detector users active in Wales.

Vignette: there are not as many "metal detectorists" as sheep in Wales.

How Many Recordable Artefacts are "Metal Detectorists" in Wales Keeping?

There is quite a discrepancy between the average numbers of finds shown to the regional officers of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales and the number of finds predicted by the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. Which is closer to the actuual number of finds made by an average active metal detectorist in the course of a year's going out and searcching for things to add to the collection? Some members of the "Detecting Wales" forum helpfully tell us what they find. "Chef Geoff" for example, on July 4th had already added to his own personal private collection, at least:
86 Roman coins ('nummi' 73, 5 folii, 4 'sesterci', 3 denarii, and a 'dupondius'), 24 hammered coins (including a Celtic stater), seventeen Roman fibulae, 2 Roman rings and 4 silver rings (post medieval)
One hundred and thirty two finds. The "Metal detectorist" called "Dances with badgers" by the fifth of July reports:
finds of 9ct gold "57.5grams", finds of 18ct gold, "7 grams", 22ct gold "12 grams", plus a 1921 sovereign. Hammered coins, an Elizabeth I sixpence, Edward I groat, Mary groat, Charles I sixpence and "LOADS OF SILVER !"
This shows that the common mantra "we're not in it for the money, we are not treasure hunters" does not apply to all Welsh "detectorists". Then we have the forum member calling himself Casa-Dos (kev)who reports on August 23, 2011, his "2011 FINDS so far.." as consisting of:
four hammered coins, nine milled silver, a silver ring, a silver cuff-link. Three spindle whorls, part of bronze age axe, a Roman fibula, a Roman mount, pottery & clay pipe.
Then we have nfl on September 19, 2011 who reports that his finds for 2011 so far include:
33 hammered coins, five Roman denarii, a George III half guinea, 3 Victorian and four pre-Victorian silver coins, one "Tudor Treasure item", a gold gentleman's ring, two parts of a medieval gold ring
Again the emphasis on the finds of bullion value is notable. The same applies to "Deadlock" who reports so far:
Two silver rings, a silver annular brooch, a silver coin of Gallenius, half a spindle whorl. Hammered coins of James I, Charles I, Henry III 3rd cut quarter, Edward III, William III sixpence.
And so on. Quite obviously these people are reporting the 'highlights', one cannot imagine metal detecting a Roman site and finding just silver coins and no copper alloy ones accompanying them, or a medieval site which produced just silver hammered coins but no copper alloy personal ornaments. It seems that this Welsh milieu seems mainly interested in swapping boasts about their silver and gold finds.

The "Detecting Wales" forum sections: Rally Reports and 2010 Predictions - How many finds? are also both quite revealing.

Quite obviously from the evidence provided by their own discussion forum, given the number of items we have seen are being added to the PAS database by "partnership" with Welsh "metal detectorists" compared to the sort of accounts we see above of what some of them are finding, Welsh "metal detectorists" are not showing even a small fraction of what they find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The PAS is not making much of a dent on the non-reported removal of archaeological finds from archaeological sites and assemblages from one end of Wales to the other. These finds are coming out of the ground at a huge rate and being lost - despite the existence for almost a decade of a Scheme to encourage their reporting and recording.

Vignette: Treasure Chest full of freshly dug up but unrecorded ancient artefacts.

How Many Significant Artefacts are "Metal Detectorists" in Wales Not Keeping?

Attention should be drawn to a very important distinction, which is between what an archaeologist would consider as archaeological evidence if found on (or off) an archaeological site, and what is considered collectable by the antiquity collector. A quick comparison between the "antiquities" sold online (eg through eBay or an antiquity seller's online gallery) and the finds section of any modern excavation report will quickly reveal that what is sold as collectors' pieces are a very narrow selection of the whole artefact assemblage from any site, assemblage or culture. The antiquity collection is therefore the product of negative selection.

But of course a metal detector "bleeps" (many of them actually make an annoying whining noise) when a piece of metal is "detected". That's what they are for. While detectors now can "discriminate" targets (ie the searcher chooses to filter out certain metals, like iron which most collectors do not appreciate in their collections and aluminium, or concentrate on items which give coin-like signals) still many detected items are not deemed worthy of adding to the collection at home. Some of these items may be sold on (Roman grots, certain broken artefacts of intriguing shape) others will be discarded on or off site. Increasingly now the unwanted pieces of artefacts of non-ferrous metal are sold off as scrap metal. In other words, a large number of pieces of what an archaeologist would consider to be archaeological evidence are hoiked out of the ground and after a cursory look, are thrown into the scrap bucket and end up being melted down.

A thread on "detecting Wales" ( Off to the rubbish yard tomorrow - guess the cash amount?) illustrates the process. The list member shows a photo of a bucket full of corroded metal scraps, rather like (but less full than) the one in my photograph and asks fellow detectorists to guess how much money he will get for it as scrap. The actual amount for three bucketloads was £58 cash.

It seems that its not only the items which are unrecognisable to the untrained eye or uncollectable that are thrown away by collectors. In a another scrap metal bucket thread
on the "Detecting Wales" forum (Senior Member romano-brit , August 22, 2011)warns rally organizers that they might want to check the bucket for reportable finds, at "another club" he attends it has been discovered that people had been throwing away "Roman brooches and hammered coins" etc in them.

Photo: Bucket of rejected bits.

How Many Finds Are Being Reported Responsibly?

A key question is how many finds are currently being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme by metal detectorists in Wales. Using the new 'search' facility of the Portable Antiquities Scheme database we can find out:

Statistical analysis of the database for for Saturday 1st January 2011
until Tuesday 1st October 2011

So a total of 724 objects (707 records) in the first nine months of this year is not really encouraging, since the "Detecting Wales" forum has a total of 1418 members. That means for each of these members, less than half a find has been reported to the PAS so far this year.

Let us compare the figures from the whole of Wales with just a few English counties for the same period:
It can be seen that finders from the whole of Wales are simply not reporting as many of the items they discover as those from a single county in England, even some of those (Avon for example) much smaller in size and with a smaller population.

Welsh Detectorists' "Co-operation" Mapped

The map of all recorded findspots from Wales and adjacent areas of Englend makes the point in a far more visual manner. There is a clear shift in density of reported finds at the boundary between England and Wales, even though there are no geographical or demographic factors which would mean that there is a markedly different density of metal detector users across the same line.

The contrast between the degree to which English artefact hunters ("metal detectorists") are co-operating with the PAS with the takeup by Welsh "detectorists" is clear here (data from 2010). Indeed, the way in which some of the scatters of finds spread out along and across the border between England and Wales, one wonders to what extent some of these clusters are the result of reporting by English "detectorists" to an English office of the PAS of finds they have made to the west of the political boundary.

The first Detecting Wales Rally . . . "gold and silver!"

There is a revealing account over on "Find's Treasure Forums" (note the name) with the equally revealing title: "The first Detecting Wales Rally ... gold and silver!" posted at the end of February 2009 by one "Welsh Neil". The commercial artefact hunting rally run by the "Detecting Wales" forum was a great "success". About 35 people searched ploughed land and grassland (not approved by the Code of Practice) and the finds from the pasture were described as "outstanding". The rally removed from the archaeological record at this point four Roman coins ("grots"), two Roman fibulae, a silver man's finger-ring, six hammered silver coins, five milled silver coins, a gold noble coin weight and a "gold quarter stater". As Welsh Neil said:
As far as I am aware there have only been 7 gold staters ever found in Wales. Its a historical find and needs to be reported!
Once again we see the emphasis being placed on how much "gold and silver" is being found by these treasure hunters. Needless to say a search of the PAS does not produce any record of a gold quarter stater found in February 2009 - or indeed of any of reports of these rally finds coming in at all.

The "Detecting Wales" forum has run at least forty other commercial artefact hunting rallies since then. It seems that none yet figure on the PAS list of rallies contributing in any significant way to their database. Obviously then the majority of these finds are just being taken out of the archaeological record and disappearing into scattered ephemeral collections or onto eBay.

Wales as compared with the rest

If we look at the 2007 annual report of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (published at the end of 2009) we find a number of disturbing statistics. Eighty eight percent (in terms of object numbers) of the items the Scheme is recording (Table 7, p. 277) comes from the servicing of artefact hunting, only 12% of the Scheme's activities concerns non-collecting members of the public - who foot the bill. The monthly average of finds reported had dropped from the 2006 values by nearly a third (Table 2c), findspot accuracy was appalling (Table 5a) with 80% of the finds with no National Grid Reference at all, an additional 7% had only four figure NGRs (next to useless for many archaeological purposes).

The 391 records of finds (Table 2a) had resulted from reports made by 358 finders, 256 were "metal detectorists", while 102 were "others". That means (assuming each accidental finder reported one find) that each Welsh "metal detectorist" was responsible for 1.1 records.

Table 6b however notes that metal detecting clubs in Wales have "555+" members. So less than half of these were coming forward with anything, and the vast majority of those that did, came forward with a single item.

How Much is this Portable Antiquities Scheme Costing?

It has been pointed out in the blog how far Wales has been lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to the recording of finds taken from the archaeological record by artefact hunters. The Museums Journal about a year ago reported (Sharon Heal, 'Funding cut for Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales', Museums Journal 26.11.2010) that in November 2010 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in England wrote to Alun Jones, the minister for heritage in Wales, to say that funding for the Portable Antiquities Scheme would be withdrawn from April 2012 with the hope that the costs would be picked up by the Welsh taxpayer through the Welsh Assembly Government and NMW.
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). The money funds a post based at the national museum in Cardiff and a grants scheme.
Faced with a budget cut of 15% a joint decision was taken by the DCMS and the British Museum (who will be running the Scheme from April 2012) to withdraw from 2012 their £60,000 funding of the PAS in Wales.
PAS director Roger Bland said: "This was a very difficult decision that the British Museum took in conjunction with DCMS. 92% of the costs of running the PAS go on staff, and the current network of finds liaison officers and finds advisers are all fully stretched, so there was no easy way to implement cuts of 15%. In the case of Wales there was an anomaly that funding was going to the devolved administration. We will do all we can to work with the national museum to ensure that PAS continues in Wales." But David Anderson, director general of NMW, said the future of the scheme in Wales was now uncertain and its loss would be a massive blow to the country’s heritage and archaeology.
Only if the erosion of the archaeological record through artefact hunting is allowed to continue at the present rate. At present it is costing everyone at least £75000 a year to run a Scheme in Wales that mainly services some 500 "metal detectorists" to a somewhat minimal degree (for many of the finds they remove from archaeological assemblages appear not to be being recorded). Not only that, it does so at the cost of shielding their erosive hobby from criticism when it is the public's right to know what damage is being done to the archaeological record of their country as a result of current policies. Scrapping the Scheme altogether in favour of other arrangements for mitigating the erosion in Wales and investing some of the money saved into expanding the services offered the public by existing museums would be beneficial. It will soon emerge whether Welsh artefact hunters are as "responsible" as their supporters claim and the removal of an umbrella "partner" scheme will allow a wider and more penetrating public debate into the effects of uncontrolled artefact hunting on the archaeological record of Wales. "Metal detectorists" will have to work harder than they currently do at gaining public acceptance by their own deeds (and not through a publicly funded external scheme). This too will put an end to the feelings of entitlement that currently shines through everything these individuals do and write. Let them realise that artefact hunting and collecting at the expense of the integrity of the common archaeological heritage is a privilege to be earned and not a "right" that is exercised at the expense of money taken from other people's pockets to offset the costs of trying to mitigate the damage.

It should be noted that although this news has been on the cards for a year or so, there has been very little forward-looking discussion on the "Detecting Wales" forum of the impending spending cuts to PAS in Wales and the significance this may have for the immediate and long-term future of the hobby in Wales.

Vignette: Mitigating metal detecting - a bottomless money pit.

Targeting Known Archaeological Sites


Obviously a searcher's chances of finding something valuable or historic are greatly increased by looking in places where something has already been found. Thus it is we see artefact hunters targeting known archaeological sites. There are various means by which they go about locating them, reading the archaeological literature is one way, many reports show where the sites are. For those less patient in their "research", there are ready-made databases.
Here's one advertised:
Metal Detecting Sites and Finds
Working with Google Earth Placemarkers

Metal Detecting in Wales: Metal Detectors Searcher CD-ROM has over 833 sites and finds in Wales

Findspots of Roman Coin Hoards.
Sites of Roman Villas, Forts, Buildings, Settlements, Cemeteries.
Sites of British Battlefields
Findspots of Bronze Age and Iron Age Artifacts.
Sites of Deserted Medieval Villages
Vignette: Metal Detectors Searcher CD-ROM is just one of many similar offers for metal detectorists in the UK allowing them to target known archaeological sites and empty them of collectable artefacts.

Museums and Society

Wales has a long tradition of the establishment of museums for the benefit of the public. They are permanent and professionally managed storehouses of information about the history and other aspects of the Welsh land and people. They are the focus of academic activity and are important educational and culture-forming resources. Museums are universally recognised as of great benefit to the public. Before the PAS, the museums of Britain offered opportunities for members of the public to bring in items they had found for identification, recording and eventual acquisition (preferrably by donation) by the museum. This allowed museums to be seen as a central part of the cultural life of the community.

The default curation of large numbers of loose archaeological finds by artefact hunters works against this system, scattering the individual elements of archaeological information among a variety of ephemeral personal collections or leading to them being sold off (often abroad). This obviously makes their further study should a particular site be investigated further in the future next-to-impossible. The information they may contain is in effect lost.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to allow the recording of what can be retrieved from collectors who have archaeological artefacts at home in a permanent archive, but this is no substitute for the controlled collection of these data through more conventional archaeological means. The central role of museums as collecting and curation focussed institutions is diminished in the public consciousness as members of the public are encouraged by the Scheme's press material to create ephemeral mini-museums of freshly dugup artefacts in their homes. This is presented by the media as a beneficial cultural activity (and the fact that the digging up and selective retention of the finds from archaeological sites is not highlighted). The museum however is to some extent marginalised in the social conscience, even if it is to the local museum they will go with their finds to show the Portable Antiquities Scheme officer who has an office there.

Despite pro-PAS propaganda to the contrary the 1995 report of Denison and Dobinson on Metal Detecting and Archaeology in England (Tables IX-XI) shows that the volume of finds being shown to museums by "responsible metal detectorists" in pre-PAS days was by no means insignificant. With a little investment supporting the identification services of local institutions, the role of the PAS as a separate recording organization can be replaced by a service that integrates local cultural institutions more closely into the community.

Rewriting History

The Portable Antiquities Scheme represents "metal detecting" as people going out and "finding their own history". The historical disciplines however involve a little bit more than just going out and "finding something", there is a whole methodology (or series of methodologies) to be followed in the gathering of evidence, its criticism/ assessment and use to interpret the past in a scholarly manner. If they are not followed the results can verge on comical pseudohistory. A good example is the work of "metal detectorist" Alan Hassall in Wales who claims to have discovered the Ark of the Covenant in Wales, and much else besides and feels rejected because the academic community will not give his pronouncements any credence. Like many "metal detectorists", Hassall has a deep mistrust of the "Establishment" and its motives. Here he is talking about it:
The English Establishment have done what no other country on this planet we call Earth [have done] and have changed and reinvented The original British Histories as if for centuries nothing happened. All clocks stopped, nobody lived, nobody died, nothing happened. Then all of a sudden at a precise moment in time everything started again as if nothing had happened and everything was back to normal.For Centuries The Establishment has been able to keep everyone in the dark and treat them like mushrooms and feed them on political horse manure. With the Discovery of the Great White Palace of the British Kings we finally have something tangible to reveal to the World that Once upon a time there was a Camelot.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an institution representing the English Establishment, why impose its rigours on the creative freedoms of the imaginations of the seekers of a Lost Past? Metal detectorists like these who think they "know better than the experts" are not going to listen to a Scheme which is created to engender "best practice" in their activities. Why waste public money on a Scheme these "finders" do not appreciate looking over their shoulder?

Vignette: Romantic pseudohistory

Treasure and Portable Antiquities

Care should be taken to differentiate between two entirely separate legal categories of discovered artefact, that which is classed as "Treasure" according to the 1996 Treasure Act, and that which is merely a so-called "Portable Antiquity". Anybody, whether an artefact hunter who has gone out equipped to find such items, or somebody who finds something accidentally, walking the dog or gardening, is obliged by law to report the discovery of a potential Treasure item to the relevant authority within 14 days. It's the same with human remains in the woods, you are obliged to report it to the Coroner. A finder of a non-Treasure item is not obliged to report the items (so, like the equivalent of finding a dead dog in the woods if no crime seems to have been committed).

The 1996 Treasure act is clear, the find of a Treasure item should (in England and Wales) be reported to the Coroner, not the PAS. It is in the hands of the Coroner that the initiation of the whole "Treasure process" is vested by law. Most metal detectorists will say that they and their pals are all law-abiding, and on any hobbyist is incumbent the obligation of knowing the laws that govern that activity. It therefore seems that removing the PAS from the scene in Wales would not reduce the number of Treasure finds being reported by law-abiding "metal detectorists".

This is an important distinction, because over in England, the steady increase in the number of reported hoards and other group finds classed as Treasure by English law being processed by the system is treated as an index of the "success" of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (which is actually a totally separate organization set up to deal with something else). An example is Bland 2010, fig 6.3. At the same time the apologists of artefact hunting (in which we may class the PAS itself) stresses that the "vast majority" of English artefact hunters are law abiding searchers of history, "not in it for the money". Nobody explains however how, in that case, the rising number of Treasure finds reported each year is not an index of the rate of erosion of the archaeological record by the selective removal of assemblages of associated objects from the archaeological deposits and their original context which extremely commonly can never e reconstructed even if the site is subsequently the focus of a small-scale archaeological excavation.

In actual fact the process for fulfilling the legal obligation of reporting Treasure in Wales does not need an expensive Portable Antiquities Scheme - it s enough for finders to be made aware of the addresses of the local Coroner's office.