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BRITARCH  February 2005

BRITARCH February 2005

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Subject:

Re: A detectorist vision of the twenty-first century ? (was SV: More MD? finds on ebay)

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 Feb 2005 13:15:39 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Several people have written off-list conveying to me comments on the model I
proposed a few days ago (inspired by a comment of Gary Brun) about what
certain parts of the British archaeological record would look like at the
end of a twenty-first century of metal-detecting at current rates (not
taking into account any growth of popularity of the hobby).

Several have complained that the model I presented is based on
"assumptions" - but that is what I myself said, there are still - despite
pleas for more concrete data - no reliable figures on which to base such
projections have been forthcoming. (Apparently - so I am informed - one
detectorist on UKDN actually warned the others against giving "the guy real
data, they're what he's after". Its nice to know that at least that part of
the message has sunk in.)

Other correspondents have pointed out to me that a detectorist's collection
of just "200 objects" was way off the mark (too small an estimate). This was
in part a deliberate underestimation; I was hoping for some feedback on
this. Some detectorists write of keeping their numerous finds loose in
biscuit tins, an ice cream cartons, I have even heard of objects sorted into
categories by the sackload in at least one detectorist's garage. On PASF
last week, a detectorist from North Wales was complaining that now instead
of the 30 coins he was finding each time he went out detecting, he "only"
came home with six. That artefact collector would only have to go out at
that rate 33 times to get the 200 objects I assigned each detectorist if he
was collecting coins alone.

There has apparently been some denial on UKDN of the figure I gave for the
number of artefacts from British soil potentially passing through the
various parts of eBay. The figure I used was an extrapolation of the results
of a search of eBay for detected items which I published (together with all
the links) on Britarch on 7th June last year. The occasion for this was that
we were discussing artefacts on eBay and the detectorists on this list were
denying the scale of the trade. Obviously at the time, the argument
convinced the detectorists taking part in this discussion, because - as
usual - they changed tack. If any of them bothered to look at the links I
gave, they obviously did not come up with alternate figures. It now seems
disingenuous of them therefore to be questioning a few months later the
information I obtained at the expense of not a little legwork and Internet
time.

As a result of those detectorists' comments being reported to me, I did
another search two days ago of just the US portal of eBay, and came up with
another few hundred non-coin finds which were clearly stated to be metal
detector finds from the UK (in one case, however, the object seems unlikely
to have really been found in Britain and we seem to have a case of detector
finds being used to 'launder' tainted artefacts from abroad). In another
case, the seller was auctioning items which had been found "this week". In
some of the other cases we seem to have some old "left over" finds possibly
from those garage-stored sacks or ice cream cartons.

It seems highly unlikely that although this would be useful, we will be
getting in the near future an "official" survey of the scale of eBay sales
broken down into category and seller, with a study of fluctuations in find
numbers and types through the year. This would be a worthwhile subject for
an undergraduate dissertation. Or would it be too much to expect that the
detectorist organizations themselves could commission an independent survey
if they feel that the results of one carried out by archaeologists is
damaging to their image? This would be a more useful contribution to the
debate than the type of 'contributions' I hear are being voiced over on
'certain' other fora concerning the figures I was using.

What is characteristic is that I hear that the comments on UKDN are called
something personal like "Barford does his mathematics" but while the figures
I used are apparently causing amusement over there, as far as I am aware
nobody has attempted to present on that forum more accurate (and acceptable
to the detectorists) figures. Neither, sadly, does it seem that UK
Detectorists are using the thread to discuss the scale of destruction being
caused and likely to be caused by unrecorded metal detecting in the past and
the foreseeable future. This is a pity, as one might expect them to realise
that the future of their 'harmless' hobby depends on a demonstrated ability
to show an awareness of the environmental impact of their hobby.

Paul Barford

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