James Holloway suggests:
> The very best that could be said -- if indeed all these finds
> are coming from disturbed contexts -- is that the actual damage
> done is negligible, since the sites were unlikely to be thoroughly
> fieldwalked <
I disagree James, to my mind this is not the "best that can be said".
(a) the evidence we have suggests we are talking about the depletion of the
record by artefact hunting of a scale of tens of thousands of objects
annually [though as I have argued consistently we obviously need urgently to
have reliable figures about the scale and patterns of this].
(b) a more general acceptance of the "anyway nobody will probably get around
to investigating it at any time in the future" argument would be a godsend
to all those developers wanting to get out of funding any mitigation
strategies in advance of development.
(c) whether or not some time in the future the surface/non-intrusive or
other investigation of any one of these exploited sites - even if just a
surface scatter - will form part of some future investigation strategy would
be difficult to predict now. [How many archaeologists of 1906 would have
been able to predict precisely what sites we would be interested in 2006?].
Surely this is the whole rationale behind the PARIS paradigm at the heart of
Valetta and the developer funding around which archaeology today is being
built. Willingly exposing sites to this kind of exploitation, for whatever
reason, seems to me that an odd discrepancy in the ideological basis of
British archaeology - not apparently the product of "joined-up thinking".
(d) The decision whether to investigate a site and how can only be taken if
we have a picture of where the site is and what it contains, which of course
we cannot do if the person discovering it (the artefact hunter) fails to
report it, and throws a lot of the artefactual material away (like the case
of the Shimpling villa lead discussed on PASF) before reporting it.
Over the long term and given the scale of this type of exploitation, I think
one cannot regard this type of deliberate erosion of the record as
"negligible" - at least before gathering reliable figures on its scale and
pattern, figures that we do not yet have.
As for what is coming from "not very deep" and "disturbed contexts", it is
notable that the majority of the newsworthy metal detected "goodies" (and
hoards especially) used recently to trumpet the successes of PAS/Treasure
act seem likely from the published accounts to be coming from below plough
level. The bigger the metal object, or concentration of objects, the greater
the depth from which they are "detectable". Many of them are therefore
coming from contexts not currently threatened by farm machinery, and from
which the common heritage would surely benefit more by them being excavated
under more controlled conditions.
And the reasons why findspots are not recorded and reported more frequently
has less to do with the technicalia as the whole self-centred set of
ideologies behind artefact hunting. But its working on changing these which
is one of the five aims of the PAS, so far with only limited success.