Friday, December 7, 2012

Archaeobloggers Seek "Union Shop?"

The UK's PAS and Treasure Act are popular programs because they encourage the public to report coins and other ancient artifacts they find so they can be properly recorded.  That which the government does not need for its collections is disclaimed, and returned to the finder to do with what he or she will.   Moreover, the State pays fair market value for what it keeps, which incentivizes the State to only retain what it will properly care for, study and display.

What is the result of this win-win situation? The UK's Minister of Culture recently observed surprise, surprise, that incentivizing the public to report what they find has led to more finds being reported in England and Wales than anywhere else:

A little known fact I discovered this week – Britain tops the league table for hoards. I am told, we have more archaeological finds every year than any other country. Whether this is per square foot or per head of the population, I am not sure, but it is a good statistic so I’m going to use it.

However, the archaeological blogosphere does not celebrate, but rather condemns this news, claiming that the U.K.'s system encourages metal detecting rather than the recording of finds.  Yet, take the case of Bulgaria.  It has been estimated that 100,000-250,000 Bulgarians conduct illicit excavations, and little is  actually recorded because all the incentives in that corrupt system discourage people to report what they might find.  So, which system is better?

Clearly, the U.K.'s system, no?  Yet, the archaeological blogosphere begs to differ.  Instead, they claim that even the most common artifacts like coins should be left in the ground for some future archaeologist to find.  But the reality is that archaeologists will always be few in number and it is highly unlikely any will ever actually tread where many of the artifacts reported by the PAS and Treasure Act are found.

Thus, one really must wonder whether the archaeological blogosphere is more concerned about preserving and recording the past or ensuring that cultural heritage is a union shop for card carrying archaeologists.


Paul Barford said...

Sorry could you explain to the rest of us, in what way "finders" are "incentivised" to report their finds through the PAS?

So why do you imagine it is that the majority of finds made by artefact hunters are STILL not being reported to the PAS?

Cultural Property Observer said...

The Heritage Action Erosion Counter you base your claims on has been criticised as having a flawed methodology. Anyway, even if as you maintain UK hoards are unreported, what is the reporting rate in places like Greece, Cyprus, Italy, etc?

Paul Barford said...

Well, you have not answered my question about the "incentivisation" to report finds to the PAS - why not?

As for the HAAEC I think we should look at who those critics are and what their aim is. Actually I have yet to see anyone who even considers the methodology - they just flatly state in their opinion the figures are "wrong" without any kind of justification.

The HAAEC poses an important question. It proposes our answer to that question.

If people do not like that answer, then they are free to come to their own answer and show by what methodology they arrived at that figure. If they do not like the implications of what our model shows, they need to falsify our figures. Oddly enough, despite the HAAEC ticking away steadfastly year by year, absolutely NOBODY has come up with any other figures. Is that not notable?

Why don't you have a go?

So, by "how much" would our figures have to be lowered arbitarily to make the discrepacy between what is dug up and what is recorded acceptable? By a half? By two thirds? And why would anybody want to lower them when the evidence we have suggests that ours is a very conservative estimate ?

Tell me, have you thought through the consequences of what you are saying about the other countries' hoards?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Well, obviously numerous people use the program so it must be working. Reporting finds adds monetary value I suppose (coins recorded under the program are sold here with that information), and despite what you might think coin collectors do appreciate history including the individual history of their coins. If only countries like Cyprus, Greece, etc., considered such a program, we would not be having so many arguments. Do you really need places like Cyprus, etc. need to stockpile coins that never get studied anyway? In any case, you have not answered my question. How many coins get reported in these countries each year? I suspect there are not even any numbers published.

I'm not not an expert in statistics, so I will defer to others on your heritage erosion counter, but the organization pushing it isn't exactly neutral on these issues.