a very low estimate of metal-detecting in the United Kingdom, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme

While I was assessing open-source data on metal-detecting for cultural goods and trying to generate “low estimates” of the numbers of artefact-hunters in various territories, in 2017, the “tentative”, “least worst…, rather than… best” data suggested that there might be around 27,897 in England and Wales, 1,447 in Scotland and 225 in Northern Ireland and, so, a total of 29,569 (so, around 30,000) across the United Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve been criticised in various ways, in public and in private, for those estimates and my methods for reaching them (including my attempt to account for illicit as well as licit artefact-hunters). Yet, now, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (as shared by the National Council for Metal Detecting and relayed by Paul Barford on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues), “there are as many as 40,000 people metal-detecting in the UK”.

Unfortunately, PAS doesn’t explain the origins of its estimate in that note. However, in my original study, I used the data from a survey of detectorists at commercial rallies, which identified the proportion who were not club-based (in other words, unaffiliated or disorganised, 39.8%), as a proxy for the proportion who were not NCMD members. Then, I applied it to data from the NCMD to generate an estimate for England and Wales (as others had done for Scotland).

And, now, the National Council for Metal Detecting in the United Kingdom reports that it has 24,000+ members. If PAS accepted the inference that was made first by others, then by me, and applied it to the latest data from the NCMD, 24,000 members would imply 15,867 non-members and, so, a total of 39,867 (or around 40,000) across the United Kingdom (without accounting for illicit artefact-hunters as a separate category).

(It should also be noted that, now, one Facebook group for metal-detecting in the United Kingdom has more than 28,000 members – almost as many as my estimate.)

It remains to be seen whether these statistics imply an increase in the number of artefact-hunters or a change in the clubbability of existing artefact-hunters – or, realistically, both. Regardless, the application of this data would reaffirm the value of extensive quantitative analysis and the scale of non-reporting to PAS of finds by artefact-hunters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: