2.6.2 Modern constraints on data recovery

The regional assessment of the PAS dataset was built around exploring the effect of the modern landscape on the recovery of portable antiquities. This brought a range of issues to the fore, some unexpected, and has highlighted regional variation. These constraints (urbanism, woodland, lakes, 'danger zones', and the limits of ploughzone farming) do have a profound effect on the collection of data, with the finds made within these areas accounting for only around 7% of the total. Over 90% of PAS finds in 2005-6 were made on cultivated land (PAS 2007, 7). This is hardly unexpected, and the limits of ploughzone farming are as much an historical landscape element as a modern constraint. However, the regional effect of these constraints varied widely on a regional scale. Urbanism is without doubt the most crucial element within the constraints on data collection, and is especially important in the Midlands, northern England and south-east England, and the lower levels of urbanism in East Anglia and eastern central England may mean that ancient patterns of settlement are more discernible here than elsewhere. One result of urbanism, which was unforeseen, was the clustering of finds in their immediate environs, which probably indicates that most urban metal-detector users are restricted to the fields in their locality. In some areas, especially around major cities, their effect can be more profound. In south-east England, Greater London affects distribution patterns profoundly. The city itself is obviously a mostly blank area in the distribution (Fig, 26,, but major routes out of the city into Kent are plainly visible, especially the M25, A2 and A20. As such, interpretations of Kentish distributions must take this into account. For example, discussion of the Middle Saxon economy and communications in Kent, which often highlights differences between eastern and western Kent, has become increasingly reliant upon portable antiquities data (e.g. Naylor 2004, 88-105; Brookes 2003). Any interpretations are, however, heavily conditioned by these modern constraints on data collection.

A further aspect of any regional assemblage, which is imperative to assess in multi-period projects especially, concerns the actual recovery methods employed. For example, within Wales, the vast majority of material reported has come from a range of field-walking surveys being undertaken around the country. These are targeted towards earlier prehistoric landscapes, and these assemblages dominate the resulting Welsh database. Mesolithic worked stone accounts for over 40% of all finds, and distorts any multi-period analysis greatly.

Overall, any interpretation of portable antiquities can only be adequately made once an assessment of the constraints on data collection is produced, and, in the case of multi-period study, the nature of recovery examined. This is best undertaken on a case-by-case basis, building on more general syntheses such as this.


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