Monday, 24 November 2008

The New Aims of the New PAS and Artefact Collection Best Practice in England and Wales : NuPAS 5

The 2008 PAS Review has created a whole new set of objectives for the New PAS. As mentioned above, Clark points out the old ones were not adequate to what the Scheme was actually doing (sic). Instead (page 28) they should reflect the fact that PAS is:

• creating a virtual collection that is influencing our understanding of the past;
• bringing finders and museums/archaeologists together in a partnership contributing to that understanding;
• improving knowledge and skills in object identification and conservation in curators, finders and archaeologists;
• enabling more people and a wider range of people to engage with museums and archaeology by creating a positive role for detectorists and other finders; and
• promoting best practice by finders, curators and archaeologists.

Formerly we had an archaeological body engaged in archaeological outreach to the general public to instil best practice and prevent information loss through unreported discoveries. Now Ms Clark has recommended that we have an autonomous body, a NuPAS consisting of a partnership with artefact hunters and collectors which at public expense will be engaged in improving knowledge and skills in object identification and conservation promoting best practice in curators and archaeologists. ACCG officers Wayne Sayles, Dave Welsh and Peter Tompa could not have composed this better themselves!

Expanding the PAS as a nationwide archaeological British Museum-run Uberinstitution guiding these aspects in all archaeology, curation and conservation as well as fulfilling its mission to the general public is fatally overstretching its resources (and I would venture archaeological goodwill towards it).


Roger Bland said...

Why do you say PAS will henceforward be autonomous? Its tatus from next April will be no different from what is has been since 2006: a partnership of 33 organisations employing PAS staff, funded principally by MLA, and run by BM on behalf of MLA.

The aims were in need of updating as they were overlapping and it is right that the creation of the record is the first aim and that promotion of best practice is also there. I suggest that the aims shoudl also reflect the database as a research tool, they should note the role of PAS in making the Treasure Act work and reflect PAS's role in monitoring the trade.

I would be surprised if there were any weakening of the archaeological aspect of our work: the best guarantee of that is that the fact that all the partner organisations - including 10 county council archaeological services - remain the same.

Paul Barford said...

Roger, thank you for your comments.

Clark points out that the FLOs (embedded and now increasingly funded by) local partner organizations must maintain their autonomy in order for the PAS to retain integrity, I wouldn’t mind betting the BM will also insist on it.

Like Clark, you miss the point that “objectives” are generally regarded as intended to guide what is done, and are not written post-fact to fit it (in her review she muddles the words objectives/aims and achievements - they are of course two separate concets).

Yes, the original five aims of the PAS were extremely poorly formulated, not so much in “overlap” but on analysis contained ten separate tasks. The PAS has however been engaged in other tasks which are not in those aims (nor in Clark’s new ones).

But what Clark has proposed is not merely an “updating” but significantly enlarges the remit of the PAS to the extent that overlaps with other existing organizations. I really cannot imagine what she was thinking of.

If she’s going to extend the aims to include outreach not only to “finders” but also “curators and archaeologists”, then one might ask why she did not carry it to the logical conclusion. In British law the ultimate arbiter of what happens to sites and what is in them is the landowner. Why not include them in the objectives? The ultimate aim of many of the portable artefacts removed from the soil is the market, and Clark makes such a thing of the ability of the PAS to continue to vet sales… but does not include dealers in her “best practice” objective. Why not? I think as a new set of objectives for the NuPAS, this collection is poorly-conceived and badly phrased. Perhaps the author should have consulted them with the archaeological community before publishing them as a recommendation (one which has already been accepted by the MLA who will be funding the new incarnation of the organization).

I do not think I said there would be a weakening of “archaeological aspect” of the work. I do think that if a PAS which is a “partnership” with artefact hunters and collectors on the basis of the new objectives which Clark has formulated, starts to behave like an uberinstitution stepping on the toes of bodies like the IFA and UKIC then it may well find itself losing support among archaeologists (including those who mainly see it as a means to shield them from direct contact with the world of “metal detectorists”). I think this is a highly dangerous direction for British archaeology to be heading and am extremely surprised that UK archaeologists are not commenting on this "partnership" notion.

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