Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Scheme Rides on to a New Tomorrow?
The much awaited Portable Antiquities Scheme review is now out. After all this waiting for what was promised, my first reading created a feeling of anti-climax. Much here however to mull over though, and some quotable quotes and significant omissions. The author seems to think the PAS is all about “metal detecting” (it is [was] not) though it seems to me on first reading that this is at odds with what she actually recommends. I was disappointed that there is not much attention paid to current British policies towards portable antiquity collecting as a whole, and whether they need discussion. This issue is skipped around, even though it should be fundamental to defining where the Scheme should be going. Anyway, more of this later no doubt.
I just could not believe that cover though. After writing all the expected stuff about how wonderful it is we have got a database of 350 000+ wonderful objects with nice archaeological contexts, somebody chose as the first illustration object SF-99E3E4 which was found by a metal detectorist and has been given the provenence “Cambridgeshire”. So an archaeological provenance of a site somewhere within 3389 km². This well emphasises the fact that by no means is all of the "information" being gathered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme for those 9.78 million pounds is as archaeologically useful or publicly available as others. That just about summarises the disappointingly small amount of joined-up thinking about the archaeological aspects of the Scheme that seems to me on first reading to have gone into this document. In one place (p 30) the author even says that the link between the Portable Antiquities [Advisory] Group and the APPAG* "inadvertently contribute to the impression that it is dominated by archaeological interests". Umm, if it is not, then who are they advising on what, precisely? Does this review, with its obvious focus on "getting people into museums" mean we are we to abandon now the pretence that the PAS has actually been doing any archaeological outreach?
Still, Roger Bland the Head of the Scheme is happy, he has just sent metal detectorists a big thank you on at least one of their UK forums for their campaigning on his behalf. The one to the UK archaeological forums has yet to arrive.
* All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group
Photo: Iconic portable antiquity from an archaeological context "somewhere in Cambridgeshire". Recorded by the PAS, and only they know where it's really from, but if you want to know you have ask nicely and prove yourself toi be a bone fide stakeholder.