Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Threat of the UK Tekkies: What do Their Partners the PAS Say?

Over the past couple of days I and others have been receiving some revealing fan mail about this blog from metal detectorists Norman and Linda Kennedy. This couple claims to run a personal coaching and career consultancy agency (Personal Development Top Earner) based in Papamoa New Zealand. But he is using all his diplomatic skills and professional eloquence to defend UK artefact hunting from criticism. Mr Kennedy says that during the creation of the 1996 Treasure Act (he calls it the Treasure Trove law) "we had to put all the arguments to the government including ways of getting rid of you guys" - that's archaeologists. He asserts that this has "been contemplated for years, as you cost me the taxpayer so much money". He says that the British government is looking for ways of cutting public expenditure and he threatens that he will personally "be first in the Que put you archaeologist name forward first". He points out that English Heritage have had their financing cut and "the next cuts will be the Archaeological department's just watch and see". He says "i may be semi illiterate but this does not stop me from sending letters to my local government and councilors or creating blogs or websites" to undermine the archaeologists' case.

Are you listening to this PAS? These are your "partners" speaking here. The ones you were supposed to be doing outreach to. By their own account, they were trying to abolish archaeology in the mid 1990s and are still adamant on doing it. The difference being now after thirteen years of PAS propaganda, the policy makers and public now see archaeology as a search for glittering goodies, and well, metal detectorists can do that as well as, or better than "archaeologists", and for free, so what IS the justification for keeping archaeologists? After thirteen years of presenting the entire British public with one particular picture of what archaeology is about, how long will it take the to undo that damage?

Over on Heritage Journal what seems from the inimitable written style to be the same person has just made the following comment on my writings on the relationship between the preservation of the archaeological record and the current form of policies on artefact hunting and collecting:
this guy is 90% Bullshit and 10% glorified grave digger full untruths wind and piss so to speak. So please do not take any notice of anything he says,as he is big lier,Norm
Well, if the PAS was any kind of a real "partner" to artefact hunters they'd be over here and by trenchant comments indicating where what I say about artefact collecting is"untruths, wind and piss so to speak". Is it justified to call somebody a "liar" (please note spelling Norm) just because what he says about something contains some uncomfortable truths? Its all out here in black and white, take it or leave it, this is my blog and I am entitled to express my own opinions on it. Please Mr "Norm" instead of launching personal attacks full of dropped prepositions and four-letter crudities, if you feel that it is a false picture, start your own blog and set out what you feel to be the true state of things. Of course you would be saved all the bother if the metal detecting forums and artefact collecting were open access and members of the public could read for themselves what goes on over there. Until they are, they will just have to take other people's word for it. I say all is not well and am prepared to justify it using concrete facts and concrete examples. Are artefact hunters and collectors and their PAS "partners" able to rebuff all of those criticisms using the same methods? Or do they think a dialogue of the deaf is the only way forward available to them?

It seems that Mr and Mrs Kennedy's business is really called "Polaris Media Group" which apparently until a year ago was called "Liberty League International" and both are widely discussed in the Internet - they seem not to have very good reputations (try googling them). Here is Norman Kennedy calling somebody else a "lier" in relation to some of this criticism.


40something said...

Wow-- a libertarian view of how to manage antiquity and the remains from the past: free for all and private collecting.

Not sure if the detectorists have managed to impose their narrative, though. UK TV still has quite a lot of archaeology-- Tony Robinson, a few years back the slightly ridiculous "Extreme ARchaeology" with good looking young archaeologists performing stunts-- that talks about the way in which the earth does not yield geegaws, but knowledge about the past.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks, but I think you are wrong. I think the almost incessant plugging away at "what shiny goodies we've found through the Portable Antiquities Scheme/ treasure Act" has invariably affected public vision of what archaeology is about. Yes, you are right the Time Team programmes give a (not wholly accurate) picture of 'dirt archaeology', but then that is not a multi-million quid state-sponsored public outreach programme (and they give a better bibliography of 'what archaeology is about' books on its website than the PAS). As archaeological outreach PAS has clearly fluffed it and the public is getting from it a highly distorted picture of the way we study the past and what we need to do it with.

40something said...

In support of what you're saying, the basement of the new Ashmolean museum is very PAS directed-- hoards found by detectorists given pride of place. But I'd add to the Tony Robinson stuff the current BBC 2 "Digging for Britain"-- e.g. discussion of why C5th Anglo-Saxon stuff in context (a word used again and again) is important to understand how identities are shifting in the post-Roman era-- this really tries to convey a sense of how archaeology works in terms of knowledge and understanding.

So the question is-- which strand will win out in shaping the UK narrative ? I mentioned earlier in the comments column something I read in the Sunday TImes in 1993 or so-- a detectorist who liked to hold a belt buckle "for hours, wondering about the lives of those who had worn it"-- whereas he had probably just destroyed any evidence that would meaningfully allow us to know. The two strands are there...

Paul Barford said...

Right. The point I am making however is that our "outreach" should not restrict itself to those that follow televised discussions about "shifting identities in subRoman Britain" or read the Sunday Times. There are no doubt still Open University lectures on nuclear fission on TV, that does not mean that lager-lout Baz and his live-in girlfriend Suzie watch them with any comprehension. But Baz and Suzie have two votes, and their boozing pals down the club have many more. It is also their archaeological heritage we are dealing with, whether they understand it or not. The idea of the PAS was to be more "inclusive" and that includes baz and Suzie and their drinking mates.

Take a good LOOK at the PAS website and ask yourself if Baz and Suzie actually are IN ANY WAY given any information about archaeology that is not shiny-object centred, not gained with a metal detector ? What actually do you see there? Could it be used by an archaeologist going along to a secondary school to show "what archaelgy does"? No. As archaeological outreach it is pathetic. When the Scheme was faced with the lack of increased funding ("the cuts") a few years ago, who did they chuck out? The education officer - that shows clearly how highly the "outreach" they do is valued within the organization.

Then read the next account of the next glittery 'oard of stuff (in the Sunday Times for example) and see if you do not see the same typical elements:

- zero attention to context,
- zero regrets that the find had been most often hurriedly dug up from undisturbed layers below topsoil (most often the case though PAS try to pretend otherwise),
- archaeologist comes out with some silly 'made-up' might-have-been story which anyone can invent, creating the impression that archaeological interpretation is based on NOTHING else,
- archaeologist praises treasure hunter,
- archaeologist says how 'important' it is to get things like this out of the archaeological record as an isolated goodie,
- how much money the finder can now expect.

And all this based fully on the wording of the press releases handed to the press by the PAS, and zero investigative journalism on the part of the media, happy to swallow a pre-digested good-news story.

When any investigation is undertaken on a findspot of a Treasure for example, it is usually a poorly-funded little hole not much bigger than my desk top dug most often by volunteer labour, and the results are seldom reported in any detail. But then the public is not shown these, no explanation is given about the difference between what the archaeologists are trying to do in their little hole and the tekkies in theirs (the recent Somerset Hoard and The Staffordshire Hoard being rare exceptions, but the latter would have been better off being kept under the wraps). The Treasure finds themselves rarely receive any form of full publication after the media fuss has died down.

The PAS does not promulgate archaeology but glorified goodie hunting, and that is the picture it is currently projecting to the public at public expense. And though this has been pointed out many times, the current team is failing to do anything concrete about it.

You are not an FLO are you, 40something?

40something said...

What's a FLO ?

40something said...

What's a FLO ?

40something said...

Excellent description, BTW of what a report in the UK press would look like

Paul Barford said...

What is an FLO? A person of infinite tolerance and patience I would say, not only have they to deal with tekkies and the like, but even have to pretend they like them and do not see the damage. And then they get people like me asking them questions I expect they don't really want to answer - like the lady in Oxfordshire who STILL has not even acknowledged she received a letter from me...

FLO - Finds Liaison Officer, the principal means by which the PAS gets all those finds recorded in its database, where would metal detecting be without them, their REAL partners?

Paul Barford said...

Just put it in the abreviations column for you



Any other creepy and unclear acronyms to put in there?

40something said...

No, I'm not a FLO. I teach ancient history.

40something said...

Here's a review of "Digging for Britain"

i do wonder, though, if the effect of people watching this sort of programmes re. archaeology is to go out with the metal detector ?

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