Friday, 4 January 2013

Who is this? What is it?

Since 2003 it has proclaimed its aims to be:
1. To advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
2. To raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
3. To increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
4. To encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders.
5. To define the nature and scope of a scheme for recording portable antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
I am sure all its many supporters will say that the portable Antiquities Scheme has met every one of those five aims and more. But is that actually true when you take off the fluffy-bunny-let's-all-be-pals rose-tinted partnership spectacles? Clearly the PAS has put a lot of work and money into the first aim, but there are four more. They gave up on the fifth (claiming falsely that they had resolved this problem) a couple of years ago, what about the other three then? To what extent can they honestly say that after figfteen years and fifteen million pounds of outreach the British public as a whole has become aware of any of these things? Like the "value of finds in their context", what actual concrete measures have been taken to promote that and what success has it had preventing the removal of finds from that context? A question still to be addressed is whether "strengthening links between metal-detector users and archaeologists" is indeed a means to "increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology" nationwide. Metal detecting is artefact collecting, and artefact collecting is not archaeology any more than collecting costume Barbie dolls is "ethnology". What about that "promoting best practice by finders" when there is no real definition of that which is acceptable to all? (the official Code of Practice which is the first step in determining that is roundly rejected by most metal detectorists and even some heritage professionals have been found to prefer to refer to the NCMD code when liaising with metal detectorists).To what extent has actual best practice been promoted among the artefact hunters of Great Britain at the expenditure of fifteen million quid? Is this "best practice - to the highest standards" or a "lowest common denominator" one? Does it mean where and how artefact hunters collect objects and information, and what they do with them afterwards, or is it that they merely can be encouraged to help build up the "wottalotta-stuff-we-got" database?

What has changed in British artefact hunting in the last fifteen years, has it become more transparent, reflective, geared towards sustainable management of the archaeological record? Or has it simply become legitimised and popularised by te "wottalotta-stuff-we-got" approach hiding behind Aim One?

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