Wednesday, 19 February 2014

They Once Had a Forum, PAS Limits Discussion on Expanding Volunteer Base

Claire Costin wrote a small 'news' piece for the PAS website about a significant new direction the PAS is headed ("The Portable Antiquities Scheme receives Heritage Lottery Fund first-round pass for project to expand its volunteer base" Tuesday 2nd April 2013 ). There has not been much public discussion of this proposed development that I can see. Perhaps UK archaeologists really have given up caring what the PAS and its "partners" do, just as long as the nasty aggro-causing tekkies are kept out of their way. Some of us however have not given up trying to follow what they are planning:  
Paul Barford wrote @ 09:26:39 on the 18th April 2013. Could you give a few examples of the type of "local community" you had in mind when making this application? What in your opinion makes London's BM the best place to manage such a local scheme, rather than the cultural institutions actually IN those local communities? Are you not concerned that the increasing involvement of temporary outside volunteers will inevitably dissipate the outreach supplied by the Scheme's few professional liaison officers in best practice (broadly understood) and the archaeological principles behind them? 

Note two things. First the reply from the PAS answers none of the three quite specific, and perfectly justifiable, questions except to vaguely suggest that they will be "finding organisations within local communities to host the project hubs", which does not answer the question what kind of organizations are concerned, Boy Scouts? Archaeological societies, metal detecting clubs? The question of the effects of farming the recording of finds off to volunteers is dismissed.

The shunting of work onto volunteer Community Finds Recording Teams means abandoning the prime purpose of the PAS. It will also lead to a decline in its role as an outreach organization, liaising between the community of professional archaeologists and is based on a temporary and ad hoc funding source. Training these new volunteers will take staff time off other tasks. The PAS say they will be monitoring quality - but we may observe the enormous, and growing backlog of the verification of finds data entered by FLOs which already exists, in some cases going back five years or more - in fact this monitoring seems to have ground almost to a standstill. So where are they going to get the time to cope with this additional load?

In metal detecting circles, this is being lauded as a further "expansion" of their partner-Scheme. I wonder this is any more meaningful an expansion than neighbourhood watch schemes can be counted as an expansion of policing (or any other use of volunteers instead of professionals is an expansion of that organization)?

The second thing I would like to note is the dynamics of the comments under the news item on the PAS site

Alan [Md] wrote @ 13:04:58 on the 3rd April 2013.
Claire Costin of the BM replied @ 16:01:24 on the 3rd April 2013.
Paul Barford wrote @ 09:26:39 on the 18th April 2013.
Claire Costin replied @ 14:16:26 on the 24th April 2013.
John Howland [Md] wrote @ 09:21:12 on the 13th May 2013.
John Howland [Md] wrote again @ 09:23:51 on the 13th May 2013.
No reply
Paul Manning [Md] wrote @ 14:09:03 on the 10th June 2013.
No reply
Sue Clark [Md] wrote @ 10:42:14 on the 23rd January 2014.
No reply
Pastfinder [Md] wrote @ 11:33:04 on the 24th January 2014.
No reply
Paul Mower [?] wrote @ 11:39:28 on the 29th January 2014.
No reply

The British Museum's replies stopped after Mr Howland's two posts in May 2013. What gems of tekkie wisdom did he write on the British Museum website of artefact hunting's partner Scheme?  
Alan raises some good points particularly where ..."those offering their finds for recording need to be confident that the recorders do not have an "anti-detectorist" agenda." Indeed, those reporting finds need also to be confident that recorders do not harbour anti-PAS sentiments either. There are foreign based individuals who describe themselves as 'archaeologists' and who go to great lengths to denigrate the PAS, its ideals and its staff.
For goodness' sake, what "anti-detectorist agenda" would somebody working within a Scheme which primarily works with artefact hunters have? Such a comment just reflects tekkie paranoia. But then, what on earth is the next comment doing there right under my own? "There are foreign based individuals who describe themselves as 'archaeologists' and who go to great lengths to denigrate the PAS, its ideals and its staff". This is pure ACCG mudslinging, and has absolutely nothing to do with a news item about Heritage Lottery Funding for expanding the volunteer base of the PAS. I am not a "volunteer recorder" for the PAS (and I would say it is pretty unlikely that with my record of criticisms of them, I'd ever get a job in the PAS). This comment comes immediately under my request for further substantive information about the Scheme's future, and quite clearly is an attention seeking attempt by a sick individual to use the BM website to provoke discord by making provocative remarks. The British Museum was among those who did not rise to the troll's bait.

This is just a small reflection of what was happening on the PAS' own forum when it was active. Questions addressed to the Scheme concerning policy and results and attempts to discuss them were constantly disrupted by metal detectorists on the Forum, making precisely the kind of remarks we see above. Yet it is the people that were trying to use the Forum as a means to interact with the heritage professionals there who were labelled "trolls" by the BM. Look at the brief exchange of comments under this British Museum news item and see who there is trolling. Then look again at what the concerns of the other metal detectorists are, and how many archaeologists are bothering to attempt to use social media to interact with the Scheme these days.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  

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