Tuesday, 26 August 2014

British Archaeology, Outreach and "Little Green PAS-Men"


Volunteers arrive in mismatched camoflage

The secrecy surrounding the Heritage Lottery-funded PAStExplorers recording scheme to be manned by mysterious 'volunteers' has aroused much speculation in recent months. The PAS is refusing to say where these volunteers will be recruited, who they will be, what milieus they will be they are coming from and what interests they have in strengthening the PAS hold on archaeological outreach. In particular, there has been total silence on the all-important question of the security of findspot data in the hands of these 500 unknown individuals scattered in ten regional centres, or indeed to what data and resources these people will have access. A PACHI reporter was in Bloomsbury Square this morning as the first volunteers arrived for briefing at 41 Russell Square, Camden Town:
As a column of muddy cars arrived outside number 41 on Monday morning, a pirate flag fluttered from one of its windows. As the volunteers clambered out, locals crowded around them in the square. There was rampant speculation about who these men in mismatched camouflage were. The men themselves were reluctant to talk to journalists about their identity or intentions, though it was clear that there were definitely green men among them. From their demeanour it appeared that the bulk of them were not  professional finds specialists. Several people peered nervously into the back of one of the cars, there were long packages there, which could have contained metal detectors or weapons, but onlookers were quickly ushered away and the men filed silently into the building.
The whole idea of the PAS was so that members of the public who'd found archaeological artefacts would be able to take them directly to an archaeologist who would then 'liaise' with them and thus provide public outreach and where necessary guidance and encouragement on 'best practice'. That concept quickly became bowdlerised to 'best practice=going to the PAS'.

Now it seems the core element of the Scheme is being scrapped, members of the public apparently will not be coming into direct contact with real archaeologists, but volunteers 'trained' to fulfil the role of pretend archaeologists (who very well may then 'liaise' with the archaeologists they are working under). The whole concept of liaison has all-too-clearly been subsumed under the overall aim of "getting as much stuff in the database, no matter what" which is simply a perversion of the reasons why the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up. The database was a tool and not the aim in its own right it has now become.

Meanwhile there are justified grounds to believe that many of these 'volunteer ersatz-liaison officers' will in fact be coming from artefact hunting and collecting circles, and not in any way representing to the public the aims and concepts of archaeology, but an object-centred approach to the past (PASt). This is exactly the equivalent of the un-unifoirmed and unacknowledged "little Green men" who are presently an instrument in the attempt to wrest Crimea and the Donbas from the Ukrainians through clandestine infiltration through poorly-defended borders.

PAS, when will you inform us, who - specifically - ARE your little Green Men going to be? 


3 comments:

heritageaction said...

This should be highlighted in red, it sums the whole sorry process up:

"The whole concept of liaison has all-too-clearly been subsumed under the overall aim of "getting as much stuff in the database, no matter what" which is simply a perversion of the reasons why the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up. The database was a tool and not the aim in its own right it has now become."

I absolutely object to my taxes going towards this blatant attempt to secure PAS's own longevity.

And yes of course the "volunteers" they are so coy about describing will mostly be detectorists. Why else be coy? The coyness betrays a big lack of pride does it not?

I would have thought amateur archaeologists (people not "challenged by formal education" or engaged in an activity that would get them locked up in most countries) would be the best people for them to approach. But if they'd have done that they'd have said so, loud and proud.

Paul Barford said...

Red it is, Mr Heritage. And the next bit. Not that anyone will take a blind bit of notice.

Beats me how you can "train" volunteers to "do recording" to anything like the high standard required, when many archaeologists (FLOs) have problems with some of the things submitted to the PAS, and the verification by finds advisors 'system' has obviously all but collapsed. This karaoke system can only lead to recording errors big-scale. But who cares, eh? "Never mind the quality, look how many we got!"

heritageaction said...

I forgot to say....

Imagine if ordinary members of the public WERE used in this way and came into direct contact with some of the awful behaviour that's exhibited on the detecting forums every day.

They'd blab, wouldn't they, as they wouldn't be bound by the "smile and pretend" employment contracts that FLOs are bound by?
That fact alone is enough to ensure "the public" are not going to be offered much of an opportunity to become volunteers in the process they are financing.

 
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