Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Britain's Portable Antiquity Heritage

clutching an artefact
Alice Rose (Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge) decided to publish online her text called: 'A Reappraisal of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme', and somebody sent me a link. It's less a reappraisal than a brief PAS love-in. There are no acknowledgements to this seven page compilation of fluff, but  (it looks to me like) she's gone no further than read two articles of Suzie Thomas (uncited) and cite what somebody in the PAS suggests she read. There is lots of airy-fairy bla-bla about fighting "nighthawkers" through partnership with other artefact hunters who are (she imagines) going to turn the others in. And similar stuff bearing no relation whatsoever to what happens among artefact hunters, or the difference between what these folk say, and what they do. According to this young lady, the PAS "can use public engagement rather than legislation to ensure the future preservation and conservation of the archaeological record" Like at Lenborough Weekend Wanderers Christmas Dig she means, where we saw trashing of an earthwork site under grass and a public hoard hoik into the bargain. As for "archaeologists no longer need to be custodians of the past but rather the facilitators", did she really think through what she was saying? Facilitators of antiquity collecting, or collection-driven excploitation of the archaeological record. 'Scuse me? After all that laboriously compiled fluff and nonsense we come to her conclusion:
In conclusion, by reassessing the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme by reference to the aims they were created to achieve it is possible to see that they have both succeeded. Yet if this is the case, should they be altered to fulfil new or expanded aims in the present socio-economic situation? I have demonstrated this is unnecessary as any alterations could damage the progress they have already made in fostering public responsibility towards the past. Furthermore, in the current economic situation where many public services are being cut, archaeologists should not try and strive forward but rather maintain the current system to ensure its endurance and accept the burden of the past is no longer theirs: in this new era, the past is shared.
And that will be on the metal detecting forums tomorrow. What planet is this girl on? What "success" precisely, what "public responsibility for the past" does she see fostered by UKDFD and the forums?  Has she read anything by John Howland, Jeb, Trevor ('get off are case') Austin or any of the others? There is no reference to Gill's PIA paper and its discussion. No reference to anything Suzie Thomas or Mary Chester-Cadwell wrote, Tom Brindle, Philippa Walton or Katherine Robbins. All of these are relevant to what she's trying to 'prove'. There is no reference to the HA AEC (or the issue of the level of non-reporting versus mitigation in general),  no reference to Crosby Garrett, no reference to ARCHI and the targeting of known sites by the very people she wants to "facilitate", no mention of the future of scattered ephemeral personal collections of archaeological material gathered for personal entertainment and profit, no mention of the issues surrounding commercial artefact hunting rallies, and dealers buying and selling on commercial rallies, or the problem of 'planted' artefacts and 'metal detecting holidays'. There is no mention of the selection of collectables from archaeological assemblages which distorts the archaeological picture of a site even before the "finder" leaves the site. There is no mention of the issue of the legalities of transfer of ownership of finds to collectors ("Farmer Brown"). In short a highly superficial and one-sided presentation of a much more complex issue - labelled a "reassessment". That's just a joke.

Yet, we learn from the bibliography that her "research" took her to "popular online literature such as The Heritage Journal and Paul Barford's Blog", where she would have found very detailed presentation of the problems. But she only accessed one text on HJ on 26/4/2012 and "Paul Barford's Blog" on "26/4/2012", but she could not be bothered to look, she cannot have read much there as she refers to both containing only a mention in the "comments" (eh?) that "metal detectorists viewed archaeologists as self-righteous, wanting to take the objects they had found to be stored in back rooms of museums, never to be seen again". The young lady cannot even cite the title of the source she "used" (but not really) - it is Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues', not "Paul Barford's Blog". And though she uses just a few books and a number of "popular sources" and online materials, there is not a single metal detecting forum or blog cited. She's not even looked at what metal detectorists are saying about any of the issues she mentions (because I hesitate to use the word "discusses"). Zero points for effort.

But this is absolutely typical of the embarrassingly  low quality of what passes for archaeological discussion of these issues in the British Isles. The PAS sets the agenda, and virtually nobody in the UK wanders from the path of righteousness they define.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.