Thursday, 26 February 2015

2015 PACHI PAS FOI Request - Introduction

Several weeks ago because of something reported by a member of the public (a metal detectorist) that he had been told by his FLO, I placed an FOI request with the British Museum and received the results a few days ago, a day before the deadline. I was concerned about the type of 'Discussion of Portable Antiquities and Treasure Issues' that we were seeing from the PAS and its background, with particular reference to the way my own recent contributions were being represented by the PAS to their audience. Although no direct information on that was received, the response was revealing in more ways than one. It returned 23 pages of internal emails and fragments of just three threads in the PAS hidden forum, and one document of unidentified origin that had been included by accident. In a number of posts I want to discuss what I see as their implications, starting with the emails.

I am not at all convinced that what we received is in fact the full extent of the material that should be here.  The timespan I chose coincided with a number of cases where I approached the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme for clarification and information (to my recollection, at least eight not figuring in the BM response) which either suggests that any correspondence dealing with the matter was immediately binned, or the PAS are not in any way in contact with what their branch offices are up to. There is not a single case documented of an FLO informing head office that a particular communication was received and seeking guidance on policy points raised. This suggests a lesser degree of cohesion of the organization as a whole than I had assumed existed.

In particular there is missing any kind of confirmation of internal consultation over the matter of the Proculus coin, declared to be a fake by BM experts, a verdict I questioned and suspect was arrived at for extra-archaeological reasons, but repeated attempts to elicit further information were unsuccessful. Since there are other cases of my own letters to the Scheme included without reply (Sam Moorhead on the Isle of Wight coin group) this is at best an inconsistency. The matter came up again when the coin was sold and I pointed out that if they stood by their assertion that the coin was a forgery, the BM had the legal obligation to intervene to prevent a crime being committed. This too was apparently dismissed and there is no record of it even being discussed.

Another gap in the material is related to an event at a 21st May workshop on "Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online". Here a BM employee had made a pretty astounding statement that the public forum of the state-funded archaeological outreach organization, the PAS had to be closed because of "trolls" who were making "aggressively archaeological" (sic) points. The film was immediately edited - not too expertly - to remove that phrase from the soundtrack, which indicates that I am not alone in thinking this is something that should not have been said in public by a British Museum professional. Indeed, metal detectorists have subsequently made frequent use of Mr Pett's outburst. But there was no apology. I was curious to see if there was any discussion of this incident in the PAS. No, not a trace. It further transpires that such pejorative language is used unchallenged as a matter-of-course within the organization to refer to critics (or perhaps just the one foreign-based one) and was being used there among museum professionals as recently as December last year. 

Although somebody was sent along to listen in on my April 2014 seminar piece in UEA, there was absolutely zero traces of any discussion of what emerged from that within the PAS. Perhaps they were less interested in what I had to say and the development of the discussion, than hoping they'd catch me out saying something on British soil they could sue me for? Who knows?

There is no trace of any reaction to the points that were being made on my blog in the period concerned about the PAS involvement in the two "Britain's Secret Treasures" series. While the discussion of their declaration "we binned the proposal" was earlier than my chosen 21st May 2012 cutoff date, it would seem that all the FLOs were totally happy to ignore the issues raised on this blog about their disgraceful pretend competition (more smoke and mirrors). There are many other places in which this blog poses questions so the public who pays for the PAS and archaeologists who until now have supported it can see whether they are in a state or mind to answer them. We find from this FOI request, not only are they of no mind to, but even pretend not to have heard any of the questions (except the FLOs that have, because they read the blog and then keep very, very quiet about it - I've seen you, but won't tell). 

The compilation of the pdf which was posted up in the public domain leaves a lot to be desired, the texts are pasted together rather randomly, there is a missing fragment of one of them (page 20 a post by David William, omitted rather than redacted) and one document which should not be there. Let's start there, which shows immediately the PAS attitude to public discussion of heritage policy.

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