Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Lenborough Hoard the Beginning of the End for PAS?

Lenborough Hoard tipped
out on a kitchen table. SEE how it
SHINES. Source: (CC)
I think a certain amount of PAS-fatigue is setting in. While British archaeologists say the usual supportive things, avoid open criticism of the Scheme, are thankful it removes from them personally any need to be in direct contact with irksome tekkies, and some reach for their "data", it seems the PAS is no longer at the centre of any real debate in archaeology.

The Lenborough hoard fiasco has shown the extent of the failure of this social experiment. Found on a commercial event held on a fragile known site, and immediately decontextualised by being hoiked out blind with the FLO taking part. This demonstrates very clearly that the PAS really cannot even do what it was set up to do (outreach on best practice) or in any way exert any real influence on metal detectorists. The latter see it only as a convenient way to legitimise the hobby with very little real effort from them to win that privilege. That is, in reality, about as far as the imagined "partnership" between archaeology and artefact hunting and collecting goes.

I've been predicting that the Welsh PAS will fade away in the next few years and see that as providing an opportunity for opening new debate on the issue of how to deal with artefact hunting in the UK in general. David Gill has discussed the Lenborough fiasco in terms of where we go from here ('The Lenborough Hoard and the future of PAS' Looting matters Wednesday, February 11, 2015). I think in looking back at what will happen, the Lenborough Hoard, following on so shortly from the Hollingbourne one where the finder-hoikers claim the PAS said "you done well", will be seen as the beginning of the end. Gill notes that "Dr Roger Bland has suggested that the future of PAS is far from certain".
However, the head of the antiquities scheme that funds the finds, Roger Bland, said the future was looking uncertain because of budget reductions. 
"I'm not sure whether we're going to be able to renew the contracts for nine of the 32 posts that we've got in the scheme from the 1 April. 
"I'm quite concerned but I also feel that we've been in difficult places before and we've managed to keep going," he said.
My home county of Essex already has a volunteer FLO, a metal detectorist ("All Over Rover" mentioned on this blog a number of times), more and more of the PAS database is expected to be created by volunteer (karaoke) recorders from the general public - cutting out the idea of the FLOs actually acting as the medium for liaison and the passage of information about archaeology between archaeology and the public. This will make up the shortfall in "numbers" of finds recorded, but what about quality control? The PAS cannot keep up with verifying their own records while staffed at today's levels, and in the future? What is the future of the PAS? Will it merely "manage to keep going" and at what cost to the bits of its intended mission which do not consist of trite narrativisation of a "Ta-rahh! Look what we've found now! See how it shines!" and "Wottalotta finds we got" it really seems to me is which is what they mainly concentrate on at the moment.

The PAS seem to be under the impression that they can bluff this one out like they do all the time, questions are raised, they ignore them, and the way they see it, "nothing happens". What actually happens is that the people watching the PAS see that perfectly valid questions are raised, or something happens to which a PAS reaction would be expected (if we expect the PAS to be engaging with the broader public on portable antiquities issues), but time after time, the PAS is silent. That is what we see happening. The PAS have not issued a single official statement since the Lenborough Hoard was plastered all over You Tube and the papers. The FLO concerned has given two interviews, in the second of which she said she "felt like Howard Carter" and that's about it from the PAS. I think a certain amount of PAS-fatigue is setting in.

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