Sunday, 14 June 2015

The End of an Era: PAS Moves, Roger Bland Leaves

The latest British Archaeology magazine has not yet reached the Institute library here, but I am reliably (I presume) informed from England that it has a news article (p9) headlined "Roger Bland Resigns as Treasure Staff Move". No other announcement of this seems to have been made so far.

According to this article, the PAS has been relocated within the management structure of the BM. In April 2006, the Portable Antiquities Scheme central unit became an official department within the BM (the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure). It has now become subsumed into the  Learning, Volunteers and Audiences Department. Moreover, the budget for the PAS has been cut by 6% as from April. The guy who kept a lot of it going Dan Pett has been moved to the museum's new Digital and Publishing department. The news item has apparently "a bit of filler about how the PAS is 'internationally praised', but that's about it". Apparently the changes came into effect on May 1st (but the BM website does not reflect the change), and Roger Bland leaves the British Museum in July. There is a significant quote near the end of the article:
“I hope the BM continues to ensure the pas is adequately funded in the difficult times ahead,” he told British Archaeology, “because I know how easily the whole structure could collapse.”
These changes reflect the general instability of the organization of heritage management in the UK and the lack of coordinated lobbying by the heritage and archaeological community as a whole towards achieving more. The move to the BM seems part of that organizations policy to position itself at the centre of a web of 'partners' (see the Hermitage loan last year as another aspect of that), a situation which is organizationally complex  and raises all sorts of issues, especially at a time when the museum's directorship is in a process of change. Here we are seeing part of the consequences of that. The PAS has gone from a semi-autonomous national Scheme with its own central unit and several dozen regional offices to being a sub-department in a London museum.

I am shocked and puzzled that there is nothing whatsoever about this on the Britarch discussion list or any of the more accessible metal detecting forums. Is there really so low interest in the Scheme in these two milieus?

Readers will be well aware that I have somewhat strong views on the way the PAS has been going and run and consider that Dr Roger Bland is responsible for some of that (while recognizing the severity of the restraints under which he has been forced to operate). On the other hand, it has to be stated that without his very hard work alongside some others in the 1990s the PAS would probably not have been set up. The degree to which I personally think that would have been a good thing or bad thing is immaterial, it exists and has the potential for doing good among artefact hunters and the British public. the title of the article reflects the degree to which the PAS has very  much been a one-man show. It has to be acknowledged that Bland steered the Scheme with political adroitness through very turbulent waters and through a number of crises. I never met him, but have corresponded with him and am convinced he is a thoroughly decent bloke who believes in what he is doing. I therefore would like to express my sadness that he is going and wish him all the best for his next endeavours. I certainly think that thousands of metal detectorists in the UK also owe him a huge debt of gratitude for what he has done to legitimise their exploitive hobby in the public eye.

It is the end of an era for the Scheme too. It remains to be seen how it transitions from this point, or indeed whether it can be sustained now one of the main motors driving its success goes. What will becoming part of the BM's  Learning, Volunteers and Audiences Department mean for the external offices? Long term PAS-watchers will be aware that the first redundancy in response to the cuts was the Education Officer. Now the tables are turned and education would seem to be the future of the Scheme. More insistence will be placed on (real) best practice for metal detectorists maybe? And perhaps now we'll see some integration of the message of the PAS with the wider issues of portable antiquities collecting and commerce that is so badly lacking at present?

Vignette: LEGO karaoke PAS

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