Friday, 2 October 2015

Intellectual Curiosity and Out-of-Place Artefacts

I queried an out-of-place artefact in the PAS records with the FLO responsible for putting it there. I think there are good reason for questioning whether it was even originally found in the UK. I even gave him a link to where I had written about it and the several reasons why this item aroused my suspicions. Pretty dismissively I got back a reply within an hour:
"At present we have no reason to believe that this is not an ancient loss".
Nobody of course is questioning whether the object is ancient, but its reported findspot. It was however a surprise to find from the tracking software that the link I gave to what I had drawn attention to was not followed. The FLO dismisses a fellow archaeologist's arguments without even reading them. Yet it is clear that he himself knows so little about the class of foreign object that he reports on that he's waiting (eight months now) for the record to be checked by "national Finds Advisors and relevant specialists". He'd find more of them in Bulgaria than Bloomsbury. This is the sort of intellectual curiosity and source questioning which lies behind that FLO's "no reason to believe" - probably its contexts of deposition and finding were not even superficially questioned. The FLO also refused to answer my question of whether he'd seen a finds release document from the UK landowner referring specifically to this object - so much for the recommendations of the Nighthawk report.

If you look at the PAS database with an informed eye, you can see a disturbingly high number of items recorded in it which are similarly out-of-place. I was looking at the corpus of Alexandrian issues a few months ago in connection with ACCG lobbying, many seem modern loses or 'plants' (see here too), raising issues of contamination of the PAS database. David Williams' brooches drew my attention  to a lot of other material of probably and potential Balkan/Danubian origins found in the fields of England. This could be interpreted as an indication that a lot of seeding of club sites has been going on with stuff bought as bulk lots on eBay and the redeposited material recorded as bona fide components of the British archaeological record by FLOs happy to boost record numbers and probably largely ignoring the question of how many of the objects got there.

If however the PAS does not carry out quality control of its 'data' (and now with the advent of lightly-'trained' karaoke recorder volunteers), those 'data' are worth very little as evidence of anything except the habits of contemporary metal detectorists and collectors.

Note that these questions were being raised on this blog quite along time ago, and do you think there has been a single reaction to any of it from the FLOs and PAS? Absolutely not, the FLOs you see, do not read blogs where what they do and the archaeological effects are discussed.  Hence a FLO to whom I wrote would not dream of actually opening the link to see whether he's or she's potentially been made a fool of by a 'finder'. What's the point if in fact many of them probably frequently are and we all suffer the consequences?



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