Friday, 8 July 2016

A Self-Proclaimed UK "Priscan-Archaeological" Artefact Hunting Team

John Aubrey from
archaeology's priscan era
The story behind the strange name of the "Priscan Archaeological Survey Team" run by metal detectorist Paul King [finder of the snapped-in-two-St-Ursula pilgrim badge] can be found in an online dictionary webpage: "I wanted a unique word to use a major part of our website name: 'Priscan Archaeological Survey Team' as it is going to be quite fundamental to our build up as the site gains credibility....". It is clear from UK detecting forums that creating an image of credibility and decency is fundamental to persuading landowners to give access to land so artefact collectors can pocket pieces of valuable evidence of the past and add them to their personal collections.

Another element in that attempt to fake credibility for their artefact hunter webpage is the word "archaeological" in the name they have given their band of enthusiasts. In what manner was is it used? Is it the "the application of an archaeological methodology to the study of the physical remains of the past"? Pretty unlikely. Although they claim  "the discovery of previously undiscovered, and unexplored, historical sites that include Romano-British and Medieval settlements", what they show when you are invited to look at "High Definition images of the recoveries to date|" are row-upon-row of loose decontextualised collectable artefacts. This is not archaeology. Neither do I see how they can claim to be any kind of an archaeological survey team that does not present their work in the form of maps and site plans. This is not survey, it is artefact hoiking for collection. 

This is not recovering of the evidence of the past in any way that can be used to write history. These people are pocketing history and not recovering it. Indeed, it seems in the search for a catchy posh-sounding name for themselves, these collectors did not notice what the dictionary says. Priscan is an adjective meaning primordial. So yes artefact hoiking for the sake of the artefacts alone is a very primordial, atavistic form of proto-archaeology. If John Aubrey had had a metal detector he would have done much the same as these guys are doing and calling it "archaeological survey".  Paul King and his sidekick  Stephen Mason both claim to be "experienced and enthusiastic semi-professional archaeologists". In what way is somebody half-professional? Is that a financial qualification or one of ethics? Some explanation is afforded by the phrase:
Together, we have amassed over 55 years' worth of fieldwalking experience and artefact recovery utilising state-of-the-art metal detection equipment.
So 55 years (2860 weeks, really?) of walking around fields with a metal detector. That is not "archaeological experience" any more that walking around the same fields with state-of-the-art  shotguns blasting the heads off rabbits would be "ecological experience". What rubbish. As is:
The 'PAST' have been extremely fortunate in recovering and recording a broad range of artefacts from a bespoke permission portfolio, nationwide.
"Bespoke permission portfolio" - he speaks as if these are the assets of a Treasure hunting company. There is no mention here of "bespoke" (site-specific) research designs. They forget one word: "recovering, pocketing and recording a broad range of artefacts", funny that. This is more pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo intended to impress and flatter landowners.

To see what they really do, one only has to look at their blog. Please do. Here they are on one of their atavistic "surveys-of-the-artefact-hoiking-kind":
Sunday 3rd July 2016
Well, here we are in July and quality detectable land is fast running out. We were on pasture  [...] to try and locate any Medieval evidence there. There is reputedly a deserted Medieval village in this locale. Alas, nothing Medieval was to be found [...] Experience has shown that land (ie pasture) that hasn't been ploughed since before 1800 will be a challenge to recover anything older than Georgian. 
Well, there you are, these "archaeologists" are using their "archaeological experience" and targeting known (or suspected) sites and hoping just to hoik the kind of finds that interest them from it. They apparently found no nails, no iron scrap, no smithing waste, no lead, no pottery, charcoal or animal bone. They want some non-ferrous medieval bits to add to their growing personal collections, so they target a medieval site. No matter that this site is in permanent pasture, unploughed by modern machinery - in other words the very type of site the Code of Practice for RESPONSIBLE Artefact Hunting says "responsible detectorists" would keep away from

The previous weekend one man was detecting on two days with a long lunch break. HD images of the weekends' removals from the archaeological record can be seen here. Over thirty PAS-recordable items were hoiked by one man in just one weekend. This makes the algorithm of the HA Artefact erosion counter look positively generous (it postulates about that many hoiked and pocketed on average in the course of a year). Obviously some artefact collectors are taking FAR more than that in a year from the archaeological record.

Finally, in order to look even more intellectual, these people lifted a quote from  The Journal of American History, apparently without reading much beyond the first line of the text they took it from.There professor Thelen talks of recording oral history, rather than the sort of destruction of the physical evidence of it which willy-nilly artefact hunting represents. They say they "suport the PAS" does the PAS consider these folk their "partners" and support what they are doing here? Can they point their FLO to this post and get an official endorsement from the PAS? I really would like to see that, because maybe there is something I am missing. Come on FLO, do some public partnering.

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