Saturday, 8 July 2017

FLO Expresses Willingness to Converse About European 'Metal Detecting', then Does a Runner

One would have thought that having to deal with 'finders' who mostly are metal detectorists, a PAS employee in the post of Liaison Officer would be pretty good at talking to people. That's what they are paid for. In the case of one of them, I'd reserve judgement about those abilities.

Anni Byard, the FLO for Oxfordshire has a social media account on Twitter. There she mostly posts a series of the usual sort of 'look what a luvly thing somebody brought me' posts of the type which all the FLOs do. But yesterday, she retweeted an image of this poster about a meeting in Austria and wrote something under it.

First, a declaration of interest. Many years ago, when the PAS was young, I was working in the Ministry of Culture here in Poland, in the Office of the Chief Archaeologist. It was fascinating work, I enjoyed it greatly and learnt a lot from it.  One of the things I was made responsible for was dealing with all the treasure hunters (both of the 'Nazi gold train' ilk as well as 'metal detectorists') and we had a fair number of them traipsing through our office. We also had a whole load of archaeologists who wanted to support the 'metal detectorists' - and to whom it was regrettably necessary to explain the legal position again and again - you'd think they'd know but...

One day a delegation of tekkies came to see us, and there was an archaeologist with them and they started saying we need to change the law in Poland to allow them to do what they want to do, and pointing to the 'situation in Britain where they've got this wonderful Scheme' to allow detecting and 'everything gets recorded'. Now as it happens, our office was indeed engaged at the time in the protracted process of changing the existing cultural heritage protection law (a long story there, for another time) and the Chief Archaeologist asked me to look into this 'British thing' and write a report. Thus began my interest in what the PAS actually does, and what it does not. I started going into it quite deeply - and got into the habit, it was the beginning of my hobby of 'PAS-watching'. About the same time, an archaeologist from the provinces published an article about how the PAS over in the UK was the solution to the 'metal detecting problem' in an archaeological journal (rather a magazine) and I was asked to write a reply in the next issue. Well, of course this academic had got the whole thing wrong.

There is no PAS in Poland and there never will be. Yet the artefact hunters keep trying. In November last year I was asked to make a presentation about the 'truth about the PAS' at one of the academic sessions devoted to the topic (for the record, the PAS curtly refused to supply two pieces of information I asked for to prepare the paper).

These calls are not restricted geographically. Apart from Poland, in this blog can be found discussions of  attempts by artefact collectors to promote trashing antiquities protection legislation and replacing it with a laissez faire free-for-all, condoning Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record with PAS-type voluntary reporting in countries like the Republic of Ireland (the PAS were involved in that) and France. In MOU public consultations in the USA, lobbyists for the dugup antiquities trade urge the US government to insist that 'source countries' like Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and Bulgaria allow unrestricted exploitation of sites for artefacts which could then be 'recorded' before entering the international antiquities market. There are, I write, very good reasons to oppose such attempts to weaken protection of sites in these countries. 

The Austrian meeting: So here in the meeting in Keutschach am See (in Carinthia) advertised by  AnniB, we have something similar going on in Austria. I have already discussed one attempt by an uncritical admirer to point out the alleged superiority of the 'British system' over the Austrian one (see here for the links). I do not know if AnniB, so keen to discuss the issue has read Karl's paper and taken the time to acquaint herself with the alternative views of what he writes. Anyway, Anni Byard is enthusiastic about a more recent attempt. 

Of course the sub-text of this is: 'if the foreigners want to copy the PAS, we must be doing it right!'. Well no, what has attracted the interest of the outsiders is the pretty facade of the PAS, the spin they produce. But since the PAS is not over-exerting itself to honestly present the full picture (that is what they are not achieving rather than only trumpeting what they have), the outsider is hindered from a full assessment of the situation. This is hardly a basis for seriously debating changes in a nation's law.

What Anni B wrote under the poster was:
Some interesting discussions on metal detecting and public involvement with heritage in Austria
I suppose it is a moot point whether discussions on 'metal detecting' can ever be really 'interesting' to all but a handful of folk, but I do wonder about the idea that Treasure hunting really is an 'interesting' form of 'public involvement with heritage'. I am entitled to my opinion that it is not. The heritage is not a mine.

So I wrote back
Paul Barford @PortantIssues 17h  Replying to @AnniB_OxonFLO   I guess what you find interesting would be that it is asked if Treasure hunting in England could be a "model", a model for what precisely?
That, actually, is a serious - and crucial - question. But it is not one that I have seen the PAS folk actually address in other than superficial style. This is not anything that is the subject of lively and informed debate within the PAS itself  (regular readers will remember I did an FOI which demonstrated that quite starkly - see posts on and between Thursday, 26 February 2015 and April 3rd). I suspect that it is because of this, that the Liaison Officer misunderstood the context of the comment:
Anni Byard @AnniB_OxonFLO 17h   Yes a serious Q, some archs in Austria are questioning laws that govern all arch discoveries, by all methods. interesting to hear views.
Yes, archaeologists should know and debate the laws, but let's start with those of the UK - that Treasure Act to start with. That is, surely, what the PAS should be concentrating on - and concentrating public attention on in their outreach. The minimalist definition of Treasure in England differs from that in Scotland and there is minimal reporting still of non-Treasure items ('it's voluntry, innit?') and we should be asking ourselves whether all the stakeholders (so not just artefact collectors and dealers) are served by the law in its present form. Apparently, though, this was not a view of the current situation AnniB was 'interested' to hear:
Paul Barford @PortantIssues 16h   but we are not talking about 'discoveries' but exploitation of sites for collectables, aren't we? Is that really a "model" to follow?
AnniB's argument here, about a beneficial 'partnership' between archaeology and artefact hunting and collecting leading to 'more discoveries', is exactly the same as that of the dealers' associations paid lobbyist Peter Tompa in distant Washington. He urges all nations (those with ancient coins) to scrap any protective legislation they have and have a scheme, like the British one, to record what artefact hunters find and we'll have more 'discoveries'. Tompa and the FLO are speaking here the same language (and that is nothing for Ms Byard to feel good about). The issue is that those 'discoveries' would arise from depriving the archaeological record from any but the most rudimentary form of legal protection.

This brings us to the question of why England and Wales have a PAS. Despite what collectors and dealers and their lobbyists think and say it was not set up as some kind of a deal to allow people to collect archaeological artefacts. The law was not set up to allow a PAS. The PAS is the response to an utterly crappy and atavistic law in the UK and its the best that could be done in the face of strident and damaging opposition from the artefact collecting lobby. First there was next-to-lawlessness as far as archaeological preservation goes, and then there was the PAS. Advocates of copying/cloning the PAS in other countries which currently have strong antiquities preservation laws are saying 'remove the legal protection of the nation's archaeological resource so collectors and dealers can fill their pockets'. I really do doubt that this is what AnniB was contemplating (or was it?). But we will never know what she was thinking. This is how she replied to that, just before, minutes later, she blocked me.  
Anni Byard @AnniB_OxonFLO 7hI was quite willing to have a conversation with you about what's being discussed here in Austria but I see there's no point.
That's nice, the Liaison Officer was actually 'willing to talk' - but the moment I pointed out in 140 characters that the point of artefact hunting is not just 'discovering' (many artefact hunters target sites known to be 'productive' ones) but artefact collecting, then she apparently loses that will. Nevertheless, that is the truth (look at Mr Walzerlad 123 from Loughborough for a typical example). It is a poor discussion  that is based on a partial truth, but avoiding the main issue. I do not see it as in any way 'inappropriate' to mention other issues connected with the Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in the context of the Austrian debate, which is part of the European one.

This is the problem with the intellectual heritage of the PAS, it is wholly object-centred (where 'typology rules'), rather than seeing the objects and their collection in a wider theoretical context, and it is focussed on place of discovery rather than making an accurate record of the all-important context of deposition/discovery. That's because (or the cause of ) the Kossinnist dot-distribution map approach which characterises so much of the 'research' presented as a justification for PAS 'data'. I have discussed this narrow retro-archaeological ethos of theirs elsewhere, though my bet is not many British supporters of the PAS have taken the trouble to read it

But if we are to follow 'what's being discussed here in Austria', then we need to take into account that (away from Bonkers Brexiting Britain and its PAS), in the discussion here in Europe, we are not debating just one aspect of the problem, but trying to address the issues of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in its wider, holistic, context. And I think we are owed the  FLO's considered answer whether we should not be talking about the exploitation of sites for collectables, and whether that really is a  "model" that we in continental Europe need to feel we should be following. Is that a yes or no Ms Byard? Obviously, it is difficult to give these issues proper attention in 140-character soundbites, but that is no excuse for ignoring it, or worse still somebody employed to do public outreach on archaeology running away from it. 

So I invite the Oxfordshire FLO (or any other PAS employee) to point out in the comments below, or elsewhere if she likes, where I am wrong, or to justify the view that 'metal detecting' is not about artefact collecting. Let's call it 'outreach', if an FLO can do it with English and (for the moment) Welsh metal detectorists, what's the difference between them and my blog's readers? 

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