Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Institutional Obfuscation: Public Courses and Phantom Record-makers on the PAS Database?


PAS 'phantom recorders'
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a public funded body ostensibly set up to encourage best practice and the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales to 'help advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales'. On its website we are told how to contact the 'partner' unit of the Scheme that covers a particular region:
Scheme contacts
The Scheme currently employs 56 members of staff in the following sections. Below you can get contact details for each member of staff and also find out more about their jobs and what they have recorded in their regions. Finds Liaison Officers
The Scheme currently employs 38 Finds Liaison Officers.
Yesterday I was writing about something the Durham FLO had claimed about the density of other finds from the site that had been the findspot of a Roman 'stud' on his patch and, in passing, that it did not really ring true because according to his profile page (on the PAS website) it said in one place that the number of finds he'd recorded (and so presumably including the others from that same site) was 58, but on another part of the same website to which there is a link through this same profile page, a different number of records was inexplicably given: 38. This may be due to the game PAS have always played emphasising the "number of finds" over the number of actual records that mention them (this is the dialectic between "wottalottastuff-we-got" and "how much information").  As I said, this was in passing, but the FLO seems a bit sensitive about that point (NB if every FLO is pulling their weight, to get the 80000 records a year mark, each of the 38 has to record 2100 objects a year). So last night he fired off an indignant tweet:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood ‏ @FLODurhamFLO
W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @PortantIssues @findsorguk
and just one more small point before I bow out of this madness. You need to learn how to properly interrogate the data (we run courses on this) Total records personally written/edited/checked/updated with the DUR prefix (ie since I took post) is 932.
This is rather an interesting comment for two reasons. the first most obvious one is that the PAS is a publicly funded Scheme ran for the public benefit. the Database is a public resource, to be used by the public that pay for it. Now we hear a PAS FLO saying that the thing is so constructed that in fact you first have to do a 'course' in order to use it. Why is it not organized in a user-friendly way that Mrs Higgins at number fifteen, my Mum, and Baz Thugwit (all of whom pay for it) can all use it for their purposes without first doing a course? And how much does going on this course cost and do PAS do bursaries for central European archaeologists who might need to come to the UK to learn how to use this complicated data-dump? Where do I apply?

If you live in Mr Westwood's region, would not the place you'd first go to find out what has been found in the area would be precisely that page that tells you where and to whom you go to report your own finds, if you have some? One would have thought that was the logical place Mrs Higgins would go.  Baz Thugwit certainly would. My Mum though probably would phone me, as she knows I am a long-term PAS-watcher, and I'd tell her no, no... to do that you have to go to some entirely different part of the PAS website. To 'statistics' and there's a dropdown menu and you select Institutional statistics. Mr Westwood seems to have started working there some time at the end of 2016, but before that you can see the county was served by several FLOs and other recorders with varying numbers of records since 2009  (Francis McIntosh for example in 2010 managed single-handedly to create 968 records in one year, and in 2011 it was some 800, Laura Pratt in 2013 created 972 records). Mr Westwood claims he was responsible for the creation of records of 932 objects in some unspecified period of employment. You can adjust the dates to get to the period 1st August 2016 to 30th October 2018, which gives you that number of finds. The number of records is 796 - in two years, so way below what other FLOs had achieved (probably they were not getting involved in Twitter battles with He4ritage Action and others or trolling Rescue's Facebook page). Of these nearly 800 records, however, Mr Westwood actually wrote just 58 records himself. The rest were written by other people. The statistics are all there [UPDATE 31.10.2018: Mr Westwood seems very concerned that the names of these real people - five females, two males - appear on my blog, even though these names are openly available on the website of his own organization, he has demanded I remove them. I presume that this paranoia will lead to him demanding that their names are removed there too. So in deference to the PAS concern to treat these people as statistics and not people, I have replaced their names with asterixes here, but if you want to see what their real names are follow the links to the source of my information, 'Mugsy' is a pseudonym]
D** M***** (mugsythe1cat) - 359 records;
A** L********* - 169 records;
S***** L******** - 97 records;
Benjamin Westwood - 58 records;
R****** M******** - 56 records;
E**** G****** - 28 records;
C******** R** - 19 records;
E**** C** - 10 records
So, who are these people, responsible for making 92.5% of the PAS database records from this region over the past two years? Are they archaeologists? Trained PAStexplorer karaoke volunteer recorders?  Tame metal detectorist "partners"? Are they paid employees or unpaid volunteers? [UPDATE: in his demand to anonymise his own associates, see above, Mr Westwood betrays the fact that they are [all?] 'volunteers'' and 'It's clear who is/was employed & who is not', actually it is not, but never mind, we get the idea].  Do they all have archaeological qualifications? Are some of them seconded from the archaeology department of the County Council perhaps? Why have they not got profile pages of their own on the PAS website since they are the ones creating most of this record of public finds?  Why in fact are they hidden away right at the bottom of the "statistics" page - a page that the FLO suggests needs attendance of 'a course' to even find? The PAS 'counties' blogpage is no help. There is another links page within this blog to 'some database search results for artifacts (sic!) and coins found in Durham': (note: they are not all actually recorded by the people in the  Durham PAS unit) and the blog itself is more than a bit skimpy.... 

The PAS website itself does not have a search application, so we cannot search for these peoples' names on the website, but tucked right away at the bottom of the records themselves there is a little 'search' icon to click on by their name as primary recorder, so if you do this you find... they've been anonymised. I could not find 'Mugsy the Number One Cat' (sounds like my kind of guy) but I stumbled across one by A** L******** [UPDATE: see above]  and found that the search icon led to a page with the heading 'Recorded by (obfuscated for security): PAS58DA5B68001013'. She's been anonymised. This is rather like the authors from Oxford Archaeology who were so scared by metal detectorists that they published the 2009 Nighthawking Report anonymously (actually, having been threatened by a number myself, I can sympathise with that). But this just means that the recorders are phantom figures that come and go - and take no personal responsibility for what they write, or do not. It is also another stumbling block on the way to full transparency about the British handling of loose artefacts coming from Collection-driven dismantling of the archaeological record as a result of current policies (I use the term loosely). I would have thought the PAS should be encouraging transparency and accountability in dealings with portable antiquities, not deliberately 'obfuscating' even their own activities.

UPDATE 31.10.2018

Interesting, Mr Westwood seems very concerned about his volunteers (here, here, and here)
Imagine if a potential employer were to see their names associated with a blog alleging mispractice. It's not fair.
I have not alleged anything of the kind. So whence the concern? What I am saying is that there is a striking lack of transparency about how the records that make up the PAS database are created (and I used DUR as an example). That is not the fault of *** and *** ******, or even *******, but it is something that affects them and the significance attached by PAS to their volunteer work. But it also raises concernbs how much reliance anyone can put on those records that are no longer being made by the FLOs themselves as was the idea of the PAS when it was set up, that it would be archaeologists engaging directly with 'finders'. Now it seems from what is happening here that the heritage professionals have been replaced by random unnamed volunteers who here are doing 90% of the work. I think those people have the right to have the work they do fully attributed (there was a broad discussion in the UK museum world about exploitation of volunteers a year or two ago). Also, as a consumer of what is presented as archaeological data in a multimillion pound public-funded 'database', the users of the resource do have the right to know the full facts, and do not know why PAS is keeping them so close to their chests - and has now for the past several years. In how many other PAS regional units is this going on?


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

What Data About the English and Welsh Archaeological Record are in the PAS database? [UPDATED]


One of the things I used to write about when I was a finds specialist back in England was slag. I loved any kind of metalworking waste and wrote up reports for a wide variety of sites (most of which never actuially made it to the final monograph and were archived). In fact it was a doddle as most excavations produced one or two boxes of slag-like material at least, so it was one of the things that kept me in rent, beer money and fed my cats in the 1980s.

So, I figure, if the PAS is producing any kind of a record of the archaeological record of England and Wales, then because there are over a million metal items recorded there, it follows that there would be a lot of slag and metalworking waste on the sites that produced many of them. Wouldn't there? Each billet of iron that came out of the furnace would be accompanied by furnace and smithing slag. Many objects that were produced from it (depending on the quality of processing of the iron it was made of) potentially would produce more smilhing slag and hammer scale. Each non-ferrous cast object would produce some slag-like material (here it gets more complicated chemically). I have visions of boxes and boxes of slag. Big boxes.

And the PAS database? Pathetically, among the 1300000 objects in total, according to the database search engine, a paltry 158 records of slag (!). Now I know that this type of material is not everyone's cup of tea, and it is difficult to learn about, but some of those 158 descriptions by the FLOs and other recorders..... hmm. That's not me being snotty, it means that those descriptions cannot really be used (or at least relied on, as I can still guess from the pictures what some of them really are) but they are not a source of knowledge for any serious specialist study of the subject. What has happened is that artefact hunters, being collectors, have not been picking this unlovely sort of stuff up. In fact, looking at some of the shapes of the pieces, I suspect that a number of them were brought to the FLO incidentally with the question "wassat then?" or "is this sumfink?", as some of them for example have a slightly zoomorphioc form.

If we use the database mapping facility (top right) we get a picture of very uneven recording. So yes, there's quite a bit in the Weald, major iron-producing centre, but the Forest of Dean (Monmouth area)? Now, I've done fieldwork there and there are fields of the stuff. And it is interesting slag, as slag goes. Not a single dot on the map.

But there is something else, we know that PAS head Mike Lewis is doing some kind of a project on Medieval Productive Sites as potential market places (or something like that). Now, from what I know of the period (and not just in the UK) many of those those 'productive sites' would also have been production sites, especiallly if they really did function as exchange nodes or markets... and the lower map shows us Medieval+slag mapped from the PAS database... all six pieces of it. Now, does that mean that, by some quirk of fate, those 'market sites' (or whatever they are) that have now ended up in fields explored by metal detectorists are ALL sites where no iron was ever brought, smithed, or objects repaired? Or is it the case that the "partners" with their metal detectors are not actually engaged in a partnership producing archaeological data - but filling their own private collections with what they fancy, and not that which the archaeologist needs? What kind of a symbiosis is that?

What is the point of basing any serious archaeological research programme on data so flawed and so selectively biased because its gone through the hands of collectors with a different and private purpose in mind? What the PAS actually mainly documents is what collectors collect today and not very much more. That in itself might make an interesting thesis or two, but to spend millions of public pounds getting the information together for that....?

Update 31.10.2018
All MWD (1372 records)

Dan Pett in the comments suggests there in considering the topic of the appearance of the type of material that is less enthusiastically gathered by artefact collectors to put in their private antiquiy collections, I could also have lookd at the category of metalworking debris in general, where I would find more information. Indeed there is, total results available: 1,372 records, so of the 1,300,000 objects there are somewhere around (see below) 158 + 1372 records of pieces of metalworking debris (MWD) of various kinds and slag. That means 1520 records of these fragments all together. Yesterday I was just making a general point in a short essay, rather than writing a thesis, so I did not want to get into a discussion of the more general topic, so I did not do a search for metalworking waste (the category will include furnace waste, tuyeres, crucibles, piece moulds, investment moulds, hammer scale, and various kinds of metalliferrous ashes and slags as well as metal offcuts, pre-forms and so on). But since a former member of PAS staff has brought it up, I'll take a look at this as well.

All copper alloy MWD (922)
The first thing is the map of all the finds (above) shows that there are FLOs who know what they are looking at and why its worth recording and those that do not. Those that have encouraged finders to recognize it and bring it in and those who have not. So I can see where Adam Daubney works from that map (and from his descriptions that he in particular knows what he's writing about), I can see the Surrey FLO (the late David Williams, I bet) and the Wiltshire FLO are reasonably active there - but some of these are metal bits from Bronze Age "founders' hoards"  which really are a separate category from the other stuff covered by that thesaurus term. I can also see that, for example, the Essex FLO who called the police on me and the mouthy guy from Durham who says this blog is falsehoods and 'fake news'  have not got much to show in this category.  So the coverage is uneven and this is due to the collecting habits of artefact hunters as well as the PAS staff interacting with them. Some possibly are just not recording slag and MWD at all, perhaps even there are some that do not see it as 'important' in their regional context as coins and heraldic pendants. There may also be others that are actively drawing artefact hunters' attention to this material and its importance, and encouraging them to report it for recording. And there are probably shades of grey between these two extremes. the point is of course, this is what the database is recording the effects of. 

Lead and Lead alloy MWD
There are also issues about what should go into this category, so some slag is listed as MWD and some as just slag. Some of the desceriptions in this category are way off, written by archaeologists (or are these the PAStexplorer volunteer karaoke recorders in action? - as I think this one must be). Personally, I do not see how anyone can do any kind of work on archaeological finds without a knowledge that goes a little beyond merely 'basic' about how they are made, how metal is turned into the objects they are describing. Some of the MWD descriptions and the vocabulary used in them suggest to me that awareness of this is not general in the PAS-recording community. More in-house training needed instead of fluff ('aren't-we-doing-well?') conferences. Some proper validation of these public records would not go amiss, sorting out the terminological mess and infelicities (like "iron flag" in one record as just one example). It is symptomatic that of these the database says that 155 of these records have been checked (in the last twenty years) and of the total as many as 1,217 are still awaiting validation (just under 90%) (!). It seems there has been a sacrifice of quality for quantity here (not the only place in the 'database', I might add).

Medieval metalworking debris (14)
The next map (2) shows copper alloy metalworking debris (includes those BA hoards)  - not a lot different from the gebneral one, because over two thirds of this stuff is (what the FLOs have identified as) copper alloy metalworking waste. The third map (3) shows the 'lead' (264 records) and 'lead alloy' (34) plots. This suggests that the geographical extent is more indicative of different FLOs using different terms for the same type of material. I think also there is a great difference between lead offcuts and spills/driblets and (for example) iron furnace slag. Lead has a very low melting point and was used for soldering and plumbing, and (later on) casting all sorts of trinkets at home, so lead 'metalworking debris' is not readily classifiable as 'industrial' in the same way as ferrous and other non-ferrous production waste.

And, to come back to the point about the Medieval productive sites, map (4) shows them...  I do not think that adds an awful lot to the map in the orignal post above, and once again it seems that the map mainly shows the effects of the activities in the same three FLO areas

In conclusion, having looked at two related catgories of PAS recoirds, the conclusion remains that what is being recorded in the PAs database is the activities of modern collectors (and perhaps also the effects of the interactions between PAS staff and those collectors) to which the actual archaeological record from which the exploited material was derived, forms only a background, rather than being the subject that most supporters of the PAs imagine it to be. The PAS database is indeed showing the destruction of the archaeological record and only showing us in broad terms where it is being destroyed.


Twitter-Tweet FLO is Outreaching to us


Again, a mouthy but uncomprehending PAS FLO insists on trying to 'discuss' the effects of artefact hunting on the archaeological record exclusively through the medium of Twitter. He justifies this by saying: 'I like Twitter and it's perfect for discussion as it prevents long rambling tangential arguments and forces clarity' but one may justifiably suspect that the real reason is that requiring his counterpart to squeeze any concept more complex than a FLO's "you done well" into a 280-character minitext gives him ample scope for stating he does not understand the point being made when it goes beyond that. This results in automatically frustrating the discussion, and incidentally clogging up one's twitter feed in serial explanations that get nowhere.

In fact, ian analysis of the long threads this produces shows clearly that the main problem of comprehension this individual seems to have is in relating individual tweets to the context provided by the tweets that have gone before in the same thread.
Paul Barford‏ @PortantIssues 18 godz.18 godzin temu W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @HeneryIggins @HeritageAction
Obviously, understanding a 'discussion' conducted as short text statements within a 280 character limit requires both sides actually making the intellectual effort to see deeper cognitive context, and relationship between these texts. The context of your tweets seems clear to me.
That seems a nice parallel to the way that decontextualised artefacts (whether subsequently recorded by the PAS or not) cannot in any way be properly understood without their context and associations with other evidence. A coin on the database has as much information value as an isolated ten-word FLO-tweet. An inability to connect one tweet with a previous one in the same thread is an illustration of the difference between seeing just a single-event object-centred "past" (that of PAS/FLOs collectors) and a context-based one, relating individual facts in context-based analysis (that of the real archaeology).

It should be noted that this is the same PAS employee who starts off with the assumption that anything Heritage Action or myself say about Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record (anywhere?) is 'fake news' and 'lies' - which seems a rather awkward point from which to express a willngness to "discuss the issues".

Enough of this nonsense. I'll set out below some of the issues that we were discussing, combining texts that my collocutor attempted to scatter in multiple tweets in crisscrossing multiple threads. Perhaps setting them out like this will make the points easire for the reader to understand. Maybe we'll even get some comments below from the FLO so we can see where he's coming from better and see where his argument is leading.

A FLO Flails and Fails: Blogged Tweet Thread


The latest Twitter discussion with the mouthy but uncomprehending PAS Durham FLO concerned the archaeological damage represented by the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, a point he picked up from a post by Heritage Action. This text had mentioned a FLO (in fact the same one!) that had insultingly called what they wrote “fake news”, “a sham”, “click bait” and “full of half-truths and outright lies”. In the text they referred to them having every right (as indeed they do) 'to be resentful of the vast quantity of knowledge theft which lies behind the decorative PAS database'. The accusing FLO pretended not to understand the issue, despite several of us having written about it many times before.
Durham FLO Ben Westwood‏ @FLODurhamFLO 27 paź
And can you explain how a 'vast quantity of knowledge theft...lies behind the decorative PAS database' Because I simply don't understand. The Db is represents the opposite of knowledge loss: a 'preservation by record' of archaeological data that would otherwise be unavailable.
Since it had been raised I decided to explain (once again, because this guy has been attacking HA and myself for the past several weeks now). I said that as has repeatedly been emphasised (most recently by Hardy, Karl, HA and the British Museum themself ) in UK's England and Wales there's vast shortfall between recorded items and what is taken during Collection-Driven Exploitation [CDE] of the Archaeological record (colloquially "metal detecting") without record - but the scale of the latter shielded by a self-serving myth of  a majority of  'responsible artfefact hunters' promoted by PAS and its supporters.  That seems a pretty obvious point. I even gave him the links:
Karl: https://... /2018/08/public-knowledge-theft-accusation-by-uk.html
Hardy: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23311886.2017.1298397
Heritage Action http://www.heritageaction.org.uk/erosioncounter/  (see here: https://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2018/07/blog-post_33.html … )
BM https://finds.org.uk/documents/guideforresearchers.pdf … p. 14
A whole lot of stuff is being ripped off during CDE by the "partner" artefact hunters of the PAS and no record of what they have taken is preserved. That means that however-million artefacts the 'partners' have recorded between themselves, this only obscures the real scale of the knowdge theft that is going on. A huge amount of archaeological data are removed from the ground all over the country, sites targeted and trashed and none of those data are in any way recorded or available anywhere, and never will be.

Without actually answering that (typical), the Durham FLO then attempts another tactic:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood ‏ @FLODurhamFLO 27 paź W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues
Define 'recorded items' and those taken 'without record'? Many finds shown to me are unrecordable. Milled coins, post 1750ish items lacking sufficient historical/socio-cultural value, modern buttons, bits of tractor/fencing. Are you saying we should record those?
This is an old argument applied against the HA Artefact Erosion Counter, and we explained it many years ago, but it seem there are some know-it-alls fresh on the scene who start arguing before familiarising themselves with what the discussion is about.  I had to explain it to him (it seems he'd not actually used the links I had previously posted to see what we are talking about - again ignoring the context): What all the people discussing the number of items taken by artefact hunters that are not recorded (such as the HAAEC) refer to are items that should be recorded - so NOT 'ringpulls'- archaeological evidence that is destroyed without record. This what refered to in the recent Rescue policy document. The response was pretty telling:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood‏ @FLODurhamFLO 20 godz.20 godzin temu W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues
Not necessarily being destroyed, rather extant but unknown. Unless there's an (unlikely) change in the law to force mandatory reporting (which I would support) and consequential increase in funding for the PAS, we're never going to record everything
The first point is that the FLO is singing from the same damaged songbook as the Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang the site has been damaged by unrecorded removal of evidence, but the FLO thinks that is OK, because the loose objects remain.

Secondly, note the tacit admission from a man on the ground that the 'voluntary' recording simply is not working, for the PAS to actually mitigate the knowledge theft and data losses through CDE in England and Wales, only mandatory reporting and a huge injection of tax-payers millions will work to deal with the fallout of current policies on artefact hunting nd collecting. So a PAS employee is saying the same thing as Rescue.

Thirdly, if we are not going to be able to record everything the artefact hunters take, they are still going to take everything they can. The result is that under the noses of the FLOs and those that support them, the archaeological record is being trashed irreversibly and they are unable to prevent it. Perhaops instad of mandatory reporting a better solution wioyold be mandatory no collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record without an explicit permit - and then only what can be recorded will be removed by these hobbyists. Like shooting big game. 

It is really rather disturbing that an FLO (responsible for public outreach on archaeology) should need it explaining to him that the term 'archaeological evidence that is destroyed without record' does not mean physical objects, coins and brooches that disappear, but that the damage others are talking about is the effects of digging them out of a site or patterned assemblage that is, and always has been, the issue. (!) To say otherwise is simply to pretend to be unaware of what we all are talking about, I replied:
Paul Barford‏ @PortantIssues 20 godz.20 godzin temu
But that is a collector's object-centred view, NOT a context centred one of (real) archaeology. Contexts/assemblages are destroyed daily all over country by thousnds of artefact hunters removing material from them and the information lost. What is there not to understand there?
It seems that what seems pretty clear to anyone who's done any reading about what is called 'looting' in other countries, may not be so clear to a archie from up in the North of England. I really cannot see how an archaeologist would not see that. Has the PAS-brainwashing penetrated that far? Moving on from my reply, the Durham FLO takes umbrage: 'To pretend there's a 'real' archaeology that is some how above and beyond what I/PAS does or can achieve, is not only professionally insulting, it's ludicrous', he protests. I say an object centred view is the way collectors (and dealers) approach the archaeological record. The Durham FLO disagrees:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood ‏ @FLODurhamFLO 18 godz.18 godzin temu
Of course its archaeological. I'm an archaeologist, not a collector.
Data is (sic) not lost when objects, recovered from arable plough soil, are reported. Rather these finds/data are saved from certain destruction
Uh-oh. First of all, I said the archaeologist was writing in the same object-centred way that a collector would (and he is). This in fact - if you look - was precisely the point Heritage Action were raising in the post that the Durham FLO questioned. He's almost QEDd it himself. And once again, the issue is not that 'objects' are not recorded, it is that by them being hoiked blindly with a metal detectorist with a spade, even the ones that do come in for recording are decontextualised (as are the ones that are simply taken and nobody even knows where the tekkie was with his spade and what he pocketed - which is what the PAS database actually records).

As any first year textbook on archaeology should state, removing archaeological artefacts  from their context and associations does destroy their value as data carriers for archaeological research (and any site from which they are removed without record).

Thirdly, it cannot be denied that not a few artefact hunters remove the items logged in the PAS database from non-ploughland sites. The rally held, under PAS supervision (I use the term loosely) at Lenborough on permanent pasture with earthworks is a case in point. The reported findspot of the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet is another. There are many more cases of this.

As for whether archaeological evidence is lost when a site is exploited as a source of a few collectables that are taken without regard to their context among other mterial evidence, that I discuss in another post, below.

Portable Antiquities Scheme Staff Member: 'Ploughsoil Has no Context' [UPDATED]


Metal detector survey results compared
 with results of geophysical survey (Keith
Westcott, Institute of Detectorists)
I have transferred here an attempted discussion on Twitter that was getting nowhere as it reveals some interesting things. The starting point was a question raised by Heritage Action earlier, to what degree is PAS representing the interests of archaeology and to what degree is congruent with those of collectors? The tweets went all over the place, it seems very difficult to keep up a linear discussion when the two sides are coming to it from different positions. That's not how it should be, seemingly the discussion is between two archaeologists, with (one assumes) broadly similar education and experience, and talking about Collection-Driven exploitation of teh archaeological record. What could go wrong? Heritage Action have reduced the question to whether PAS and those who work for it really have adopted a "partnership" attitude to artefact hunters and collectors and are actively supporting them. Perhaps they are right. I personally would see the fruiction arising between two different concepts of what archaeology is and is about. But more of that elsewhere.

But whatever school you represent, I would have thought that an archaeologist will see that data are lost when any objects are dug out of archaeological contexts by artefact hunters with inadequate or no recording of that context (not the ovbbject discovered, but the context of discovery/context of deposition). This discussion revealed that it seems not every one sees it that way:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood ‏ @FLODurhamFLO Obserwuj Obserwuj @FLODurhamFLO W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues
Putting your insults to one side (sic!), plough soil has no context other than spatial location. Those artefacts in plough soil, subject to seasonal ploughing/chemicals are being destroyed. Responsible detecting under these circumstances rescues archaeological data
I will leave aside the second of those questions, the FLO asserts (as so many people do) that 'artificial' chemicals in the soil are damaging artefacts. On this topic, because of such claims, I have talked with soil chemists and experts in precisely the field of fertilisers, and read a lot of the literature (and even did an experiment to check out what one metal detectorist claimed)*, and I am of another opinion on this. It seems to me that the people that make that assertion are going on 'common sense' reasoning and using emotional arguments and not any cold hard soil science. The same goes for the plough-damage trope (look at these axes for example), I believe the effect in both cases is exagerrated to bolster the 'whip-it-all-out-now' approach to the archaeological heritage. I've written this all up (with Nigel Swift) and it will be appearing soon, and I really do not want to waste time trying to convince those who've already made their minds up - like Mr Woodward (I asked him a question on Twitter that, if he thought it through fully, should lead to the solution - but he refused to answer, probably because he did not understand the significance of the question).

But this issue of ploughsoil lacking context is a particularly disturbing element of the discussion, because it is used as the excuse for so many things. So I want to look at it (again, because I have written a number of posts here on this topic, but mostly as a response to what metal detectorists have said/written). This pair of posts comes to mind from PACHI Thursday, 6 March 2014: 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What's this all about? and 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: More on What's this all about?. Nice pictures.

The people that gaily trip out this trope seem never to have taken part in any fieldwalking programme. I wonder how and why that is in the case of a professional archaeologist, surely this (like basic surveying and excavation) should be part of the practical excperience of every single undergraduate degree course in archaeology. I studied in UCL in the centre of London, but they took us out to Sussex on the Downs (drizzling it was) for two weeks fieldwork training. I did some more over one Christmas with Mike Pitts just after that. But as an amaterur both before and after that I did a lot in the UK, Roman villa, quarry sites and pipeline routes, and so on. I've done it as part of projects I was involved in too. I thought everyone has, no? I do not know why Mr Westwood seems to be so dismissive of this kind of evidence and the techniques needed to use it, how one goes about documenting and then analysing ploughsoil scatters. Goodness knows there is enough literature in Britain on it, a lot of the methodological discussion - a huge bibliography - is in English.

It is particularly odd that he says this, because Mr Westwood reposted on Twitter a map done by the 'Proposed Institute of Archaeologists' (reproduced at the top of this post as a good example of what amateurs can do with metal detectors when they are not just adding objects to their private collections). This shows how finds in the ploughsoil relate to the buried archaeology (in this case revealed non-invasively by geophysical survey). So how Mr Westwood can do that and then claim that 'topsoil has no context',  I really do not know. But how can he be employed to do archaeological outreach to the public while holding such narrow views?

Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project
Googling, just as an example, 'gridded fieldwalking in Italy and Greece' throws up a number of examples that FLOs talking to the public about archaeologicl methods should be aware of (maybe this could be a future PAS conference topic?). Its not all excavation (who remembers the laughable and not-missed PAStExplorers 'education' page saying that archaeology is 'like a cake'?).  So just to take one at random, it happens to be the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project, we can see that this is not 'X marks the spot' single loose finds plotting like we are getting from artefact hunters, but proper gridded systematic surveys with controlled pickup, the results of which can be examined spatially (and in their full regional context) as well as quantitatively (figs 9 to 10) on the basis of systematically gathered data. These are not the kinds of data we are getting from the dismemberment of sites by artefact hunters in the UK. And the FLO is telling the people to whom he's doing paid 'outreach' (really?), that it does not matter, take whatever you fancy guys as 'ploughsoil has no context'.

Fieldwalking results at Monte San Nicola.
There's a nice little paper with some decent graphics that raises the same issues (Putting the Spotlight on Small Metal Age Pottery Scatters in Northern Calabria (Italy)). Most metal detectorists are not all that bothered about collecting sherds, they just hoik out the diagnostic metal objects from sites of the metal period. The PAS record has only 20,717 potsherds (mostly listed singly to bulk out recording numbers) out of 1,300,000 objects (thats 1.6%). So, not a very representative 'sample' of the tens of thousands of sites exploited by the collectors that have fed over a million pocketed objects into that database. Yet interpreting the taphonomy of those artefact  scatters without the metal objects (as shown early on by the VASLE project in the UK) that metal detectorists hoik away with or (most often) without proper record, is rendered difficult, and the results unreliable as there will always be the unknown unknowns of what previous clandestine intervention has affected what remains in the soil.

No, Mr Westwood, topsoil has a context, and ploughsoil has a context, and that does not just consist of a ten-figure NGR of where a collectable came from, but - and above all - what was in the artefact scatter around it. Buddying up with artefact hunters who see that soil only as a source of selected collectables for them to pocket for their own personal entertainment and profit does not absolve any archaeologist from seeing that the current policies on Collection-Driven exploitation even of sites like these is leading to permanent damage to their potential use as archaeological evidence. In fact, as a source of certain kinds of evidence, they have been destroyed by artefact hunters. And as part of the archaeological outreach to the general public who pay for their posts, PAS staff should be properly informing the public (millions of whom are neither collectors nor artefact hunters) of the actual situation, and not pretending nothing bad is happening. Because it is.

UPDATE 301.10.2018

I see that Mr Westwood, instead of engaging in discussion with ideas he apparently finds more complex than 280 character soundbites, is complaining over on Twitter about this blog post (punctuation and spelling as in original):
Not. What. I. Said. Mal-information (again) and a deliberate miss quote
We obviously do need to examine just what it is that Mr W. is saying is a "deliberate" [sic] misquote and thinks constitutes malinformation. The text above is cut and pasted verbatim from what he himself tweeted (please check for yourself). This, nota bene was after I had suggested that if he wants to discuss the issue, a text longer than 280 characters is more convenient, he disagreed, he reckons that putting it in shorter texts makes his meaning clear. I am not really all that convinced of that...

The only way to make it clear what is going on here is to put it alongside the texts that te one I quoted was a response to. I see that now we need to see here what they were, and you make your own minds up whether I am "deliberately misquoting" the archaeologist here, or whether he's now trying to backtrack ona silly remark he made and put the blame on me.

So, excuse the lengthening of the post for Mr Westwood's benefit. This part of the thread starts with his odd object-centred remark (post #5 in that thread) that no archaeological evidence is destroyed when finds are removed by artefact hunters without any record (because I suspect he did not know what I meamnt by that, I hope it is now clearer to him). He blurted out that unrecorded finds: 'Not necessarily being destroyed, rather extant but unknown'. That's what he wrote here.  So I replied in 280 characters (post #6 in that thread):
But that is a collector's object-centred view, NOT a context centred one of (real) archaeology. Contexts/assemblages are destroyed daily all over country by thousnds of artefact hunters removing material from them and the information lost. What is there not to understand there?
His answer to that, again object-centred (tweet #7 in that thread):
Of course its archaeological. I'm an archaeologist, not a collector. Data is not lost when objects, recovered from arable plough soil, are reported. Rather these finds/data are saved from certain destruction
There is an eight post where I suggest that he look back at the earlier tweets as it seemed to me he was talking at cross purposes, and then I answered tweet 7 (with tweet #9), I wrote:
Which brings us back to Heritage Action's point, is PAS representing the interests of archaeology or collectors? An archaeologist will see that data are lost when any objects are dug out of archaeological contexts by artefact hunters with inadequate or no recording.
Now I think it is clear by this point that we are twit-tweeting at cross purposes. I clearly write contexts (the ones exploited in CDE - so including ploughsoil ones) are destroyed by removing objects FROM them' and 'dug out FROM archaeological contextswith inadequate or no recording'. I am talking about ploughsoil scatters. I do not think Mr Westwood is. In his attempts at abbreviated 'clarity' he first of all talks about individual objects that are 'not necessarily being destroyed, rather extant but unknown' and data that are 'not lost when objects, recovered from arable plough soil, are reported'. He is clearly talking about a different kind of data from me. His is clearly object-centred, mine site-centred. This is the context in which I think it is entirely justified to see the comment (and I'll put Tweet #10 of that thread in full):
W odpowiedzi do 
Putting your insults to one side, plough soil has no context other than spatial location. Those artefacts in plough soil, subject to seasonal ploughing/chemicals are being destroyed. Responsible detecting under these circumstances rescues archaeological data

'Those artefacts' is directly related to 'archaeological data' allegedly being rescued by the Good Collectors. Additional evidence that the term 'spatial' used in that tweet means PAS-recorded findspots and nothing else is the odd little bit that comes later but is still part of the same FLO mindset that is the context for that tweet (#23 in that same thread). 
W odpowiedzi do    Researchers can look at the Db to see what else was from that field, is a fairly simple process. If there were others there that the finder missed, then we effectively have a sample, just like every other archaeological project ever.
I think all the evidence suggests that when Mr Westwood wrote what he wrote on Sunday, he really did mean that the only context a find in the ploughsoil can have is a 'X marks the spot' recorded findspot, co-ordinates in the landscape, a dot on the map. Perhaps he has rethought it now and realised that he was wrong (as he was). Nothing he wrote on Sunday about the notion of 'context' however suggests that he saw it in any other way. And one suspects that if he cannot get his ideas over clearly and unequivocally to a fellow archaeologist, then he really has no chance with the old lady from number fifteen and Baz Thugwit the gormless tekkie - let alone any landowner or MP he may meet in his FLOing.

*sadly not entirely satisfactory, as the memory card in my camera was faulty so the documentation went astray. But the metal detectorist was wrong.  


What Kind of Archaeology is the PAS?


Really important single
 object, really important
Continuing our Twitter tête-à-tête, Ben Westwood, Durham FLO and I had this exchange about archaeology
Durham FLO Ben Westwood @FLODurhamFLO 28 paź
 If you really think that I/PAS are just concerned with 'single-event object centred past' and not 'context based analysis' then I honestly don't know what to say, other than you're utterly wrong. The point of the whole exercise is to preserve artefact data *and* it's (sic) context/ And to present that (sic) data in such a way as to enable further research. To pretend there's a 'real' archaeology that is some how above and beyond what I/PAS does or can achieve, is not only professionally insulting, it's ludicrous 
To test whether it really is 'ludicrous', I asked him to explain with a real example:
 28 paź
OK, show us. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/823713 … what real archaeology "further research" is there in your record of this?
And this is it:
Durham FLO Ben Westwood‏ @FLODurhamFLO 28 paź
Quite proud of that record and don't understand what your issue is with it If anyone decided to do a full study of these important studs then all the info is here for this example Full spatial context in terms of exact findspot and wider 'military zone' significance, comperanda etc.
And that's it. Someone lost a 'stud' here (we've got the findspot in a field, known apparently with an accuracy of a metre) and the rest is object-centric. There is no context based analysis in that record, nor is any deducable from that record as it stands.  Bearing in mind Mr Westwood was attempting to show I was allegedly 'wrong', I do not think he's done much of a job there. The record we have of that object is not archaeology it is naked artefactology (antiquitism), and no more than any collector can do with any decontextualised collectable. There is more to archaeology than that.

When I asked him Where is that full "spatial context" in terms of what else was in that field and not observed or collected by your source? I got this rather disingenuous reply:
Researchers can look at the Db to see what else was from that field, is a fairly simple process. If there were others there that the finder missed, then we effectively have a sample, just like every other archaeological project ever.
That's just nonsense. Unless the artefact hunter did systematically collect all the other associated material in the topsoil scatter of which that single bronze object formed a part and documented it as a proper survey of topsoil scatter, the FLO has not actually 'got' a contexct there at all. This is a decontextualised collectable, taken out of an unknown patter of other archaeological evidence and no 'ten figure NGR is ever going to put it back there, nor compensate for the loss of the surrounding evidence. Indeed the context itself has been dasmaged by removal of that piece (and who knows how many other pieces) of evidence, some of which the FLO had on his desk (bringing to the fore again the question of the ethics of handling this sort of material in the first place).  All the PAS database in fact contains is an incomplete record of damage done to site.

Let us bear in mind, that according to the PAS website in two years work, Mr Westwood, the FLO for County Durham, Darlington, and Teesside has managed to record 58 (or is it 38?) objects - mostly single potsherds and assorted metal objects from the full region [UPDATE Mr Westwood notes that the PAS FLO profile page provides data that are totally misleading - see here]. So there is little hope that there was really very comprehensive recovery and recording of the material from that same field within that region.*  There is nothing there for researchers to 'look at the Db to see what else was from that field' or, whether it is 'a fairly simple process' or not. According to the search engine, the PAS database contains records at present of just 43 potsherds and a few other metal artefacts from the entire parish recovered at various times and recorded by various people. That does not look to me like the results of careful gridded fieldwalking of even one field.

Mr Westwood speaking of 'others there that the finder missed' (other what, studs?)  does not really seem to me to have much of an idea about how sampling works. It is not just "what" (object -centred again) but where and in what relationships with what else that is the context of a surface exposure site. The investigation of such sites has a specific methodology (specific methodologies) and wandering across with a metal detector hoiking what you fancy is not one of them. Incomplete random data are not a "sample". What the FLO is recording is collecting practices, not a systematic attempt to generate archaeological data. PAS is collecting information on random items selected by somebody else from what they are collecting (while not collecting other archarological evidence), the vast amount of associated material on the sites exploited is ignored or discarded, or has been collected away with no record.

Mr Westwood weakly responded to that: "‏Or he didn't collect it [the stud], and 20-30 years later it rots into the soil after being ploughed over and soaked with corrosives innumerable times, and we lose this (sic) data. All archaeological data is, by definition, incomplete . Readers will know my attitude to the Rescue-by-Good-Collectors Argument (and might know Renfrew's) so I am not going to go through all that again. I'll just point out that Westwood (a) is using a 'Two-Wrongs' Argument, (b) collectors use the same argument and (c) we should be aspiring to more than merely 'better than nothing'. Especially when we are spending millions of pounds of public money on it and calling it 'archaeology'.

Bad data are bad data. So you use up spend millions of quid recording bad data and calling it "citizen archaeology" as its "better than nothing"? But the record is still incomplete and composed of bad data.  

* UPDATE The area is upwards of 2720 sq km, and a with total population of potential 'finders' of c. 432000, 100 of whom according to the PAS statistics page have reported anything in the past two years, and only 43 records of which are not metal objects found with a metal detector, those 932 finds therefore are still pretty widely scattered. What is the point of PAS presenting numbers on their website that are totally false? 

Over 4,500 Artifacts Stolen From Raqqa Museum


More than 4,500 artifacts have been stolen from the collections of a museum in the Syrian city of Raqqa, a director in the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) Muhammad Nazeer Awad told Sputnik on Monday.
He called the situations with the museums of Raqqa and Idlib catastrophic, adding that some artifacts had also been stolen from museums in the cities of Homs, Palmyra, Daraa and Bosra. According to Awad, the lists of pieces stolen from museums in Bosra and Daraa had not been completed yet because both settlements had only recently been liberated [....] Awad noted that it was impossible to assess the scale of the cultural heritage, which was stolen in Syria. The official said that the DGAM had created a special department for returning antiquities. 

During the retaking of the cities of Palmyra, Daraa, Homs the Syrian army found antiquities that had already been prepared for trafficking from Syria. The situation in Idlib remains unknown.


Monday, 29 October 2018

Charney on 'How Not to Handle Dodgy Antiquities'


Much easier to stick
to good replicas
, surely
Collectors should follow (at least) these five best practice guidelines can to ensure their purchases are legit (Noah Charney Lessons from the Museum of the Bible’s fake Dead Sea Scrolls: How not to buy looted antiquities Salon Oct 29, 2018). They so rarely do. That's why some of them end up with fakes and so many items are on the market that have noim paperwork because previous owners were careless about having it. Charney writes, among other things:
1. Check the exportation date [...]
2. Find the paper trail [...] be very suspicious of antiquities that have no accompanying documentation, or very little, and especially be ready to walk away if any dealer refuses to talk about the origin of objects or to provide you with any paper work. That is an immediate red flag.
3. Then read the documentation carefully Then comes the second step. There is such a focus on provenance that sometimes people look for quantity without looking at the content. Whenever presented with documentation reported to be associated with a certain object, you must be very careful to make sure that a) the provenance documents are not forgeries, and b) that even if the paperwork is authentic, that it does truly refer to the object in question. [...] look very hard at the documentation itself.
4. Due diligence and the limits of "good faith" In order not to get into trouble for having accidentally purchased a looted antiquity, a buyer must be able to prove two things in court. [...] you have to be a “good faith” purchaser. That means that you have to be able to demonstrate that you genuinely thought the object was legit when you purchased it. [...] It is a bit too easy to pretend that you didn’t know, and even to have documents supporting this argument, when you probably did. The laws currently in place are beneficial to troublemakers.
 5. Beware of wishful thinking  The vast majority of the art trade is 100 percent well-meaning and acts legally. There is a very tiny handful of bad guys who work within it and take advantage of the odd and murky organism that is the art trade. But there is a good deal of what I tend to call “non-malevolent wishful thinking.” That is to say that almost no one is doing anything that they would identify as illegal, but there he is a large measure of subconscious wishing that any new antiquity that comes onto the market would be authentic and legitimate. If it is, many people benefit. The seller makes money, the middlemen make their commission, scholars have a new object to study, and the buyer has a new trophy. So, there's a marginal propensity to hope that every object is legit, and then to perhaps overlook questionable aspects of it because of that enthusiasm. This is really what buyers have to be wary of, from private individuals looking for souvenirs to giant, multi-million-dollar museums.
Points 3 and 5 are particularly interesting. It is not enough to have "some" documentation and/or anecdotal information (casus Ka Nefer Nefer, the Sevso Treasure, the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet, and Leutwitz Apollo when worrying contradictions and even holes can easily be found in the story). The documentation needs to be watertight and double-checked. The 'enthusiastic wishful thinking' and 'feigned due diligence'  mentioned are also very important factors that need to be taken into account.

The point Charney makes about 'scholars have a new object to study' raises an issue that he did not discuss in any detail. Scholars are also 'consumers' of loose portable antiquities. These same principles should apply to any archaeologist getting in any way involved with handling portable antiquities from private collections and objects participating in the antiquities trade. There, in countries that have few restrictions on artefact hunting, the paper trail will need to include documentation that the finder had the landowner's permission not only to be on the land, but take away the particular object that the scholar is holding in their hand. Without that protocol of transfer of title, the archaeologist could be getting involved in handling stolen goods. Again, though that documentation has to be examined and verified, illicit artefact hunting may be hidden by 'laundering' the products by saying they were found in one place, when in fact they were found somewhere else entirely. Archaeologists should be suspicious of claimed findspots until they are proven (by production of a title transfer protocol in which the landowner functions as a witness), especially if an item is said to come from a spot that is archaeologically less likely to have been the place it was really found than another, more productive site (but maybe out of bounds for an artefact hunter because it is protected by law).  The recommendations of the 2009 Oxford Archaeology Nighthawking Report (preface and p. 110, 116) dealt with this issue.
Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title, and urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website, as they have done with Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
One of my first experiences with working with metal detectorists in the UK back in the 1970s involved me spending two cold days fieldwalking a reported findspot of some medieval material only to find out I had been deceived by the detectorist, the objects had come from somewhere else. I learnt early on that not all metal detectorists can be trusted when there is no independent check on what they claim.


 
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