Friday, 20 September 2019

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (XII): Degrees of Responsibility in the PAS Database

A recently publicised find has been recorded by the PAS recorder (Mr Ben Jones) as "Found by three metal detectorists through responsible metal detecting". It's nice to see the PAS noting adherence to their own Code of Best Practice for Metal Detecting in England and Wales, so how prevalent is this?

Searching the PAS database with "Responsible metal detecting" (in inverted commas) produces just eight results (in 924,985 records). Eight. So some 924900 results are objects handled by the PAS from artefact hunting of an unknown degree of responsibility? Good grief. But, according to PAS data, there is some "responsible metal detecting" going on in Norfolk (2), Cornwall (1), Northamptonshire (1), Shropshire (1), Staffordshire (1), Suffolk (1), and Worcestershire (1). So basically, if what Mr Jones recorded reflects current PAS policy, there is a near-total failure to get adherence to the current definition of 'responsible detecting' as laid down in the PAS' own "Code of Best Practice".

One of the items thrown up by this search is a potsherd with a rather odd archaeological 'description', looking like it was written by a distracted nine-year old:
A body sherd of a wheel thrown ceramic vessel of an (sic) local Romano-British Pottery type. The sherd weighs 21.93 grams. The shrd (sic) is highly fired. The sherd has an orange oxidised fabric, with a red-brown colour coat. This fabric type is similar to that known as Oxfordshire Red Colour coated ware. Typically this type of pottery dates from the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD (c.200 AD to c.400 AD). The Oxfordshire Red Colour coated industry grew up in response to the decline of Gaulish Samian and imitates some of the common Samian forms. Sherd specific details: Fabric type: Oxfordshire Red Colour coat. Firing condition: oxidised exterior, oxidised core, oxidised interior. Hardness: Hard Surface texture: Smooth, slightly powdery with a red-brown slip. Condition of sherds: Variable. Some sherds demonstrate a high degree of abrasion, with rounded edges whereas other sherds have sharp, fresh breaks. [...] Dimensions and weight Quantity: 1 Weight: 21.93 g
The sherd (or sherds) either is, or it (they) is/are not Oxfordshire Red Colour coated ware (Oxfordshire red/brown-slipped wares [OXRS] c. AD240 to 410). Here we have not only a mixed and repetitive account, but the 'description' includes not only descriptive text, but also interpretive and narrativisation (the something-this-looks-like replaces something called "samian" [from Samos?]). This looks like a bit of karaoke recording that the FLO has put their name under. How reliable are the PAS database descriptions?

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