Thursday 9 October 2008

Hiding the true face of the PAS?

I received this afternoon a message from the Archaeology Service of Suffolk County Council about my post here on how the PAS generates large numbers of records of "finds found by members of the public" by visiting "metal detecting" rallies and "metal detecting" clubs. It contained a request (?) to remove the photo accompanying the second part of the post which showed the Portable Antiquities Scheme recording system at work at a local metal detecting rally. It appears from this that the manner in which this information is gathered by fellow archaeologists in Suffolk is some kind of awfully embarrassing secret which has to be kept from public view (except that is on metal detecting forums). This is what I wrote to my colleagues in the Archaeology Service once I had complied with their request.

Judith, I must admit to being confused. This morning I get a demand for payment for use of the image from the photographer (which suggests he does have your permission to use it) and then a request from Suffolk County Council to remove it.It has gone. But as I told Richard Lincoln ("Sheddy" the rally-going detecting photographer), I would very much like to use it in the book I have just finished writing about artefact hunting and collecting in the UK. Will you agree to that if he does? It sums up for me very well two important characteristics of the British response to artefact hunting and collecting.
Why on earth should we NOT show the public how the data about THEIR archaeological heritage are gathered? Why would we want to pretend we are doing it in any way differently from the way we are?
By the way, I borrowed this image from a metal detecting forum where it was illustrating a thread praising the fact that this was yet another 'responsible' rally with full PAS participation. To be consistent, you will I presume be writing to them too (Shane Rear at to ask them to remove it. What's in the jar at the front of the table in the photo, sweets for the clients while they are waiting?
Anyway the photo of a fluffy bunny is far more aesthetically pleasing than secretive Finds Liaison Officers in the middle of a field and I will try and get some links to some decent photos of FLOs at work up here in the near future. Surely it cannot be too difficult to be able to show photographs of these people doing the public service they are paid out of the public purse to do? There must be some FLOs who are not too camera shy to be shown in action.

I can understand why some "metal detectorists" and portable antiquity collectors might want to disrupt blogs like this by making demands that certain material which is commented on is removed. It is rather disappointing to see that one of my own colleagues, engaged in what is claimed to be British archaeology's "largest public outreach", rather than engaging in discussion about policies, priorities and allocation of resources, apparently joining in with this type of action. I must say though that it does not overly surprise me given the current state of the discussion on artefact hunting and collecting and the "solution" adopted by British archaeology to deal with it. Or rather the near-total lack of proper discussion. I guess most of my British colleagues feel (or hope) that if we ignore these difficult problems and issues, they will go away. I do not agree, surely these things need bringing out in the open and frank discussion. How can one do archaeological outreach without doing so?

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