Saturday 4 October 2008

If the mountain will not come to the PAS....

I thought the foreign fans of the Portable Antiquities Scheme might find it useful to see how the operation of this British scheme looks in practice.

The PAS obviously finds it most cost-effective to get finds to boost the numbers of their database by courting metal detectorists. Members of the public persuaded to show what they have found accidentally will come along with one, two (at the most a few) things. "Metal detectorists", on the other hand, have collections counted in hundreds and thousands of objects. One "metal detectorist" who can be persuaded to co-operate can allow the recording of many objects at one go. The problem is that not so many of them are too keen to actually visit the PAS officers (Finds Liaison Officers: FLOs).
So the PAS has to go out and find them. Fortunately part of the milieu is pretty gregarious and can be found in large groups in two situations. They form metal detecting clubs, and in most regions of England and Wales many FLOs gain access to them and using various means of gentle persuasion wheedle information about finds out of them there.

The other place where the PAS can get metal detectorists to show finds for recording is by going to so-called "metal detecting rallies" (commercial artefact hunting events, where the artefacts are sold off like so many 'pick your own strawberries' by the landowners to metal detector wielding collectors who pay them for access to them ).

[replacement illustration - see below]

This (above) is the Suffolk FLO doing archaeological outreach at a recent metal detecting rally and busy dealing with the scrum of metal detectorists that will soon no doubt be crowding round the table eager to show her what they have found. This is Britain's answer to metal detecting, archaeological outreach in practice.

[Actually this (above) is not the original photo I used, I had a message on 9th September from Suffolk County Council asking me to remove the photo a metal detectorist had made of this top-secret operation to document OUR heritage as these people take it away. It seems they are not too happy the general public being shown how it looks in practice. Sadly Suffolk County Council's Archaeology Service did not see fit to supply a replacement photo of their FLOs in action that they would have been happier to see being shown as an illustration. I guess the whole process is a secret in East Anglia. No matter, I will put up another photo of FLOs from a less camera-shy county doing their stint in another artefact grabfest just as soon as our roving reporter gets out there with his telephoto. I really do not see that professional archaeologists at work should have anything to hide.]

The participation of the PAS in metal detecting rallies and similar events is extremely controversial and for some of us raises all sorts of ethical problems which however are rarely discussed in the open in Britain.

The PAS likes showing "how well its doing" by quoting lots of big numbers. Leaving aside some of the problems of the interpretation of the information they present and the 'spin' they tend to put on them, let us look at those of the 2006 annual report (the latest currently available, the one for 2007 should be out about now one would have thought). From Tables 7 and 8 we learn that in 2006, 2216 non-metal detectorists reported just 2794 finds (1.3 finds each),* while 3910 metal detectorists reported 42453 finds (average 10.8 finds). Those 3910 metal detectorists however may be compared with the 6417 metal detectorists which are members of the 167 clubs visited in 2006. What the PAS records do not reveal is how many of the 42 thousand finds were reported as a result of metal detectorists coming to the FLO and how many resulted from FLOs going to concentrations of metal detectorists in the form of clubs and rallies.** This is obviously very important information about the mechanisms of the operation of the PAS contributing to the results we see, and obviously of especial importance to those that for whatever reason would want to duplicate the operation of the PAS in foreign lands (either adapted or adopted). So how many metal detecting clubs are there in Cyprus?

First photo: Anna Marshall (S&W Yorkshire Finds Liaison Officer) records finds at a local metal-detecting club. © PAS.

Second Photo (originally): the PAS table at a rally, Copyright Riohard Lincoln 2008, from I expect you can still see it there - unless Suffolk County Council get it removed there too in their effort to hide whatever it is they don't want you seeing and thinking about.

*Nobody is terribly forthcoming about what the PAS understand by "fieldwalking" finds. It sounds like the PAS is for some reason recording finds made by fieldwalking amateur archaeologists, so they are omitted from my totals here. A little more detail here too in the PAS annual reports would not hurt.

**I suspect though that the emphasis that is placed on sending the FLOs (often in evenings, holidays and weekends) to such gatherings means that this has an important place in the information-gathering operation.

PPS. For some thought-provoking figures concerning the numerical contribution of "rally" finds to the PAS database, see the post above discussing the Stixwourth (Lincs) rally. This aspect of PAS data-gathering needs more detailed presentation and discussion.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.