Thursday 9 October 2008

PAS at Rallies, New Photos

Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service and certain metal detectorists were unhappy that I used a picture of Suffolk PAS in action as an illustration to one of my posts here. I have therefore found some more illustrations showing the realities of how a major part of the PAS 'database' is compiled to those who may not be familiar with metal detecting rallies as they manifest themselves in England and Wales . This time there should be no objections because they come from a series of photos called "rally experiences" posted by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in their gallery on the Flickr website. They concern rallies in 2005 to 2007 and among them are the rallies at Sedgeford, Panton and Corfe. None are from Suffolk. They show the varying conditions under which the PAS recording is done in the brief few hours between a find being dug up on a commercial artefact hunting event and disappearing into somebody's ephemeral personal collection somewhere. In some the rally organizers supply the PAS staff and volunters with space in a marquee (in some of the 'Northern England Weekend Searchers' rallies opposite the table of an antiquities dealer!), and in the Panton rally set we see them ensconced in a barn (rather dark working conditions one would think). At Corfe the archaeologists are shown mingling with the artefact hunters. There are more photos of PAS staff in action in their Flickr gallery, but they are difficult to locate as they are mixed with hundreds and hundreds of rather boring photos of a whole series of "portable antiquities" (with scant description of what they are and where they are from, which presumably duplicate those available on the PAS website and database).

Photos like this are useful to those members of the public (and archaeologists) who for various reasons are unlikely to attend a commercial artefact hunting event, and it would be very useful if the PAS who attend a fair number of them up and down the country would make far more photographic records of this type.

I think if we archaeologists do any kind of investigation, be it survey or excavation, whether it is research, rescue or some form of "community archaeology", we do have an obligation to document how the data are gathered, and that record forms part of the publicly accessible information about our work (which sometimes is paid for out of the public purse and always affecting the archaeological record which is everybody's heritage). I really do not see why we should be so coy about showing people what we are doing and how we are doing it. A table in a field or tent with a camera and few recording forms on it is hardly top secret military equipment...

Indeed, it seems obvious that each event like this should be the subject of an individual report by the archaeologists in attendance, and I see no reason why this should not be made public in order to further the debate about the contribution events like this and an archaeological involvement in them make to our knowledge of a region. Such a report will also be iportant to those that wish to understand the clustering of data in the PAS database at macro and micro-level. So far, sespite the fact that each year many dozens are being held, the archaeological participation in only a few rallies has resulted in the preparation of any kind of a report setting out what areas were searched and how, and what may be deduced from the record made and where the limitations of that data set may lie. This seems an obvious need in the future.

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