Monday 24 November 2008

PAS-Sceptics? : NuPAS 8

Kate Clark’s 2008 PAS review contains a number of words and phrases which are inadequately defined. The word “finder” is used to refer to two quite separate categories of the artefact-finding public. It is a nonsense not to differentiate the little old lady from Surrey who finds a Neolithic axe while tending her rose garden (or the Tyneside builder who finds a spearhead in a house-extension foundation trench) from the collector of portable antiquities in Milton Keynes who has a shed-full of "metal-detected" Roman brooches and coins taken from a variety of “productive sites” all around the country. This is the case in particular in sentences such as “Many finders have a lot of knowledge but lack formal training. FLOs and Finds Advisers should focus outreach on involving finders and other volunteers in the work of the scheme, including recording, education and promotion” (p. 6 – presumably she is referring to "metal detectorists" rather than rose gardeners).

Equally we have seen earlier that the author of the 2008 PAS Review is unable to provide a full enough definition of the word “nighthawk” to make sense in the context of what she claims about them.

I was puzzled by the meaning she attaches to a word which occurs several times in the review. That word is “sceptical”. Page 6: PAS has overcome the scepticism of archaeologists and the mistrust of finders to create a partnership in the understanding of the past. Page 7: The scheme attracts fierce loyalty from finders and partner organisations; even sceptical archaeologists and finders have been won over. Page 10 however: several archaeologists remain deeply sceptical. Page 31: There is still some scepticism about the scheme from archaeologists (although surveys show that this is less apparent amongst those who have close contact with the scheme). Page 32: rebuild (sic) trust between detectorists, archaeologists and museums. Although there are still sceptics on both (sic) sides, PAS has done much to rebuild that trust.

Clarkian “PAS-scepticism” would therefore seem to be an attribute associated mainly with archaeologists. About what are they sceptical? They are sceptical “about the Scheme”, but it is not clear what aspects. But after they come into close contact with the Scheme, their scepticism disappears (I presume she is intimating that only those ignorant of the Scheme are sceptical of whatever it is that arouses their scepticism). Or maybe they have closer contact with a scheme in “partnership” with artefact hunters only after their scepticism disappears. Who knows? Without definition, it’s difficult to determine what the symptoms of PAS-scepticism are. I wonder whether I am what Clark would consider as a PAS-sceptic. I suspect that what she means is what Sayles and the ACCG acolytes label “radical archaeologists” and David Gill “archaeologists with integrity”.

If I have read her intentions correctly, I think Ms Clark’s disparaging tone about these sceptics is misplaced. It is not these “PAS-sceptical” archaeologists that are supporting what most European and North American archaeologists don't. In fact, we know exactly who its overseas supporters are, and why.

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