Tuesday 25 November 2008

What Kate Clark wrote about: NuPAS 2

I would be the last person to claim that the discussion of artefact hunting and collecting in the UK is simple. The issues involved are certainly much more complex than they will appear from the outside (especially from a coin cabinet the other side of the Atlantic). The author of the 2008 PAS Review has therefore our sympathies because it seems she was under-resourced to conduct this key policy document. She writes
Because of the short timescale, much of this review was done on the basis of information in websites, magazines and other publications, and I am sorry that it was not possible to speak to a wider range of people or to visit more groups.
She forgot to mention that (perhaps under the influence of the campaign being conducted by antiquity collectors) the websites and magazines she consulted were chiefly those of “metal detectorists”. Much of her deliberations over the options available for the future organization of the PAS seems to have been done on the basis of talking to PAS staff and metal detectorists and their supporters. In her acknowledgements she cites “Kurt Adams, Roger Bland and his staff, Gail Boyle, Harry Bain, Steve Critchley, Paul Gilman, Suzie Thomas and Pete Twinn.” This is an interesting collection of names, in part it’s a somewhat incestuous selection. Kurt Adams is her local PAS Finds Liaison Officer, he is based in Bristol City Museum (Bristol is 28 km from Wotton-Under-Edge), where Gail Boyle works as Curator of Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology Peter Twinn is a metal detectorist from the Bristol region and one of the organizers of the campaign to keep a “detector-friendly” PAS. Steve Critchley is the chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, Harry Bain is the editor and publisher of “the Searcher” metal detecting magazine. The bibliography of just 15 references hardly give the impression that the author has cast her net widely in weighing up the various options for a sustainable PAS.

The passage quoted above is more or less the only statement of the methodology used to gather information on which the review is based. The 1995 CBA report “metal detecting in England” was produced in a similar timespan, but a comparison with the rather fuller presentation on the sources used, its acknowledgements and list of references shows what can be achieved, given the resources. Two questions remain, why was this review under-resourced (and how much actually did it cost?) and why did Kate Clark Associates take it on, knowing that?

The 2008 Review takes a very narrow view of what the PAS does. For Kate Clark, it’s apparently all about a “partnership” with “metal detecting”. This is perhaps a reflection of the atmosphere engendered by the anti-MLA campaign launched by UK “metal detectorists” in the months preceding the review. A count of words with the root “detect-” reveals that in the 44 pages, it appears 180 times, while the word “finder” appears 78. If however the latter are examined in context, it can be seen that in the majority of cases the writer is using the term to refer primarily to those who find archaeological collectables with metal detectors. The word “accidental” (as in accidental finds) does not appear, and the word “chance” (as in the "chance find" of the Valetta Convention) only refers (once) to the chance of finding treasure – with a metal detector. A number of people who have reported something to or otherwise helped the Scheme or archaeologists are mentioned by name at various points in the text. I counted sixteen. Every single one of them is a metal detectorist; not a single non-collecting member of the public is mentioned as having contributed anything at all significant in this review. That is despite the fact that they comprise almost a third of the people reporting finds to the Scheme in the past few years.

The PAS was formed partly to mitigate damage to the archaeological resource caused by “metal detecting” as if that was some kind of substitute for preventing it. The New PAS however is to reflect a “partnership” and “balances the views and interests of finders” and “training finders (sic) to help record the finds” (which are for the most part the products of artefact hunting). One of the new aims is to include “creating a positive role for detectorists”. By this means they move from coping with and mitigating the damage to servicing those who cause it and thereby conferring specific approval on them. This is further emphasized by promoting the record of the products of artefact hunting as some kind of a valuable resource, more valuable than encouraging the preservation of the archaeological record itself, by which the NuPAS becomes an operation that puts Britain even further at odds with world opinion. The notion of "balancing the views and interests of finders" telegraphs the fact that it is primarily “metal detectorists” that the New PAS will be servicing. What "views and interests" do individual normal accidental finders have? None.

The whole of nine million pounds worth of a decade of operation of the PAS is summarized in just five pages (Chapter one pp. 9-14). The next five pages of the review are devoted to a rather simplistic and somewhat rosy-spectacled presentation of “metal detecting” (Chapter two, pp. 14-18). There is no equivalent chapter on the reporting or outreach to the accidental (chance) finders of archaeological finds who are currently NOT collectors of portable antiquities. This is despite the fact that in terms of sheer numbers, outreach to them should be a priority of the PAS, both old and new. Why is this whole sector of “finders” and potential finders treated so dismissively in this review? There are over 54 million people in the British Isles who not only have never held a metal detector and made personal collections of artefacts removed from archaeological assemblages , but are unlikely to ever want to. Yet all of them are the target of PAS outreach, all of them are encouraged to keep their eyes open for any potential archaeological finds and know where to report them. Kate Clark’s review and proposed NuPAS leaves this outreach totally out of the picture, but devotes most of the text to a study of how the New PAS can best, as it were, “serve” in some kind of “partnership” the eight to ten thousand exploitive individuals that collect artefacts. This totally changes the emphasis of the Scheme. Instead of being central to a resource management based archaeological approach, the NuPAS seems set to become a marginalized aberration, an appendage of artefact collections.


Roger Bland said...

Chance finders: it is true that 2219 of the 6126 finders who offered finds for recording in 2006were not detector users. The majority of those chance finders will have attended finds days and will have offered objects which were not recordable. Chance finders (including those finds made building work) actually accounted for just 5% of the finds recorded; 18% were found by fieldwalkers (PAS does not record the numbers of fieldwalkers who report finds separately, but it won't be very high). So chance finds account for a small proportion of what PAS records and, yes, the finds they do report are not usually of the first importance in their own right. Given the limited resources for PAS it has to make sense for PAS to concentrate its efforts on those who are responsible for making the majority of finds - detector users and fieldwalkers.

Paul Barford said...

Roger, many thanks for your comments.

The point about the chance finders is that there are over 54 million people out there in the UK which potentially are finding things in their everyday activities and whom PAS should be reaching. It is not. It never really has, and surely one of the things to look at for the future is how to do that. Kate Clark does not, just concentrates her attention on how to cope with the “demand” from “metal detectorists”. But then let us see that in the context of the Valetta Convention. If Britain says its not effective to make it mandatory to report chance finds, then it has to make the extra effort to get this information. Clark mentions Valetta in passing, but it does not figure largely in her recommendations for the future. There is simply no “joined-up thinking” in this review.

and, yes, the finds they do report are not usually of the first importance in their own right.
What about the finders? Are they any “less important” because although they have shown an interest in the past, they do not hoover up collectable items with metal detectors? Surely it is bringing these people into contact with archaeology and promoting its aims which was one of the prime aims of the PAS ‘as was’.

In the four year period 2003-6, the annual reports show that in 3350 events some 110000 members of the public (and a further 16 600 children) made contact with the PAS. There’s a long way to go to reach the 54 million, most of whom I’d bet have never heard of the PAS at all (none of your user surveys ever addressed that point). Embedding the PAS in the museum Renaissance Scheme is one way of promoting this process more effectively, but strangely enough this is something Clark seems to skip over without any emphasis – concentrating on the “interests” of the metal detector using “finders”.

This is something I personally feel very strongly about. My first contact with archaeology was as a little boy of six and my Dad was turning up glass beads in the allotment. This was in the days before there was a PAS to tell us what to do with them, but funnily enough my Dad knew where the museum was and we took them along, and were invited up to the curator’s office (in a room deep in the recesses of the walls of Colchester’s Norman castle which I recall looked like Dumbledoor’s study in Harry Potter – complete with stuffed owl). The curator was a kindly old man who got out a map and recorded where they were from, and told us something about them (he said they were Roman). My Dad left the beads with the museum as a donation. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist, though I never graduated to the stuffed owl.

it Given our resources it has to make sense for PAS to concentrate its efforts on those who are responsible for making the majority of finds - detector users and fieldwalkers.
As I have said before, I personally think the PAS has lost its way with trying to boost the database numbers by courting metal detectorists, going along to rallies and club meetings because that’s where the “most finds per gallon of petrol” can be got. You have made a fetish of the size of the database, and PAS has been caught up in its own cult of feeding it to make it bigger and bigger year on year (and now your reviewer instead of looking at fundamentals has become a devotee of this cult of the database). It just seems to me that along the line other things have fallen aside.

Roger Bland said...

I'm sorry Paul, but have you ever considered the consequences of putting together all the many different side swipes you like to take at PAS? At various points in these posts you say (a) PAS costs `us' a lot of money; (b) PAS concentrates too much on recording detector users' finds; (c) but there are many more finds made by detector users that are not recorded by PAS and now you add another point, (d), that PAS is failing in what it should do because only 110,000 people attended outreach events organised by PAS and we should be making more efforts to reach the other 53,890,000. Puzzled? I am afraid I am.

As regards the beads you found on your father's allotment which your father took to the local museum: that museum is still there and, I agree, most people who may never have heard of PAS would probably still naturally take finds to their local museum. That is fine. PAS can never attempt to duplicate the network of several thousand museums that exist around England and Wales. But what PAS can do is provide a channel for the museum curator who is shown the beads, to record the find and ensure that the information is recorded in a useful way.

Paul Barford said...

What is puzzling me is something else. A scheme was set up within an archaeological framework to outreach to the wider public over portable antiquities issues and instilling best practice, which could have been the vehicle for fulfilling the aims set out in article 29 of the 1956 New Delhi convention, article 10 of the 1970 UNESCO convention, Articles 2 (iii) and 3 (i, b) of the Valetta Convention, and so on. Instead of doing any of that, it has gradually developed into what we have now, an organization which merely collects data and in the process acts primarily as a vehicle for legitimizing artefact hunting and collecting in the public eye. Very useful to the collector no doubt, the ACCG are delighted for example, but what about for archaeology in general? Where is the debate on the wider issues this raises? Not in the PAS that is for sure.

In another comment here you refer to the PAS as if it were a “system of protection” of the archaeological heritage, and a superior one at that, and yet in fact it protects nothing, seems to encourage rather than discourage the exploitation of the archaeological record as a source of collectables, and is unable to cope with mitigation of the archaeologically erosive effects of that activity or milieu (I do not accept your “40-80%” estimate). These are very puzzling features of the way England and Wales are treating the archaeological record.

Now a further review has commissioned, failed to examine in detail any of the surrounding issues a decade of this policy have produced and glibly determined that the policy of emptying of the archaeological record into scattered ephemeral personal collections can continue as some kind of dubious (and poorly-defined) “partnership with finders”.

I have a motto for the NuPAS from Tacitus: - solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

What on earth is going on? What on earth do British archaeologists think they are doing, and when is personal collecting or archaeological artefacts “archaeology for all” and when is it not?

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