Wednesday 19 November 2008

Whose victory?

About this time last year all hell broke out in "metal detecting" circles in the UK. It was announced that the Portable Antiquities Scheme would only get 1.3 million pounds, instead of the 1.3 million pounds they got the previous year. This of course was regarded as a "cut" and everybody was going to lose their jobs or something. To make matters worse, it was announced that the Scheme was to be merged into the MLA's Renaissance in the Regions programme, which would mean that it would be more fully integrated into the work of the regional network of museums. Disaster. Many "metal detectorists" predicted that widespread looting and non-reporting would ensue if some members had to drive the extra 20 miles to see the FLO they had worked with for nearly a decade.

A huge campaign was set in train by "metal detectorists" (three in particular, Steve Burch, Pete Twinn and Corinne Mills) who orchestrated a nationwide campaign. MPs were barraged by mails and letters from disappointed ("metal detecting") constituents, an online petition was set up and thousands of people signed it. Questions were asked in the House, the Culture Minister was given a grilling. Foreign collectors joined in too, the Minister received letters from them (including one from the ACCG) giving advice how he should proceed.

So, now the crisis is over. The metal detectorists feel that with the publication of the 2008 PAS review they have won a great victory. Why? Basically because the MLA has promised 1.3 million pounds and the PAS will be integrated with the Renaissance in the Regions programme. Great victory guys, a year ago these were nothing more nor less than what you were campaigning against.

But they are jubilant. On the forums they are congratulating themselves on their victory:

Hi Everyone What a brilliant communication.

Excellent news for the team at PAS.

It has been a fantastic group effort, and everyone has been rewarded for their dedication and support. An excellent result for all.

Its nice to read some good news for a change.

Looking good. So much for those who were heralding the demise of the PAS.

The real reason for all last year's fuss however was quite different. These "metal detectorists" are only too well aware (as are antiquity collectors abroad like the ACCG) that the Portable Antiquities Scheme shields the hobby of portable antiquity hunting and collecting from scrutiny and criticism. Their fear was that if the PAS was 'downgraded' (by being integrated into the Renaissance programme) its ability to do this would be lessened. Thus it was that the campaign was called by them "save the PAS, save our hobby" (variant form: "support your hobby or lose it, your choice").

I drew attention at the time to the fact that the Head of the Scheme was deliberately courting these "metal detectorists" on their forums and the campaign organisers were "somehow" getting internal PAS documents to use against the by now demonised Roy Clare (new chief executive of the MLA at whose door all these "problems" were being laid). At the time neither the Scheme head, nor any of his staff sent a single message to any archaeological forum asking for help - despite the PAS being considered "archaeology's biggest outreach to the public". Now I see Roger Bland has sent them (and even ancient coin collectors across the other side of the Atlantic) another message thanking the artefact collectors for their help and support, but has not extended this courtesy to the many archaeologists who also supported him in his fight against Rear Admiral Clare. Shame on him.


Paul Barford said...

A colleague suggests to me that we might actually be partly "responsible" for the catchphrase "PAS - use it or lose it".

Peter Twinn said...

An interesting slant on things Paul, but as per usual way beyond the mark. I think you do Roger Bland a huge diservice and a public slight on him is not normally your your way or is it? Mind you, I suppose any publicity is good publicity when Nigel and yourself are seeking to maximise your interest in your book....which will, I suppose, make money out of the very thing you are against? Irony comes to mind, but I'll have to be careful or you'll accuse some of us of collecting that too! ;0)

Peter Twinn

Paul Barford said...

You know, Pete, the PAS is supposed to be doing archaeological outreach. That is what it gets all that money for. I really do think it could at least make a pretence of maintaining contact with all British archaeology and its concerns and not just the artefactological fraction (or is that faction?).

I just think its a bit "off" to send effusive messages to all the metal detectorists and collectors while ignoring the many archaeological colleagues who also helped. There actually were voices of opposition on UKDN were'nt there? But ALL forum members there get thanked effusively, but in the message which appeared a full day later to the archaeologists "those on Britarch who gave their support". See the difference? Bit uneven that eh? I recognised a huge number of colleagues' names on the No 10 petition and I think their efforts too really deserved a better, more gracious and prompter acknowledgement. That's all.

Though I do feel it speaks volumes for what the PAS actually represents.

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