Wednesday, 16 September 2009

"Credible Market-value Rewards and Outreach"

There has been very little discussion in British archaeological circles of the latest PAS conference (though, tellingly, there was some on the detecting forums). Rick Witschonke, longtime friend and behind-your-back-informant of the PAS was however at their conference and via Peter Tompa has produced a "report" which concludes (quelle surprise):
Clearly, if the proper recording of finds is the objective, those systems which most closely follow the TA/PAS approach of credible market-value rewards and outreach are the most successful.
Well, first of all of course one is bound to ask whether conservation of a finite resource is only about "recording of finds", or whether there is a bit more to it than that. Would that not be like making sure we have digital records of all the illuminated initials of the manus cripts in a library while we let the roof leak and allow mice to make nests out of the books themselves?

Witschonke notes that "the UK metal-detecting establishment was well represented and quite supportive. The anti-detecting/collecting lobby did not seem to be present". It is quite unremarkable that the tekkies filled the conference room, PAS conferences are their traditional get-together venue, what is interesting is that the American thinks there would be an "anti-detecting/collecting lobby" in the UK and they would be there in their "I hate tekkies" scarves throwing bottles at the metal detectorists seated in the front rows. Would Mr Witschonke recognise an opponent of current UK policies of metal detecting by the colour of their skin or what? What I assume he means is nobody spoke about the problems involved in British policies. Perhaps they simply felt, given the venue, there was no point. Or perhaps they couldn't be bothered to come to a conference where it was clear from the outset what would be said by whom. We've heard it all so many times before.

Anyway Roger Bland's talk was supposed to be: The English and Welsh approach to portable antiquities: a perfect system or fundamentally flawed? Was it? I do not get the impression from Witschonke's account that he was listening when Bland delivered the bit about the "flaws" of his PAS. His presentation of the Scottish system is somewhat superficial, presumably he was not familiar with the copious literature the TTU has produced which the UK audience would have been more familiar with. I was however struck by his account of "the Northern Ireland (sic) approach". In particular in that I have myself had enormous problems getting any information out of those people who have ignored every single polite letter I have sent them asking for statistics on metal detecting there. It seems I am not the only one (below).
Cormac Bourke (Ulster Museum) explained [....] There is no state ownership of finds, but, by law, all excavators must be licensed, all finds reported, and metal detecting is illegal. Not surprisingly, illegal metal-detecting is prevalent, and only c. 2 finds per year are reported.
Now leaving aside how one defines "state ownership of finds", just compare that with what the multi-kilo-quid national "Nighthawking Report" said about illegal metal detecting in Northern Irelend. That there is none. None. Yet here we have a guy from Ulster Museum saying quite the opposite. Those of us who say that the Nighthawking Report is not worth the paper it is not printed on (and I am one of them) could I think find no more telling indictment of the conclusions.

Moving on, Witschonke is sceptical of Eamonn Kelly's claims that the Republic of Ireland does not have a significant problem with artefact hunting and collecting by observing "the presence of Irish material on eBay calls this into question". I am not quite sure how he can recognise "Irish materal" and whether it is from Northern Ireland or not, but that is by-the-by. Remarks like this interspersed in the text suggest that Mr Wirtschonke came to London determined to hear what he wanted to hear.
Proof of this is in his conclusion. Northern Ireland and Scotland both have "credible market value rewards" - a fact he omits to mention in his account. They do not have a PAS, because the legislation does not require one. They have museums which do archaeological outreach (and much PAS "outreach is done precisely through museums). What they do not have to the same degree as England and Wales are metal detecting clubs and commercial metal detecting rallies. I'd like those who keep plugging compromise with exploitive collectors as per the PAS as the way forward for all other countries to reflect on what this means for the PAS. Sadly you will not get it from PAS statistics just how important rallies and club meetings are for the "number of items recorded", but it clearly is significant. I'd like to ask Mr Witschonke, should archaeological outreach in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Laos, Utah set up commercial artefact hunting rallies to "get more finds recorded"? Should we set up "artefact digging clubs" in these countries so people can go along to them and record what people have dug up? We'll get lots more "finds recorded" sure, but then as i asked at the beginning, is that what we are aiming for in our dealing with the exploitation of archaeological sites as a source of collectables?

Our reporter seems to have tired of noting the details in the further parts of his account. I noted though he states, without comment, that in the Netherlands there is no PAS but "there are 5,000 metal-detectorists and 100,000 finds/year", but a lot is not reported and the institution of "outreach" is planned. In Britain, there are ten thousand metal detectorists (so twice the number in the Netherlands), and considerably fewer finds a year are reported. The statistics have only now after eleven years reached 400 000 objects in total.

Poland, I would dispute much of what is reported of what Alek Bursche said, but suspect it's misreported. I'll talk about Poland another time when the material of the conference is published (Mr Witschonke, the co-speaker's name was Rudnicki ['-ski, not -ikky]).

So, all in all, no surprises there. I bet Mr Witschonke was not the only person to leave the conference venue apparently believing firmly that the PAS is the way forward for all countries so that collectorsan continue to enjoy their "rights" to fresh dugups and archaeologists, well, they can have "more finds recorded". Diggers get financial rewards for digging into archaeological sites and finding things. Everybody's happy, yes?

Mr Witschonke, Mr Tompa, if you believe that, get the Arhaeological resources Protection Act and similar legislation abolished, and get a PAS instituted in America as quickly as possible. Starting in Utah, there are lots of finds being dug out of the ground there by members of the public which US archaelogists are "not recording" before they are sold off. Why do the coineys join up with the pot-diggers and send a lobby group along to the AIA to suggest it?

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