Wednesday, 18 January 2012

"Kent Understand" the PAS in Kentucky

In a Jan 13th post on the Dick Stout anti-preservationist blog, we find a copy of a letter sent by Kentucky metal detector using artefact hunter Harold S. Lowenfels to US Senator Dan Seum (R). ("My family and I wish to thank you for advocating for those who enjoy recreational metal detecting, by sponsoring the bill, shortly to be voted on, that would open up state parks to this healthy and wholesome activity [...] I can't tell you how many quality family hours we spent together combing the great outdoors and discovering what those that came before us had left behind"). The usual claptrap, artefacts do not occur in any sort of pattern near the surface of the ground, they fell from the sky and were not deposited by any understandable human activity in the past (nay, this is "bogus information"). The Lowenfels family only searches and takes artefacts from "secondary and tertiary sites", not "primary" ones. Furthermore, "nobody is better equipped to find metal artifacts than the metal detectorist, and unlike the state Archaeologists, the detectorist does not cost the taxpayer one penny" - as if "finding metal artefacts" as a form of preservation of archaeological sites was all that State Archaeologists do.
If not threatened with exclusion from secondary and tertiary sites, the detectorist would be more than happy to partner with and cooperate with the Archaeologists. The prudent way to proceed would be to model a metal detecting policy after what has worked so well in Great Britain. Approximately 90% of the metal artifacts in British Museums have been discovered by metal detectorists. The finder, turns in the discovered artifact, where it is evaluated for it's uniqueness, and relevant information regarding its discovery is obtained. The artifact is then either returned to the finder, or purchased by the government for display. Fair market value is given if the artifact is purchased. This is a win/win situation.
Britain has no "policy" on metal detecting, it has an ad hoc resolution set up as the only way the Brits can think of for dealing with the absolutely crap legislation they in effect inherited from Victorian landowner lawmakers. It is not a (ugh) "win-win situation". the only people winning are the artefact hcollectors, the archaeological record is being trashed, eroded and lost at an alarming rate with MINIMAL mitigation. It is not "working so well", it is failing to cope with both the scale and the nature of the problem. Mr Lowenfels seems to think that every finder "turns in" ever recordable find. Nothing could be further from the truth, there is much that suggests that the PAS only sees a minority of the tens of thousands of pieces of archaeological evidence being taken from the fields of England (let along Wild West Wales). It's pretty extraordinary to read that "Approximately 90% of the metal artifacts in British Museums have been discovered by metal detectorists". Museums in Britain go back a long way before the (US was founded and) the metal detector was invented. The truth is that with the rise of metal detecting and the spread of private collecting this brought about, donations of archaeological artefacts to museums by members of the public have fallen drastically (I recommend for example reading the series of Colchester and Essex Museum's annual reports for an excellent demonstration of that mechanism in operation - where "donated by..." gives way to "purchased from..."). Evaluating a FIND "for it's (sic) uniqueness" is not at all what the PAS is about, I rather think Mr Lowenfels is confusing the PAS with the Treasure Valuation Committee. This impression is reinforced by the next bit: "The artifact is then either returned to the finder, or purchased by the government for display. Fair market value is given if the artifact is purchased". In legal terms, it should actually be returned to the landowner whose property it is. Treasure items are not "purchased by the government for display", they are purchased by museums, who have to raise the funds (often from public donations) to pay to avoid them ending up on the antiquities market.

So, here is Kentucky , shown at the same scale as PAS-land (minus the tip of Cornwall). They turn out to be land areas of the same sort of size. Obviously, then to set up a PAS in Kentucky to the same scale of effectiveness as in the UK, would need some 30-40 overworked FLOs as in England, and would need a minimum investment at the same level as in England and Wales (1.4 million GBP annually - that's approximately 2.15 million dollars annually). That's just for Kentucky(pop 4.3 million). Is that really a "prudent" way to approach the protection of the in situ remains of the historic heritage of the United States? Who is going to vote for that?

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