Monday 2 April 2012

Portable Antiquity April Fooling Around

A blog is a means of personal expression, I have chosen to blog here on an issue I personally think very important and generally take seriously, though choose various means to communicate that concern. These include some posts which are less serious in tone.

At the bottom of each post are a series of 'tags' (labels) which are supposed to be to help order posts thematically. I see little evidence that they are used by readers in that way, but I'd like to draw attention to one of them, the one called 'fiction'. There are a dozen or so posts here written as fiction (as 'parables') trying to make a point through analogy, whether successfully or not is another matter, but I enjoy writing them. There are also a few attempts at humour, not always entirely frivolous. Among them are the ones I made on the First of April. This seems to be becoming a bit of an archaeoblogging mini-tradition, the most regular expression is on David Gill's and Peter Tompa's blogs, but they can be found elsewhere too. I thought I'd look back at my own.

The first one (1st April 2008) was entirely pedestrian, it took what was a joke post from Percy Flarge's incomparable Artnose  and just set it in another one, it was about the repatriation of "Van Gogh's Ear"  ('Another repatriation row brewing?'). I am not sure it really makes a point, I'd not really paid too much attention to "repatriation" issues back in 2009.

The next one, 1st April 2010 is my personal favourite. This was a time when the Dark Side was trying desperately to compromise me through personal attacks (there was a nasty anti-barford blog, a fictional Wikipedia page etc). To achieve their aim, the Black Hat Guys needed to find out more about me, they were not getting very far, and on the grounds of their inability to find information were suggesting I was not in some way "authentic". So I thought I'd have some fun with this ('PAS Announcement: This blog now closing') but in the process hint at what I was already perceiving as one of the effects of this blog. I was a bit unprepared for the effect that there actually was discussion in collecting circles: "Is it true that Paul Barford is a fictional person created by the PAS in Britain?". I enjoyed that. The PAS were not, I gather, too amused by the prank, but since by that time they'd stopped acknowledging my existence, that did not give me any sleepless nights.

I put a lot of work into the next one (Friday, 1 April 2011, 'A Warning From Beyond the Grave for Looters') which was a shame because it flopped dreadfully. Total silence. Despite the double-entendre names and the "curse" starting with the Tut-fictional "death will come on swift wings" my readers either were not sure it was a joke (?) or thought it was in bad taste. The hieroglyphics were translated for me as a favour by an eminent scholar (who'd not want me to name him I suspect) and it all hangs together - there had been another inscription on the mask which a previous "owner" removed, and the good people of St Louis should be clamouring that the mask should go back. More disturbingly, the 'curse' speaks of the "City of the Gates" (St Louis, "Gateway to the West") being destroyed and a few (three?) days after the publication of my text, the airport there was devastated by a freak hurricane. This was no opportunity to carry on the joke however, as several people sadly lost their lives in the event. The mask, however, still carries, I say, a very real curse for the black Hat Guys. It should indeed be returned before it does any more damage.

I was going to do an 'Egypt-based' one this year too, and had put a bit of serious planning into it back in January (I'm not saying what it was, as maybe I'll use it in future if it is still topical). Unfortunately the joke did not look quite so funny with the revelation a few weeks back that the serious looting in Egypt was not over, despite the low media coverage of the issue in the past few months. So I decided not to use it.

Thus yesterday's "Elutherius I bulla" post (Historic Discovery by the PAS, An Unknown Pope).  The joke was in part a dig at the two "amateur historians" and their metal detecting sidekick in Wales who decided to have an especially nasty go at me last year over my discussion of their claims to have sorted out the King Arthur Mystery (as well as finding Camelot, the Holy Grail, Ark of the Covernant and all sorts of assorted things). It has however a series of subtexts, there is for example a 'parable' there about the claims made by certain uncritical  pro-artefact-hunting advocates that single decontextualised artefacts can "(re) write history". It is a spoof on the Domitian coin ripping yarn and the Ardecanute coin hoo-ha as well as of course PAS-outreach of the type of the "Britain's Secret Treasures" farce. It is also a spoof on the perils of treating  too seriously finds made under uncontrolled conditions (look again at the reverse inscription and think about it, also note the date after which the Apostolic Curia was using leaden bullae). It also talks of the perils of patting detectorists on the head whatever, which I - not without reason - personally perceive as a problem in the way the PAS operates (the walled area of Caerleon is of course a scheduled site, and any fictional metal detecting there would be illegal). The joke though is too long, required too much explanation. I'll try to do better if I am still blogging next year.

It seems that again the Portable Antiquities Scheme saw nothing amusing, let alone thought-provoking, in the "Eleutherius I bulla" post. "Trolling" the portableant@ Twitter account calls it; "there's (sic) other motives to his attempt to befunny". Too flipping right there are. Even if the fourteen-million pound Scheme ignores the questions raised about what it is doing, does not mean these problems do not exist and nor that they do not deserve wider public discussion. And if they are not going to talk about it, they can't complain when they are the butt of jokes about it.

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