Tuesday 22 May 2012

Sisyphus and the TrollS on the Gate of the Digital Divide (I): "Nur Fur PAStplunderers"

It seems from a recent public presentation at a 21st May workshop on "Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online" that the British Museum has something against public discussion of artefact hunting and collecting. Dan Pett of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was down as addressing 
barriers that are readily apparent in the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s(PAS) attempts to engage a worldwide audience with its online and offline offer. It will look at the problems of ethics and recording of archaeological objects from disturbed contexts, technological and knowledge transfer challenges and the effects of internet ‘trolls’ on the participatory experience”. 
Well, from the pre-meeting abstract it was not too clear who these trolls were. With the release of the slide presentation however, all became clear:

Just look at slide 14:

At the top the BM logo. Yes the PAS - charged with interacting with the public - had a public forum. After it had been going for some while, an invitation was sent out (I forget by whom) to archaeologists to join this forum to discuss there the details of a Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales which was being created at that time (the PAS wanted to take credit for this, though my understanding is that much of the actual work came from the CBA, Mike Heyworth in particular). I was one of several people who joined in in that discussion. I gave up quite a bit of time to discuss this with forum members. It's nice [ironic text] to see the efforts people made appreciated by "our" PAS.

The actual number of contributions to that forum made, on any subject, by the fifty archaeologists working IN the Scheme were pathetically small over the several years of its existence. 

I find it a disturbing suggestion that a Portable Antiquities Scheme public forum should be devoid of contributions by archaeologists or that the only archaeologists who should be allowed to speak must only sing the Scheme's praises and pat artefact hunters on the back. It is not as if the PAS was running a "Nur fur metal detectorists" publicly funded metal detecting forum to promote ideological apartheid. The PAS is not a metal detecting club, it is (was set up as) archaeological outreach. 

Also - what on earth IS an "aggressive archaeological posting" on a state-funded ARCHAEOLOGICAL OUTREACH programme?  How does one define the difference between "aggressive" archaeology and "passive" (sessile?) archaeology? Is stressing ethics and responsibility and concerns for preservation an "aggressive" form of archaeology in the eyes of the PAS? If so, just what is it they think they are doing?

More to the point, why would any discussion between an archaeological outreach scheme and members of the public (in general, that's what they are paid for) be moved to forums hosted by metal detecting [something or other]"?

Several years ago, the Hawkshead review castigated the PAS for not doing enough to outreach about what they are doing to the wider archaeological community (not those just interested in the goodies being found). The PAS has yet to put that recommendation into action. Here in the British Museum presentation slide 14 we see outright hostility to the idea. 

I challenge the British Museum to reinstate the PAS Forum archive so people can actually see the truth behind that charge of "aggressive archaeological postings". Let the people funding this Scheme see just who was being aggressive and uncivil on the Portable Antiquities Scheme forum. I dare the BM to demonstrate the truth of Pett's words by making these old forum posts permanently available as an archive. All of it mind, let us see again the crude comments and pornographic pictures posted by the Scheme's "partners". The faked one of Nigel Swift and I for example, and the one purporting to be of Dan Pett and his enormous appendage a la Beardsley. Let the wider public have the opportunity again to see what "partners" Gary Brun, "Belzoni", Clive Hallam, "Sheddy", not forgetting Steve Burch and many, many others wrote on the PAS forum, and what issues were raised by whom. The PASF archive is a wonderful source of material illustrating what metal detecting is all about and where the "Divide" (not a digital one) lies between theory and practice of "partnership" and "best practice" in public liaison with artefact hunters and collectors. Is THAT not, in reality, why the PAS hid it? I think so.

Those of us who tried to use the forum to interact with the Scheme (rather than the hard core of naysaying metal detectorists it hosted) certainly came away with a lasting impression from that "participatory experience".  The opinions expressed on this blog are a reflection of that.

UPDATE 31.05.2012

The video of Pett's presentation have been posted on You Tube. I must say Dan Pett is much more portly than I had imagined him - though I am interested to find out his voice sounds very much like mine. I'd only ever had contact with him through emails and forums.
Dan Pett talks about "barriers": Published on May 29, 2012 by


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