Monday 3 December 2012

Portable Antiquities Scheme BM Press release

The actual BM Press release on the basis of which articles like the one discussed above were written can be seen here: 'Exciting new finds highlight the ongoing success of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme', posted by the BM's resident Troll-fighter, Dan Pett:
The launch today of the Portable Antiquities and Treasure annual reports show that 97,509 finds were recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in 2011 (an 8% rise on the previous year) and 970 Treasure cases were reported in the same period (up by 12%). The PAS website ( now features 820,000 finds with nearly 400,000 images from across England and Wales contributing enormously to the archaeological record. Last year 463,160 people used the website and database, and it also won best research/online collection at the Best of the Web awards 2011 at the Museums and the Web conference. Increasingly more and more people are becoming aware of the PAS. In July this year Britain's Secret Treasures, which highlighted 50 finds recorded through the PAS, was screened primetime on ITV1 from 16-22 July. The series was watched by an average of 3.5 million viewers, the highest being 4.2 million.
No matter that the reception of the TV programme was - to put it mildly- 'mixed' within British archaeological circles and this programme arguably has done a great deal of damage on all fronts. I am surprised to see them even mentioning their involvement in it. The statistics on which this press release are based are available here. Note that the actual number of records is not "nearly 100 000" but 69,271. The number of sherds popped in a bag by the artefact hunter and taken home to their private collection is in itself an irrelevant statistic. What the PAS does not reveal is that these figures are down from the previous year (139426 records) and the reasons why.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said the usual stuff:
"[...] from strength to strength [...] these finds have captured the public's imagination [....] changed our understanding of the past [....] scheme [...] envied the world over [...] very grateful to [...] Treasure Hunting magazine [...]" [bla bla]. 
Ed Vaizey was not to be outdone. The Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries (sic) says he is "amazed" that "such incredibly important objects have survived in the ground for many hundreds of years", that's the Minister in charge of British archaeology and culture folks. Somebody buy him an 'archaeology for dummies' book for Christmas, please. He's another one who thinks "history" (sic) can be "rewritten" by encouraging artefact hunting and collecting and preservation of the archaeological record is about "enrich[ing] local and national museums". Now Mr Vaisey conveniently "forgot" to mention the tens of thousands of ephemera private (personal) collections which it is the prime purpose of artefact hunting to enrich. Did he really forget, or is he and his government really oblivious to this issue?
Four exciting new discoveries were highlighted at the launch this year to show the ignorant unwashed.
1) Ladies and gentlemen for your delight and delectation, we present in the mahogany cabinet on the left, please give a big round of applause for: "An extremely rare late Iron Age helmet from near Canterbury, Kent".
2) There's more folk, no expense spared in the Portable Antiquities Parade this year. All the way from St Albans, ladies and gentlemen, let's hear it for: "The second largest hoard ever found in Britainof Roman solidi (that's gold coins for those in the cheap seats)", Yaaaaay!
3) And now, quieten down at the back, please, you'll all get a chance to see... Brought down especially for you, today, we have mesdames et messieurs, - I give you resplendent in the tropical hardwood case over here.... "An important hoard of Viking Age gold and silver metalwork". You can talk to the dour 'local character' types who found it after the show (ask them what surprises they've got in their back pockets).
4) And finally, an intreeeeguing, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely charming "boar mount associated with Richard III"! Big round of applause ladies and gentlemen, please! Over to you, Ed..."

Is that pathetic or what?

I spotted this in the rather skimpy 'notes for editors':
The Portable Antiquities Scheme offers the only proactive mechanism for systematically recording such finds,
Is it really? No, it is not. What they do not mention though is this "proactivity" involves them in some extremely dubious "partnering" in artefact hunting clubs, with Treasure hunting magazines and frequent participation in commercial artefact hunting rallies. The truth is the Portable Antiquities Scheme is not generally "envied by" foreign heritage professionals for the very good reason that such behaviour is to them inexplicable

The database is mentioned:
This data is an important educational and research resource that can be used by anyone interested in learning more. 
Quite apart from the fact that data are plural, the press release fails to expand on how one can "learn more" (and about what) by having a load of raw "data" dumped on your screen with the minimum of explanatory background. Especially folk the like of many guffawing metal detectorists.

Vignette: Ladieees and Chentlemen....!

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