Monday 15 April 2013

Renewed Focus on UK Metal Detecting: PAS in Crisis

One of the questions I asked at the seminar on Wednesday was how much it would cost for the PAS to achieve fuller mitigation of the loss of archaeological information taken from the archaeological record as part of the 'deal' to tolerate the erosive hobby of metal detecting. The question of whether that is now the aim of the Portable Antiquities Scheme has come up on a metal detecting forum near you in the thread called "U.K.D.F.D v P.A.S". In it, list member "Alloverover" (Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:40 pm) iterates a couple of his or her observations on the current scandalous state of things:
PAS used to record anything you took to them over 300 years old, small bits of buckle, a broken brooch etc, the smallest thing as long as it could be ID,ed, why not, after all a small bit of something shows it was lost where it was lost just as much as the complete artifact/coin. They (in my recent experience) have now totally changed their ethos due to lack of money, resources time and interest of FLO's (the standard of whom seem to have dropped considerably, not surprising considering the remuneration on offer). In my most recent attempt to record finds via an FLO, i was told that they have to now prioritize what they record, so of 9 or 10 items i wanted to record 5 or 6 were deemed unworthy of the effort, these items of insufficient interest included a couple of celtic units, i dont even think the young lady realized what they were until she was told.
So the PAS are resigned to losing half the information they could have recorded about the contents of this individual's personal artefact collection? 'Prioritising' involves focussing on the more spectacular items rather than a proper coverage of the archaeological evidence from a site searched by an artefact hunter? What kind of a "sampling" procedure is that? What are the overall cognitive effects of such ad hoc selection mechanisms?  The same points were made by list member "Chris D" (Sun Jan 13, 2013 4:20 am), who noted that the PAS extended the "only before 1650" cut-off date for items that may be regarded as "curiosities". This person's FLO while rejecting later stuff, "did record a silver victorian mizpah ring i found", and adds:
Recently i get the impresion that they are only really interested in recording treasure cases, hoards or something significant they can put there name to, rather than the buckles, buttons,single hammered coins, iron medieval horse shoes etc which all help to build up the bigger picture

Which we all thought was what the PAS claimed to be doing with the fifteen million quid they've got from the public purse to do that.

Maybe they should alter the Code of Practice ("Reporting any finds [...] to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so the information can pass into the local Historic Environment Record") and their original FAQ to more honestly reflect the current situation: .
We would like to know about everything that you have found - not just metal objects. We record all objects made before about 1650. We may be selective in recording finds of later objects. It is often best to let the Finds Liaison Officer see all your finds, especially if you are unsure what they are: a nondescript lump of copper-alloy may turn out to be a fragment of an archaeologically important Bronze Age ingot.
3 - When I go metal-detecting I often pick up worked flints and pieces of pottery as well as metal objects. Would you like to see these as well?
Yes - because these are also important archaeologically.
Perhaps a little attention to informing the people that keep them employed about what they do might be in order. As a further indication of the disregard of the PAS towards the latter one might note that they still have up in the same FAQ Section of their website the 2003 "aims of the Scheme" in its pre-2006 form (so already seven years out-of-date) .

In the light of the artefact collector's observations on the ability of his FLO to recognise the nature of some of the objects he had found and selected for his collection (who is she?) the bit about them bringing finds to the FLO for identification "especially if you are unsure what they are" sounds a bit hollow.

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