Saturday 26 April 2014

PAS Selective Recording, Undated Policy Statement Raises Questions

"Because many FLOs are working
at capacity they need to be selective in what they record".

As I earlier predicted, the Portable Antiquities Scheme ignored the fact that questions were being asked by archaeologists about their selective recording of pre-300-year-old items reported by metal detectorists and other finders, but were quick to answer the same questions on a metal detectorist's blog.
Let us just download that first text here in case it diasappears the same way that it quietly appeared (note it is undated and unsigned - like many of the PAS additions to their webpage which is very lax procedure as the website fossilises material from 2003 alongside later additions). I have highlighted bits of the text in red: 

Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) and their work

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has been extremely successful, thanks to the contribution of the many metal-detector users and other finders who have volunteered archaeological finds for recording. However, most FLOs are now working at capacity, and therefore unable to record all finds offered for recording. In some areas volunteers and self-recorders are invaluable, but it is nonetheless necessary for FLOs (Finds Liaison Officers) to develop strategies to decide what to record and meet finder's expectations. The aim of this note is to summarise the guidance offered to FLOs by the PAS Central Unit (British Museum) on how to work under these pressures.


  • FLO areas are diverse in their geography, the number of finders and the number of metal-detecting clubs etc, and therefore the PAS needs to adapt to differing local circumstances.
  • All FLOs share a job description which is the basis of the funding agreement between the British Museum (which manages the PAS) and the host partners (which employ FLOs).
  • Although FLOs work flexible hours they should only work their contracted hours. Therefore they need to balance their time in and out of the office (in order to dedicate enough time to recording finds) by restricting non-office based activities, such as visits to metal-detecting club, finds days etc.
  • FLOs receive guidance on PAS policy from the PAS Central Unit via national and regional meetings, and by email. FLOs will normally refer to staff at the Central Unit for guidance on issues such as Stewardship Schemes, nighthawking etc.
  • Most FLOs welcome volunteers or self-recorders, but due to practical issues can only take on a certain number at any time. They also must work within the rules set by their local host partners.
  • FLOs attend training offered by the British Museum and the PAS Finds Advisers. However, they will refer to other experts about finds offered for recording as necessary. Unfortunately PAS staff cannot invest time investigating objects that are unlikely to be recorded.
  • Any misuse of social media or any other complaints should be reported to or PAS, Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, British Museum, London, WC1B 3DG. Tel: 0207 323 8611/8618.

Finds Recording

  • The core role of an FLO is to record archaeological finds to further our understanding of the archaeology of England and Wales. Outreach by FLOs is (normally) only undertaken to encourage the further reporting of finds (see above).
  • FLOs record on average at least 1000 records a year and these take time to produce. They include a description of the find, find spot details, weight and dimensions, and a photograph or photographs. The PAS ID for the find allows finders to see it on-line and download a report should they wish to have one.
  • FLOs will limit the number of finds they take in for recording, and this might vary from FLO area to FLO area. It is sensible for the FLO and finder to agree a time frame within which finds should be returned. FLOs will usually record finds on a first come first served basis, in order to be fair; occasionally there may be finds that require urgent attention that need to be prioritised.
  • Because many FLOs are working at capacity they need to be selective in what they record. It is at their discretion whether or not they record a particular find, based on local knowledge and experience.

In general:

  • FLOs will not record finds with poor find spots (generally less than a 6-figure National Grid Reference (NGR)) as finds without good spatial information are less useful to archaeology
  • FLOs will selectively record post-1700 finds
  • FLOs will selectively record post-1685 coins
This document is very revealing. It suggests that 37000 objects recorded a year represents "the PAS working at capacity".

It seems that there are indeed local strategies for accepting or rejecting finds offered for recording. Nevertheless there does exist (it admits) secret "guidance offered to FLOs by the PAS Central Unit (British Museum) on how to work under these pressures". Why is this not published in order that users of the database can assess any likely biases it would introduce? This policy document should be in the public domain. What, however is clear is that these (undefined) local strategies are yet another factor which considerably reduce the ability to utilise the PAS database in order to study nationwide patterns of finding of specific categories of artefacts.

Interestingly, the core role of the FLO is stated as being "to record archaeological finds" and normally to restrict their outreach "to encourage the further reporting of finds". Somewhere along the line the idea that they were being financed by the state to promote best practice in artefact hunting seems to have been lost and best practice is reduced to a simplistic formula or "showing us the goodies".


kyri said...

the flos could be rejecting 300k finds a year for all we know.maybe the heritage counter that some like to dismiss outright, may be right after all or maybe it is wrong in UNDERESTIMATING the stuff coming out of the ground.imagine that.

Paul Barford said...

Yeah, imagine that... Britain's archaeologists would have to put their thinking caps on and THINK up what to do to stop the information loss. They prefer to stuff their fingers in their ears and shout, "no, no, its-not-true-I'm-not-listening-go-away!"

Anonymous said...

Kyri, every parameter underlying the Counter was pitched low. That is why no-one has ever ventured to deconstruct it or offer an alternative estimate.

Anonymous said...

Based on the Internet Archive, the pressures page was added very recently. (The IA has been archiving Get Involved since the 30th of March 2010, and one or another version of its FAQ since the 26th of April 2010, but its first copy of Pressures is from the 30th of March 2014.)

Their FAQs have long stated: "We record all objects made before about 1650. We may be selective in recording finds of later objects."

As you say, metal detectorists cannot expect FLOs to turn up to their rural weekend rallies, but what's happening with these "spurned" detectorists?

Paul Barford said...

The lack of authorship and date is simply unprofessional.

The problem is that a database which has different bits compiled according to different criteria simple ceases to be a database, but a loose collection of varied pieces of information.

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