Wednesday 9 April 2014

What is a Karaoke FLO to do?

It seems the PAS is contemplating quietly replacing the professional archaeological outreach which it was set up to do by local networks of Karaoke FLOs, "trained unpaid  volunteers" from "the community", perhaps like these good folk from Bolton:

Bolton residents
By attempting this move, the PAS appear to be thinking that basically all that archaeological education of their current professional staff is actually quite unnecessary for the task they seem to be most engaged in which is to service metal detectorists, and all they really need to do is "train" a group of people like those shown above to identify and record objects. So, objects like these:

Dugup artefacts for Karaoke FLOs

A karaoke FLO can obviously be trained to recognize struck flints, Roman and medieval coins. There's probably few problems there, it's not rocket science, even metal detectorists like Deep Digging Dan can do that. The karaoke FLO can then use a Roman coin book or website, without any numismatic training or preparation to get some basic identifications ("radiates third century"). What would they make of the coin assemblage above? They'd spot the hammered coin, perhaps they can get their eye in and read the inscription? That takes a bit of doing in this case, but hey, they are unpaid, so its not costing anything if they spend a bit of time poring over it. What about the flints? Now, here in Warsaw at the University if you want to "do" flints, there's a year of hands-on training to go through with a rigorous exam in tiny nuances of typology. I'd not pass it. The same with the Roman fibulology course here at the University - run in the time I was teaching there by uberpedantic sadists. Yet the PAS is expecting people from Bolton to acquire the expertise to produce records of a quality usable by those who HAVE passed such exams?

How many archaeological readers here can give the full typological description of the flints bottom right? What about those Roman coins? Tetricus I and II, Aurelian and Victorinus eh? Edward Longshanks? Excellent. Now on to the next finder's submissions....

"Metal Detecting Finds Collection, Roman,
and Medieval and All Sorts" Norfolk, 2013
(ebay member, Hidden History #151097857774 )
No mention here of PAS recording of any of these
items - whatever they really are.
 There'a a lot there to be trained in to be able to cope with that little lot. How's your spur typology? Clay pipes (do the PAS do the early clay pipes)?  Moving on to the next load of hoiked goodies, what is a Karaoke FLO to make of this one?

(Metal Detecting world - where the actual finder is clear about where they really come from)
A finder wanting to put finds like this on as English dugups would really appreciate some PAS paperwork for these, would the Karaokke FLOs from Bolton oblige? The buckles for example? There are however at least five items here that a proper FLO to whom this was submitted as finds from the local region would (I'd hope) immediately reject outright, and then call the police.

OK, but back to the first group of artefacts. Who spotted the other coin? It could easily be dismissed from its size and 'fabric' as an illegible Roman grot. It's not though. It's a "boratynka" (look it up - fascinating series) from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an out-of-place artefact. Now who noticed the toothmarks?  Here is the problem, you can train typing monkeys to do a lot of things, but to get them to observe what is out of the ordinary requires them to have a vast prior knowledge of what it is they are looking at and what other ones look like. Where are the people of Bolton coming to the Scheme to offer an afternoon's work here and there going to get that knowledge from?

How much is going to go missed because instead of a professional and experienced archaeologist, if the PAS get their way, a whole load of objects will in future be passing through the hands of Karaoke FLOs? Like the Ukrainian finds somebody might try to 'launder' to sell by passing them off as local finds? What is the point of a record of lost finds scattered in ephemeral personal collections, many never to be seen again, if that record is not of the highest possible quality? We already have a database that is "better than nothing", now the PAS is going to try and convince us that standards can be lowered even further and the uncritical and grateful FLOs will encouragingly tell the people responsible "you done well" like they always do.

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