Tuesday 14 October 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Collecting Cultures" it's Official

False paradise „Der Garten der Lüste
Metal detecting in Wales is to be directly subsidised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (Amgueddfa Cymru, 'Unearthing the past: Heritage Lottery grant supports new initiative to get the best from archaeological finds' PAS blog 12th October 2014). In a move that sets Welsh archaeology back to the 1920s, the National Museum Wales in partnership with The Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales has attracted a major grant £349,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to to "work with finders and communities" in a project called "Saving Treasures, Telling Stories". This is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund's "Collecting Cultures". It is not really explained what these Treasures are being "saved" from (surely becoming part of the collecting culture) and neither it it clarified how one can tell all but the most glibly-meaningless and most speculative of stories from decontextualised finds.
The Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project will create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting. The Saving Treasures project will establish collecting networks across Wales, enabling museums to share skills, expertise and knowledge and offering training to interpret collections in new and strategic ways. It will also allow for targeted purchases of newly discovered artefacts to develop national and local collections over a four year period 2015-2019.
Its a shame it will not be targeting donation instead of paying out to buy back the nation's cultural property from those who'd otherwise pocket it. This cash injection into the world of private collecting is going to create:
[...] volunteering opportunities linked with collecting.[...] Targeted purchases of newly-discovered artefacts for national and local collections, collecting activities, ongoing resources and community projects will make a lasting change in bringing together detector clubs, local museums and communities around the stories new discoveries reveal. "This five year project will help to create and celebrate a new culture around collecting the portable archaeological heritage in Wales
Yeah! Let's get people ripping bits out of the Welsh archaeological heritage, as much of it as they can get in their pocketses, let's encourage them to make up stories about their decontextualised geegaws and celebrate the "new cultural dimension" which is private collecting of the portable archaeological heritage in Wales.  This is real Hieronymus Bosch stuff. An outcome will be:  
A lively and engaging website will be developed for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales, as a point of access for profiling discoveries, stories, successes and creative responses relating to the portable heritage of Wales. 
I bet there will not be a public forum for discussing policies on this type of exploitation of the archaeological record and the wider context of this "collecting culture" when applied to personal artefact collections, will there? No, if past experience with the PAS is anything to go by, this website will be just fluff stuff spin, glib narrativisation, success stories and pep-talky head patting.

Peter Wakelin, Director of Collections and Research, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, is quoted as saying: "Each year hundreds of objects of archaeological significance are found by metal detectorists in Wales and there are some 20-30 discoveries of treasure. This is a crucial resource for understanding the past". No, what is being lost here is the fact that a crucial resource for understanding the past is the archaeological record these items were hoiked from. Is that so difficult a concept to grasp and to promote publicly? What is the problem with saying that Dr Wakelin? What do they teach in UK universities these days?

The PAS blog suggests "if you are interested in taking part in the project or supporting it, please contact..." note no mention there of discussing it or finding out more information. The PAS is apparently not a bit interested in discussing such things with their audience.


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