Friday, 27 February 2015

Roger Bland Talks @CurrentArchaeo Live

The last talk of the Current Archaeology Live session was by Roger Bland:  'Recent finds and research from the Portable Antiquities Scheme'. So nothing new then. Heritage Action was there to listen. Dr Bland started off with the shiny Staffordshire Hoard (no mention of later nighthawking in field after excavators went). He pointed out that although archaeologists wince at 'bling' publicity, there is a vast public interest in the shinier finds. He seemingly forgets that the original aim of the PAS was to show the public what archaeology is really about - instead it has let the side down and largely gone for the easier task of presenting the "Britain's Secret Treasures" bling, trite narrativisations and self-gratulatory spin. Then he does an overview of the main points of Treasure Act 1997 (it strikes me that if there is anything new to the audience in that, the PAS has not been doing its job very well). Then passed on to the MicroPasts crowd sourced project and mentioned a list of 416 research projects using the PAS data available. 
Heritage Action's correspondent noted that it was an 'upbeat' presentation without any mention of any problem areas such as the issue of artefact hunting and artefact collecting, transfer of title documentation, verification of findspots etc. On a personal note, it was reported that he was not a very, um... 'dynamic' speaker, "very sleep-inducing, reading everything from a script. I'd expected something a bit more dynamic, to be honest". There were no public questions allowed, but a member of the audience apparently cornered him afterwards and our correspondent overheard the conversation. Asked if he thought it was right that individuals should get such large rewards, reportedly "his only answer was that it encourages reporting, and that rewards have been enshrined in law for over 100 years, andwould be difficult to rescind". Dr Bland was busily "defending his position about how wonderful the PAS is, and what would we do if we didn't have it. He insists that other countries without a scheme are suffering greater loss, that FLO's are doing a good job of outreach etc..." On the other hand he then started saying how the "new volunteer scheme will help reduce the effect of anticipated funding cuts etc." I really do not see this if the volunteers are metal detectorists, how are metal detectorists going to do archaeological outreach to finders? Unfortunately Dr Bland avoided this question and at this point turned away from the questioner and "turned to others who wanted to praise him. I really wanted to ask if he personally visited any of the Detectorists forums, but didn't get the chance". 

It is a shame that instead of all the usual "wottalotta-good-stuff-we-got" that the PAS churns out every time, Dr Bland did not present a talk on the future directions of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and heritage policy in England and (for the moment) Wales.

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