Monday, 2 March 2015

Barriers to PAS Participation in Archaeological Debate Online

The UK Heritage Debate,
the PAS seem to act as if they are in the
little round bit at the top, next to God
The PAS is supposed to be doing outreach and engaging with members of the public finding archaeological finds. It is still doing so in a very 1990s way, sitting in its ivory tower and issuing directives through its website and expecting to engender 'partnership' through people coming to the foot of the tower and gazing up or occasionally getting out among the plebs by paying a gracious visit to a metal detecting club or two to receive tribute in the form of proffered finds for recording.

This is 2015 and there is a great deal of activity in the social media. All sides of the debate are involved. Dealers have their websites, Facebook pages and blogs, artefact collectors too, artefact hunters have forums, twitter feeds, discussion lists. Investigative journalists concerned about the antiquities trade run an informative blog (Chasing Aphrodite), grassroots heritage preservation organizations (SAFE, Heritage Action) too, preservationists (David Gill, David Knell, Donna Yates, Paul Barford) run blogs, pro-collecting archaeologists (David Connolly) run their websites.

Yet the PAS themselves have a very moribund presence on social media and do not encourage interaction. FLOs tweet "nice finds I've seen" the PAS Facebook page too, the PAS now blogs mainly about tweaks in the website's software. The PAS website is visually an anachronistic uninviting mess oozing complacency. The PACHI PAS FOI response indicated that the PAS have absolutely no interest in anything at least one of those blogs engaging with portable antiquities collecting issues is writing about. In the past 30 months about the only thing that interested them on their hidden blog was when the Blog-They-Do-Not-Read mildly criticised a metal detecting club which one of the FLOs had had a spat with - that's it, that is about the extent of their interest in this corner of the heritage discussion which one would have thought directly concerns them and their work. This is a discussion they should be leading, not excluding.

Thus it is when a metal detectorist publishes on his blog a text "Is there a new breed of Archaeologist emerging?" about  an "outstanding Anglo-Saxon pendant found by a first year archaeology student", the PAS is nowhere to be seen. I doubt they even know there was an attempt made in the public domain to discuss Treasure Hunting Archaeologists as some kind of a "new breed".

Who engaged with this misleading discussion? Was it the PAS? No, the PAS actually probably did not even know what was being said on the blogs and forums, the PAS apparently could not give a tinkers what their partners are saying, quite openly, elsewhere. What kind of outreach and what kind of interaction is that? Is this really a partnership, or are the PAS exploiting artefact hunters as a source for database fodder but not in the slightest interested in helping them overcome their misconceptions? How can they claim to be doing the latter if they fail at every step to engage with the questions being asked, the issues arising in everyday discourse about artefact hunting and collecting? This is 2015, not 1995. There are social media out there beyond the walls of the Russell Square Ivory Tower, yet it seems from their reaction to it (an impression reinforced by the contents of their recent FOI response and their reaction to David Gill's PIA article) that the PAS treat people like myself actually involved in it with the utmost contempt.

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