Tuesday 31 March 2015

UPDATE Artefact Hunting "Partners" According to a PAS FLO

[UDATE 2nd April 2015: I think how much the PAS FLO "welcomes" discussion of the PAS and heritage issues raised by the Treasure Act and UK artefact hunters' reactions to it  can be judged by her failure to respond to anything said over here. What's the problem with discussing the issues in 'outreach' instead of just dismissing them Ms Byyard?].

In a post yesterday ('FLO Attacks Heritage Action' PACHI Monday, 30 March 2015) I discussed the insulting and dismissive remarks which Oxford-based PAS FLO had addressed to Heritage Action ("somewhat prejudiced and ill informed"). In the circumstances, I found her comments unacceptable. I still do. As we have seen, the PAS refuses to engage with a lot of the external discussion of heritage issues and policies in the social media but only hurl insults at what they are desperately trying to ignore. Chris Cumberpatch posted a link to my post on the RESCUE Facebook page (thanks, Chris) so Ms Byard, unable to claim like most of her fellows do that she did not see it, so felt that this time she had to reply:

Anni Byard My comments simply come from experience of actually working with detectorists; I take exception to the comment in the HA article 'the playground mentality of most detectorists'. This is so wrong, ill-informed and yes, prejudiced. You suggest this of 'most' MD'ers - the metal detecting population consists of all sorts of people, from those who have worked full time since leaving compulsory education to those who are far more academically qualified than I, and everyone in between. Paul please feel free to update your blog with these comments - although I welcome discussion on such topics I object to such a broad-brush attack on what is a lawful and often very useful activity in the UK.
So here's your update Ms Byard, now I invite you (or any PAS colleagues that feel up to it) to the discussion which you claim to 'welcome' from people other than metal detectorists. That's what "liaison' is all about. Please, be my guest (comments or guest post - you choose). 

1) I cannot speak for why HA wrote on their blog  about Treasure valuations: "of course anyone other than those with the playground mentality of most detectorists will know that valuations comprise a spread of probabilities".

I can myself observe though that Treasure Valuation Committee valuations are a frequent topic on the ("not in it fer the munny") detectorists' discussion lists and forums. I have in the past linked to a number of these discussions in my blog and said what I think we can deduce from them. More often than not the general theme is either central to the discussion or raised in it that the TVC deliberately undervalue finds which the finders and most of their mates are sure are worth more. All sorts of conspiracy theories are evoked to explain why this allegedly is. Most of these discussions fail to grasp how the TVC reaches its decisions.

Frankly, looking at these discussions and many more in detecting forums, discussion lists, blogs, contributions to other discussions, I personally think that the adjective "childish" is indeed an appropriate description of the online behaviour of many artefact hunters in the UK. It is not the only adjective I would use, but I think "playground mentality" is an entirely appropriate one to a lot of what we see from this milieu as a whole, especially their reactions to criticisms of the effects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting. Two of their own codes of practice point out that they are all and individually the "ambassadors of the hobby" and the hobby will be judged by their behaviour. They are, and it is perfectly justifiable to judge the hobby by what we see.

2) There is nothing "wrong, ill-informed  [or] prejudiced" in making an observation on the basis of what we all see in the way metal detectorists behave, in particular when discussing Treasure valuations between themselves.

Both Nigel Swift and I have been closely studying what UK metal detectorists do and say since at least 2000, and in my own case that interest goes back two decades further. Any conclusions we have reached on the issue of how metal detecting is and is not done in the UK are based on continued, constant, careful observation of as may sources as possible, in the way anyone would conduct any sociological or ethnographic study of the activities of any community, whether they be Metal Detectorists, Heavy Metal fans, Mennonites, Macedonian Roma, Makonde sculptors or any other group. Both of us have listened to what seems (from the degree to which they are repeated) every single argument the pro-collecting crowd have ever come up with in that time, and examined them carefully. Do they hold water? In our opinion, no.  I personally have come to the conclusion that few of them even reflect anything like the full truth of the situation - much of my reasoning for that is fully addressed in this blog and available for falsification - nobody has tried. Can Ms Byard? We will see.

3) Ms Byard is not the only person "working with metal detectorists". They are not on the Moon, they are in the fields all around us, anyone can meet and chat with artefact hunters about what they do. My first visits to detecting clubs in England, for example, were at the end of the 1970s. FLOs are not particularly 'special' in that regard. Besides which it is very easy for anyone now through online resources made by detectorists themselves to come in contact in a number of ways with what artefact hunters are saying and doing. I encourage anyone who doubts the picture Nigel Swift, David Gill and I paint of them to check out for themselves those online sources a mouse click away.

I gave a list of 17 sources I recommend as most suitable for that purpose here: ('Pointing out Propagandist Fallacy 'Negativity', or the Only Realistic Basis for Discussing an Issue?' PACHI Monday, 1 September 2014). I invite Anni Byard and the massed ranks of the PAS to provide a competitive list of the sources not on my list where we see the activities of the 'other' kind of metal detectorist they want us to believe in. Please. [Where is the detecting blog of that artefact hunter "far more academically qualified than I"? We must see this one. I hope he can use apostrophes and auxiliary verbs.] 

Having said that, my bet is that nobody in the PAS will produce such a list, because the PAS (and archaeologists in general) do not in general participate in metal detecting sites and blogs. This is the substance of  'The Lepidop Question' (PACHI Friday, 21 March 2014). The PAS do not see any potential of social media like these to spread the message about best practice. I think there is a reason for this, and it lies in the sort of behaviour we see in the 17 web resources indicated above. The PAS have of course give a different reason for this, but take a look at the sites for yourself and try and predict what would happen in the PAS started using them for their "outreach" if they go even a little beyond glib back-slapping and head-patting camaraderie.  Take a look and guess what they'd actually face if they did, and decide how the PAS-mythos would look. That's why instead they chug up the A40 in their little cars to clubs where they are welcome, and stop going when they sense they are not.

4) Artefact hunting and collecting with metal detectors  (in England and Wales) is "lawful". Nobody disputes this, what is - and should be - in question is whether it should be, and under what conditions.  We may note that in general, the PAS keeping well away from any discussion of this. The conditions under which it is done in almost every other country in the world differs from the situation in the UK, who is to say who is right and who wrong, and on what grounds? There is the Valletta Convention which the rest of us in Europe go by, does it mean nothing to the Brits? Are there not problems with UK law (including salvage of wrecks as we saw in the Sussex and Victory cases)? These are portable antiquity issues and we should be discussing them.
Saying so is not an "attack".

Saying where problems are perceived to exist is not an "attack"

Saying where reality differs from PAS "spin" is not an "attack"
(it is however a signal that its time to have some real addressing of the issues by these public servants)

5) Neither is it an "attack" for an archaeologist (or anyone else) to challenge the received wisdom (which here is another word for spin) that artefact collecting is "often [a] very useful activity in the UK". The PAS is a symptom of bad laws, not the reason for them. Artefact hunting and collecting are nowhere very "useful", Egypt, Italy, Afghanistan, France, Syria and Iraq - which is why most states have legislation against it. Funnily enough, 17 years of PAS saying to everyone "wotta lotta stuff we got - aren't we all doing well?" has not persuaded a single country to leave any of the international conventions, tear up their heritage protection legislation and write a laissez faire law like that in England and Wales. It is not difficult to work out why - it goes with metal detecting being called "the English Disease" across quite a large part of our continent. Having looked at the arguments offered by the supporters of the PAS, I conclude that artefact hunting is not only not anywhere near as "useful" as is claimed, but is instead doing a vast amount of totally unmitigated and barely-acknowledged damage of unknown qualities. Neither do I consider it in any way "useful" for anyone (least of all heritage professionals or professional archaeologists) to ignore that and other fundamental issues and fatal flaws in the current status quo. Yet that is exactly what all the pro-collecting supporters of the PAS are daily doing. Shhhhhhhhhhh......

6) Of course it is the easiest thing in the world to dismiss another's argument as simply "prejudice' and "ill-informed", to use names dismissing those drawing attention to issues which some heritage workers in the UK consider uncomfortable ("Trolls", "Warsaw Moaner" etc). A recent FOI request reveals that Bloomsbury is almost as prone to such unprofessional tactics as the metal detecting artefact hunters they "partner" in order to dodge the debate. 

However, whatever names Bloomsbury and the antiquities trade might like to throw at us, this blog, and the Heritage Journal, as well as Looting Matters address real problems raised by real cases, things out there which are happening now.  Everyone, ever stakeholder in the heritage of England and Wales can, if they want, check what we say for themselves and check out where the information we use comes from. Every one of them can check for themselves what the response of the PAS and their "partners" the artefact hunters and artefact grabbers has been, they will find that, apart from a few insults, for the most part it has been a consistent and conspicuous silence. Stakeholders can make up their minds what that means and what value the multi-million pound PAS and its opinions holds for them. 

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