Sunday 21 June 2015

PAS Meltdown (1): LavaPAS

Pillow lava
A week ago the news reached me that there had been massive changes in the manner that the British national scheme or recording archaeological finds made by members of the public (the Portable Antiquities Scheme -  PAS) was organized. Roger Bland, its creator and head had resigned and the Scheme was now being managed by Susan Raikes, head of a museum's schools service. There was much that was unclear about what had happened and the implications were not immediately apparent. Over the past week, people close to events have, on condition of anonymity, kindly made both oral and written information available. A clearer (though still not full) picture is emerging of this affair, and I feel obliged to make a fuller presentation of my thoughts and deductions so far because I think this is something that we should all be concerned about and which as the heritage belongs to and affects us all should be (have been) a subject of public discussion.

I intend in several posts below this (I posted them in reverse order) to run through some of what I know now and its background but also make observations on it. I do not intend to focus on  the personal issues that undoubtedly underlie this sad case, and my focus on PAS is primarily as a means of mitigating knowledge lost to us all through artefact hunting (i.e., in most cases 'metal detecting'). These posts draw in part on information that has been released by the British Museum (BM) and other bodies (not very much) and incorporate information derived from material 'leaked' to me (not as much as I would like - a FOI requests will be in preparation when we know what material and questions to target).

I propose to refer to the current setup as "Lava-PAS", based on the internal (BM) acronym of  the "Learning Volunteers and Audiences" department which has taken over the running of the Scheme. I see this as a meltdown of the Scheme, subverting its core role, thus meriting treating it as a spinoff from the original (Roger Bland's) PAS which ceased operation on 1st May.

These changes took place on May 1st 2015. Note that to date, there has been no official statement from any body, least of all the British Museum, outlining the details of these changes, the current organization, aims and remit of the PAS in its new form, or prognosis for the future. Perhaps the reason for this is that these issues had not been properly thought through by the BM before the decision was taken to put these changes into effect. Please join me in urging that the BM address now these concerns and issue a detailed statement in the next few days explaining to the stakeholders and audience (ie all of us) just what has been done and what they foresee the effects will be.

The presentation will have six parts which I arrange in a specific order which are (in reverse order of posting):
(2) The Background - what the PAS was for
(3) The Prehistory of the PAS
(4) Two Ways - Two Wrong Turns
(5) The BM Steps in
(6) What the Problem is
(7) Self-delusion corner

There is a lot of stuff here. The impatient will find the crux of the matter discussed in the sixth part. As usual personal views, if anyone has anything to add or disagrees with what I write, that's what the comments are for.

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