Monday 27 July 2015

The Future Shape of the PAS (2) The Answers to 20 Questions

I have given the PAS answer to the first of my twenty questions in the post above. Here are the other nineteen questions and answers. I will comment on them in the post below.
2) If the national scheme has now been subsumed by the education and outreach department of a museum, what changes does this impose on its scope, affordances and duties?
There are no changes to these areas.

3) What will happen when (as seems very likely now) some local partners decline to invest scarce local authority funds in participation in a BM LVA-run scheme in place of the prestigious national one of which they have hitherto been a part?
The British Museum has active relationships with museums and other partners all across the UK. The details of this work can be found on the British Museum website at The PAS retains its national reach across England and Wales, and the local partners remain core to its delivery.
4) Since the changes affect their own status, were the local partners consulted on the proposals to downgrade the PAS and in what form? What other bodies were consulted and which were not?
There is no downgrade to PAS and the status of the British Museum’s relationship with our partners in the PAS has not changed. As PAS looks to the future, we continue to consult with local and national partners on future strategy.

The Treasure Act and Heritage Policy
5) Does the change in management of the PAS affect in any way the so-called Treasure Process? Will this affect the process whereby external museums are notified of objects going through the process? What about relationships between FLOs and Coroners? And the relationship between the TVC and the LVA? 
There are no changes to these areas.

6) Will the LVA-PAS be joining other organizations lobbying the government with the aim of broadening the scope of Treasure in response to cases like the Crosby Garrett helmet?
The British Museum continues to work closely with the DCMS and others on the proposed review of the Treasure Act Code of Practice. As part of this process there will be a public consultation on any changes to the definition of Treasure and other aspects regarding the administration of Treasure.

7) What input does the LVA envisage making in national heritage policy concerning, for example artefact hunting, and how?
The British Museum continues to be advised by the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group (PAAG), which includes the main archaeological bodies, landowner and metal-detecting organisations. This group discusses portable antiquities issues, and helps inform national heritage policy. .

Mitigation of Information Loss (Valetta Art 2 and 3)
8) It is clear that many thousands of artefacts are found annually by members of the public which do not for various reasons get recorded by the PAS. In the case of artefact hunting – if UK policy is not to change - it is especially important that the deliberate and unsystematic taking of elements of the archaeological record for entertainment and profit is mitigated by as full a record as possible. What measures will the LVA be taking to ensure this aim is met to the degree required to mitigate a major portion of the knowledge lost through artefact hunting? 
The PAS aims to record as many archaeological items found by the public as possible. Recording finds with the PAS is voluntary so we are dependent upon the goodwill of finders and the support of the metal-detecting organisations to that aim. Obviously some people do not wish to record their finds, which is frustrating, and a loss to the archaeological record. Through PASt Explorers we are hoping finders themselves, and other volunteers, will contribute to the recording effort.
9) The whole purpose of the PAS was to create a framework for direct liaison between professional archaeologists and finders, during which an opportunity was created for education/outreach on all aspects of best practice, for example in artefact hunting. How will this now be achieved in a scheme staffed by volunteers without the background and experience of the former FLOs?
The PAS is not staffed by volunteers. Its front-line remains (and will remain) the Finds Liaison Officers.

10) Will higher level access to the database for research purposes from now on be assigned by the staff of the LVA or D and P?
There will be no changes in this area. PAS staff will continue to do this.

11) Will database entry be controlled by the staff or the LVA of D and P? What about data entry quality, who is now responsible for the progress of verification of the records which has been lagging behind in recent months?
There will be no changes in this area. The Finds Advisers remain responsible for the quality of data, supported by PASt Explorers project officers for volunteer records.

12) While volunteers can no doubt be ‘trained’ to deal with simple artefact types (coins, brooches and strapends for example) by comparing the object in the hand with pictures in a book or catalogue, matters are not so simple with artefacts (such as pottery fabrics or lithics) which require specialist knowledge and experience to process and adequately ‘preserve by record’. How is it proposed to deal with this issue if a proportion of the recording of many finds brought to the PAS is to be done by outside volunteers? Or will such artefacts brought to the LVA’s volunteer scheme be left unrecorded for want of suitable staff to deal with them? 
All people entering data on the PAS database will be trained and supported by the Finds Advisers to ensure high data standards. PASt Explorers provides training for volunteers, and their progress will be monitored and supported by PAS staff, including FLOs and Finds Advisers. 

13) When material is assigned to ‘Community recorders’ by LVA, are the same criteria of selection adopted as when it is being recorded by the FLOs or are there differences in the datasets being created by these groups, and how will that affect the use of the archive as a resource for research? 
Volunteers’ work is co-ordinated by FLOs, and volunteers are assigned tasks agreed with staff. They do not work unsupported.

14) When the information by the ‘Community recorders’ is incorporated into the database, will it be distinguishable in any way?
Everyone working for PAS has a unique user account.

15) Given the possibilities for ‘laundering’ of provenance offered by the PAS database, and several known cases of objects being reported to FLOs with false provenances (which hints there may be undiscovered cases lurking in the ‘data’) in what way does the LVA envisage closer vetting of findspot information offered by finders?
Findspots are recorded on the basis of trust. If there is a breach of that trust then the British Museum will take appropriate action.

16) Will turnaround time be shortened?
The length of time taken to record finds depends on the find/s and the workload of the FLO, but how long an object will take to record is communicated with the finder. With volunteer support it is intended that more finds can be recorded and turnaround time shortened.

Social Media and Audiences
17) Are there any plans in the LVA for the creation of a public forum to allow active interaction between the many audiences of the PAS about the current developments? This would be a logical move, but instead you seem to have adopted a ‘top-down’ blog format. 
The British Museum is advised by the PAAG as the forum for discussing UK portable antiquities issues; members of that group represent people who are very aware of the issues discussed elsewhere, not just online.

18) Does the LVA have a policy of openness regarding use of social media such as Twitter and facebook by its staff to keep the audiences in touch with the day to day operation of the Scheme and flag up issues?
The British Museum encourages FLOs to highlight their work via social media.

Public Outreach
19) From previous BM press releases about portable antiquities, the public has received a picture of archaeology which is predominantly merely about „digging up things about which stories can be told”. This object-centric view of the past common to collectors and dealers is damaging to the public perception of archaeology, its aims and methods. Can we hope that it is the aim of the LVA to break out of this and to present a more nuanced manner of outreach presenting a more holistic picture of archaeology, and if so, how? 
The British Museum, through PAS and in many other ways, makes a significant contribution to archaeological knowledge, helping to inform academic research, archaeological fieldwork and also heritage protection.  The public fascination with important new finds is one way to engage people with broader issues and bring them to a more nuanced understanding.

20) There is a paradox in that, though most countries in the rest of the world have legislation to prevent the digging up and collection of objects taken from the archaeological record for personal profit and entertainment, Britain has set up a Scheme which encourages such an activity. This is damaging to the efforts of foreign colleagues trying to fight the antiquities trade which is doing so much damage to the archaeological record in, for example, the Middle East. The British Museum has in recent months taken a more active role in condemning the destruction abroad (in Egypt and Syria for example), but what will the LVA do to explain to the British public the nature and reasons (and justification) for the existence of the paradox that what we condemn when done in Isin (Iraq) is praised when done in Islip (UK)? If archaeological bodies in Britain were to start another Stop Taking Our Past campaign against irresponsible artefact collecting, would the LVA support it?
The British Museum believes that responsible metal-detecting provides a useful archaeological tool, helping to bring to light new sites and open up new avenues of research and knowledge. The PAS, with its partners, aims to ensure these finds add to the archaeological record for the benefit of all. With the same purpose, the British Museum’s work in Egypt and Iraq is to support experts and colleagues in those regions to safeguard and record sites and collections at risk for future research and enjoyment.
I would like to thank the LVA staff for the answers to these questions which allow an insight into what is going on.

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