Friday 27 July 2018

Research 'Fairness' on Display at the Antiqs

There are a whole load of folk out there who see the problem with PAS and the Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record as a simple 'half-full / half-empty glass'  problem (when in fact Sam Hardy's work suggests that in the case of England and Wales, its more like a PAS database only 4% full and sites and assemblages where the archaeological record is as much as 96% empty). One of the blinkered adherents of the PAS-success story tells me that he'll be at the Society of Antiquaries of London  this afternoon:
promoting our work researching medieval markets through PAS data (which the SAL has helped fund, besides the BA etc) and will be joined by a couple of responsible detectorists highlighting what they do. It will be good to discuss the benefits of responsible detecting with open minded individuals...
Individuals like collector John Hooker FSA, no doubt. I sincerely doubt that Fellows will be getting much more of an overview of what 'metal detectorists' do than if they went onto a 'metal detecting forum' and saw at first hand the more candid picture there. 

I think a blinkered researcher of 'productive sites=markets' is trying to kid us all that a few people calling themselves 'responsible detectorists' are representative of all 27 000 'metal detectorists' of Hardy's estimate. I would say that it is more likely that Fellows are having the wool pulled over their eyes by a pars-pro-toto misrepresentation.

It is, Mike Lewis, the real open-minded individuals who are going beyond mere acceptance of glib PAS fluff propaganda-of-success representations of collectors with metal detectors and are going to continue to hold you and your staff accountable for the blatant misrepresentations of the nature and scale of the problem.
Understanding Medieval Fairs - explore and use a specialised database developed to aid our understanding of Medieval commercial activities, as well as archaeological finds and presentations from the research project led by Dr Michael Lewis.
So, is he showing a database or metal detectorists? This seems from this account largely to be a text-driven project. where the archaeological finds are used to 'illustrate' what we know primarily from the documents, rather than being a source in their own right. 

There are several online sources helping collectors to target known sites from the documentary evidence, such as the one started by Dr Samantha Letters here (mirror here). It is also clear from the 'how to go metal detecting' guides in and out of print that such sites have long been a favorite target, if the searcher can get permission to hoik objects from the archaeological record there (even if they do not, some detector users still go to 'productive' sites like these). Here's a fair site targeted by metal detector using collectors. What 'data' are these? 

Heritage Action also detail several artefact grabfests at Weyhill  Fair (such as this post). Maybe Fellows might like to check what 'advances to knowledge' have emerged from the records of metal artefacts hoiked from this findspot...   Here's the 32 medieval objects reported from this parish, with coins making up about a third - but only from the end of 2015. So where are the rest? This is telling, because in 2014 we read of one field that was very productive and everyone agreed had a lot more to offer”. Yet not to the PAS database which seems a very deficient basis for any kind of 'research' if the 'data' it contains are not in any way representative of the actual contents of that fair site - and in any case, since all the objects are decontextualised by the collectors who selectively took away the objects that piqued their interest, there is no way to differentiate finds from activities connected with the fair, and those connected with activities on the site between fairs. I would say that an 'open mind' would conclude that the SAL is wasting its money on a research project based on incomplete data taken out of the context of discovery.

UPDATE 27.07.2018
From my informant in SAL, I heard that nobody asked any difficult questions about sources. I guess Mr Lewis confused :"open minds" with "receptive minds". 


Ordinary Bloke said...

As "ignorant" amateurs we thought the successive detecting rallies on Weyhill Fair were crimes against culture.

Are we to understand that these six professionals think they were fine?

Paul Barford said...

Well, I am not really sure, I suspect they would say that anything that generates "archaeological data" for them to get grants to study is (for them) a 'good thing'. It's no se asking them, they've gone all huffy that what they imagined we would accept as their pearls of ivory tower wisdom have been questioned by me, Sam Hardy and now David Gill. Thin-skinned lot these archaeologists.

As a conservationist, I would say that improper documentation of the removed material by careless collectors (calling them 'responsible' changes nothing if that is merely a broad label for "is not a nighthawk") is simply destructive.

Also I would ask whether one can really consider a highly selective show-and-tell group of a small portion of the material removed from a site is in any way something one could actually call 'data' in comparison to that which a proper survey (carried out by the methodologies set out in 'Our Portable Past') would have produced if the site had not been raped by collectors.

Unknown said...

I do not understand how, if data is missing (and we don't know which data is missing) you can say anything at all about what you are studying. That's like trying to use roadkills to study a bat population, isn't it?

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