Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Bellingham, PAS: "Don't worry, it's all in hand". Really?

FLO assures 'all is AOK'
at Bellingham now he's
been there
The video (which has now been removed - apparently at the suggestion of the FLO) on the 'North Of The Tyne Detecting' facebook page showing pretty stomach-churning treatment of part of the archaeological resource by PAS-partner metal detectors was so bad, it even attracted adverse comment from metal detectorists. Two days later, a FLO was dispatched to the scene and sent this report to the Facebook page of Rescue where this unhappy situation was being discussed.
Benjamin Westwood Don't worry Andy Holbrook, it's all in hand. Yes, the use of the excavator was pretty poor, but was done without the organisers knowledge or consent. All efforts were made to get archaeologists on site as soon as possible. All the hoard related material has been reported, or is in the process of being reported. Nothing is being lost. All other material from the event will also be recorded. The organisers realise that things could have been...better planned, and have learned a lot from this process. Appropriate advice, and guidance has been given, and despite the best efforts of some individuals, there's a good relationship between the PAS and the organisers.
The more general problems and shortcomings of present policies for dealing with Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales highlighted by the Bellingham fiasco are obvious. I asked the question earlier, what is the FLO to do? Obviously a robust response is needed. So let us take acloser look at what the visiting FLO says he's done.
1) There is no need to "worry" he says. Why? Was this video not worrying enough for him? Is what is meant in fact nothing more than "lay off these guys, they're our friends, we should not criticise what we saw in that video because it might upset them"?
2) the language used by the FLO among archaeologists presumably mirrors what he said on site: did he just tell the guys seen doing this "the use of the excavator was pretty poor". Poor. The rest of us thought the way it was being used was atrocious, but hey, he's talking to tekkies, and apparently you have to talk to them like they were eleven year olds, or these grown men will get "upset".
3) We should remember, he says, that using the excavator ("poorly") "was done without the organiser's knowledge or consent". Eh? The machine was the landowner's, the landowner does not need Mr Scotty Bea's "consent" to trundle it across his own field. The fact that the organizer responsible was not on the site when the machine work began and did not know what the people he was responsible for is of course one of the criticisms of the whole event (and this is more than just a "poor" showing).
4)  Maybe 'all efforts were made to get archaeologists on site as soon as possible' AFTER all the stuff had been dug out, but once the damage had been done, the damage had been done, whether or not archaeologists come and belatedly ruefully gaze at the rough scatter of soil around the hole. 
5) "All the hoard related material has been reported, or is in the process of being reported". Eh? How can he know it has all been reported (to whom, where, when?). The only evidence he can go on is negative, "Tommy my old mate, did you find a hoard coin at Scotty's dig?", "Me? No guv, never found nuffing". Is in the process of being reported? Either a finder admits to having a coin from the hoard or he does not, he cannot be in the process of admitting, it's a yes/no dichotomy.
6) "Nothing is being lost". Knowledge has been lost by the fact that whole thing was excavated as it was.  We read that in digging down, the soil changed colour. No pot was found by the hoikers, but were there traces of a cloth bag? Was the hoard in a pit or ditch or deposited on an old ground surface that was later covered with a levelling layer? Was it deposited in a timber building or near one? 
7) 'All other material from the event will also be recorded'. How can the FLO know this without the gift of prophesy? Recording is voluntary, isn't it? Many of the finders live well away from Mr Westwood's patch (which is Durham, not Hexham) so how can he assert that.
8) 'The organisers realise that things could have been...better planned, and have learned a lot from this process'. It is a shame that before embarking on this escapade they did not think out the planning, and place contingency plans in place in the case of something like a hoard being found. This is not the first rally/club dig that has ever been held in northern England. So why are the "organizers" content to learn by their own mistakes, at the cost of trashing a site, rather than just finding out beforehand how to do what they set out to do?
9) 'Appropriate advice, and guidance has been given', a bit late after the event. Surely the PAS should be giving out the advice on best practice and making sure it is heeded and its importance understood before, not after such an event is even conceived by its organizers. That is its mission. And really, has it ever given out INappropriate advice and guidance? 
10) "despite [things like this happening], there's a good relationship between the PAS and the organisers". How does one define a 'good relationship' when the local heritage professionals cannot STOP a disaster like Bellingham happening? 

In fact, what we see here is not a reflection of the kind of pro-active response that dealing with such atrocious treatment (after twenty whole years of multi-million pound outreach) actually requires. All along here, words without meaning are used to try and convince onlookers that everything is (now) under control, now the PAS cavalry have arrived. Apparently, it is not the culprits' fault. We are told that nobody had explained to them what to do, they'd only accessed 'inappropriate' guidance before the FLO came along and at a wave of his FLO-wand turned irresponsible ill-informed detectorists running around like mad things, to staid, sensible and fully informed "responsible detectorists". Next they will be shown how to observe, interpret and document the context of deposition and discovery of the finds and related soil phenomena they dig through in their search for collectables.

What actually the FLO is doing here is creating one of the many smokescreens that are used by artefact hunters and their supporters/partners to defend a status quo. That status quo, involving taking little or no action on Collection-Driven  Exploitation of the archaeological rcord in general, is a comfy one for those who believe in it. For the rest of us it is allowing massive archaeological record (heritage) damage to take place under our very noses. The Bellingham fiasco is just one of many similar events that happen week after week, all over the country, what is the overall scsle of the loss? We don't know. What we do know however is that the PAS is deliberately not rocking the boat. Their Head co-authored a paper attempting - without proper analysis and supplyiong their own official figures - to trash Sam Hardy's estaimates of the vast shortfall between what the PAS record, and what needs to be recorded before we can consider that the PAS is achieving what it has been (Donald Trump-like) telling us all along (as here) it is doing with great success. In this post we see the Durham FLO papering over the cracks, when the Durham FLO should be highlighting to the general public (the one that pays for his office) the problems caused by current public policy on artefact hunting. As an archeologist, the ethics of his profession require him to promote the preservastion, not destructive and undocumented exploitation for personal entertainment and profit, of the archaeological record. Telling us all glibly that in one visit he has alreadty done done what, it seems to me, he has not actually achieved, smacks of wishful thinking and a desire to capitalise on what he imagines is the  naivity of his readers.  "Don't worry, it's all in hand", he writes. No it is not, artefact hunting in England and Wales has got well out of hand and UK archaeologists are complicit.  

This seems an apposite analogy to what the PAS are doing here:

1 comment:

Sam Ofnett said...

Sound like someone is telling porkies. Sad.

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