Tuesday 25 September 2018

PAS database: Where are the Checks?

Instead of engaging the public through using the capabilities of the social media to encourage debate on serious heritage issues, or spread the message of 'best practice' to hoikers like the North of the Tyne, the Portable Antiquities Scheme squanders the opportunity to present self-congratulatory posts, so now in Somerset we have a PAS fluff post:
This year marks 15 years of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as a national scheme. Throughout the year we’ll be celebrating finds from each county – a find a day for the whole year!
Yes, an exclamation mark. And one of those finds, naively presented, raises an important question about the PAS 'database'. Somebody can point me, I am sure, to where this important issue is actually explicitly discussed by the PAS.
Ancient Egyptian figurine (SOM-18AD04): a Late Period to Ptomelaic Period figurine of Osiris, c. 700BC.Length: 69.28mm, Width: 23.87mm, Thickness: 13.30mm, Weight: 33.78g
 [...] John Taylor from the department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum believes it to be genuine. He suggests that 'there are many very close parallels for this type of image of Osiris, as they were made in thousands as votive offerings during the Late Period and Ptolemaic Period (seventh to first centuries BC)'(pers. comm.). He sees many very similar figurines as they were extremely popular with collectors during the late 18th and 19th centuries and this probably explains why the object was found in this country.

This was found by an unknown person at an unknown place 'to be known as: Upper Cheddon', has a 'grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square' and was found with a metal detector on 'cultivated land'. The PAS record has a reference to another (do read the description HAMP-420491  "How this item came to be in a Hampshire field is a mystery! "). The point is the statue of Osiris is recognizable as an out of place artefact, a modern contamination of the archaeological record. Note though that the FLO Ms Anna Booth categorizes it as "IRON AGE Date from: Circa 700 BC Date to: Circa 1 BC"

This raises the question of, where the finds are non-specific, what actually are we looking at when presented with decontextualised artefacts on the PAS 'database'? How many of them are 'planted', or strays from modern processes (such as seeding a rally site with material bought in bulk from eBay), or a collector's losses as in these two cases? How can the record of what someone says he found somewhere (but with no documentation verifying it, such as a protocol of transfer of title from the relevant landowner) be in any way trusted?

 See also 'Intellectual Curiosity and Out-of-Place Artefacts',  PACHI Friday, 2 October 2015


Hougenai said...

The planning authority in my area does not include the PAS database in planning searches as it is considered flawed. I understand that this is true for some other councils in the UK.
This came to light when enquiring into 'what is the official procedure for PAS incorporating data into the HER?'.
The answer 'there isn't!'.
Basically there is no direct pathway for information generated from detecting activities to be shared with other statutory bodies.

Paul Barford said...

This is very interesting information, especially because getting the info into the HERs was one of the rationales for the PAS in the first place (and if you remember it was one of the criticisms of the UKDFD - that their data format could not be exported in the way PAS findspot information could). It is interesting that planning archaeologists, based in the conservation paradigm, realised that collecting and archaeology are different things entirely, while it is academics (based in the 'discovery' paradigm) that see the products of selective collection as 'data' which they all-too-willingly use in their research. That may turn out to be a case of rubbist in, Kossinnist rubbish out. Thanks, would be interested to lern more.

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