Tuesday 12 May 2020

The PAS at Work During Coronavirus Lockdown [updated]

Yesterday, I asked the head of the PAS whether the British MP in his haste to help the looters of the British archaeological record to get out during lockdown had consulted the PAS and Treasure registrars. A few weeks ago I had submitted a query about a case that was in the news and was told (in lit. 23.04.2020) that the PAS was unable to answer the question as the member of staff involved was not in the BM at the time but furloughed.  Most of the 41 FLOs work in museums and council offices that - as non-essential were closed. I was therefore surprised to learn from the Head of the Scheme that the PAS was working as normal. It's worth placing on record what it says on the PAS webpage at the moment (it is undated but would have been posted about 23rd [?] March 2020):
Under the Treasure Act 1996, it is a legal obligation for the finder to report potential Treasure. For all new finds of potential Treasure, finders must notify their local Finds Liaison Officer and/or the British Museum treasure team (in England) by email (treasure@britishmuseum.org), with photographs of the object and full details of the findspot, finders' and landowners' details, and await further instruction. The necessary precautions mean there may be delays in the Treasure process. We thank finders, landowners, occupiers and everyone involved in the process for their understanding, patience and cooperation during this time.

Portable Antiquities Scheme staff will no longer meet finders in person or undertake outreach work until further notice. Most Portable Antiquities Scheme staff, including Finds Liaison Officers, will remain contactable by email, so, therefore, can advise on the recording of finds (such as self-recording). We ask that you temporarily retain your non-Treasure finds for full recording at a later date. Please ensure that you keep detailed records of the findspot in accordance with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales. Finders in Wales and Northern Ireland should contact the relevant authorities for advice.

Following the latest government social distancing guidance, advising everyone to stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS, do not metal detect during the current situation. All metal-detecting rallies should be cancelled.  
The aims of the PAS are set out here. It is difficult to see which of them can be carried out while keeping away from people. But the PAS 'are working' says the Head, so one might expect the database to be being maintained. Most metal detectorists that report items to the PAS complain that it takes months to get finds back from the FLO, there is a large backlog. So the staff, unencumbered by other duties, could be working through the material during lockdown to come up to date. Is that what they've been doing? A look at the PAS' own statistics page suggests otherwise. I took the results from Wednesdays at this time of the year in 2019 and 2020. There have also been 16 Treasure cases reported since 23rd March, despite the restrictions on metal detecting.

So, are the PAS prepared for a fresh influx of metal-detected finds and treasure items from Weds 13th in accordance with the government's newly-defined policies? Watch this space.

Update May 14th 2020
Records on May 13th 2020: 46 objects.

Interestingly, a lot of those Treasure records are for old finds (2018 mostly, recorded by NMGW) so it is unclear why they are only now going into the database (even though in fact they should not be going there anyway as the PAS was for recording non-Treasure items and the Treasure Act requires them to be reported separately so this is double-reporting for number-boosting). 

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