Monday 20 July 2020

Communicating Archaeology: FLO Backs Down from Defending Claim

Last Saturday, I was having a Twitter chat with an archaeologist in the UK who said something about artefact hunting that I found somewhat debatable. The UK archaeologists that support artefact hunting and collecting rarely can actually expand the glib soundbite stock phrases into something more substantial. But this one is a PAS FLO, so an archaeologist employed specifically to communicate archaeology to the public, so I asked him ('Archaeologist: "A Pragmatic Approach to Artefact Hunting Works and has Benefited the Heritage of the Country Greatly"..' PACHI Saturday, 11 July 2020), to substantiate the claim he made about the so-called 'pragmatic approach' (a phrase coined by Roger Bland) to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record [which basically means 'letting artefact hunters get on with it, as long as they show us some of what they find']:
Peter Reavill @PeterReavill ·8 min
These are my personal views Paul and I do not speak for the scheme as a whole. I do know that a pragmatic approach works and has benefited the heritage of the country greatly. [...]
Since Twitter is no place to discuss this constatation properly, I invited Mr Reavill to think about what he means and reply in a comment here. He first of all shied away but made a show of relenting...

But in the end he backed down. So I will say that:

1) in my opinion (one that this blog discusses and justifies at some length), in England and Wales' "pragmatic approach" is not "working". It is neither mitigating by record the knowledge theft caused by the selective removal of archaeological evidence from the ground (the estimates that I have put up here and nobody has yet challenged is that seven in eight artefact hunters' finds do not result in a PAS record), nor is it actually gaining ground in instilling best practice. The PAS code of Best Practice is rejected by the NCMD and FID and most metal detecting clubs, Historic England has just made a grant to set up an independent body to promote the best practice the PAS failed to obtain.

2) It has not "benefited" the archaeological heritage in fact, merely accumulating loose objects and a pile of loose random records is not archaeological heritage. Sites have been ripped apart to get those collectables and the scant records we have are no mitigation of the damage done (see Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility)

3) to say we have all benefited "greatly" by this destruction is simply laughable. The archaeological record has been greatly and irreparably damaged by all this unmitigated collection-driven exploitation and public perceptions of what archaeology is and is about have also been seriously damaged.  The FLO's demonstration that actually addressing these issues in beyond him shows that the FLOs are probably not in a position to correct the false impression PAS has caused.

It is a shame Mr Reavill chickened out of setting out his view of what he does that led him to say what he said.

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