Thursday 16 July 2020

Size matters? PAS: Don't be Embarrassed, Every Little Bit Counts Now

The twenty-year old "WottaLottaFindsWeGot" justification of maintaining current British "policy" (I use the term loosely) on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record with token recording of a small percentage of what is pocketed by artefact hunters is a bit of a liability these days. Recording numbers have dropped in lockdown (The PAS at Work During Coronavirus Lockdown PACHI Tuesday, 12 May 2020). Metal detectorists have been staying at home and rallies have been suspended until recently. FLOs are working from home and not meeting finders. The figure in the sidebar shows the drop in record numbers over the past few months relative to the situation at the same time last year.

Since however the PAS had been using the size of their database (and not its representativeness) as a measure of success, they are in a bit of a quandry. So they are casting around for other finders (Aaron Walawalkar and agency, 'Back-garden archaeology: Britons unearth artefacts during lockdown' Guardian Sun 19 Jul 2020). 
The British Museum’s portable antiquities scheme has been notified of a number of archaeological discoveries from people who had extra time to tend to their gardens during the weeks of restrictions. Among these treasures is a post-medieval belt hook in the shape of a snake found in Herefordshire, and a medieval silver coin discovered beneath a lawn in Stoke-on-Trent. In Coventry, a rock with script thought to date from the fourth century was found. Meanwhile, eight fragments of Roman greyware pottery were found in the Leicestershire village of Wymeswold. 

The article then goes on to talk of "fossils found when people have been digging flowerbeds” that "often say something very interesting about the local history” ("And that’s one of the benefits of lockdown – people have had time to consider where they are and who have gone before them – most importantly they have had the time to get in touch with their discoveries”). Whoah.

Anyway, what the article does not say is that, once upon a time, the PAS was about outreach to the wider public, through "finds days" when people would bring in stuff they'd found in the garden or walking the dog. But a few years ago they started to cut the number of such finds days in some areas and concentrated on getting stuff from metal detectorists, who were finding material in bulk, unlike most clematis-fanciers. But now, desperate to get more finds online (did they count the eight sherds individually?) they are desperately reaching out wherever they can.
Michael Lewis, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, urged gardeners not to be embarrassed about checking whether their discovery may be significant. “During the period of total lockdown, a number of garden finds have come to light as people have been digging their gardens whilst off work or unable to go out as much as usual,” he said. “Finders can be shy about showing finds liaison officers their garden finds, but we are keen to see what is discovered by the public. Often people don’t realise the archaeological significance of what they find.” They are urged to notify the British Museum’s portable antiquities scheme, at, about the objects, which help experts and the public learn about the past. “Most finders get to keep their discoveries,” Lewis added.
So, don't be embarrassed, Mr Lewis is keen to get his hands on whatever you've got.

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