Friday 26 February 2021

UK FLO: PAS "Changing social attitudes to Artefact Collecting"

   Some might ask, what's the point of standing up for anything at all? 
Discussing the Late Iron Age "All-Buckinghamshire horse harness-brooch", a FLO attempts to justify why PAS opted to react to finding out this was on sale by making a cut-and-paste record to boost their own database numbers, instead of producing a press-release and getting it in all the big newspapers and online media what a mess British policy is that something like this is ripped out of context and flogged off by artefact hunters. He asks: "So ... what exactly would your solution be? Do nothing? Sit back and let such things slip entirely from public view without even the barest record? The legal definition of Treasure is being re-worked specifically to prevent this type of sale, as we speak". Social media today are full of archies bemoaning the fact that "they" (the guvn'mint) have not yet changed the law for them.* They want it on a plate because surely they should not be leaving it up to others to do it for them, they need to get out there elbowing and forcing legislative change (if they really believe in what they are doing). They prefer to sit and moan. 

In that spirit, my reply to the FLO about what I see as the solution: "On the contrary, I'd like to see the PAS actively mobilise public opinion (what they are there for) to change social attitudes about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and the damage it is doing. I'd like to see PAS be more active". To that, the FLO retorted
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 2 g
Well luckily, that's exactly what we are doing.
Not from where I am sitting you (plural) are not. I asked him to "please show us how 24 years of PAS has usefully changed social attitudes about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and the damage it is doing. The numbers of detectorists has been rising under your watch" and in answer to that, we heard:
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 2 g
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues @Archaeology_tea i @findsorguk
Pretty difficult to summarise 24 years of work in a single Tweet. The vast number of finds and sites recorded (and excavated) and research undertaken speaks for itself. We have no ability to control the numbers of detectorists in the UK.
This seems to be a bit of wilful misunderstanding. What I said was "changed social attitudes". The amount of recording, excavation and research is not at all the issue I was addressing (and we don't need a PAS to do any of that). In my opinion, "we have no ability" is an easy cop-out for not even bothering to try to affect the degree artefact hoiking is seen as socially acceptable behaviour. Anyway, if a tweet is too small a space to summarise 24 years of PAS efforts, successes and failures changing public attitudes to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to one that favours the preservation of sites from having all the diagnostic finds hoovered out and pocketed by greedy collectors, there's a comments section below, or Dr Maslin can submit a guest post on this blog. Please, be my guest.

The PAS was set up in 1996 to react to (among other things) disquiet about the growth and effects of the hobby of artefact hunting and collecting. It had several specific aims in attempting to deal with this, and in reaction to article 2 and 3 of the Valetta Convention. The aims were reformulated in 2003:
  1. to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
  2. to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
  3. to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
  4. to encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote BEST practice by finders.
  5. to define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
Dr Maslin will no doubt tell us how "let's make a big database of all the stuff they show us" (which is basically what PAS does) fulfils all five of these aims. 

Where is this "archaeological context" in PAS outreach? "X-marks the spot" is not archaeological context. Artefact hunting is not archaeology any more than collecting costume barbie dolls is ethnography, so where is the public being involved in the archaeological process simply by helping make a bigger database to make denser dot-distribution maps?  To what degree has the attempt to get "all those who find archaeological objects" to report them if there are 27000 metal detectorists? To what degree is the public (including landowners) informed about the numbers that simply dig up and pocket everything, and what are the public encouraged to think about this and do about this? And what resources have been identified that will enable such a model to work? How many members of the public know about how much more money the PAS needs to do what it needs to do to save everybody's archaeological heritage from simply being trashed like this? 

Where on the PAS website is there the material needed for the public to judge properly the effects of current policies on collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and its relationship to the rest of British archaeology? A bibliography for example. An explanation of what archaeological context" is and why it - and not just artefacts - is important. If they can't be arsed enough to produce one, they could link to other ones, such as here: But there surely are others... 

Dr Maslin (or any other FLO)?


* and note how "thing orientated" this notion of "letting such things escape" rather than the site and evidence trashed getting this ogle-worthy bit of metal with its flashy colourful enamel out of the ground for them to drool over.


Brian Mattick said...

Dr Maslin went right to the heart of the matter:

"The vast number of finds and sites recorded (and excavated) and research undertaken speaks for itself."

It does NOT speak of the far more vast number of finds NOT reported nor the consequent sites not reported and research opportunities lost.

PAS has spent 24 years jubilating to parliament, stakeholders, and taxpayers about the upside and 24 years saying nothing about the downside. That's it in a nutshell. A British tragedy.

Paul Barford said...

Well, this is exactly it. Dr Maslin - like all the rest - simply swallows the "this bottle is one ninth full" argument and refuses to accept that it being eight ninths EMPTY has any significance for the archaeological record, society or in assessing the efficiency of a (very expensive) policy.

Can't understand these ostrich attitudes and lack of critical thinking.

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