Thursday, 11 March 2021

The Professionalism of British Heritage Professionals

In Poland, we have a neat law, embedded in the Administration Code, whereby if a member of the public contacts an official body with a query or request, that body has by law 14 days to reply. If they do not reply, then the matter can be taken further (for example to NSA - national administrative court) and if the delay is judged unjustified, the official pays a hefty fine. Britain has no such requirements of its public employees. So on 25th February 2021, following the creation of a legitimising PAS record just days before a contentious sale of a Late iron Age harness-brooch reportedly from Buckinghamshire, I contacted the FLOs of Debyshire and Nottinghamshire DENO (Meghan King), Buckinghamshire (Arwen Wood), and a British Museum employee (Julia Farley) about this. One of them fobbed me off without answering my question, referring me to the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Prof Michael Lewis) and then refused to answer a subsequent mail that was a restatement of the query. The Head of the Scheme gave a half answer. And we are no nearer understanding the circumstances of the PASD "record" made by a DENO of the Hanson's "Known as All-Buckinghamshire Too Bad Harness-Brooch" that at best looks like a clash of interests.

The whole basis for British "policies" (I use the term loosely) on artefact hunting is that it expects transparency of those involved in the handling of archaeological information in the course of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. I think this means that we have an equal right to expect that the heritage professionals who are the intended destination of that information, are equally transparent. That is not something one can say on present evidence of the four people named above. There are a number of questions unaddressed within the "database record" complied by a(n unsupervised?) volunteer mainly on the basis of what the auctioneer supplied to be put into that sale-enhancing record. Simply sweeping the discrepancies (like the circumstances of its finding, such as when it was dug up and with what) under the carpet will not resolve the issues. 

What are PAS policies on selling archaeological artefacts, and the involvement of members of the PAS staff and PAS volunteers in the antiquities trade? Can we see them?

Vignette: no place for the British mode of dismissive behaviour in Polish administration. 

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