Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Entangled PAS: Neil Brodie on Metal Detecting Finds from England and Wales (I)

The article 'What is this thing called the PAS? Metal detecting entanglements in England and Wales' by EAMENA's Neil Brodie in the latest issue of Revista d'Arquelogia de Ponent (30:85-100) is an important contribution to the literature on the issues surrounding collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record not just in the UK, but Europe in general. This paper has just come online (along with  the whole dossier containing this paper), and I can warmly recommend this thought-provoking text. 

The paper begins with (and set around) a whiff of scandal with the idiotic response of six academics [Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, and Suzie Thomas  involved with detector-finds-recording to a text by Samuel Hardy, I wrote about this earlier. The Deckers et al fiasco is mentioned several times throughout the paper. 

Brodie sets out to explain why some academics are so very defensive about the PAS (p. 86). He then sees Hodder's 'theory of entanglement' as a means of elucidation. He sets out the background to the existence of the PAS (pp. 87-8). Although this overlaps with my own in the paper following, Brodie's account helpfully puts this material in a broader context of changes in British archaeology at the same time. This is then followed by two related sections 'The archaeological value of PAS and Treasure data' (pp 88-9) and 'the reliability of PAS and Treasure findspot information' (pp 89-90).  The core of the article then addresses 'The PAS entanglement' (pp 90-92). The next section provides some important new information on 'The market in metal-detecting finds' (pp 92-4) that was of particular interest to me as it overlaps with something I have just written and this is supplemented in Brodie's article by 'Internet sales of Western (Dobunni) Iron Age coins' (pp 94-5). The discussion (95-6) draws all this together and addresses the question of why there is so much defensiveness surrounding the PAS and very little 'critical self-consciousness'. 

Brodie suggests that this is due to the conditions under which the PAS operates that have led to "professional entrapments [with] an impact on scholarly debate". He suggests that "understanding this entanglement might be the first step towqards transcending it" and the defensive attidues of the entrapped professionals is "unhelpful in this regard", characteristic of a primitive stage of the discussion of a particular disciplinary environment, before it "loses its innocence". That's hardly news to the author of this blog, but it's heartening to see the point being made by others. The paper ends with discussing the attempts by the Helsinki Gang to advocate for the setting up of PAS clones in other countries. Brodie is, rightly, sceptical of the realism of such ideas.

The text is rather curious in that it is very "Cambridge/Stanford", noticeably citing scholars and concepts emanating from those academic centres to make many of the main points. I am not convinced that Brodie has defined that "entrapment" in the most aposite manner, and this then leads him to see the future development of the PAS (or whatever it transforms into) as related to technology, though at the end, he does refer to the issue of public opinion and morals (though only in connection with the market in antiquities rather than the trashing of sites to get them).     


thomas hall said...

Oh dear, where has Tommy Hall gone?

Paul Barford said...


Hougenai said...

Tommy hall the 'Electric jug' player and '13th Floor Elevator' fame, or Tommy Hall of 'I know an arkie with a fireplace made of Cirencester' notoriety?

Paul Barford said...

and what has any of that got to do, one wonders, with attempts to apply Hodder's "entanglement theory" to the PAS? I don't follow his line of question. Is it because here we are not talking about him, and he thinks he should be the centre of attention? Weird.

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