Monday 24 May 2021

New FLO Responds Honestly to Detectorists

Unrolled Twitter thread from the New Berkshire FLO. A rather refreshingly honest take by an FLO that goes beyond what the vast majority of the other 40 largely jobsworth Finds Liaison Officers would actually write out publicly:

"I had a few points in response to my Insta post about the Ryedale Hoard which are worth discussing again.  
"Do you think more people might donate to museums if, as a matter of course sometimes, our" treasure finds" which sometimes take years to go through the process, to them be bought for a paltry sum by a local museum to end up in a drawer somewhere and never be seen again?... ...

I for one am very reluctant... many more people would see my finds displayed in my home than they would hidden in a drawer as something not good enough to make the main collection... just saying"

A lot to unpack here.
1) So if finds went on display more would people donate? Maybe. But that is if money wasn't a driving factor as well. As much as people like to say it is about the history, if that were the case these objects wouldn't end up at auction at all.
2) Is the time it takes a factor? Again maybe. However, the treasure process is misunderstood. It also suffers from in the same way as other businesses where someone dissatisfied will tell 10-20 times more people than if they had a good experience. So there are far more complaints about a huge coin hoard that takes over a year than the posy rings processed in 4 months (most of that time is waiting the alloted time to hear back from the landowner and local museums). The process takes a long time because 1) there are multiple people involved who have other parts to their day job, 2) acquisition committees, treasure committees and inquests can only meet so often, 3) In 2019 alone there were over 1300 treasure cases. So a single FLO might get an average of around 33 in a year, so nearly 3 per month (some areas are busier than others) there is a limited number of curators for each period to check, add to and approve reports. Some objects are also complex and take time to research. As FLOs we can receive the equivalent of multiple small site assemblages per month. So one person might bring a couple of finds and wonder why they take so long, but they might forget about the person who was in before who deposited 50 objects.
3) A paltry sum? Again I thought it was about the history? The sum offered is based on market value, which like, anything fluctuates, over time. In the vast majority of cases the TVC agree with the valuation and in some cases it has been increased.
The minutes of the TVC meetings are freely available on the PAS website… The significant problem here is the perception of the archaeological record as a place for financial gain than historical enquiry and something to be privately possessed. The minutes of the Treasure valuation committee are published retrospectively here
4) Objects are just hidden away in drawers. This is a huge misconception about museums as they are often changing displays and use objects kept in the archive. Most museums have a permanent display, usually based on local history, to represent the local area which takes up space. Having finds in a museum also means they can be researched. Being in a private collection limits this and the number of people who can see them. No one is able to show finds to more people in a home than in a museum.
Even if it were the case for one home, imagine how many private residences you would have to visit to see multiple objects. This is especially true for objects from rallies that disappear in different directions and lose the context of being together in the same display.
If people collect more and more then at some point there will need to be, like museums, a rationalisation of a collection of what can and can't be displayed. The difference is that a museum space is given over to displays.
A home has a living room, a kitchen, bedrooms, a bathroom or two (I really hope people don't keep finds in their bathroom). There is only so much space in a home which is a space inhabited by multiple people with different wants and needs for that space.
Also, in a private collection they are not available for XRF, residue analysis, X-ray, conservation, etc. These take people with training and the right materials to perform. In a musrum we can know more about them for when they do go on display.
It feels like much of this should go without saying. I had a detectorist last week say that since he was a kid he imagined having a find on display in the British Museum. To me that is a good attitude to have, but objects are more than something to put in a case to show off.
They are history, they are people, they are stories. The Indiana Jones line "It belongs in a museum" is often used about these significant finds, but it needs to be understood that being in a museum is more than display.
It is being able to research and understand objects in context. This is not about elitism or an us vs. them attitude. It is about working together with specialists to get the most out of an objects history for all to enjoy.
It is often said that detectorists save objects which could be damaged by ploughing. However, what is the point of "saving" an object if it just gets shut in a cabinet in someone's living room? What happens when someone becomes disinterested with a collection?
If metal detecting becomes more and more about collecting and selling stuff and less about the history it is no different than grand tourists of the 17th-18th century visiting distant counties, plundering ancient sites and putting it in their own homes.
This is not to say metal detecting does not have its place, but it goes beyond the saving of finds from the plough. "
Here's a novel idea, why don't the FLOs all engage in actual discussion with artefact collectors?


Brian Mattick said...

Gosh, that's remarkable. I hope the FLO doesn't get told off by the management for speaking out. It would be most unjust if it happened since I'm sure nothing was said that every FLO including the boss doesn't agree with.

But the questions intrigued me as much as the answers. The use of the phrase "my treasure find" is telling and lies at the heart of both the detectorists' complaints and the fact that, to non-detectorists, the complaints are invalid (and oikish!):

They're not HIS finds. He has found something that belongs to everyone so complaining about delay or that the ex gratia reward is too small are rendered ridiculous - and deeply annoying to people lacking a detectorist's misplaced sense of entitlement. If they're in it for the history they can't be in it for the money. Fact. Let PAS and the Treasure Registrar and the DCMS put that in red on their websites (and promote the Berkshire FLO without delay!)

Paul Barford said...

"They're not HIS finds. He has found something that belongs to everyone " and of course the complaint about any "delay" is almost never a complaint that the wider public does not have access to information about the new find quickly enough - but about how they (the finder) can't get the resolution they are after..

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