Sunday, 1 March 2015

Mission Accomplished?

Andrew: Roger Bland's talk on made me think, isn't the PAS doing well?
I rather think that was probably what the aim of the talk was. But is it? In terms of what the PAS was originally set up to do, did Dr Bland highlight or play down the shortfall in finds made by metal detectorists annually and the number they actually record?  Is "one in four" actually "doing well"? (one hospital bed within a year for every four people that need one, the rest dying untreated outside the system because there are no beds?). I think supporters of the PAS have a warped idea of what doing well should mean when it relates to the mindless erosion of a huge area of the archaeological heritage and what we do about it. Since the PAS was set up and started calling itself a "success" and all artefact hunters "responsible", its own figures reveal that less than one in four hoiked finds are being recorded, and an estimated total of 3 611 880 recordable finds have vanished into artefact hunters pockets and some ended up by now in skips without any kind of proper record. When such information is irreplaceable, can that be seen as a "success" anywhere else than Bonkers Britain?

Can we really not aspire to doing a little bit better than this? Can we not at least discuss it? Can PAS imagine how much damage uncritical acceptance of their spin  is doing outside Britain to the efforts of others to protect the remains of the past from Collection-Driven exploitation?

Saxon Gold Find by Student

A first year student Tom Lucking, 23, who has been an artefact hunter since he was 11 has found  seventh century coins and jewellery next to a female skeleton in a field near Diss, Norfolk . He is referred to in the media coverage as an "archaeology student' (Kate Pickles, 'Archaeology student discovers 'outstanding' Anglo-Saxon pendant worth £50,000 in first-year dig - and he gets to keep the profits'' Daily Mail, 28 February 2015), which might raise some eyebrows. This seems to be based on the fact that "he enrolled on a landscape history course at the University of East Anglia in September, making the incredible discovery just months later". This seems to be it, course teacher Dr. Sarah Spooner  (the course outline does not appear to be very 'archaeological' at all). More worryingly, by what means was this site chosen?
'We knew there was something in that area of the grave, but no-one was expecting anything so significant,' said Tom, from Felixstowe, Suffolk. 
The area is well-known for its Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. Apparently now in Great Britain, archaeologists are called "Treasure experts" ("The three-inch jewel encrusted pendant is thought to be the most valuable of the lot with treasure experts describing it as an 'outstanding' piece") and an excavation of an Anglo-Saxon grave is now called "Treasure hunting: The team of archaeologists carefully sift through the soil after finding the Anglo-Sacon [sic] grave in a field". Anyway, Mr Lucking will be selling the find to the museum: "the pendant will be subject to a treasure inquest before proceeds of any sale can be split between Tom, the landowner and others on the above dig". Then, perhaps they will use that to finance the analysis of the field documentation and recovered artefacts, placing the grave in context and then publication of their report.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

PAS and External Social Media

Heritage Action start today's post on nighthawking:
We recently managed to shame the country's largest metal detecting shop, Regtons, into stopping selling night vision gear. It was a victory for conservation (which PAS and The Archaeological Establishment should have secured, not us)
but then if the ivory tower gods of Portable Antiquities Scheme hold themselves aloof from what heritage bloggers are blogging, then they have no idea about what is being discussed and have no chance to engage with any of it.  So it is not surprising that they are failing to deal with such issues.

Light a virtual candle

Please, readers, artefact hunters, collectors, dealers, archaeologists, museum and heritage professionals, join in support of the the initiative by the US based heritage organization SAFE. Stand in solidarity with us all, who lost a piece of our own legacy with the destruction at the Mosul Museum. Light a candle for Iraq’s heritage, our heritage.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Friday Retrospect: The Cold Brayfield Affair

A few weeks ago, the Buckinghamshire FLO was moaning to her colleagues "[I] prefer not to have any dealings with PB. I wasted ages explaining myself over the Cold Brayfield Hoard and was ignored and misunderstood!". I am at a loss to know to what she is referring and, quite frankly resent that - if she cannot explain a hole in the ground to a fellow archaeologist, what hope is there that she can explain best practice to artefact hoikers? There was some coverage of this rather disturbing incident on my blog, and just to put Ms Tyrrell's allegations in some sort of context I give here the links to all the posts I made so readers can see just how much time Ros Tyrrell devoted on this blog to "explaining"  this situation to my readers. If you look through the posts, you will find the comment (Cold Brayfield Questions that will not go away, 6 November 2008):
I recently addressed these questions to the two FLOs involved (twice). All I received in reply was some generally dismissive statement of "the sort of whispers that accompanies this sort of find".
Now, I do not have anywhere to hand those emails any more (maybe we should do an FOI request for them too to get at what Ms Tyrrell really said to me?) but it does not look to me that even offline she made much of an effort to "explain" anything to me  [She may resend them as a comment here if she contests that].

It is also worth returning to Cold Brayfield as it is quite a symptomatic case, raising a number of issues which are still unresolved today, seven years later. One of the reasons for that is the failure - indeed refusal - of the PAS to discuss these issues openly, as we have seen in the case of Lenborough.I think many of the things I said there six and seven years ago can be said today. So what change has the Portable Antiquities Scheme actually achieved on the ground for all those millions of quid of public outreach? Is this why they do not want to engage with them?
'English Detectorists Say They Dug a Metre into Roman Site in the Dark'
Wednesday, 29 October 2008

'The Washington Lawyer and the Metal Detectorists' Thursday, 30 October 2008

'What would the PAS say?' Thursday, 30 October 2008

'Treasure Annual Reports: just "inconvenient"?', Sunday, 2 November 2008 (note comments about sa separate Treasure archive - later abandoned, they were added to the PAS database alongside a totally different category of material)

'Cold Brayfield Questions that will not go away', Thursday, 6 November 2008

'Having a Chat with Central Searchers?' Thursday, 6 November 2008 (Secretive metal detectorists - instant ban for Marcus)

Incidental mention here: 'Some Thoughts on Illegal Artefact Hunting in England', Saturday, 8 November 2008

This Coroner is helpful: 'Cold Brayfield Inquest' Wednesday, 12 November 2008

More questions raised, 'The New Treasure Report' Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Incidental mention, 'Welsh Treasure System Failure' Thursday, 8 January 2009

Incidental mention, 'Central Searchers Dislikes Breeches and Will Avoid Them in Future', Wednesday, 9 June 2010.

What is it that Ros Tyrrell, the PAS FLO for the county concerned, wanted to 'explain'? Explain, or explain away on behalf of the BM's metal-detecting "partners"? 

Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 1: The Assyrian Artifacts

Chris Jones has a depressing text on his Gates of Nineveh blog: 'Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 1: The Assyrian Artifacts' (Feb 27, 2015). The text clearly explains what was damaged where.
Most of the destroyed artifacts fall into two categories: Sculptures from the Roman period city of Hatra, situated in the desert to the south of Mosul, and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh and surrounding sites such as Khorsabad and Balawat.
Jones notes that many of the smaller objects in the museum had been moved at the time of the US-led invasion and were still (?) in Baghdad, ISIL were destroying the larger pieces which could not be moved so easily during that evacuation, and cannot easily be smuggled and sold now, and were ideal for propaganda purposes. The objects we see in the video being  destroyed in the museum included a number of replicas of Assyrian objects held elsewhere, while others are likely genuine. Sadly, the second part of his text will concern the destruction of sculptures from Hatra in the Museum, which he says appears to be even more devastating.

Roger Bland Talks @CurrentArchaeo Live

The last talk of the Current Archaeology Live session was by Roger Bland:  'Recent finds and research from the Portable Antiquities Scheme'. So nothing new then. Heritage Action was there to listen. Dr Bland started off with the shiny Staffordshire Hoard (no mention of later nighthawking in field after excavators went). He pointed out that although archaeologists wince at 'bling' publicity, there is a vast public interest in the shinier finds. He seemingly forgets that the original aim of the PAS was to show the public what archaeology is really about - instead it has let the side down and largely gone for the easier task of presenting the "Britain's Secret Treasures" bling, trite narrativisations and self-gratulatory spin. Then he does an overview of the main points of Treasure Act 1997 (it strikes me that if there is anything new to the audience in that, the PAS has not been doing its job very well). Then passed on to the MicroPasts crowd sourced project and mentioned a list of 416 research projects using the PAS data available. 
Heritage Action's correspondent noted that it was an 'upbeat' presentation without any mention of any problem areas such as the issue of artefact hunting and artefact collecting, transfer of title documentation, verification of findspots etc. On a personal note, it was reported that he was not a very, um... 'dynamic' speaker, "very sleep-inducing, reading everything from a script. I'd expected something a bit more dynamic, to be honest". There were no public questions allowed, but a member of the audience apparently cornered him afterwards and our correspondent overheard the conversation. Asked if he thought it was right that individuals should get such large rewards, reportedly "his only answer was that it encourages reporting, and that rewards have been enshrined in law for over 100 years, andwould be difficult to rescind". Dr Bland was busily "defending his position about how wonderful the PAS is, and what would we do if we didn't have it. He insists that other countries without a scheme are suffering greater loss, that FLO's are doing a good job of outreach etc..." On the other hand he then started saying how the "new volunteer scheme will help reduce the effect of anticipated funding cuts etc." I really do not see this if the volunteers are metal detectorists, how are metal detectorists going to do archaeological outreach to finders? Unfortunately Dr Bland avoided this question and at this point turned away from the questioner and "turned to others who wanted to praise him. I really wanted to ask if he personally visited any of the Detectorists forums, but didn't get the chance". 

It is a shame that instead of all the usual "wottalotta-good-stuff-we-got" that the PAS churns out every time, Dr Bland did not present a talk on the future directions of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and heritage policy in England and (for the moment) Wales.

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