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BRITARCH  July 2006

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Subject:

Re: PAS strays from its remit ( was Bill Wyman's light metal )

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 17 Jul 2006 15:12:45 +0200

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Andrew Richardson  writes:
> If you have issues with the PAS why not talk to some
> FLO's   ...<
well, one problem is that FLOs are not so keen to discuss these issues in a
purely archaeological context with all of their archaeological colleagues.
The FLOs very obviously kept out of general discussions on the PAS Forum,
they habitually avoid this one too. In my experience when I have addressed a
request for information or query to an FLO, in many cases the question is
referred to head office in London where the answer is agreed before I get
it. I've not worked out whether that is individual FLO paranoia, or
corporate paranoia, but it hardly suggests I'm getting the FLO's own
spontaneous take on things. One or two FLOs (no names) have given me the
impression that they'd really rather not talk about some of the issues I
raise with them, which rather hinders gathering information....

So its nice that you are game to talk to us. Thanks.

> it will help you get a clearer picture of what is
> actaully happening than any amount of official statistics
> ever will.   <
Ahem, well that's my "song", that the PAS statistics are fluff. I dont
expect you meant to say that  !!

The "PAStexplorers" website which we were discussing is an important enough
component of PAS outreach in one of its key areas ("education") to get
launched personally by Estelle Morris. It has potential wide impact. So I
dont see why you are uncomfortable that we comment on it. Is there ANY
reason why it should not be better as archaeological outreach than it is? Is
there ANY real reason why this was not brainstormed a bit more to bring out
these problems before it was launched? Is there any REAL reason why all the
time we are asked to be satisfied with "better than nothing" from
archaeology's "biggest outreach"?

But the problem that has been highlighted is not just a feature of this
website, what we see on the "PAStexplorers" webpage is just a symptom of the
wider problem of the PAS' attitudes to artefact hunting, or rather to be
more accurate the attitude it projects.

And what is so wrong with us as archaeologists discussing that or even
questioning that?

Nobody whatsoever of course is questioning whether metal detectors are
useful tools, or whether responsible detecting incorporated in a wider
structured approach as "Our Portable Past" lays down, can be useful. The
problem is that the majority of people using this tool have no intention of
doing it by the book, but "self-determining" the way they are going to
exploit the common heritage for their own personal use.

> Should we promote metal detecting? <
well, I too would welcome a PAS answer, your own or consulted with head
office, on that one !! But the point being made was that to all intents and
purposes (and on our behalf) you already do. Where in the whole of the
material produced by the PAS is the other side of the argument presented?
Have a good look and tell us where on the PAS website or literature the
confused member of public (the man in the street) having heard that some of
those nasty archies dont like "metal detecting" and have problems with the
antiquities market, might find out why. Because without that, it seems to me
that there are indeed grounds for saying that the general tenor of the PAS
website is that it promotes artefact hunting and personal collection in
general.

> In this instance, metal detected finds are opening a
> new window on early Anglo-Saxon material culture,
> one which traditional archaeological methods had
> failed to open.
I really dont see what PAS brooches have to offer that ploughman's finds of
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries dont - except there are now
more of them perhaps?  I note the two main PAS flagship projects, your
Kentish brooches and VASLE are geared towards showy ethnically-labelable
small find type artefacts. Why? Forgive me but until you publish the results
for us to assess, it seems to me that this type of fibulology is precisely
the "traditional" artefactological archaeology which most of us moved on
from decades ago, and its difficult for me to get awfully excited about
"more" cruciform brooches.....

Numismatists can rewrite history using coins bought on e-bay, they dont even
need a context of finding, but that is no argument that eBay is a good thing
for archaeology. Its good for collectors, but digging all this stuff out of
sites does not do them too much good... talk to your colleagues in Bulgaria
and the Balkans about that.

>  As I said, in Kent I have yet to encounter a detectorist
> (and I visit all the clubs in Kent, combined membership
> 400+) who opposes the CoP.  A completely different
> picture to the one you paint Nigel.
well, that's funny, the last PAS Annual Report tells us there are only 385
metal detecting club members in Kent (page 100, table 7b) but in the same
period only 102 of them were reporting finds to the PAS (page 100 table 7a).
So three quarters of the metal detector users in this alleged
archaeo-detecting Nirvanaland were in fact not coming forward with finds as
the CoP presupposes. Or is this another of those "official statistics" which
we will now be told mean nothing?

> But I would question why metal detecting, alone
> amongst the various sub-disciplines of archaeology,
> should be singled out for not being promoted, even
> when responsibly done?
Pardon? Artefact hunting with metal detectors is a "sub-discipline of
archaeology"? No, I dont think it is, its something quite different. It
feeds on archaeology, the finds it throws up can be used by archaeology, but
personal artefact collecting is not in itself archaeology. Surely no more
than stamp collecting is social anthropology. What you call "metal
detecting" (why?) is just the first stage of the whole activity. The point
of it is not merely the "detecting" of the artefact, but what the
"detecting" is for and that is to supply collectables for personal
collection and sale. So could I rephrase that question Andrew, do you
promote responsible collecting of and dealing in of archaeological
artefacts? And do you extend that to all artefacts, whether from the UK or
Iraq, the Balkans, Italy, Egypt, Greece or totally unprovenanced? Where and
how would you have us draw the line?

> So as long as it is promoted within a wider context of
> appropriate methodologies for understanding past
> landscapes and societies, what is the problem?
But it (artefact hunting/metal detecting) is not, not by the PAS anyway.
Your boss two weeks ago wrote in Rescue News that he's happy that 40% of
metal detecting artefact hunters are showing the PAS their finds. The PAS
does _nothing_  beyond making a record of lots and lots of detector-made
finds to promote metal detector use "within a wider context of appropriate
methodologies for understanding past landscapes and societies" (OK, show us
what it does). I agree with you that as archaeological outreach, that is
what it SHOULD have been doing for the past eight years.... but instead we
get the naked artefactology of the database. On the website are guides on
Roman coins (typological series based on emperors) and medieval coins (ditto
only kings) and little else. As for how to structure metal detector use to
study landscapes... well, you'd have to go to Corinne Mills' website for
that, not the PAS one. Where is there the hint of the merest mention on the
PAS website that finds are used to understand societies - or more to the
point how? That was precisely the point I made about the "PAStexplorers"
stuff, it shows the finds you can find, says what they are, but does not
explain how you go from that to the community which produced, used and
discarded them - in other words how to use the "detectorists" collectables
as archaeological evidence. And surely that is what it should all be about.
Its part of PAS aim number two.

Paul Barford

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