Skip to main content

Is PAS transforming our knowledge of the past in England and Wales?

There is a new online book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, edited by Gabriel Moshenska (UCL Press, 2017) [Introduction]. Among the essays (and not all have been published on the site: I am told that there will be second batch) is one by Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley on "The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales". It includes a section on the Staffordshire Hoard (though the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard do not feature). The authors note that the hoard "appeals to a wide and diverse audience".

There is a discussion of the recording of finds, though no indication of the percentage of finds that are left unrecorded. The report touches on heritage crime:
It has sometimes been said as a criticism of PAS that it has not stopped illegal metal detecting in England and Wales, but this is for the simple fact that it was not intended to. This is an enduring problem and PAS staff are working closely with English Heritage’s Heritage Crime Initiative, which is run by a police inspector on secondment.
This is presumably an unsourced reference to the Forum piece for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology entitled: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?" (available online). (I am informed that senior members of PAS were invited to respond but declined.) Or the allusion could be to other discussions and debates. Who knows? It is telling that the authors continue:
This has had considerable success in targeting illegal detector users, known as ‘nighthawks’. However, it is important to put nighthawking in perspective: a survey commissioned by English Heritage in 2008 found that on two measures (the numbers of scheduled sites attacked by illegal detector users and the number of archaeological units that reported nighthawking incidences on their excavations), the number of cases has declined since 1995, when a previous survey was carried out (Dobinson and Denison 1995; Oxford Archaeology 2009).
Note that the most recent reference is for 2009 to the "Nighthawking" report (and see comments here). A review article I prepared for Antiquity (2015) raised this very issue and highlighted contemporary examples of unauthorised digging on scheduled sites (online). Are the authors of the article unwilling to draw attention to such activities?

The ineffectiveness of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act is noted.

The article makes mention of the 8,000-10,000 metal-detectorists who contribute to the reporting of finds ("contributor base"). This figures relates to a number Roger Bland produced in 2010. Does it need to be updated?

The article ends with a plea: "the PAS could benefit from more funding". But there needs to be a desire for the PAS to be seen to be protecting and preserving the rich archaeological heritage of England and Wales. And is this a realistic plea in an age of austerity?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Anonymous said…
I believe Roger Bland's 8-10,000 figure related to the number of detectorists not the number of reporting detectorists. The phrase "detectorists who contribute to the reporting of finds ("contributor base")" obscures that fact in a most unfortunate way.

In any case the estimated figures have just been increased bigly (to coin a phrase) by Sam Hardy.
https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311886.2017.1298397
Will there be an official response?

Popular posts from this blog

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.



"Beating sites to death"

Policy decisions for protecting archaeological sites need to be informed by carefully argued positions based on data. Dr Sam Hardy has produced an important study, “Metal detecting for cultural objects until ‘there is nothing left’: The potential and limits of digital data, netnographic data and market data for analysis”. Arts 7, 3 (2018) [online]. This builds on Hardy's earlier research.

Readers should note Hardy's conclusion about his findings: "they corroborate the detecting community’s own perception that they are ‘beat[ing these sites] to death’".

Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson, Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, and Suzie Thomas may wish to reflect on whether or not their own position is endangering the finite archaeological record. 

Abstract
This methodological study assesses the potential for automatically generated data, netnographic data and market data on metal-detecting to advance cultural property criminology. The method comprises the analysi…