Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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?

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1 comment:

heritageaction 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?

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