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


The winding road to the debate on
UK policy on artefact hunting
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 (in the post '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".
The inability of the PAS to interact properly with criticism of what is going on in the interstices between policy and practice, hope and reality, has a long history. 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]. I think her evoking Cold Brayfield as an excuse not to address the very real issues raised about the Lenborought affair, is just that - an excuse.

It is therefore 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 with regard to Cold Brayfield 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 the issues that are raised?
'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 a 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' to me back in 2008? Did she want to explain something, or explain away something on behalf of the BM's metal-detecting "partners"? Because that, I admit, I would be incapable of "understanding", coming as it would be, from a publicly funded archaeological outreach scheme.

Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum


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.

Vignette: ISIL visits a museum 

UPDATE 1st March 2015

Lamia Al Gailani Werr supplied a list of the contents of the Mosul Museum at the time ISIS invaded Mosul but notes that Museum staff have not been allowed in the Museum since that time, so it is unknown if anything was stolen before the men with sledgehammers got to work.
Assyrian Gallery
There are 24 Assyrian reliefs and statues from Nimrud and Nineveh, all of them are genuine with the exception of three reliefs of battle and hinting scenes.
Hatra Gallery
There are 30 statues and reliefs only four are casts, they are:
1- Statue of Hercules
2- Seated female holding a sphere in one hand.
3- Relief of of the horoscope.
4- a restored spread-winged eagle, part original stone, repaired with gypsum.
Islamic Gallery
30 objects, all originals. They were not shown in the video.
A few objects in the store rooms, one fragmentary statue of Ashurbanipal II and pottery mostly broken objects.

It is noted that the date of the rampage in the museum is unknown, but she ascertained that "the damage at the Nergal gate happened a few days ago".

It occurs to me that ISIL may have recognised that despite their size there is a market for these sculptures and it is one possibility that the Islamic items are not shown in this video being smashed because they have been reserved for sale in neighbouring Moslem countries (the Gulf states?) which are suspected as being a source for some of ISIL funding and on whom they may be increasingly forced to rely should the oil money falter and the payment of ransoms is stopped. Videos like this mean that the buyers can pretend to themselves that they are 'saving the art'.  On the other hand, it may well be that their propagandists are planning a second video from Mosul Museum with even more atrocities intended to shock.While tragic, we must remember these are just stones, and the real tragedy is the human cost of the circumstances leading up to and involved in the attempted establishment of this new state.

Meanwhile, disgustingly, the IAPN and PNG's paid lobbyist has a post on his nasty hate-blog "Destruction at the Mosul Museum: Who Cares?" suggesting that the locals don't care about the heritage. Nasty Amerocentric, xenophobic point-scoring sniping as usual from the US antiquities dealers lobby. Perhaps the more observant among us might recall the case of Samira Saleh al-Naimi reported  in September 2014 ('Execution of Human Rights Activist in Mosul, she Criticised Destruction of Historical Monuments').

UPDATE 4.3.15

In a striking illustration of the power of the archaeoblog to get information out in the public forum quickly and efficiently (where is UNESCO?), Christopher Jones ‏has now added a second part to his blog 'Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 2: The Sculptures from Hatra'. He has obviously done this with great care and devoted a lot of time to this in order to get the information out as soon as possible.
The damage by ISIS to the artistic legacy of Hatra has been catastrophic.This tragedy is compounded by the fact that Hatrene sculpture has been chronically understudied.[...] Regardless, from what we can see in this video the loss for the study the Roman and Parthian Near East is absolutely 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.

Antiquities and Weapons Smuggling on the Syria-Turkey Border


Sam Hardy reports on new evidence that a Turkish intelligence agent not only smuggled weapons from Turkey into Syria, but also smuggled antiquities from Syria into Turkey ('State arms-for-antiquities trafficking between Turkey and Syria?' Conflict Antiquities 27th Feb 2015). He also questions a number of reports which serves as a caution and a demonstration of how incorrect information becomes a part of public understanding.

Preservation-Biased Blogging


Heritage Action spotted this one, but I thought I'd repost it as it goes well with what the BM "partners" train-wreck of a response to my FOI reveals about them and the attitudes of fifty professionals towards issues raised here. HA comment that the "massive irony completely escapes artefact hunters!":

Re: History Destroyed.

Postby Nailman » Fri Feb 27, 2015 1:17 pm
Mod Edit:
Links to that persons biased blog are not permitted on this forum
Of course metal detecting forums which ban even mentioning certain points of view are not in any way "biased" are they? I think it is a fair bet whose blog they do not want fellow "passionately interested in the history and only want to preserve it" artefact collectors linking to. To what extent is all the talk on these forums about being keen on preservation just talk, for show -0 because its what makes detectorists look good? It is all a facade, isn't it.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  


Statement by British Museum on the Destruction of Objects in Mosul Museum


What goes on behind closed doors here, few
know, but when the time comes to speak out for the
portable heritage, the doors should not remain closed.
The 'encyclpaedic' British Museum apparently failed yesterday to deliver a statement about the portable antiquities destroyed in Mosul Museum and deliberate destruction of archaeological monuments of Northern Iraq to match the elegance of this one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Speaking with great sadness on behalf of the Metropolitan, a museum whose collection proudly protects and displays the arts of ancient and Islamic Mesopotamia, we strongly condemn this act of catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East. The Mosul Museum’s collection covers the entire range of civilization in the region, with outstanding sculptures from royal cities such as Nimrud, Nineveh, and Hatra in northern Iraq. This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding. Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated.
Even the Association of Art Museum Directors in America (jointly with the Archaeological Institute of America, Society for American Archaeology, and the American Schools of Oriental Research) managed to issue a similar statement - which sits very uneasily with their recent opposition to CCPIA MOUs attempting to deal with the problem of US dealers importing objects from places affected by 'pillage'. They, like the BM, need to get their act together.

UPDATE 27.02.15
Several hours later the BM press department stirred into action and issued a brief statement for the edification of the masses, just above the bit about them lending Greece's Parthenon marble bit to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin:
The British Museum is very concerned to see the reports that militants have destroyed items in the Mosul Museum and sculptures in the Nergal Gate Museum on the edge of Nineveh. We naturally deplore all such acts of vandalism and destruction of cultural heritage, and continue to monitor the situation to the best of our ability. In the absence of further information it is difficult to verify the details of those objects featured in the footage. We can confirm that none of the objects featured in this video are copies of originals at the British Museum.
Well, of course they did not deign to look that closely, that would entail engaging with the heritage debate, blogger Chris Jones showed that among the objects destroyed in Mosul were casts of items in the BM. How "mischievous".
 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Glasgow Scholar Challenged



"Islamic glass available now"
Donna Yates has several times expressed her belief that a lot of the reporting on Syrian antiquities is wrong. Recently she has said several times (most recently here) that she doubts that "Syrian antiquities are coming to UK" adding "the bigger picture is I am getting media calls about this today". Professor Gill, fresh from a further visit to London dealers with a BBC reporter responds succinctly ('Hypothetical commentary on Syrian antiquities?' Looting matters,Thursday, February 26, 2015) 
Can we ask if this is a 'hunch' from Clydeside? Or has Dr Yates been round various London galleries to look? What is the basis of her 'authoritative' claim?
What do the folk who work in the BM's PAS think about any of this? Are they following this debate?

IAPN and PNG's "Cultural Property Observer" Again Attacks Professor Gill


According to a comment published on the blog of the paid lobbyist representing the IAPN and PNG,  lobbyist:
neither should we get too het-up by Gill... who in this debate at least, is for my money, simply a Barford clone on steroids. Having read Gill's critique of Maupin, I'm quite sure Maupin's stinging rebuke has seriously undermined Gill's position; doubtless Gill realizes his campaign is founded on sand and is desperate for a face-saver. Gill, Barford, et al, ad nauseum, eagerly climbed aboard the wrong bandwagon and are deservedly, looking increasingly stupid and marginalized.
I really do wonder at the IAPN and PNG financing a lobbyist whose main visible activity is publishing such texts full of ad hominem attacks on archaeologists and conservationists. Mind you, if we have the pro-collecting PAS engaged in such name-calling too, one wonders just where the heritage debate is going. I have looked in vain for this reported rebuke of Gill by "knowledgable antiquities dealer" Chris Maupin. No link was provided. Also I wonder just what "campaign" of Professor Gill is being referred to here by this "Cultural Property Observer". Here though is Gill's succinct reply to paid lobbyist Tompa (Washington lobbyist with axe to grind).

Apparently this is what the International Association of Professional Numismatists and Professional Numismatists Guilt think the most effective lobbying looks like. It is so much right up their street that they continue to support Peter Tompa year after year of this sort of thing. What does that tell you about coin collectors and dealers?

Rick Witschonke RIP


Peter Tompa's blog carries the news, Thursday, February 26, 2015 that 'Richard B. Witschonke Passes Away'. He figured on this blog a number of times as a great supporter of the UK's PAS and advocate of a certain US approach to source countries of collectables and we corresponded a number of times on and offline. According to Tompa:
Rick also tirelessly tried to bridge the widening gap between collectors and academic archaeologists, a sincere effort that should endear his memory to both camps.
Ursula Kampmann has a brief note in Coins Weekly.

Creslow Burial and Helen Geake in "The Searcher"


Someone objected to me showing
a smiling metal detectorist here,
so here instead is a picture of the
USAF doing Washington's bidding
and attacking someone
In the photo accompanying the "Searcher" feature story in the April 2015 number, American detectorist John Steele proudly shows his English metal detecting mates that he has all his own teeth.
Last year, on his first visit it the UK on a detecting tour organised by Weekend Wanderers, John Steele found a Roman burial in Buckinghamshire. He tells his own story of the discovery and I look in closer detail at the finds and their significance. John, a detectorist since 1969, lives in Colorado. He has been retired from the US Air Force for 13 years.
Does the Searcher metal detecting magazine (in which the British Museum's Helen Geake also has an article this month)  go through the problems caused to Buckinghamshire archaeologists by Col Steele's carefree foray in the British archaeological record? Does it tell readers that dealing with the find - on a known archaeological site being exploited for commercial purposes, the county's entire Emergency Fund was gobbled up and then there was nothing to allocate to Lenborough? Is this not an issue that should be of concern to responsible metal detectorists and written about and discussed in a magazine of this type? What is meant by responsible detecting anyway, just dig into something and let somebody else sort out the mess while the finder gets a pat on the back for shooting fish in a barrel? How much do commercial artefact hunting groups make from organizing events like metal detecting holidays for steely-jawed ex-US servicemen? How much of those profits do they pay into the emergency funds of counties where they operate to offset the substantial costs incurred in finishing the job properly? To what extent is Col Steele even aware of the extent of the problems his "dream find" caused for a lot of other people and organizations?

In any case, one of the justifications for metal detecting trotted out by the pro-collecting brigade is that these people are "learning about their past" through the activity of hoiking out archaeological evidence from sites and putting it in their pockets. Col Steele is not learning about any past at all pocketing British artefacts (note detectorist John Winter writes for the magazine describing the grave deposit itself) and Weekend Wanders is not facilitating anything much by taking money from people like him. Just what is going on here? How would you, how would the PAS, name this? How would you name this if it involved exploitive visits to other countries in other fields of human pleasure-seeking for money?

It is of course no use expecting the Portable Antiquities Scheme to be discussing this issue, but the rest of us can. Is this the way we should be treating Britain's fragile and finite archaeological heritage?

UPDATE 27th Feb 2015
Apparently in the "Searcher", Col Steele boasts "I’ve signed my interest over to the Bucks County Museum" I suppose that's a way to escape the full costs of excavation, conservation, analysis and publishing it. Now it's up to the Buckinghamshire Emergency Fund ('What the PAS Does Not Want You to Know About the Creslow Burial') and in true metal detecting fashion getting somebody else to pick up the bill - raising once again what we understand by "responsible detecting". Goodbye, good riddance and don't come back.


"Excavating casket" - another deep ragged hole
in Buckinghamshire's past (the History blog)


ISIL Destroys More Monuments in Iraq


 Last June, after Iraqi security forces melted away, Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the surrounding Nineveh province fell to Islamist militants who then declared a self-styled caliphate on territories that are under their control, killing members of religious minorities, driving others from their homes, enslaving women and destroying houses of worship. They are now removing from this territory all non-Islamic elements which has included library books, archaeological relics, and Islamic sites considered idolatrous. Until now, the antiquities in Mosul Museum were apparently left untouched, though some may have been removed for sale. Now the destruction of what was left has been ordered.
The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in Iraq's northern city of Mosul, describing them as idols that must be removed [...] The five-minute video shows a group of bearded men inside the Mosul Museum using hammers and drills to destroy several large statues, which are then shown in pieces and chipped. The video then shows a black-clad man at a nearby archaeological site inside Mosul drilling through and destroying a winged-bull Assyrian protective deity that dates back to the 7th century B.C. [...] "Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah," a bearded man tells the camera as he stands in front of the partially demolished winged-bull. "The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices," [...] "Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations," the man in the video adds.
The video is thought to be authentic. What is not entirely clear is when this happened. I am not going to repost these images here. I hope though that my readers will join me in the hope that they are used to bring culture criminals to justice when the time comes.You can however see some screen shots with a commentary produced with his usual thoroughness by the indefatigable Sam Hardy, 'Islamic State has toppled, sledgehammered and jackhammered (drilled out) artefacts in Mosul Museum and at Nineveh'.
 
Source:
'Islamic State video shows militants smashing ancient artifacts in Iraq'. Associated Press February 26, 2015

PACHI PAS FOI


This is a public institution, supposedly
represents British values (Wikipedia).
Let's take a look inside and see how well.
Today there will be a sequence of posts analysing a fragmentary series of documents wrested from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Unit at the British Museum by a request under the Freedom of Information Act. As one colleague who has already seen them said, "the PAS do get rather [...] personal don't they?" Another has commented on what they reveal: "the behaviour would be funny if it wasn't so poor". I am more interested in them though for a totally different reason. They allow us to infer a little about what goes on behind the scenes in the PAS - and it is not at all an edifying sight. Let me put on record at the outset that my impression is that the BM has not done this very carefully, at this stage there seem to be several pieces of material missing (omitted not redacted out).

 

2015 PACHI PAS FOI Request - Introduction


Several weeks ago because of something reported by a member of the public (a metal detectorist) that he had been told by his FLO, I placed an FOI request with the British Museum and received the results a few days ago, a day before the deadline. I was concerned about the type of 'Discussion of Portable Antiquities and Treasure Issues' that we were seeing from the PAS and its background, with particular reference to the way my own recent contributions were being represented by the PAS to their audience. Although no direct information on that was received, the response was revealing in more ways than one. It returned 23 pages of internal emails and fragments of just three threads in the PAS hidden forum, and one document of unidentified origin that had been included by accident. In a number of posts I want to discuss what I see as their implications, starting with the emails.

I am not at all convinced that what we received is in fact the full extent of the material that should be here.  The timespan I chose coincided with a number of cases where I approached the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme for clarification and information (to my recollection, at least eight not figuring in the BM response) which either suggests that any correspondence dealing with the matter was immediately binned, or the PAS are not in any way in contact with what their branch offices are up to. There is not a single case documented of an FLO informing head office that a particular communication was received and seeking guidance on policy points raised. This suggests a lesser degree of cohesion of the organization as a whole than I had assumed existed.

In particular there is missing any kind of confirmation of internal consultation over the matter of the Proculus coin, declared to be a fake by BM experts, a verdict I questioned and suspect was arrived at for extra-archaeological reasons, but repeated attempts to elicit further information were unsuccessful. Since there are other cases of my own letters to the Scheme included without reply (Sam Moorhead on the Isle of Wight coin group) this is at best an inconsistency. The matter came up again when the coin was sold and I pointed out that if they stood by their assertion that the coin was a forgery, the BM had the legal obligation to intervene to prevent a crime being committed. This too was apparently dismissed and there is no record of it even being discussed.

Another gap in the material is related to an event at a 21st May workshop on "Barriers to Participation in Archaeology Online". Here a BM employee had made a pretty astounding statement that the public forum of the state-funded archaeological outreach organization, the PAS had to be closed because of "trolls" who were making "aggressively archaeological" (sic) points. The film was immediately edited - not too expertly - to remove that phrase from the soundtrack, which indicates that I am not alone in thinking this is something that should not have been said in public by a British Museum professional. Indeed, metal detectorists have subsequently made frequent use of Mr Pett's outburst. But there was no apology. I was curious to see if there was any discussion of this incident in the PAS. No, not a trace. It further transpires that such pejorative language is used unchallenged as a matter-of-course within the organization to refer to critics (or perhaps just the one foreign-based one) and was being used there among museum professionals as recently as December last year. 

Although somebody was sent along to listen in on my April 2014 seminar piece in UEA, there was absolutely zero traces of any discussion of what emerged from that within the PAS. Perhaps they were less interested in what I had to say and the development of the discussion, than hoping they'd catch me out saying something on British soil they could sue me for? Who knows?

There is no trace of any reaction to the points that were being made on my blog in the period concerned about the PAS involvement in the two "Britain's Secret Treasures" series. While the discussion of their declaration "we binned the proposal" was earlier than my chosen 21st May 2012 cutoff date, it would seem that all the FLOs were totally happy to ignore the issues raised on this blog about their disgraceful pretend competition (more smoke and mirrors). There are many other places in which this blog poses questions so the public who pays for the PAS and archaeologists who until now have supported it can see whether they are in a state or mind to answer them. We find from this FOI request, not only are they of no mind to, but even pretend not to have heard any of the questions (except the FLOs that have, because they read the blog and then keep very, very quiet about it - I've seen you, but won't tell). 

The compilation of the pdf which was posted up in the public domain leaves a lot to be desired, the texts are pasted together rather randomly, there is a missing fragment of one of them (page 20 a post by David William, omitted rather than redacted) and one document which should not be there. Let's start there, which shows immediately the PAS attitude to public discussion of heritage policy.

PACHI PAS FOI Request: Internal Emails (1) - A FOI Threat?


Topic A: The Planted Coin;

This document falls well out of the range 21st May 2014 to January 2015 of my FOI request. Why is it included here? Is this due to extreme carelessness, or are the BM trying to signal something?  Readers may remember that my discussion of what I read in a newspaper article about heritage happenings in Surrey elicited a threat from Roger Bland that he was going to try to have the BM legal team on me for saying what issues I thought (and think) this raised. Needless to say, the legal team was not brought into play and I doubt anyone much remembers the case now.

But it turns up again in the form of an undated piece of text looking like an internal memorandum from Michael Lewis to Tony Doubleday (who is Head of Legal Services in the BM ) and says "find attached the blog-posting by Paul Barford in which he states PAS launders stolen coin (see also para 5) which is a serious allegation that deserves a public apology". Now, why is this here? Is including this document outside the chronological scope of my FOI request a thinly-veiled threat? It certainly looks like it and if so, that in itself deserves comment. Note it is the only document connected with this matter included.

Associated by juxtaposition in the pdf is a floating "Discourse" logo, it is unclear whether this belongs to the text as received. and its relationship to the adjacent text is unclear. In any case, this is pretty ironic because the text is witness to something far less than any kind of discourse from the PAS about heritage policy.

Just to remind readers what this is about, take a look at the newspaper article  to which my original text refers. It says that a coin was handed to the PAS for recording then - according to the text I was using - that coin was given back by the PAS to the finder and was only recovered when the police visited him at home. The anonymous tip-off was to the Museum bookshop, who then - the article says - contacted the PAS and found out what had happened to their coin. Dr Bland never explained how this is in any way a contradiction of what I wrote.

The point I was making was, and is, that PAS FLOs get objects handed to them and they do not require of the finder any kind of documentation that the finder has title to the individual objects. Before allowing such objects onto their premises, they do not routinely ask to see search and take permissions from the landowner of the reported findspot, they do not ask to see any kind of transfer-of-title documentation as many museums now routinely require from donors. Farmer Brown and I have been saying for a long while now that they should. The Nighthawking Report recommended such a course of action to clean up illicit sales. The PAS refused to discuss it in January 2009 and the "accidental" inclusion of this document in my FOI packet suggests they are not at all happy to discuss it even now.

I am certainly not going to "apologise" for having an opinion on how it should be ensured that a public body is collecting data only from verifiably licitly-obtained material. Such notions are fundamental in my mind to cleaning up the whole global illicit antiquities mess and I think the place to start it is the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I am prepared to discuss this. Who else is?

PACHI PAS FOI Request: The Internal emails (2) Coiney Stuff


Continuing the commentary on what the PAS shared with the BM information officer and us as a result of my FOI request:

Topic E: Isle of Wight coins
an email from me 18th December 2013 to Sam Moorhead... his reply however is for some reason not attached, which is rather sad as this was one of the few times in 2013 when I was actually sent any real information instead of evasions by the PAS. Perhaps the British Museum does not want to show that their employees sometimes are able to answer civilly a question posed by a member of the public. It rather shows up the numerous times they simply bin requests for information unanswered. Note that elsewhere in the same collection of documents SM declares he has a no-answer policy as far as I am concerned, perhaps he did not look too closely at who was asking the question and just treated me like he would any other interested member of the public.

On the archaeological side, there seem to me to be problems with this group of coins, and it is a shame that there is not more public discussion of what goes into the PAS 'database'.


PACHI PAS FOI: The Internal Emails: Muddle over a Site Name


Topic G Hollingbourne

Every nighthawk in Kent sat down earlier on this year with Google Earth and the video of the archaeological let down at a certain site in the Maidstone Area and they found the same characteristic clump of trees I spotted and found out that there was a known Anglo-Saxon burial suite there and worked out where a certain club dig had been held. A doddle really. But the PAS insist on playing a stupid Secret Squirrel secrecy game and hiding from the public the name of the place where another piece of their heritage had been trashed. That's under the premises that if they tell you where it is, the thieves will be in there right away. Well, I reckon with the mild winter and the long dark nights we've had they've been and gone already. So the FOI request revealed where it was. Hollingbourne. There it is. We learn from the subject line of this email that this is/will be Treasure case "2014 T90".

Now here's an interesting thing, the single email we have is sent by Ian Richardson (Treasure Registrar in the BM) 9th July 2014 to an unknown recipient [redacted] and copied to Helen Geake - reminding her to use the secret name in her report. To whom was this sent and why? Why does it mention me?

PAS PACHI FOI: The Internal Emails - Milliongate


Topic H, 'Milliongate': The bulk of the pdf we received as a result of my FOI request consists of a series of duplicated emails (somebody's not good at inbox-management) on the affair I dubbed 'milliongate' - the smoke and mirrors surrounding the "millionth find" in the PAS database (a 'Late Roman Bronze' coin from the Seaton Hoard). When sorted out there are 18 of these documents - and apparently nothing in the PAS forum. Taken together, they show above all the PAS attitude to information transparency and how a new member of staff is instructed to ignore requests from the Scheme's audience for information.

The sequence starts off with a brief email from me on 8th September 2014. I asked the PAS a question about the sudden jump in statistics on the database home page that day. The reply could have dealt painlessly with my five queries in two sentences giving all the information requested. This, we now know, is what Dr Drost could have written:
*Paul, This is a recently excavated hoard of Roman coins from Seaton, Devon, yes the number is an estimate, we are still in the process of recording and individually photographing these coins. Please do not discuss this find or use this information until after the press conference on 25 September, Best wishes Vincent Drost*
That is what he could have written, it would have taken him less than a minute. He did not though. What happened instead? Well, that was far more time-consuming and led to the generation of the wadge of documents we received. First, my query was ignored. I wrote again politely seven days later, pointing out additionally that there was a problem with the visibility of previously visible information in the database. [After I mentioned I'd spotted the jump in the database, the PAS for reasons best known to themselves attempted to hide the information].

The reply (Vincent Drost [VD] to PMB Sept 16th 5:21 PM), instead of just answering the queries I had, dismissively dodges them (and, despite it being consulted with two other BM employees, lacks one part of the second sentence). It  does not in any way answer the perfectly reasonable questions I had asked more than a week earlier about the sudden jump in publicly available recorded finds figures. VD was clearly being deliberately evasive. I asked again, about the nature of these 'data' recorded at public expense. VD's response to that third attempt to explain this anomaly was again to ignore the query totally.

In fact, I found out that his original fob-off reply of September 16th contained false information. He denied the data were in the database (when as my original request indicated, everybody could see from the overall total on the database home page that they still were!)  and he said they could not/would not be entered until after the inquest. But the inquest had actually taken place four days before his response. This is not the behaviour we should expect from publicly funded heritage professionals (in Poland for this under the Civil Code and Codex of Administration Procedure, such an employee could expect disciplinary measures). I gave up trying to get a straight answer from this guy, obviously a waste of time.

The PAS database is created with public money. Dr Drost works in the BM, publicly funded, the chair he sits on was paid for with public money, his computer and the programs in it too. The material he is employed to process as part of his work for the PAS are finds made by members of the public and made available so they can become part of public record. The public records of the PAS (I have no special access) showed a sudden and mysterious jump of 22000 objects and this was there assigned to something Vincent Drost had done. The total was brought up to over "a million" and this is used by metal detectorists and their apologists at home and abroad as an argument "how useful collection driven exploitation is" meaning we and the PAS have to be very clear what these figures actually represent. Dr Drosts's involvement in this is not as a private individual, so when somebody starts messing a blogger around when he asks a perfectly civil question, Dr Drost really should not be surprised that the blogger blogs about what has happened. That is not "getting personal" as he put it any more than his fobbing me off with weasel words was.

What happened next was simply weird. On 24th September at 9:44 in the morning after a break in the thread of more than a week, Dr Drost timidly writes to Michael Lewis. 
Dear Michael, sorry to bother you. I came across Paul Barford's blog. I know he's a trouble maker [...] Even if this is nonsense [...]
I think that says an awful lot about what the self-anointed demigods in the British Museum and its Portable Antiquities Scheme are probably saying about the Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues blog. Troublemaking nonsense- monger. Note the coy "I came across PMB's blog". Dr Drost does seem from this exchange to have a few problems actually admitting what the problem is... Dr Lewis sees through this fluff, barely 20 minutes later he is berating the new boy:
I saw Philippa [Walton] the other day and she said you had replied to him - is that so? Maybe she got that wrong 
Oh dear. Caught out by the office grapevine. Dr Drost contritely replies (Note that in fact before his reply, I had only written once and then sent a polite reminder a week later):
"As he kept asking, I've [sic] sent him a short reply in consultation with Sam and Ian, below is what I wrote [he quotes it in entirety ...] I probably shouldn't have but I don't think this changes anything. I understand now that I have to completely ignore him and his blog.
What an extraordinary and comic exchange!   Like a little boy to his school headmaster, "I know I shouldn't have done, but no harm was done, honest, but he made me do it!" Michael Lewis, as if to reinforce the impression we are dealing with a group of schoolkids, thinks up (24th September 10:50) a way to "irritate him [i.e. me] more". [tee hee]. Anyway, Dr Drost tries to be a good employee and assures Dr Lewis (24th Sept 2014, 10:56): "I am going to ignore him completely from now on. Sorry about that (sorry Sam and Ian to involve you in this)". Mike Lewis soothes him (perhaps in his best Stephen Fry voice):
"Its no ones fault. he is a tricky one to deal with, especially as we feel we ought to reply. But he is so mischievous I think it is fine to ignore him".
I've not been called "mischievous" since I was ten and certainly not by anyone who forgets to use apostrophes in official communications. It is "fine" in the British Museum, apparently, to ignore substantive public enquiries. What on earth is going on here? Involved in what, precisely? A member of the public asks PAS a question, and what exactly is Drost apologising for? The impression you get from some of these emails is that PAS head office is some kind of pretty distopic organization. I was not expecting that, I must admit.

Ian Richardson at first appears to attempt to insert some sanity into the communal self-flagellation and recriminations (24th September 11:21 to ML, VD, copied to SM). He actually sees where the issue arises: "I think what happened was that PB was keeping an eye on the overall counter as it ticked approached a million and when, all of a sudden it went over, he was able to query the database statistics" (bingo - got it in one, see it's not so difficult). Disappointingly he seems unable to go that one step further to thinking outside the institutional box: "it really is frustrating to have such a useful tool, which helps make our work more transparent, used in a mischievous way" . Eh? (See below). No fear, Michael Lewis (24th September 2014, 11:24) assures Ian Richardson, VD, Sam Moorhead, Dan Pett and a person whose name has been redacted out (and where did this person suddenly come into the thread?) that "Dan said that he and [redacted] were going to look at how the counter works". Gotta get that transparency issue sorted out, make sure that they prevent "mischievous people" seeing how many objects were recorded by whom in any particular time period.

[Note, not that he'll see it: I would not bother Dan, the totals are now so hopelessly muddled, the results so periodically inconsistent (and have been since we were discussing them on Britarch and on the PAS public forum which you closed), that nobody who has looked at them carefully really believes any of it any more.]

There is some more chat about not replying to queries from Barfords, more self-recriminations (VD, SM),  then flippancies. Pathetic.

But then, a further redacted person comes into the conversation (Sept 24th 12:08) answering a post in the 'capitalised RE' thread - despite not (?) having been copied in it earlier (suggesting that Christopher Denvir has not actually been able to gather all the relevant material). Actually, I think it is pretty clear from the style who this is and one might be forgiven for thinking that the only reason the name is redacted out is an attempt to hide that he was not copied in the previous correspondence. This person is gloating that since the PAS are keeping information from members of the public what I write is allegedly "ill-informed". Well, whose fault is that if true? In any case, is there only "one Truth" that of the PAS and Baz Thugwit? Is that what the PAS want us to believe? The demigods decide and it is for the rest of us to just accept the crumbs of wisdom that drop out of the clouds which veil the true face of "The Great Social Experiment Which is The Great and Glorious PAS". This Deus ex machina advises his readers to "avoid his blog posts as [...] this is all grist to his mill. Worse still is that regularly viewed blog posts will climb the ranks of Google and be more likely to turn up in search results for your name". Sounds like... the pompous alarmism of a well-known Washington allobbyist Tompa ! Then the sky will fall and the seas turn to blood, no doubt. Thus spake Bloomsbury.  (Of course this is anti-Googlian nonsense, if VD reads a post about looting in Syria on my blog, a Google search will not associate him with ISIL).

To return to what Ian Richardson said, the work of any publicly funded heritage body like the PAS should be 100% transparent. It's not the Ministry of Defence, its about little old ladies finding potsherds in their rose beds and little boys finding Roman glass beads on an allotment. In any case, to follow almost everything you read about the PAS, they consider making the database, and making the database" bigger" is their work. The only thing that is mischievous is (a) including Treasure hoards on the database of non-Treasure finds to boost numbers of 'voluntarily reported finds' (the Treasure Report is the place for them) and (b) hiding the true source of the information behind smokescreens. And it is not me being "mischievous" in trying to find out what the PAS are up to with their artefact hunting "partners". If the PAS is built on the basis of a multivocality of archaeology, then my seeking knowledge of the past has as much validity and rights as Baz Thugwit's. Yet Baz gets patted on the head by the PAS and I get called names and insulted for asking the same sort of questions. I have every right to ask what the PAS and their metal detecting partner are doing with the heritage, my heritage, and  I have a right to get an answer to these questions, and they (ivory tower demigods or not) as a public institution have an obligation to share that information without me having to put in an FOI request.

PACHI PAS FOI: Internal emails - David Gill Gets a Thrill?


"I know we don't normally engage with Paul Barford" 
Eleanor Ghey

Topic J: Beau Street Hoard (24th November 2014)
Pretty amazing,  Eleanor Ghey [Research Assistant Department: Portable Antiquities and Treasure] writes to Michael Lewis of PAS (24th November 2014, 9:00 Subject: Beau St Hoard Criticism). She says that  she is bothered by comments being made on the Beau Street Hoard, and gives a link to Looting Matters - David Gill's blog with a reference to a talk given by Verity Anthony. Dr Lewis refuses to open David's link, justifying it "I am not opening it as he gets a thrill when he sees people using the BM IP address, I'd just ignore it". This is not the first time that the PAS has ignored David Gill's concerns about the Scheme, the way they avoided addressing the issues raised by his PIA contribution is particularly noteworthy and a massive home goal.

I do wonder about the pompous mentality of people that suggest that Professor Gill or anyone else would get a "thrill" if they thought somebody in the BM was reading their blog. Just who do they think they are? What ridiculous self-important people some of them must be. Dr Lewis copied his response to the research assistant to Sam Moorhead and Roger Bland. The latter seems to have got the wrong end of the stick entirely - he obviously did not click on the link either "As Michael says, after many years of this type of treatment from Barford we've learnt that it's generally best not to respond to him [who? Barford or Gill?], as he will always have the last word".

I guess if you are a BM demigod then entering a debate where you are not guaranteed the last word and ability to shout down your opponent is not an option you will consider. Demigods have their image to consider, after all, people must be "thrilled" when the demigods read what they have to say. This is really pathetic - the fragile egos of Bloomsbury on show.

I have updated my own post on the Beau Street hoard in the light of the information which was not made available at the time by the ultra-secretive and touchy BMPAS demigods - but it is a shame that through their pompous self-regard and lack of contact they could not have shared that information back in November last year. That is what they are paid for, to share information with the public on portable antiquities matters.

Now perhaps they will tell us why the records from HLF-funded work within the Coins and Medals Department of the BM on a hoard excavated by a commercial archaeology unit is included in a database of non-Treasure finds voluntarily reported by members of the public when they have no funds to record all of the finds handed in for recording by metal detectorists each year? Can they tell us that? Of course they can, will they do that? Unlikely, isn't it. Demigods answer to nobody, not even the public that pays for their ivory tower chairs.

PACHI PAS FOI: the PAS Forum Introduction


This section of my commentary on the material placed in the public domain as a result of a PACHI FOI request from the British Museum will discussing the information about the contents of the PAS hidden forum and the type of 'Discussion of Portable Antiquities and Treasure Issues' it reveals. 

A bit of background, the PAS once had a forum for interacting with the members of the public and all those interested in the work of the scheme. This was sabotaged by the bad behaviour of metal detectorists (see below) and "closed" - at least that is what the PAS told the audience. I began to have doubts about the veracity of what the PAS had said when two types of unusual activity on my blog suggested that there was indeed a secret PAS forum, not accessible to the public who pay for it and that FLOs were reading posts on my blog, but publicly saying nothing in reply to the issues raised.  Then at the end of last year the PAS admitted that they did indeed have a secret forum. So, what there was being said about the issues raised on this blog? Christopher Denvir the BM's  Information Manager was informed only about three forum threads in the period 21st May 2012 to the 26th January 2015 (the date the request was received).

Take a look at a PAS job advert for a FLO, there are always a few in the internet. One of the requirements for many of them is "awareness of the issues concerning portable antiquities" (in general). That is one of their job requirements, which makes sense if they are to be interacting with all manner of people on the issues affecting the handling of portable antiquities. One therefore might expect some discussion on their forum on these issues, how to deal with a certain type of question/ situation. One might expect the sharing of information of stuff they've read, a controversial view for example. To be honest I would have thought that if a load of other people not connected at all with archaeology some of them, are reading this blog and taking away some thoughts on portable antiquity collecting (and heritage) issues, the FLOs might have visited from time to time. If they did, it seems from what they write about on their forum, none of them found anything here of any value to them. So what have they discussed? There are three topicsdiscussed in three separate post below:

Topic D: The Planted Fibula (8th November 2013),

Topic E: 'Grand Stirrup Master' is Badly Treated and Gets Revenge,

Topic K 24th -27th December 2014 Comforting Words over the Lenborough Fiasco.

PACHI PAS FOI: the PAS Forum and the Topic of 'Planted Finds' Being Avoided by the PAS Again



Commentary on the material placed in the public domain as a result of a PACHI FOI request from the British Museum from the PAS hidden forum

Topic D: The Planted Fibula (8th November 2013):
David Williams gives a link on the forum to a Surrey Mirror article about a planted brooch 'found' on a rally. I'd written about what the article said and then asked the archaeologist dealing with the find for information on the type of brooches involved:
There will be an article in the next Searcher. Paul Barford has already picked up on this but all I've done is refer him to the next Searcher - which he won't see.
You almost imagine him tittering as he typed that. Remarkable. Dr Williams is justifying himself like a naughty schoolboy, "all I've done is..." ("don't mention the war, I did it once but I think I got away with it!") and then taunting that I'll not be able to find out more (we see this type of perverse enjoyment of the feeling that these professionals have hidden something from an enquirer in the Drost/Milliongate thread too).

What on earth is the guy writing about that I'll not "see" the Searcher, does he think I live on the moon? True enough the Institute of Archaeology here does NOT get the Searcher, but I did more than "see" it.  Let us note though that he does not say that I wrote asking for details on the two fibulas mentioned and I considered his reply unprofessionally "dismissive". I had discussed this incident and some of the implications, including for the integrity of the records of the major rallies which the PAS had attended previously in the immediately adjacent area and used as showcases for their "partnership". Perhaps that is the problem. You will note that there is absolutely no discussion of the implications for the PAS of this affair in the posts forwarded to me from the BM, just the superficial issue that it was being discussed but Williams assuring fellow professionals that he'd managed to throw me off the trail.

That is not the end of the story, there was a further development in the case of one of the brooches (of which Dr Williams once he'd decided to be a little bit more professionally-archaeological informed me), but I believe this is not in the public domain.  This complicates the story even more and raises other questions of how FLOs vet finds, but that question was not raised on the PAS forum in November 2013.

What was discussed in the thread was the reaction of the metal detectorists (Katie Hinds 8th Nov). This was followed by the reaction (11th November) of Dr Williams "Oh Gawd!!" to this text on my blog: 'Focus on Metal Detecting: Conspiracy, conspiracy... "Dirty Tricks Incident" - NCMD'. But look what is happening. My post relates what is going on over on a metal detecting forum. Why did Williams not supply PAS 'partners of metal detectorists' a link to the MD forum? FLOs very rarely it seems do any of their outreach through the existing forums of their "partners", they just talk about them behind their backs on their hidden forum.

Vignette: planted

PACHI PAS FOI: the PAS Forum and the FLO's Revenge


 Topic E: 'Grand Stirrup Master' is Badly Treated and Gets Revenge
A forum thread of just two posts (13th May 2014) illustrating the frustrations of being an FLO dealing with "C2s and Ds". David Williams gives a link to one of my posts (here it is 'The Sorry Tale of the Surrey Searchers and the FLO', Monday, 12 May 2014). In my experience, about the only time metal detectorists write to me about standards and ethics is when they want to create problems for another metal detectorist. Here is another example and Dr Williams' text here sheds more light on the background. He refers to my "veiled criticism to [sic] PAS" in my comments of the event discussed by Williams. I invite readers to look at what I said and whether there is anything there which an archaeologist would disagree with. Thin skins these PAS folk have, this is all a bit pathetic. But it gets even sillier. Richard, the 'most travelled FLO' (at your expense) notes that I had complimented Williams (hooray, eh?) but then added "it is best to remove that hyperlink though, as if anyone clicks on it Paul Barford can see we are looking at him from the staff forum". Dr Williams did delete the hyperlink. And why should it be any concern of Britain's professional archaeologists that a blog author can see what they are reading?There is the stub of a further post of Williams relying to 'Richard", but this is carelessly cut off in the BM's pdf. It is not known whether there were any beyond that.

Note the way Dr Williams refers to the metal detecting whistleblower: "Pity the informant has 6 finds on the database - he needs to be a very c[l]ean pot if he's going to call the kettle black as I have told him". The informant wrote to me posing as a woman. Male metal detectorists seem to have a tendency to pose as women (the ageing fat guy who posed as 'Candice Jarman' being a particularly unsavoury example)

There is a floating 'discourse' logo near this thread.

PACHI PAS FOI, Secret Forum - Saw you on Telly Last Night!


PAS - BST
So, ITV is making a series about your workplace, your mates and maybe you yourself are in it, some of the things your colleagues have been talking about and working on are in it, your boss is filmed looking dapper in the library and there are clean metal detectorists and lots of shiny metal things and things that go 'bang' and things that go 'ploop' in the water and a fun "viewers' competition" at the end. Super! What does any normal person do? A normal person watches it, tells their mums and dads it's on, and then talks about it the next day. Many will look online for comments on it to compare their own impressions with. Don't they? That is the natural reaction of most of us, that brush with a five-minutes-of-fame, with the romance of "Treasure" thrown in.

"Britain's Secret Treasures" series 1 (the one the PAS supposedly "binned") was on FLOs' TVs 16 July 2012 to 22 July 2012. It got some pretty critical reviews alongside the written-to-order fluff pieces. Series 2, the patriotic one, from 17 October 2013 to 5 December 2013. There was less critical response to the already-tired formula. So both were on telly right slap bang in the period of my FOI request. To judge from the results of that, the PAS is peopled with individuals of steely resolve and a total lack of curiosity about what lesser mortals think.

There were no doubt many posts in the threads on the PAS Secret Forum about the series praising the two PAS-sponsored series, jubilating that Archaeological Treasure Hunting is on national TV and how "good" that is for the Scheme, and falling at the feet of the BM demigods and other celebrities who graced the programmes by their condescension to appear in it.

Yet to judge from the FOI [if we assume that the data were collected carefully], not a single one of the PAS staff members who visited my blog in that period and read my comments on each episode thought they could get away with making a single remark on that over on the PAS Secret Forum. Not a peep. Not a single one of the fifty archaeologists employed by the PAS would admit to having read and strongly disagreed with (for example) something I wrote about there. Yet, I know that quite a lot of them read the blog in that period, especially after the episodes when one of 'their' metal detectorists appeared. Yet none of them had any comment (loyally defending their 'partners') when I said something about some of the 'finders', nobody reacted to my public comments on the silly staged "viewers' competition", the idea of promoting Archaeological Treasure Hunting with a lack of proper discussion from the side of the PAS of what is and is not responsible in artefact hunting and collecting in general (in the end the CBA stepped in).

Unlike their secret forum, my comments on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues are made in public for those who want to read them. People - members of the audience of the PAS and from whose pockets their salaries and office expenses come - see them, maybe form their own opinion about the PAS partly on the basis of them (those they accept and reject). That is the nature of the heritage debate. Yet, the PAS is deliberately and all too visibly failing to engage with this. There are many issues surrounding portable antiquities, they deserve discussion. The PAS is there to actually be the focus of this discussion in England and (for the moment) Wales.

Its efforts to make itself 'relevant' to the needs of our times however concentrate on a "look what we've got" showcasing of "interesting things" and their trite narrativisations - or go for "the numbers". This really is not enough. Surely the people - the qualified archaeologists among them at any rate - who work there (many of whom have this 'awareness of issues surrounding portable antiquities' written into their job descriptions) are aware of this. So where do they see we need to go with current policies and issues (beyond the stop-gap which is the passive PAS we have at the moment)? Because the archaeological record cannot much longer afford for Britain to stay in the same position for another two decades of inaction, turning a blind eye, avoiding the sticky issues and pretending they do not exist. The eyes of the world are on the UK, what do they see?

PACHI PAS FOI: the PAS Forum, Lenborough and Fantasy Trolling by Nameless Varsovians



Commentary on the material placed in the public domain as a result of a PACHI FOI request from the British Museum from the PAS hidden forum

Topic K 24th -27th December 2014 Comforting Words over the Lenborough Fiasco:

The only other sequence of forum posts which Christopher Denvir made available refer to the Lenborough hoard. Nothing else I say on my blog over thirty months is of any interest to any of them, but the damage done by the Lenborough affair seems to have excited them into some activity. This is started off by Ros Tyrrell in a metal-detecting-forum-qualifying post full of emoticons and exclamation marks on 24th December claiming she was being "slagged off by email" - not true of course, she's playing the victim. I've discussed one aspect of that post earlier, and will return to it again later (and the significance that there was no reaction to what was said in either case). It was David Williams (24th Dec) who said it "all sounds absolutely fine [...] wish I'd been there!" Then,
"I see it's our Warsaw friend doing the criticising and wondering why his emails to you are bouncing?"*
Two points, first "our Warsaw friend" (and worse) is a metal-detectorish way to refer to he-who-shall-not-be-named. I have a name and it is not one totally unknown in archaeological circles and I do not see why it cannot be used here. Secondly  by the time Williams wrote this, it was not just me doing the criticising, there was quite widespread dismay in archaeological circles in general about this time, though RESCUE had not yet produced their account. Thirdly, my emails to Ms Tyrell's office were polite requests for information from an archaeologist interested in the case, what does it say for the transparency of the PAS that Mr Williams is "not surprised" these emails were ignored (indeed being - it seems he thinks - deliberately 'bounced')?  Julie C[assidy] agrees (30th Dec)
"you did a great job. Just ignore the Warsaw moaner. Nothing we do would have made [sic] him happy xxx".
"Warsaw moaner"? What? A major archaeological find is trashed on film by being hurriedly excavated ("it took all day") blindly digging down using a paint-stripping scraper and a carrier bag and tipped out loose on a kitchen table  and another FLO (paid for with YOUR money) says "you did a great job" and somebody looking at that scandalous footage and expressing concerns should instead be "happy" to watch something like that happen. That an archaeologist watching that reacts in any other way than delirium that some more shiny silver discs have been hoiked just makes him some kind of foreign "moaner". This conversation is ridiculous. These are not the standards of best practice the PAS is employed to promote. Peter R[eaville] makes an astounding claim:
I was trolled and insulted by warsaw [sic]  after excavating a couple of hoards - I just emailed him with details of my line managers and the IFA and asked him to report me for unprofessional conduct - he never did (but also never retracted the posts).
"Trolled"? I am really at a loss to understand this whole accusation. Mr Reavill is mentioned on my blog six times, twice with regard to the Kate Hunter piedfort case, once mentioning his blog, once with reference to a 'finds day', and once with reference to a hoard ('Not nighthawking, really - it woz in da day' Tuesday, 8 September 2009).  Could he be talking about the post (Sunday, 21 August 2011) on the 'Baschurch Hoard Screw-up'? Is the raising of cocerns about the aftermath of an archaeological investigation "trolling", or is it something else? Is it "insulting" to comment on a case like this? What is Mr Reavill on about? As for the email with employment details, I recall receiving no such document, and here the question was organizational matters not "professional conduct". I really think some people involved in the metal detecting "partnership" in the UK have extremely thin skins and warped ideas about the nature of archaeological debate. Note again the depersonalising labelling, "warsaw", here it is not even capitalised.

But then Dr Reavill (24th dec) also moots the suggestion, seventeen years into the operation of the PAS of guidelines and excavation kit lists and an emergency contacts page. Unfortunately if this developed into something, we cannot see it in the current FOI. Such texts should surely be consulted outside the narrow confines of a hidden PAS forum.

25th December Christmas Day, Dan Pett reports in this thread a propos nothing at all I can see:
Lovely, I am being trolled by Warsaw and H[eritage] A[ction] at the moment for sticking up for us.
Again the verb "trolled" and depersonalising "Warsaw". Later (25th Dec) Mr Pett added "don't feed the troll" to Ros Tyrrell's announcement that she was not going to address the issues I had raised. It was the BM's Dan Pett's use of the word "troll" at a public meeting where it was recorded that is part of the reasons for this FOI, so it is important to note he is still using it here and in what context. As for the accusation, on 25th December I sent no email to Dan Pett. This "trolling" is a fantasy of Mr Pett, on Christmas Day I made just one blog post with not a troll in sight. As far as I know Heritage Action were focusing on other issues at this time. This is really getting ridiculous, everyone is playing the victim, falsely crying 'wolf'  and refusing to address the archaeological issue at hand.

On 25th December Ros Tyrrell explains she was not going to answer my request for information, because she'd been unable to explain the Cold Brayfield hoard earlier and she did not fancy her chances here either. Certainly there are no comments by Ms Tyrrell under any of my posts on Cold Brayfield, so she'd not made much of an effort to put forward another side of the story here (and I would not think it too difficult a task for a skilled communicator to explain a hole in the ground to a fellow archaeologist). And look at the next bit:
I can't tell the world that there was no money for lifting the hoard because the Bucks Emergency Excavation Fund was spent on the Creslow Burial in Oct. The detectorists breaking the hoard story too early, while I was trying to be on leave, has messed up the plans we had for launching that! Aargh!
Hmm. Why "can't" there be any public acknowledgement of the financial problems caused by Weekend Wanderers targeting a known archaeological site just before Christmas (when their aim of going there is to find something) when there are no funds in the county to deal with anything they might find? I think this raises all sorts of questions about what is responsible detecting, and here we see the PAS deliberately avoiding bringing the subject up in the public domain (see 'What the PAS Does Not Want You to Know About the Creslow Burial?'). What is the problem with the Creslow Burial being mentioned? I do not understand why she thinks this is some kind of topic to be swept under the carpet.

Also, what a nerve she has blaming the detectorists for spoiling the plans to "launch" the (her) find (at the Treasure Report show). This raises a rather repugnant thought, was that the reason it was hoiked out - so enough of it could be scrubbed clean to make a good show for the Minister on Treasure Day?  The manner in which the PAS deliberately manipulates the timing of announcements like this for self-publicity has been noted before. The finders also have rights to brag about their find, Ms Tyrrell was a guest at the rally, now she seems to be depicting it as run for the benefit of the PAS and its annual circle of publicity stunts. Note also the interesting information in this thread that the finder of the hoard had only recorded a small number of finds 'none of them coins' with the Scheme before his million-pound Treasure. This is not the sort of information they generally release, trying to create the impression that many metal detecting finders show many objects from their personal collections each, when that seems from what one can glean from the PAS tables in their annual reports to be almost an exception rather than a rule.

I may return to what Williams says below that about my "support" of the PAS. That made me really angry. The guy obviously has no idea what this is about. Have any of them?

I think anyone who dismisses a fellow worker as merely a "troll", as this crowd are while at the same time bragging about never having read a word of what he has written, really represent all that is rotten in British archaeology when it comes to discussing the issues surrounding portable antiquities collecting and the antiquities trade. If we see this sort of superficial knee-jerkism in the Portable Antiquities Scheme itself - which should be the focal hotbed of debate, then what hope is there for the future of archaeology in Great Britain? Metal detectors and JCBs and grubbing out all the shiny bits?

Before leaving this topic, let us note that nowhere in the entire thread is there any discussion of the issues of archaeological methodology and best practice of the way this hoard was 'excavated'. All the name-calling by PAS professionals has obscured the fact that it was this, and primarily this, which was and is the focus of the comments on my blog. This, the PAS totally ignore. 
  
* By the way, Dr Williams' use of a rising inflection here is incomprehensible  - PAS punctuation perhaps is being affected by prolonged "partnership" with ignorant tekkies.

UPDATE 26th Feb 2015

Nigel Swift reacts to the accusation that Dan Pett was "being trolled by Heritage Action for sticking up for us" 
which was mirrored in my own post here 'Academics Lose the Thread in Metal Detector Debate (Again)'. Both of these posts are relevant to the aspects of the Lenborough fiasco being discussed here. But these are both from January 3rd, nine days after Mr Pett's complaint. Quite what it is he is referring to is beyond us to understand. Quite why anyone would want to "stick up for" hoik-blind-paint-scraper-and-carrier-bag-archaeology done by a major archaeological outreach organization is also difficult to understand.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

RIP Sheppard Frere


RIP Sheppard Frere, who passed away 25 February 2015. A lifetime of dedication to and contributed so much to our understanding of Roman Britain. He passed on to me a goodly while ago some material from a site in Sussex he'd dug as a schoolmaster straight after the War (and working with an amateur whose Essex excavations I wrote up after his death).

UPDATE 10th March 2015
Obituary

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Nighthawk a "small minority"? No, No Say FLOs


The story goes that the "vast majority" of UK metal detectorists are "responsible" and "law abiding", while only a "very small minority" are nighthawks. Of course nobody will quantify those generalisations for you, but it is, they insist, a very small minority, and in the next breath they assure you are roundly condemned by all artefact hunters.  That's the story. It's the one the PAS goes along with, it's the one they tell the public. How does it look on the ground? Is this what those charged at public expense with 'liaison' and 'partnership' with the artefact hunting community are saying among themselves? Or are they hiding something from the public? Do we not have a right to know? Or is this too one of the facets of UK heritage management which "partners" would like to keep from being discussed by what they refer to as "Trolls" (members of the community concerned about what they are doing with all that public money)?

A fragment of text written by an FLO on the PAS' hidden forum, now made public by the BM information officer, reveals another story about the hidden scale of illicit artefact hunting. At the end of December last year, an FLO is justifying to her colleagues why instead of excavating it more methodically, in a few hours she had scooped it out into a plastic carrier bag and tipped the contents loose onto a kitchen table. She had to do it like that she argues:
I doubt we could have guarded it over night  as the critic suggested. There were 160+ detectorists there, some may have been bad guys
It seems that nobody in that thread made accessible to us questioned or corrected that assessment. Think about that for a moment. What she is saying is that in her opinion (based on 40 years experience) if you take any 160+ UK detectorists, among them may well be the sort of "bad guys" from whom no measures taken by the rally organizers and landowner to guard the site (including hiring a security guard?) would protect it. The sort of bad guys who could seize an opportunity to come back and steal the lot from under everybody's noses. As I have said here before, my old estimate of a total of 10000 active UK detectorists now needs increasing I feel to somewhere around 16000. That means that the 160 who turned up in a December field in Buckinghamshire was just one percent of the UK archaeological community. What the FLO seems to be saying is that her observations lead her to believe that in any one percent sample of the British archaeological community there is an appreciable risk that there will be "some" ultra-bad-guys capable of stealing a national Treasure from us all, the finder and the landowner. While there are not enough data in what she said (the size of the risk is not defined) to work out just how many ultra-bad-guys there would have to be in the total population for that to be the case in every random one-percent sample, but it seems to me that this seems to indicate that the FLO is suggesting that she does not believe that it is a "very small" minority, but quite a sizeable number within the detecting community as a whole.

Of course, what we can infer from the results of my FOI request in general is that we'll not see the PAS actually coming out in the open and honestly sharing this (or any other) information with the salary-paying public.

What else is being kept hidden from the public on the PAS forum? Why is it that when archaeologists are urging transparency of the antiquities trade and in artefact collecting, the archaeologists of the Portable Antiquities Scheme are being more opaque than mud about the realities of their interactions with the artefact collecting community? What have they got to hide? Why do they so dislike answering perfectly reasonable questions and concerns about what they do? Why does it take an actual FOI request to access such information?

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people who want to grab more and more millions of public quid, no questions asked, to represent archaeology to the public and make artefact hunters into the "partners" of the British Museum and archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look at what the PAS are hiding from the public in the process and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 


 
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