Friday, December 19, 2014

The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act

Advocates of collectors' rights point to the cultural property laws prevailing in the United Kingdom as being the most effective approach yet devised for effectively reconciling the many disparate, often conflicting goals, interests and concerns of all those interested in discovery and ownership of antiquities.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme is very much in the British tradition of working things out in a practical, cooperative manner whenever possible -- preferably one which attracts a maximum of local interest and support -- as distinguished from a rigid, confrontational approach ending in enforcement by compulsion with significant unresolved grievances and conflicts remaining. The latter approach unfortunately prevails in most other nations.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme has many significant accomplishments to its credit; indeed in many respects it has revitalized British archaeology, and given archaeologists significant new resources to draw upon.

Perhaps most importantly, the PAS has harmonized very well with the longstanding British traditions of local archaeology interest groups and antiquarian collecting. In particular it has had a beneficial effect on British metal detectorists, offering guidance on how detectorist clubs can educate their members to practice their hobby responsibly.

Every collector and numismatic professional should become familiar with the PAS and Treasure Act, which provides a clear example of why cultural cooperation is far more effective than confrontation.

     The Portable Antiquities Scheme website
     a brief Wikipedia overview
     The British Museum Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure administers the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     A comprehensive 2008 review of the PAS by Kate Clark for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
     Derek Fincham's blog -- thoughtful, perceptive and not overly doctrinaire
     Derek Fincham's well thought out proposal to extend the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to other nations of origin
     Tom Brindle's informative book about the process of integrating vast quantities of seemingly random finds scattered across the English and Welsh countryside, to indicate the presence of 240 previously unknown Roman sites.
     Archaeology student Steve Ashby's favorable overview of the PAS.  (Intarch 33)
     A particularly significant and penetrating issue of Internet Archaeology, the premier international e-journal for archaeology (peer-reviewed). Three important citations follow:
     Ideology, governance and consequences from a collector's point of view: author Wayne Sayles' pro-collecting perspective on the Cultural Property War that rages in America, and its antecedents.
     Who controls the past?: Penny English perceptively reviews "... the intangible and seemingly insoluble question of who should have the right to control access to the past."
     Roger Bland (Keeper, Departments of Prehistory & Europe and Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum) responds to other articles in Intarch 33, providing a magisterial perspective on these articles and also upon the origins and development of the Treasure Act and the PAS. Dr. Bland's perspective is not pro-collecting (as his criticism of Sayles' article proves), but his administration of the PAS and Treasure Act has been fair-minded and very effective in the manner in which it has brought British detectorists into a constructive and useful relationship with archaeology.
     Ben Miller presents ten of the best archaeological discoveries made in Britain by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     The Frome Hoard,  discovered by Dave Crisp near Frome in Somerset, England, is often referred to as the "Somerset Hoard" and is one of the largest ever found in Britain. It was reported to the PAS and excavated under the supervision of archaeologist Alan Graham. This Wikipedia article details how a responsible detectorist interacting with the PAS discovered and assisted in the excavation of this very important find, now exhibited at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton,
     Significant finds by British detectorists between 1998 and 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


There is no common sense in Warsaw or, apparently, anywhere else in the archaeological blogosphere -- which presently seems to have degenerated into a rabid, delusional sort of monomania. All that comes to this observer's attention from it these days is a ceaseless flood of negative, carping whining about this or that event, omission or inaction -- which impressed the archaeoblogger as violating his personal perspective that archaeology is the most important (perhaps the only important) thing, not only for archaeologists but also for all mankind. I suppose a psychologist (such as my wife) must find such compulsive expressions of monomania fascinating.

 To the rest of mankind they are instead likely to bring to mind thoughts of rabid dogs running about seeking someone to bite, in order to spread their affliction.

It would be wrong to convey an impression that Paul Barford is important. He is not now (nor was he ever) taken seriously as an archaeologist by anyone of significance in that field. However, his volume of blog posts and their content are so extreme as to furnish a very useful and instructive example of archaeomania.

Like a lightning rod he has extended his cyberpresence up far beyond other parts of the archaeological blogosphere, to such a rarified height of extremism as to attract not only supporters but also (and more importantly) opponents. Constant, deliberate, provocative offensiveness is the point at the tip of Barford's nasty cyberpresence, designed to maximize tension and hopefully, to attract a strike. His psychological compulsions are gratified by attracting opponents, calling them out by postings in his blog calculated to provoke as much controversy as possible. He glorifies being hated, measuring "success" by the growing number of Barford-haters and the intensity of their animadversions. His blog slyly masquerades as informed commentary, however it is not really a forum for anything other than propaganda. He provided a very useful example of this in responding to a comment I submitted to one of his posts:

"I really do not know what Dealer Dave Welsh imagines he is doing sending a comment about hoards to this blog. 

When I was told he was seriously ill, several months ago, I sent him two messages of concern and support, neither of which was acknowledged, fair enough. But when he recovers his health his reaction was to publish verbatim on his blog a text copied and pasted from a metal detectorist's blog which he considers to be "this brilliant bit of analysis" (that I leave up to the reader to judge):

However I am blocked from replying on his blog - as is the case with all the ACCG blogs, Tompa, Sayles. ... Instead of discussion of the issues, the intellectual legacy of Dave Welsh is to drop to detectorist-level and continue to use his "Ancient Coins" blog as a means merely to launch a number of small-minded ad hominem attacks.

Welsh now apparently wants to exhibit his ancient-coiney pseud-erudition by telling us all where hoards occur in the archaeological record, acting as if he wants a normal discussion while elsewhere showing that it is the last thing he wants. He can do that on his own blog, not mine while he continues to act in this manner. 

As for his views appended to the comment on how I "should" treat artefact hunters and collectors on this blog, for the nine hundredth and forty fourth (or fifth) time, this blog is about collectors, not for them. OK? Comment rejected."

For the record: Mr. Barford is NOT "blocked" from replying to my blog, and Peter Tompa has allowed him to comment to his blog. Barford's comments, like all others, are dealt with according to their content and intent. Propaganda is unwelcome, substantive remarks are likely to appear when relevant. It would be fair for Barford to extend the same terms to his opponents -- but that presupposes that he is a reasonable person.

I have no idea why Barford sent email messages while I was hospitalized, and certainly don't think any rational person would expect me to respond. I had no access to the Internet at that time and many far more pressing issues to deal with -- as I have had ever since recovering my health (now good, and improving).

"... this blog is about collectors, not for them. OK?"  

NO!!!  It is decidedly NOT "OK" to masquerade as a knowledgeable commentator, whilst actually being a mere bigoted propagandist uninterested in anything resembling fair and open discussion of issues. Barford has his blog and will do what he wants with it, but others then have the right and duty to expose it for what it actually is.

Don't however think this observer is one of the legion of Barford-haters. I actually believe that this Hyperbolos of archaeology has become a very useful expression of what I will term archaeomania, the compulsive delusion of thinking that archaeology trumps all other human activities and concerns in its importance.

Mr. Barford has in fact become a sort of caricature of the archaeomaniac, a radical sort of archaeologist whose slanted musings regularly appear in his blog -- among whose useful attributes is the extent to which it has become a catalogue of archaeomaniacs on the one side and ethical collectors (and their advocates) on the other.