by Alan Simkins, Editor
Our series of questions for archaeologists, ‘Inside the Mind of…’ has been a great success and we’ve published responses from eleven archaeologists so far with more coming soon. In every case we’ve been struck by how generous they have been with their time no matter how prominent they are. So as Series Editor I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar by putting some relevant questions to a particular subset of the archaeology world – the Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) at the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Sadly it went pear-shaped. One of them seems to have contacted their boss, Dr Roger Bland at the British Museum, asking if they should respond and he sent us a message expressing surprise we had contacted the individuals direct “as they will come to me and my colleague Michael Lewis for advice on how to respond.” To say I was surprised in return would be an understatement as the questions were very similar to the ones sent to other archaeologists, completely uncontroversial and personal and nothing to do with PAS policies. Of course, it’s no secret we have issues with PAS policies but that really has no bearing on an innocent set of questions to individuals. But I was even more shocked to read what Dr Bland added: he was willing to give his blessing to the project if we were to recant our position on our Erosion Counter!
Following a further exchange he added: “I have to say that the feelings that our staff have about initiatives such as the Artefact Erosion Counter (…) together with the fact that they are all at full capacity recording the finds that are offered to them, mean that it’s unlikely all will be able to respond. We will circulate this exchange to them so they can decide for themselves whether they wish to contribute.”
Altogether I’m not too impressed. He was right, not all responded. In fact not one of the 39 FLOs has said they would be willing to take part and only two have even replied (both using remarkably similar wording and saying they were far too busy but wishing us luck with the project). Hmmm. If people can tweet they can surely find a few minutes? And I don’t think FLOs are the only archaeologists with very busy jobs yet many archaeologists have found a few minutes for us. I myself have a very busy full-time job but I wouldn’t tell anyone I never have a few minutes to spare – and I’m not paid to provide archaeological outreach! Anyway, if you ever wonder why we aren’t featuring any of the 39 FLOs in our Inside the Mind features, you now know it’s not for lack of trying!
(By the way, our Erosion Counter recently passed the 11.5 million mark! It runs at a rate of one million per 3.4 years whereas the English Heritage/CBA survey suggested one million per 2.4 years would be more accurate. People can choose whichever they wish to believe so long as they then compare their preferred figure with how few finds get reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme – 56K records in the whole of last year. We’re not about to recant over our belief that something is very wrong about current policies and the public is entitled to be alerted to the fact.)
PS, Dr Bland:
For the avoidance of doubt: if we’d based our Erosion Counter on what the English Heritage/CBA survey say is happening it would now be showing 16.25 million and that for each one of your records from last year about 290 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily. But we didn’t base it on that. We assumed the right figure was lower. Hence the Counter is suggesting that for each one of your records from last year a mere 205 artefacts have been dug up by artefact hunters, with the ratio worsening daily.
So perhaps you could lay into English Heritage/CBA before you start demonising a group of concerned private citizens? You can praise PAS all you like and produce any number of Hidden Treasures programmes to that end but it won’t alter the fact that PAS is not providing adequate gain to balance out the massive knowledge loss and the longer it is represented as doing so the worse things get. If we weren’t dead right about that there would be PAS schemes all over the rest of the world by now instead of none.
So please just leave us alone to tell the public what we think as best we can and stop briefing against us and letting one of your staff use the coy phrase “vexatious blogging”.