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The Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Christmas Meeting included a scary reminder to staff about the Freedom of Information Act:

pas PRE xMAS.

Wise, but it exacerbates a huge problem. The financial incentives for finders to lie to PAS are massive and it would be foolish to pretend it doesn’t happen a lot, albeit mostly undetected. So it’s concerning that on those occasions when PAS staff do have suspicions they are unable to express doubt or warn each other which means still more false information will get onto the database. Here’s just one example of how massive the incentive to lie to them can be:  if you find a £2,000 item on a farm where you have a 50-50 agreement with the farmer and you tell PAS you found it at a rally elsewhere which has no such sharing provision (they exist) then you’ve instantly made yourself £1,000. Laundering by find spot description is probably the easiest, most profitable and hardest to prove fib in the whole country and even when PAS suspect it they’re forbidden to say.

Dr Bland is snooty about amateurs who criticise his organisation but actually it is they who are entitled to be snooty about him. His database must contain large numbers of lies to a degree he can’t know and which he doesn’t acknowledge. Lucky for him that Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has just confessed to Parliament: “I have made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.” If he had done so he’d have put a couple of his permanent officials on it and trust me (I know some) they’re super-smart people and would look a lot further than PAS’s own self-adoring Annual Reports. I guarantee they’d work out the implications of the fact that the contributors to the database are mostly not High Court Judges and can make lots of money simply by saying Corby not Kirkby. Whitehall officials can see when Emperors have no clothes just as well as amateurs can and they can’t be dismissed as know-nowts for saying so.

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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

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