Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Conflicting Accounts of Welsh Portable Antiquities Scheme "Rescue"

After several months' silence, the British Museum has weighed in on the discussion of the "future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales" but only because it has only just now noticed "there have been recent concerns expressed as to the future operation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales". Roger Bland himself penned a somewhat bland announcement, which I will quote in full:
Discussions between the Welsh Government, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, the British Museum, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have now successfully addressed this issue in such a way that will ensure the continuation of the scheme, including the important post of Finds Liaison Officer, in Wales. More information is available here: - http://wales.gov.uk/publications/accessinfo/decisionreports/culturesport/2011/hl6476/?lang=en.
That's it. No details about just what will be continued and in what form. The "more information" however, dated 31 October 2011 contradicts the letter previously sent out by Linda Tomos:
The Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage has agreed a recommendation to provide additional funding from Welsh Government and Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales budgets in 2012-13 to support the continued operation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales, and identifies a funding framework for future years. This follows a decision by the British Museum to reduce its contribution to the costs of operating the scheme in Wales. [...] The Minister for Heritage is being asked to consider a revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales in 2012-13 and identifies a framework for future years. [...] The funding package being considered would allow for the continuation of the Scheme in Wales including the continued employment of the Wales Finds Liaison Officer by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the continuation of the role undertaken by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts.
Does Dr Bland's announcement indicate that the "consideration" has come to an end and the funds have been assigned? If so, why does he refer to the earlier announcement as supplying "more information" when it provides less?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are Welsh Detectorists Not Reporting FindS?

Over on the Detecting Wales forum is a telling statistic. Contributor "Alan" notes:
in the local PAS report for our county, it reported that only 32 detectorists recorded finds with the scheme, yet we know of well over 700 detectorists attended clubs throughout the year! [make of that statistic what you will!!]
I make of that, that reporting is appallingly bad in Wales. Let's stop funding their under-used Portable Antiquities Scheme. It's a waste of money.

PAS in Wales "Saved" for Now?

Time was running out for the PAS in Wales, the contracts ran through until the end of March, the British Museum had said that in order to maintain the same number of posts in England as last year, they would no longer be funding the PAS in Wales, leaving this up to the Welsh Assembly government and Museums Archives and Libraries Wales CyMAL. Meanwhile there was this guy who does not consider that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is a solution to England's artefact hunting problem who'd started a blog (you are reading it) which made a case for the removal of PAS cover from Wales being the beginning of an end to current policies of passive tolerance. There was a little stir in the metal detecting community of Wales, three or four of them glanced at the blog, shuddered at the thought of reading all those words, and moved on.

Just recently however one of their number wrote to Wales' First Minister on 14th October with a question "wottabout the future of the PAS then?". The First Minister did not know, the buck was passed, down it went until the tekkie's letter ended on the desk of Linda Tomos, director of CyMAL who sent an answer out on 2nd November.
Dear Mr Langley, Thank you for your email to the First Minister ....
The letter is published in full on the "Detecting Wales" forum. In it Ms Tomos gives a totally superfluous (in the circumstances) summary account of the history of PAS funding from 1998 to the present day and ends thus:
Following a reduction in the ring-fenced funding for the scheme from the DCMS, the British Museum advised that it would no longer be able to operate the scheme in Wales. Given its success and popularity[,] officials in CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales have explored alternative options. We have therefore been in extensive contact with the British Museum, which has agreed to continue providing some financial support. The Minister has also recently agreed additional funding from the Welsh Government. These steps will ensure the continuation of the scheme, including the important post of Finds Liaison Officer, in Wales.
It would seem that the PAS is not seen over in Wales as a means of heritage preservation (mitigation of damage caused by artefact hunting by preservation by record) but something which is "popular" and "successful". How this popularity and success are measured is not explained, the Scheme certainly had very little success getting anything like a decent number of finds recorded compared to what was lost. In fact one wonders whether that was the motivation of the BM's backtracking on the decision to cut funding. One can imagine that, instead of desultory few showing a dribble of their finds as seems to have been the case up till now, a few dozen artefact hunters from Glamorgan taking most of the recordable stuff they find along to the museum in Cardiff for recording could easily have produced the same figures as a whole year's worth of PAS "outreach". This really would have called into question the value of spending all those millions on a PAS - and those questions might have been asked this time by more than a few bloggers.

To be honest, being "in extensive contact with the British Museum" who had earlier said in effect, "you are on your own" really does not sound to me very much like "exploring alternative options". It rather says that at present there ARE no other options than a BM cash handout from its own budget. This is particularly important since for a decade or so the PAS had a fifth aim: "To define the nature and scope of a scheme for recording portable antiquities in the longer term, to access the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice", which they announced in their annual reports a few years ago they had "fulfilled" - but without revealing what their conclusions had been. Obviously they were not communicated to CyMAL either.

Ms Tomos does not reveal any of the nuts and bolts details, the promise of how much cash their pleading squeezed out of the BM, or the amount of financial backing the Welsh Government will be supplying. Neither is it explained why, is this just because the Scheme is "popular"? At what level of operation will the Welsh Government be happy that its investment has been well repaid? What obviously is needed is not just the "continuation" of the PAS but its expansion, strengthening, incorporation into the legislative and administrative measures concerning the preservation of the archaeological and historical heritage of Wales.

So, the PAS coverage (I use the term loosely) of Wales has reportedly been "saved" for now. How long it can limp on remains to be seen.

Why Are Welsh Detectorists Not reporting Finds?

In the thread that developed about the PAS having been "saved", comments are being made that Welsh detectorists need to make more of an effort to show it is needed, use it or lose it. A Llanelli club member says that when the PAS visits the club, he takes away "a dozen" of the finds which members brought to the meeting because they thought they were "worth recording". Is that really the sum total of the recordable finds made by all 78 club members since the last visit of the FLO? As commented one other forum member, they'd "better put batteries in their detectors or take up fishing instead".

In the course of that discussion that member admitted that in the past ten months (this year) he had detected in as many as 21 fields on the Polden Hills near Bridgewater, and that as a result there were 193 finds recorded in the PAS database. One detectorist in ten months. So what is happening to the rest of the finds being made by Welsh detectorists even if they are finding things at one tenth of that rate?