Thursday, 15 October 2015

Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the loss of knowledge

Some Dobunni silver units found by Dean Crawford
Photo: Dean Crawford

"I continued to record all of my finds through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) as well. I also promoted the PAS as much as possible, to all my detecting pals, reassuring them that the PAS could be  trusted and that they wanted to work with us. I organised metal detecting days to promote PAS recording, such as GPS recording, educational days, and rallies.

"I added a few more sites to the Sites and Monument Records (SMR) as time went on but decided to stop reporting sites as my information began to work against me. The worst part was having all my reservations ignored, not only that, but I was told to stop scaremongering.
"Romano-British sites that I had recorded were seeing land use changes, taken out of crop rotation and put under permanent pasture, without any communication to me from the people to whom I gave this valuable information. This is fine if you want to hang up your detector, as finds no longer come into the range of the detector from cultivation. Whilst this can be beneficial for preservation, I advised them that they should at least inform recorders that this can and will happen and they will effectively lose their sites, hence the PAS will lose their recorders and gain enemies.
This was all due to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which was introduced in 2001. Farmers were encouraged to manage their land according to their historical environment advisor (HEA) or the archaeologist who was employed by them. Farmers were offered various ways to manage their land, in return for subsidies. Farmers were also generally discouraged from allowing metal detecting on their land - I lost quite a number of permissions due to "I'm in this scheme now...."
"It was getting complicated: it had now escalated  and was being run by the Natural England entry level scheme (ELS) which continued to allow metal detecting on the land, but many farmers were unaware of this and their local HEA certainly did not bother correcting them. Why would they? Then there was the higher level scheme (HLS)  usually encouraged if any known site was on their land. To allow metal detecting on HLS land you had to seek a derogation with English Heritage (EH), you had to supply a method, maps, drawings of the areas, and of course to provide a good reason to need to detect on the land. It was not going to happen. We all lost our interesting sites. This had become the modern day form of scheduling: land and sites could still be ploughed under but we as detectorists were not allowed on them as we might do some damage. It did not even matter if we recorded our finds properly."
After having to convert Dean's use of the various bureaucratic acronyms to the standard reporting format, it struck me that some of my readers are in countries far less choked with bureaucracy than the U.K. and that all this must seem very alien to them. Such bureaucratic complexities are well-known to allow personal agendas free rein. I had noticed a lot of this in the U.S. Department of State when I was doing volunteer public relations work for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. Dean's words reveal the same situation.

There is a Jungian term of which I am rather fond: Enantiodromia. This is where "a thing psychically transmogrifies into its Shadow opposite, in the repression of psychic forces that are thereby cathected into something powerful and threatening.". Simply put, it becomes a neurosis.

The greatest weakness in contextual archaeology is that the term loses its broader definitions and becomes focused only on the archaeological site, itself. Knowledge is far more complex than this: the value of any knowledge really depends on its usefulness. The metal detectorist has revealed hundreds of new types and varieties of British Celtic coins, and through these, myself and  many others have been able to gain access to the very minds that designed and used these objects. The archaeological site can only approach this level of understanding, and then only very weakly, by comparing like sites. Archaeology has, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and later, been divesting itself of many systems of analysis whenever it spotted a problem, not understanding that these problems were corrected as their disciplines evolved. Thus ghettoised, archaeology has become far less relevant to the public and this situation has worsened into virtually unintelligible, and frankly, meaningless academic papers, the likes of which are satirized by the "pomo generator" (which has nothing at all to do with true post-modernism). It is wonderful example of modern Dadaism.

More from Dean (and myself) tomorrow.

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