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The UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)
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The UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

When items are discovered in England and Whales, the State has no claim to them unless they are classified as treasure. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (“PAS”) was therefore introduced fifteen years ago as a method for the public to voluntarily record objects found in the ground.

Through the PAS, archaeologists are able to collect information that would otherwise have been lost. According to general secretary of the National Council for Metal Detecting Trevor Austin, “The beauty of the English system is that the information from the finds is preserved . . . In other countries, objects are still being found but they’re not being recorded.” The information gathered by the PAS can be publicly searched via the PAS database, which boasts around 810,000 items. The database — which includes information on the object found, the location where it was found, and other notes of scholarly interest — has quickly become a major academic resource.

The public has made and reported many important finds through the PAS. One item later jointly acquired by several museums was a second-century Staffordshire Moorlands pan. The Roman copper alloy pan contained an inscription of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Public finds also include a bronze Roman cavalry helmet and face mask, and a 13th century cast copper alloy monastic seal matrix

The PAS is not without problems, however. UK archeologists are now struggling to cope with the vast number of artifacts being discovered and reported by the public. In the last year alone, citizens reported the finds of nearly 100,000 objects. This is the largest amount found since the PAS was introduced in 1997. According to head of PAS Roger Bland, “The volume of material offered voluntarily for recording is our biggest problem. We are struggling to deal with all the finds that are coming in. We have 39 locally-based finds liaisons officers but we have enough work for twice that number.”

The people behind PAS are currently working towards a solution that will ensure that the database is able to keep up with all the finds that are being reported. Concerning these efforts, Bland stated, “We’re looking at trying to get more capacity into the system… we have a facility on our database where people can record their own finds and we are submitting a bid to the lottery in December to see if we can boost that by bringing in more resources to train people in how to use it and to check the records they enter.”


  • By the estimation of some archaeologists, each of these 810,000 objects is a “priceless” treasure that must be stewarded because of its contextual and analytical value. In light of the PAS success, the notion that every object found in the ground must be evaluated by an archaeologist is surely in need of rethinking. If that were to be done in Britain alone the manpower needed would be enormous and the expense would be commensurate. Considering the size of Britain compared to the European continent, the number of artifacts that are being found every year staggers the imagination. And then there is China (and everywhere in between). It’s impossible to count all the objects ever made by mankind in the past. And the number of objects from our own time, that will be the artifacts of the future, is mind boggling. There are enough landfills to keep an army of archaeologists knee deep in priceless treasures for a thousand years. Really, how practical is academic stewardship of the entire archaeological record? But that is precisely what Dr. Brian Rose and the AIA called for at a recent CPAC hearing. The tail is most certainly wagging the dog when it comes to cultural property management and the PAS has quantified the problem far better than anyone might have imagined ten years ago.

  • Hi Wayne!

    “The tail is most certainly wagging the dog when it comes to cultural property management.” What does that mean?


  • http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tail_wagging_the_dog

    What that means in my view is that the special interest of Archaeology is usurping the rights and interests of the general public. The PAS is a huge step in the right direction — helping to protect the public from repressive bureaucratic controls, while adding significantly to the corpus of knowledge about many things. But, instead of heralding the success of PAS, some vocal archaeobloggers are condemning the program and those like the ACCG who have always supported it. In the United States, where this blog is written and this reader lives, the tail (nationalist archaeologists) is forcing its very parochial view and interest on the main body of global society (through UNESCO and sycophantic public administrators) and using society’s general respect for academia and scholarship as a weapon in their misguided crusade. Unfortunately, the public is often unaware of the consequences of repressive bureaucracy in the area of cultural heritage and cultural property management. Archaeology should be about enriching society, as PAS does, not about self-gratifiying narcissism. Aren’t you glad you asked?

  • Hm… Whether or not I agree with nationalist archaeologists, it’s not like they are bigwigs with lots of money and political power. What’s wrong with them using the very little they have (academia) to advance their viewpoint, even if it’s different than the one you have? I am not commenting on the substance of the argument, but the way you present it is if as they are doing something morally questionable, when they are really just stating (loudly, emphatically, I admit) their opinion as to how the world should work.

    • Kimberly;

      Obviously, if I agreed with your characterization I would not have written what I did. I do not see them as “just stating their opinion as to how the world should work.” One could rather easily take that for what it’s worth. I would certainly expect thinking people to have mature opinions on subjects they care about. By “mature” I don’t mean “adult”, I mean fully formed and informed through time and deliberation. Indeed, archaeologists and their nationalist leaning allies do articulate their views very well, as any educated person ought to. In fact, the powerbrokers in the archaeological community ARE “bigwigs” and DO have considerable political power. True, the archaeobloggers that spew a host of wild, open-ended and inspecific charges and insults against anyone who disagrees with them are not the “bigwigs”, they are merely surrogates. What is really telling is that those in positions of genuine power do nothing to throttle these loose cannons nor distance their organizations from them. Nor do they seek any form of dialogue at all with those they help to castigate. The basic goals of the archaeobloggers do, I believe, represent the goals of some in the archaeological community with considerable political clout. Therefore it is hard to separate the two in my mind and I do believe that is why there are no calls from them for moderation.

      One thing that is wrong with archaeologists using academia to advance their viewpoint is that academia is a discipline where people are supposedly taught to think, not simply to parrot the thinking of others. The proselytizing of impressionable minds, without presenting a balanced view of cultural property management, for example, is something I see as morally objectionable in a public educational system. Although I did not use the “M” word earlier, I can see how you might get that by inference. The British do have a balanced view and the PAS is a reflection of that. Those British archaeologists and cultural property managers that I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with in academic programs (more than a few) have an entirely different attitude about cultural property than American archaeologists do — a more mature and productive attitude in my humble opinion. The British seem driven to accomplish, the Americans seem driven to control.

      If nationalist archaeologists were simply stating their opinion, even emphatically, there would be little to criticize. They do far more. They proactively subvert the basic rights of tens of thousands of American citizens by vilifying and villainizing collectors who have done nothing illegal nor immoral. They encourage bureaucratic action that runs counter to well established law and they use the bully pulpit of academia to lend the appearance of “fact” to claims that are blatantly untrue. They essentially brainwash students entrusted to their care and government employees that they are contracted with to educate on cultural property issues. That is just the start.

      This was not always the case. Collectors and Archaeologists have a very long and amiable history of cooperation and interaction. It is only in the past two decades that the cooperation has turned to animosity — about the time the tail started to wag the dog.

      Thanks for the forum,


  • I see what you are saying. I guess the question I wonder is who are these bigwigs/powerbrokers that you mention? Like, specifically?

    I would disagree with this quote, “Academia is a discipline where people are supposedly taught to think, not simply to parrot the thinking of others,” but perhaps that comes from my experience in academia.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Kimberly;

      The thoughtful comments of Cristiano de Monaco above perfectly illustrate what I have said. Archaeology today is totally absorbed with one dimension, “CONTEXT”, and that cornerstone drives the educational process as well as the resulting mindset of those educated. As a philosophical and practical bridge to the past, context is certainly not without justification—but it is not the ONLY bridge to knowledge, nor the trump card in every debate. A simple Google search for “indoctrination in education” brings up a passel of thoughts, experiences and dissertations about the role of education and the dangers of education becoming a form of indoctrination or brain washing. When learning to think becomes secondary to assimilating a preconceived notion of righteousness, education has lost its way. Of course, most of these critical discussions are not available to the general public, since Open Access is a concept that archaeologists and the presses they use never have been very keen on.

      This is not just a coin collector concern, it is a global debate that is particularly vocal (and strident) in the areas of religion, medicine and certainly ethics (which I know you are fond of discussing). Coin collectors and collectors of other objects from the past are faced with very similar academic proaction which I would call indoctrination. That is a form of legitimized social polarization and tends to create a “holier than thou” attitude among adherents to a particular view.

      Your question “…who are these bigwigs/powerbrokers that you mention? Like, specifically?” is probably rhetorical. If I were to present here a laundry list of archaeologists, or friends of archaeologists, that I see as inordinately, and perhaps inappropriately, influential in government affairs it would immediately be criticized as an ad hominem attack. At that point, discussion here would end. Archaeologists, in large measure, are quick to criticize but are very easily offended by criticism themselves. They circle the wagons immediately when an “outsider” steps on one of their toes.

      Back to Cristiano, I totally agree with his view that cultural heritage and patrimony are, at least in the western world, virtually universal today. The precepts of UNESCO 1970 were already archaic at the time of implementation, but the speed of change in globalism has exacerbated the inherent problems with that well meant effort. The fact that academia is locked into the baggage of UNESCO has exponentially widened the gap between them and the rest of society. This is painfully obvious in the museum world and in the world of private collecting of anything more than 100 years old. It has now become a matter of ideology, and it can take several generations (or more) for a flawed ideology to lose traction with its constituency. I totally support Cristiano’s call for a broader discussion than the old “attack and defend” attitudes that evolved on both sides of that universal issue. However, I have tried for the past eight years to engage the “big wigs” that we talked about, but they will not step outside of their sanctuary and risk being ostracized by their peers. Oddly, that is precisely what they expect me to do. I fear that it’s an impasse that has no short term prospect for change. If there were more archaeologists like Cristiano, willing to rethink the paradigm, I would be excited about the prospect of a different course. The key, however, is to engage discussion between people who do have the capacity to orchestrate change.

      Happily, this is one of the few blogs where I personally feel that rationality overrides ideology.



  • Hi Kimberly.
    YES ! The procedures of the PAS seem to be very close to that idea that I have proposed … That is , we need to review the 1970 UNESCO Declaration … And consider the cultural patrimony as Universal as is the globalized world nowadays .
    The UNESCO is there … trying to manage the things, but we are here alone and not protected when we have problems with wars, civil upsets and etc. . I recall the recent problems of the looting of the Egyptian Museums and archaeological sites and the impossibility of UNESCO to defend the cultural patrimony.
    Then, IF we have one efficient and useful way of recording the finding artefacts, it would be great.
    BUT, the British PAS has one fault! A visceral and serious one. We Archaeologist look more than precious objects! We seek for CONTEXTS! Contexts that can potentially show how past societies had development and how they did work. And IF one amateur goes to the field and find a series of artefacts and collect them (not using scientific techniques accordingly) the information is completely lost and our CONTEXT destroyed.
    On the other hand, we have other countries where the archaeological activity is completely managed by the Government and then we can have other source of problem, considering that the bureaucracy and the excess of laws avoid the things work and the cultural patrimony is in risk in another way .
    For me, the only way to solve all that issues is to have a general discussion and review of all the concepts established and consider the material patrimony and a human heritage and all together help to maintain and protect it.
    Let’s remember all the work (research and practice) made recently by the Paul Getty Conservation Institute … The money they have and the good will would be perfect to help Italy to conservate its monuments and artefacts ! On the other hand, lets imagine the storage rooms of the Italian Patrimony full ( FULL) of items that they cannot handle and maintain completely because they are so big that would be impossible to do such task . The areas of Ancient OSTIA and even Pompeii need urgent help. The storage rooms (open and not safe) in Pompeii make us to cry when seeing such enormous quantity of items spread on the floor and completely abandoned) .
    Just to conclude. It is needful and it is completely urgent to have a general discussion of procedures of how to manage and handle with artefacts. While we try to deal things supported by obsolete and old rules, we will see the increasing of the illegal excavations, traffic of stolen items and all sorts of bad things because we are not ready to manage the things in a desirable and efficient way.
    Cristiano de Monaco

  • Ok, if not to name them, then what are the professional positions of these bigwigs that have undue political influence? Are they professors at schools? Something else?

    And, to be clear, what they are doing wrong is to advance their positions (and I’m paraphrasing here) by using propaganda?

    I’m not just harassing you, Wayne. (Not that I’d hesitate to do so if I wanted!) :) I’m just trying to clarify. They concept of “they” has always bothered me, in all disciplines and subjects. I want to be clear on what archaeology professors (?) are doing in the course of influencing government that is so inexcusable, other than having a different position. Perhaps it is just advancing it too zealously? (That’s all I can really concretely pull out from the text).

  • We are not talking about a small clique within the field of Archaeology, and as I mentioned above, it would not be productive to name a few of them (though reading the public comments at a CPAC hearing would give you a hint). Naming their positions is analogous to naming them personally, even if one speaks in general terms—which I sense is not what you are probing for. This thread is starting to feel like an interview session, but that’s fine with me. I sincerely appreciate the forum to express views that I believe are widely shared within the ancient coin collecting community.

    To adequately clarify what [they] “…are doing in the course of influencing government that is so inexcusable, other than having a different position.” would require a book, and I have in fact given that some thought. Since you work in the field of archaeology law, I’ll just focus briefly on the legal issues involving the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) and the role that archaeology plays in that legislatively mandated committee. Professors Urice and Adler have very eloquently and accurately stated the case for “increasingly lawless” activity within the executive branch of the U.S. government (Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 64:1, pp. 117-163). Six pages of their “Call for Reform” deal with the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild challenge of State Department action and the basis for that challenge. Keep in mind, we are not citing advocates for the coin collecting community. Quite the contrary, the personal views of professors Urice and Adler seem to lean more toward academia (which they are a part of). They recommend that the governing laws should be revised to make at least some of the current activity legal. But, being objective observers, they present the facts and the law as it exists today and are certainly not apologists for those who violate or exceed the law in the name of a “greater good”. In my most recent presentation before CPAC, I closed my presentation with an appeal to law, rather than ideology or special interest. I suggested that we should ALL follow the law, both collectors and government administrators. To that, I should have added, “And we must all be accountable.”

    So, what do “bigwig” archaeologists have to do with the above? To put things in perspective, one should read “The Secret War of Maria Kouroupas” in Art and Auction (March 2002):69. This exposé by the late Steven Vincent has been validated by a host of testimony from observers with personal knowledge of the workings of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs—including several former CPAC members. In essence, there are literally hundreds of facts and indicators that lead to an inescapable conclusion. An unholy alliance between academic archaeologists and U.S. State Department has corrupted the letter and intent of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). That corruption, in addition to the statutory issues raised by Urice and Adler, includes “stacking the deck” at CPAC itself. Congress deliberated for more than a decade before finally enacting the partial implementation of UNESCO 1970 through CCPIA. The law established CPAC as an advisory arm that could bring balanced views to the deliberations that would follow CCPIA requests. The composition of the committee is spelled out clearly in the law and includes: 2 members representing the interests of museums; 3 experts in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, or related fields; 3 experts in the international sale of archaeological, ethnological, and other cultural property; 3 members who shall represent the interest of the general public. The law specifically states that appointments made shall insure fair representation of the various interests of the public sectors and the private sectors in the international exchange of archaeological and ethnological materials. In a word, NOT. The composition of CPAC has been very carefully skewed through political appointments to represent the view of Archaeology above all else. While the State Department is not obliged by law to follow the committee’s recommendation, and in fact they have ignored it on at least one occasion, a consistent deviation would put ECA in a very poor light. Stacking the deck makes that probability slim. Can the leaders of the archaeological world be faulted for that? Perhaps not for anomalies in the appointment process—though one might expect they are complicit. I believe they can be faulted for their role in supporting the legal excesses of CCPIA through their lobbying for bureaucratic repression of the market that is clearly protected by law. If Congress had meant to allow import restrictions on cultural property from any country that asked for them, there would not have been such prolonged legislative debate nor a need for the rubber stamp of CPAC on every request. If I’m not mistaken, every CCPIA request has been approved with the possible exception of one from Canada — our NAFTA partner.

    I could go on at considerable length about the foregoing, but I doubt your readers would appreciate that in a blog comment :-)

  • To be frank, in all that text, I am able to pull out very little to indicate what, precisely the archaeological bigwigs are doing “wrong.” You did say, “unholy alliance” and “corruption,” but this is very vague, leaving “lobbying for bureaucratic repression of the market that is clearly protected by law” which, to me, translates to they don’t agree with you. Otherwise, I’m hearing government action. Is there bribery? Are there some kind of deals that are tantamount to bribery? You say they have an unfair majority on CPAC, but is that the full factual basis for the “undue influence” allegation? Because its members don’t appoint themselves. It’s not meant to be an interview, but if you can’t say in a single sentence what archaeologists are doing wrong other than disagreeing with you and winning, then I’m thinking they aren’t quite the villains you paint them out to be.

    • Really! I paint them as the villains? You must not be reading the libelous slurs hurled at me, my family, the place I live, my business, etc. etc. almost daily by these sweethearts of society. You certainly have the right to conclude that they are doing nothing wrong. I assume the corollary is that ancient coin collectors are unfairly criticizing them. Who are “they” and “them”? You tell me. If I have said something about someone or some group that has no basis, then tell me what it is. If you want me to summarize two decades of bitter political action by radical ideologues against a lot of innocent people, and somehow encapsulate the whole cultural property war in a flippant phrase, I’m afraid you must be disappointed. All that would do is create a one-liner for a herd of archaeobloggers to twist and turn to their own purposes. I’ve been there and done that. I apologize for spilling so much ink on your page.

  • Dear Kimberly and Wayne,
    In fact, when we start to study how the things work, we learn that there are much more to know. Sometimes when we are collectors, we start to know more than the collecting activities than the normal person could imagine! The brilliant commentaries of Wayne ( that I agree in full) permit us to read between the lines that he knows the matter deeply … And of course, not always we can tell everything.
    Currently, nowadays I am writing one kind of study about the source of items . Also, I am a collector and worried about the legal provenance of items as well. Then, with time we see how the things work and that’s the reason that I have insisted about a general and broad reformulation of Cultural Patrimony laws. Let’s see now the case of Greece ! Spain ! The crisis is turning now to Italy!
    In September I was in Arezzo, Florence and Rome and I saw a lot of treasures offered in the market and the tendency is to have more because with the economic crises, people will need to sell items to pay bills and to live. Each day more, EBay shop is more popular and there you can find family items held for centuries and also items that were excavated the day before. On the internet, you can also find shops that sell items of importance.
    Last year I saw in Naples Museum one important lot of ceramics that Italy asked the repatriation from the Paul Getty Museum. But, In August I was in South Italy and Puglia and I was unable to see a single Museum of Apulian Art!!! Also, we know that the Italians in crisis are providing items to the rest of Europe and they are sold freely in the open market.
    I will not tell much about Peru ! But do you know how hard is the life of the Peruvians ? I know how may looters work and how they send items to USA and Europe . The Government doesn’t have enough funds to maintain the Museums and a minimum network of security of the Archaeological sites and on one hand the Archaeologists try to work and on the other side of the “cerro” the looters work continuously to provide items to collectors. For once, I found that looters planned to excavate one Inca cemetery with a bulldozer in order to find the items quickly !!! I tried to warn the INC before but in vain because they don’t have one efficient policy for monitoring the archaeological sites!
    And worst! In Peru, if one looter is caught! He goes to the Court, but the Judges and Lawyers are corruptible and the “tax” to forget the action is 2000 US.
    I will not say much also about the looting of the Coptic necropolis in Egypt and other Islamic countries providing Coptic textiles to the market endlessly…
    Considering all that , the only possibility ( for me) is to have a big discussion to the subject where different countries could show their efforts to preserve the patrimony and we could try to solve all that questions !
    I will tell you a secret! I have one Italian friend. He collected archaeological items all his life and now is tired of hiding the items there. His collection is considered illegal (even if it is in Italy) and simply he is looking someone that can buy it . He already found one way to send abroad and now is looking for someone able to pay the price… Let’s consider HOW this information is absurd!!!! The man is an Italian citizen! The Collection is in Italy (Tuscany) and faced to the Italian Law it is considered illegal ! IF the severe laws of Italy will be not reformulated, we will have innumerable cases like this one.
    Just to conclude this entry! Even if it is LATE, it not too late to start a broader discussion about a new international organism that will be able to manage all that questions and issues , the MUSEUM WITHOUT FRONTIERS .
    Regards again,
    Cristiano de Monaco

    • Dear Cristiano;

      In March of 2010, I was invited to attend the Council for British Archaeology symposium on PAS at Newcastle, England. It was an honor to present a paper at that conference discussing the issues that American coin collectors face in the battlefield for control of cultural property. My experience there was really memorable. The presenters included archaeologists, museum curators, PAS administrators (Roger Bland and Dan Pett), several British metal detectorists and myself—an American coin collector. The atmosphere was extremely cordial, in fact I would call it friendly. The discussions were frank and I think productive. I know that I left that event with a very high opinion of British Archaeolgy and especially of the PAS. My experiences in America have been exactly opposite. I once sent letter to the President of the Archaeological Institute of America introducing myself and the organization that I founded (ACCG). I expressed my disappointment that the relations between archaeologists and collectors had deteriorated so badly in recent years. I did not receive a reply. About a year later, I happened to see the President in Washington D.C. at a CPAC hearing. A large group was waiting in the State Department lobby and she was standing alone. I went over and introduced myself. I asked her if she had received my letter. She answered that yes, she had. I asked if she planned to answer it. She responded that she was awfully busy. It was our one and only contact. I think that should pretty much describe the atmosphere in which we try to discuss the problem here, much less negotiate a solution.

      Kimberly’s blog is not an adequate venue for the discussion that you are seeking and that all of us need. If you, or anyone else with a similar interest, would like to contact me by email at wgs@wgs.cc I will be pleased to exchange views and listen to suggestions.



  • Dear Wayne,
    Thanks for all cordiality.
    Be assured that I will contact you directly. In fact, for a long time I have tried to discuss some points about the delicate interface of Patrimony Laws and serious and responsible collections… And not interested to repeat old formulas of old laws of old organisms…
    Thanks again ,

  • Kimberly, to get more of a flavor of what Wayne refers to I would look at the transcript of the CPRI seminar on Capitol Hill: http://www.cprinst.org/Home/issues in addition to the Vincent article. I would also look at the allegations in the ACCG test case, which remain unrebutted even if the case itself has been dismissed. Perhaps, corruption is the wrong word, but, if so, cronyism is not. The Cultural Heritage Center is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Academic exchanges is the name of the game there; ECA caters to acadamics not small buisinesses that trade in coins or coin collectors. If anything, they are looked down upon as “commerical interests.”

    In any event, it really is a bit much that with respect to Cyprus, State funds the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, which was the prime mover for import restrictions on coins. It’s all one big happy family unless you are an outsider. To me, this sounds more like the endemic cronyism in places like Cypus, than what we should expect from our own public servants. I’m afraid our State Department types have gone native so to speak.

  • I do recall something that happened online to a coin collector a couple years back that I thought was absolutely detestable, but I interpreted the intrusion of privacy and personal attack to be just that — personal in nature — and not borne of the difference in opinion.

    Readers can check out the old discussion on the ACCG test case here: http://culturalpropertylaw.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/ancient-coin-import-restriction-test-case-dismissed/

    Thank you all for the comments.