Well the long awaited new PAS database has landed and users out there in the land of archaeology and historical research are busying themselves adding new artefacts and data mining this fantastic and unique historical resource. Dan the database builder man has received some well deserved plaudits for his new creation; a work of love if ever there was one, created entirely on a shoestring with fewer servers than Wimbledon in the closed season!
Time has elapsed since the beta launch and users have started to settle in to the day to day interaction using established as well as the new features it has to offer. One of the principal benefits of the new database is the ability Joe Public now has to self-record any qualifying discoveries made.
I belong to a trio of detectorists called the Sussex Pastfinders, like many, our ethos is to give identity, location and historical context to what we find, such that landowners, farmers, archaeologists, historians, scholars and the public alike can all benefit from the results. As such we undertake a variety of local history projects, with all our qualifying finds being recorded with the PAS and each project illustrated and formally written up. Whilst the majority of what we find we can identify ourselves, often the finer points elude us, and very occasionally we are closer to clueless. In the peak detecting season we would see our heavily worked FLO starting to drown in the flood of recovered objects from across Sussex. Given our reliance on the PAS to help complete our project reports, and with us working to promised landowner deadlines, we would often create pressure on the system and develop a backlog of finds for recording. The new self-recording feature therefore now enables us to give some assistance in getting our finds landed professionally on the database.
As a self-recorder there is a wide spectrum of find data entry for the individual to get involved in. At its most basic only the object type and broad period have to be completed before the record can be saved. The system automatically generates a unique “PUBLIC” find number. Keeping this number together with the find when handing it over to the FLO will help facilitate and smooth the recording process considerably and improve process efficiently. The only kit required to do this is a computer with web access. Subsequently the FLO will complete the required database fields and “promote” the object to be visible to all. At the high-level end of the self-recording spectrum is the full identification, annotation and illustration of the find. If this is done to the necessary PAS standard in the first instance, then with a ‘rubber-stamp’ of approval from the FLO the find is promoted to full view.
PAS record number: PUBLIC-E92C88
Object type: Scraper (tool)
County of discovery: East Sussex
Stable url: http://www.finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/391660
Fig 1: An example record I recorded on the Scheme database.
However, this Full-Monty recording does require access to comprehensive reference material, a balance accurate to a hundredth of a gram, a vernier gauge, and a reasonable macro photography set-up. There are of course all points in between the two extremes. The database entry is very intuitive, most of the fields are not free-form but simple to use drop down boxes, and if an error is made there is a simple edit option that allows the record to be corrected. The arrangement I have with Laura our Sussex FLO is that if there are any gaps or clarification points in a record I have created then a few words of explanation are placed in the notes section of the record. These are spotted on review, the record adjusted and the discussion notes deleted before it is promoted on the database.
Full Monty recording is a bit of an eye opener as to the required intricacies of find identification and recording procedures. Clearly in a database of this size with many individuals inputting data, accuracy and consistency are paramount. Researchers and the like are searching against various entry fields and if the recorders are logging objects differently the search function will not work accurately. Following a day’s training from Laura I came to realise the conveyor belt of find identification moves at a speed required to ensure standards are upheld; moreover the standards are high and as you would expect professional. If you don’t know the exact Parish you don’t guess you find out. If you can’t remember the exact object reference, then being vague will not do. There is also a comprehensive guideline document that is issued to ensure overriding principles are followed and a ‘controlled vocabulary’ is published on the database itself as a reference to help ensure consistency of language. The job done by our FLOs is sometimes unsung, seeing what’s involved makes you realise that what they do, for many if not all, is a vocation rather than a job, done for love not money – well done guys –much respect.
The biggest challenge I have found in self-recording on the database is the proper description of the object. The guidelines are there to be followed but people express themselves in different ways. There is obviously some latitude but the aim is to make the description self-contained. Having produced a masterpiece of language without disappearing up your own dangling participle, the acid test is that given only the finished written description, could the find be fully understood and interpreted by the reader – it’s tougher to achieve than you think, especially when your spectacle buckles sound like bifocals!
With the two ends of the self-recording spectrum and indeed with all points in between, being able to personally contribute to a national database of this standing is unparalleled. For me there is a satisfaction and pride to be taken in helping to see the whole process through from beginning to end, finishing in the knowledge that prior to your actions an historic prospective-find that was degrading somewhere in a field, and that perhaps in a few years time there would be nothing more than a stain left in the ground to betray its former presence. Along you came, researched the location avoiding any archaeological sensitivity, land designations or schemes, found out who owned the land, gained their precious permission and that of the tenant farmer, spent hours searching and finally made the find. It seems only fitting then to want to participate in completing the job by fully identifying and recording it. So instead of just an anonymous stain in the ground, a historical object is saved from that oblivion, correctly identified, and has the best possible context restored to it for all to see, access, enjoy, and draw conclusions from.
At the time of writing there are over 700 PUBLIC recorded finds on the database, a number which is growing all the time (you can only view the ones that are promoted to public view – for example this search result. If you would like to become a self-recorder at whatever level then do have a chat with your FLO and come to your own mutually agreeable arrangement as to how to record your finds. If training is required they will I know be happy to oblige.