Wednesday, 28 January 2009

South Dakota does not need archaeologists

A few weeks ago as the result of some problems some US portable antiquity collectors were having with the law, I asked in this blog about South Dakota: "Presumably the region has had some rescue archaeology where is the material from that archived? Perhaps it is a lack of cultural outreach about the rich prehistory of the territory of North America which leads its citizens to hanker for bits and pieces looted from archaeological sites across the seas?" Well, it turns out it had. But not for long.

In a move which will probably produce excited anticipation in the ranks of anti-archaeological collectors' groups like the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild, South Dakota State legislature has reportedly completely cut the State Archaeologist's office out of the state budget, which provides nothing for its continued operation. The State Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City is reported to be extremely active in public outreach and have been good stewards of cultural sites for many years. This facility also houses all Federal collections for the state (as well as some others).

I guess then that the state's administrators assume that it will henceforth be in the scattered personal collections of pot-diggers and arrowhead collectors that various newly discovered bits of South Dakota's archaeological heritage are likely to be curated in future. It remains to be seen whether the citizens of South Dakota perceive a need for any more of their land's (pre)history and how they will satisfy it if they get rid of the archaeologists.

I suppose that while collectors' groups persist in persuading the US public that the real roots of America's past lie in the "pieces of past in your hand" cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals of a no-questions-asked market, the ancient coins and "partifacts" metal detected and dug from Balkan and Middle Eastern archaeological sites bought via the Black Market, then there's not much perceived need to spend money on producing proper information about the past of their land.

What are the long-term consequences for archaeology of the effects on public perceptions of the discipline caused by the current laissez-faire policies in some countries on portable antiquity collecting? I think this is something the pro-collecting lobby should be thinking very hard about. When is portable antiquity collecting "archaeology for all" and when is it not?


GordianGuy said...

"...the ranks of anti-archaeological collectors' groups like the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild..." This is a crock Paul - you know better. Just because you don't support collectors does not imply that they don't support the Archaeologist. Your blind hatred of things you don't like is leading you to make false accusations against an organization that encourages cooperation between collectors and Archaeologists. Stick to what you think you know not what you obviously do not.

Charley Rhodes

Paul Barford said...

“False accusation”, "encourages cooperation" Charley? Hardly.

1) Read the stuff produced by the officers of the ACCG, Waynes Sayles (Executive Director), Dave Welsh (officer), Peter Tompa (according to the website still President). They ooze hatred for the archaeological establishment who they see as their enemy. All three of them mince no words and waste no opportunity to attack archaeologists and archaeology as a whole. In the process (as I have pointed out a number of times in this blog), these same individuals time and time again display only too well their own prejudices, total ignorance of what archaeology is about, what archaeologists are actually saying, and even that they have not even bothered to find out where the ancient coins they collect come from in the first place! No, this is not "encouraging" cooperation, its placing obstacles in its way.

2) Are you a member of the ACCG Charley? If so, you will know that “Supporting archaeologists” is NOT one of their stated objectives. Where does it say that on their moribund webpage? Show me.

3) The webpage is however revealing in that it is a veritable quarry of anti-archaeological stuff. A random sample:
(a) “ideologues within the archaeological establishment have subverted laudable efforts to protect public collections and archaeological sites into a crusade to suppress the public's longstanding right to preserve, study and display antiquities” ,

(b) “ideologues in the archaeological community have seized on this period of political and emotional turmoil to advance interests that they have perennially been unable to push through Congress ”.

[c) “While hiding behind a mask of altruistic innocence, the archaeological community threatens to devour a venerable hobby and pillage the rights of private collectors with impunity”.

(d) “The leadership of the archaeological community is however firmly in the camp of cultural property prohibitionists and they rule the discipline with an iron fist. […] Some might consider this duplicitous. […] So, where is archaeological community leadership today? […] Some might consider this professional arrogance .”

(e) “One of the first and highest priorities of this new Guild will be to meet the AIA challenge head on with all of the resources that the collector community can muster."

and so on and so on. Now you will forgive me for my opinion that this does NOT create any impression of an organization that is terribly “pro” archaeology or is run by people who have any idea about how to work with archaeologists, ability to do so, or actually exhibit any real desire to. I wish that it were not so, but the balance of the evidence supports the view that (whatever you or its officers may now say to the contrary) ACCG has been from the beginning and continues to be an anti-archaeological organization .

GordianGuy said...

Paul - as a matter of fact I am a member of ACCG - new albeit but still a member and I see nothing to suggest a hatred of Archaeology or Archaeologists. If you want to talk about ignorance - then it is a shared ignorance. For you to suggest that only Archaeologists should be the sole arbiters of the past and how it should be protected smacks of the elitism that ACCG was founded to fight. I am, by the way a member of AIA and I support their cause also. No where on the ACCG page does it say we are against the Archaeology - no, they are against the closed minded, high-minded attitude held by some. Collecting ancient coins is in now way in conflict with preserving archaeological sites or the past. That is just YOUR interpretation. What you and your ilk define as preserving the past is not shared by everyone and you are certainly in no way in the majority. Your link to this post is to the FAQ page of the ACCG - I suggest that you read it and then tell me specifically where it says that ACCG is against archaeology and archaeologists. Honest disagreement is not a sign that ACCG is not for something. Because we don't share your extreme views does not make us wrong. Every community has its ideologues and the Archaeological community is one that is full of them - but that is not an implication that I am against archaeology or those that practice the art.

Paul - a PhD in anything tells me only that in an emergency you have a higher grade of toilet paper - and I am speaking as a holder of a PhD in physics. So, come down off your self-centered soap box - open your mind and be ready to engage at the level of people that I hold in higher esteem than you.


Paul Barford said...

Charley Rhodes writes:
Paul - as a matter of fact I am a member of ACCG
Why does that not surprise me? [sigh]

I see nothing to suggest a hatred of Archaeology or Archaeologists.
Perhaps you have problems reading what they themselves say? I guess you’d have to believe that I made up those quotes above and the dozen of others you will find liberally scattered across cyberspace by the poison pens of these “partners of archaeology”? The ACCG claims it is just against the “closed minds” (sic) in archaeology. It is clear when you read what the officers of ACCG themselves write (and I have read and analysed loads and loads of it) that they have a personal vendetta against archaeology and archaeologists as a whole, which they are busy spreading among those receptive enough in the collecting community to believe the stuff and nonsense they write.

If you want to talk about ignorance - then it is a shared ignorance.
Hmmm. The methodology of “ACCG numismatics” seems to be “gimme gimme, it’s mine by rights, retentionist archie scum (we’re not looters)!”. Hardly very much to understand there – except why people pay good money for these people to “represent” them. That I do not understand, except to see it as a result of apathy.

As for sharing ignorance, the motif of “our coins coming only from hoards” is a central tenet of the “what we believe” of the ACCG That central model of how coins come on the market is patently FALSE (there’s some posts here discussing this). The ACCG are fooling themselves and their members.

[Charley]: For you to suggest that only Archaeologists should be the sole arbiters of the past and how it should be protected smacks of the elitism that ACCG was founded to fight. Sorry, where do you see that? Why not read what I say and not repeat what you are told to say by the ACCG? I think a well-informed public should be arbiters of their past, the people from whom no-questions-asked coin collectors and dealers want to take the evidence for the past contained in the archaeological record. That is more than “elitism”, that is self-centred vandalism by proxy. Ninety percent (if not more) of man’s history can only be recovered by archaeological investigation, that’s a huge responsibility to place on archaeology. The task is not helped if bits of the record are being trashed so some PhD in physics in Wisconsin can have another no-questions-asked “piece of the past” (“ancient art”) for his growing collection of contextless-archaeological-artefacts-ripped-from-the-ground-and-smuggled-across-the-border-last-month.

So does a well informed public want the archaeological record, a fragile and finite resource, to retain its possibility to be used as such, or do they want to see it ripped to pieces by artefact-quarriers only concerned how much of it can be sold off to no-questions-asked dealers and irresponsible and uncaring collectors in a foreign country?

[Charley]: Collecting ancient coins is in now way in conflict with preserving archaeological sites or the past. That is just YOUR interpretation. Yes, that is precisely my interpretation of what I observe. Collecting coins in the US in the manner currently advocated by the ACCG undoubtedly is, make NO mistake about it, completely and utterly in conflict with any efforts anyone may make to try and preserve the world’s archaeological record from exploitation to serve the collectors’ market. The ACCG has – despite what it says - no intention of addressing the problems raised by those concerned by this issue. The posturing of the ACCG in its current form is part of (and will remain) part of the problem and in that form can never be an aid to curing it. While the ACCG fights to “preserve your right to collect” it is fighting (“head on”) against the efforts of those that are trying – against all odds at the moment - to preserve the remains of the past from destruction to serve no-questions-asked collectors. It is an anti-archaeological and anti-conservationist organization with a nineteenth century ideology run by a group of dealers whose main interest in the collector is as a market for their trade.

My “toilet paper” (since you bring it up) is like most of the paper I use thesae days ecological and made from sustainable resources. ACCG coin collecting is not.


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