Thursday, 27 May 2010

Historical Revisionism Writ Large: ACCG Denying the Archaeological Record

Among the weed seeds being scattered abroad on the Internet in the hope of finding fertile ground in the vacant gardens of peoples' minds is now a verbose text of ACCG's John Hooker called (though I am not clear why)"Expanding the Context". This started life as a post on coiney forum Moneta-L [though it borrows bits from earlier Hookerian posts on Britarch where we've seen all this same stuff for about the last seven or eight years). It was then cross-posted to various forums, and now has ended up as an ACCG editorial ("since it has direct relevance to the views of ACCG").

We have earlier seen another ACCG board member deny that the archaeological record can be archaeological heritage, now Hooker tries to deny the existence of an archaeological record at all.
To read what some archaeologists claim (although not truthfully)-an archaeological site has a "record" that has an independent existence. This is pure bunk. The archaeological record exists only in the mind of an archaeologist. The archaeologist uses what he or she finds in excavation to actually construct an archaeological record.
Well, first of all this totally ignores the fact that "excavation" is not the be all and end all of what archaeologists "do". But I think Hooker is labouring under the misapprehension that he can summarise in four words the interdisciplnary discussions about the nature of archaeological sources that has been going on right across Europe since before he was born. His artefact-centric opinion is akin to saying there is no historical record, "only words in old books". An artefact in the ground exists in a physical not imaginary context, and is associated there with other physical items and relationships which are real and not imaginary. These are the products of a whole series of processes, the purpose of archaeology is to understand these and interpret them according to the methodology of archaeology (within which typology of - for example - coins is just one tool). Ripping artefacts out of that context, those relationships has no chance of "constructing an archaeological record". it is just looting, pure and simple. No amount of demagogic claptrap about "archaeologists lying" can disguise that. By the way, the post-processsual book which Hooker no doubt found an extract or two of on Google Books would have been written by an archaeologist for archaeologists. No lies, just a selected part of a wider discussion.

To support his negationist views, Hooker harnesses a 1987 (!) book by Colin Haselgrove (Iron Age Coinage in S.E. England: the Archaeological Context, British Archaeological Reports 174, Oxford, 1987). He says "I know of no work even remotely similar", but then it seems his knowledge of the literature from the periods and areas outside his somewhat blinkered world view might be the explanation of that. Anyhow apparently Haselgrove's research "paints a very different picture from the "loss of context" mantra's (sic)" and "Haselgrove wrote that a single archaeological site could tell us only so much" (without noting that objects ripped from that site will tell us even less, while the information content of the site itself is also compromised). It seems the key point for Hooker is that "Haselgrove does not equate every coin find with "context"...". But then how could he when the majority of the records he was dealing with 23 years ago were from accidental finds? I really do not see the logic of what he reports from Haselgrove's book and why this means there is no archaeological record and that context is not lost when coins are taken from the archaeological record. Either I am thick, or Hooker is.

Colin Haselgrove works consistently with "Coins in Context" and I am pretty certain he would not agree with Hooker's twisting of the issue. Nobody who does serious work with coins (be they Iron Age, Roman or Early Medieval) in the twenty-first century can ignore context. Let us recall von Kaenel's comments in the book which apparently Hooker has not yet read but is reviewed extensively on Nathan Elkin's blog, about how in Iron Age numismatics no one seriously asks the question of "numismatics OR archaeology" but rather "numismatics AND archaeology". Hooker is willfully perpetuating the petrarchian paradigm of coins used to construct or illustrate a "kings and battles" history.

Photo: No archaeological record here? "This cut by a bulldozer illustrates different layers of soil in the Yukon Territory in Canada. The white layer near the surface is ash from a volcanic eruption". No, no it's all bunk and lies according to ACCG's Mr Hooker, what's important he says are the COINs, coins, coins and more coins.....

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