Monday, 11 October 2010

Debate of Portable Antiquities Issues is more than merely saying "you are wrong"

The blurb to "the People's archaeology blog" reads:
I am incensed at the misinformation and lies spread by the anti-metal detecting/anti-collecting archaeological lobby - hence this blog which will expose their lies and set the record straight on a legitimate and lawful activity.
Candice Jarman, the author of this new blog claims that the is a minority of individuals, in archaeology "people like Paul Barford, David Gill and Colin Renfrew", who are trying to impose their views on the majority. The artefact collecting secretary from Bournmouth singles out the present author who, she alleges, "misrepresents the truth, distorts the facts, all to further his anti-detecting, anti-collecting agenda". Well, she of course is as entitled to her opinion like the rest of us, but I would venture to suggest that simply stating "Barford/Gill/Renfrew is wrong" actually does not advance the debate very much. I suggest instead of collecting "anecdotes about Paul Barford" (or whoever - have you heard the one about Colin Renfrew and the double decker bus?), far more effective would be to demonstrate where according to this "friend of metal detectorists" those alleged "distortions" lie.

This is a blog, my blog, and it contains my opinions on things I come across in looking into portable antiquity collecting (mostly in the English-speaking world). Opinions I hold not without reason, in most cases I try to give references to where the material/news/ideas I discuss here can be seen in their original context. I write for my own entertainment, nobody forces anyone to read anything here. It is nice (but at the same time a bit disconcerting) when people do, but the basic function of all this is so I can explore the issues for myself, get words and ideas together. Anybody reading any of this if they are enquiring does not have to "take my word for it", they can check me out. They can even take me on in argument with the comments facility.

There are of course numerous collectors' forums, metal detecting forums, archaeological forums which welcome artefact collectors, collectors' rights advocacy groups, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and so on and so on. Anyone looking at this blog even cursorily will see me time and time again suggesting that if readers want to find out more about artefact hunting, they should join these (often closed access) groups and have a look what collectors themselves write and in what terms, see what concerns them and what does not. This is the only way they can see for themselves and make their minds up about what goes on in the various collecting milieus.

Frankly, I find it a little humorous that somebody should suggest that if there's a bloke tapping away at a distant computer discussing something and raising issues, that this must automatically result in the "imposition" of those views on the majority. I bet there are lots of ranters out there with various obsessions, who wish that it was so easy to sway public opinion. Why though in the case of portable antiquity collecting should it be easy to impose a view when there are hundreds (literally) of people saying what a jolly good and socially useful thing no-questions-asked collecting of dugup and knocked-off antiquities is?

If a couple of lone bloggers are perceived as such a "threat", to get even more voices in support of the cause, open up all those closed access collectors' discussion lists and let people see the authentic point of view of metal detectorists and other collectors. That will (surely) counteract the alleged "distortions" of the Barfords and Gills (Renfrew does not blog) and their (few) camp followers. More transparency!

But first let Candice Jarman demonstrate where what I have said - for example most recently about the Crosby Garrett helmet "misrepresents the truth" or "distorts the facts". Straight out, no beating about the bush, where is any of what I said about this so far been a "distortion"? From what has been emerging over the past few weeks, I rather think that label could be applied to the official half-story of how it came onto the market.

Before she starts her anti-preservationist campaign, I'd also like to draw the new blogger's attention to the fact that it is inaccurate (superficial) to say that I, for example, have an "anti-detecting, anti-collecting agenda" and an anti-PAS one. What I am indeed "anti" is the current form of the no-questions-asked market, not collecting per se, I am against (actually, increasingly angered by) the way the PAS is currently doing what it was set up to do, I personally think it has taken the wrong path entirely (though see why it has) and am concerned that for several reasons so-called "metal detecting" has been developing in a manner quite deleterious to the preservation of the archaeological record and also public perceptions of archaeology. The Crosby Garrett case is a prime example (and one which everyone can understand) of how it has got out of hand and we have lost view of our priorities. That is why I think it so important.

If Candy knew a bit more about "metal detecting" (if she joined a few forums for example) she would see that the majority of detectorists are aware that this case has done the hobby a great deal of harm. A lot of responsible artefact hunters in the UK are saying openly that what happened should not have done, and that object "belongs in a museum". I am not sure that her "friends" the detectorists will be too happy about her blog's attempt to speak on their behalf in this regard if she does not recognise this.

Ms Jarman is neither a metal detectorist, nor an archaeologist, so I'll leave expressing an opinion on her somewhat naive comments on archaeology for another time, she says she will expand on them later. Maybe she'll do some reading on it first before she starts writing about it. Basically I think she is confusing artefact collecting with archaeology, whatever the PAS says, they are two entirely different things.

So, Ms Jarman, where are the distortions about the no-questions-asked market and collecting promulgated by the likes of Barford, Gill and Renfrew? Can you point them out please?


Mo said...

I felt like writing a comment on Candy's blog but thought my time would be better spent on other things.

I don't think that it is worth the oxygen.

David Harry said...

Now that looks like it will turn into a bundle of fun!

Macrinus said...

I did write a comment on Candy's Blog. I found 'her' intended objectives, as stated in the first post, to be quite objectionable.

I then read some of the comments she made about the funding of archaeology in her second post and then realised that 'she' didn't have a clue. Mo, you were right. My time would have been better spent on other things.

Don't waste your time on Candy's blog Paul. Your time is better spent following up the many other real issues out there.

I do know you, though. We worked together over 20 years ago when you were working in and around Essex. I do know also the quality of your work and respect your commitment, passion and professionalism. I am sorry though that I cannot put a name to this public eulogy - I need to hide behind a pseudonym (perhaps this is a response to Candy also who wished for me to 'come out').

At times you rant about how weak some of us British archaeologists are, a bunch of quislings, and how we should stand up for our discipline against an ever-increasing number who are damaging the archaeological record in their search for items of interest and/or value. It is not that simple. There are many pressures on archaeologists and curators in the UK - political, economic, professional and peer group. Not all of us can be outspoken. Many of us have to smile politely to the detectorist who is bragging about his/her latest find, knowing that it is yet another item ripped out of context. Our jobs depend on it (and no, I am not employed by the PAS. I am publicly-funded though). Many detectorists do understand and do care, but there are equally many who have a 'red-neck' approach to authority of any sort - and regard archaeologists as being the epitome of authoritarianism. We get in the way of them wanting to do whatever they think is the right (and, by default, whatever they think is right has to be right. There is no dissent) - we are the nasty 'socialists', claiming that everyone owns this stuff, they are the 'neo-con' freedom fighters. I am not sure we will ever see a coalition of those two camps.

I suppose the PAS was supposed to be the caulking rammed between the two to make the process related to all these finds more watertight - so that knowledge didn't leak out into the private sector and get lost with the finds themselves. They (PAS) appear increasingly, though, to be a publicly-funded identification and recording service solely for the detectorists I know they do more than that, or so they would tell me, but that is not how it is perceived.

So, Macrinus will have to remain if I wish to engage in these discussions. Sorry about that - but kids to feed and all that!

Anyway don't get distracted by Candy. Stay focused on the issues. I look forward to more about the conundrum that is the Crosby Stills Nash and Garrett Helmet!

Paul Barford said...

welcome. Yes, I am perfectly aware why many British archaeologists cannot speak out.
"Council policy" and all that.

It is ironic that over in the US/Canada it is suggested that an "atmosphere of fear" prevents archaeologists speaking out in FAVOUR of the collector with whom they allegedly in reality sympathise - when in fact private correspondence with my colleagues in Britain shows that I am not alone in my critical assessment of what is going on, though being based outside the UK am actually able to say what others would clearly dearly like to.

Anyway nice to hear from you. Essex twenty years ago seems a long way away now. I've just written something on it though which took me back a bit.

Paul Barford said...

And yes, of course you are right Macrinus, tactics like this are the way artefact collectors avoid discussing the REAL issues, deflecting discussion by making personal attacks. I've been debating this now for - well as long as you have known me - and this I have learnt. Thus there is currently a parallel metal detecting "ghetto" blog (like we did on britarch a while back) for time-wasting nonsense like this, I don't publicise it, its just to answer stuff like this in suitably robust terms, nothing of any real interest there at all, but the worst calumnies should not go unanswered.

The focus of this blog will remain unchanged, most of what 'Cindy' writes will be of no interest to those who come here to see discussion of issues surrounding collecting and I imagine are less interested in judging "who" says it, but what is being said - and not insignificant I would think is how those points are answered by the 'other' side. 'Candy's' blog I think does the cause of the metal detectorist and collector no favours - quite the opposite. Which is why I am glad to draw attention to it here.

Let's have a PAS comment on her concept of what a "People's Archaeology" blog should look like, I rather thought we had an "archaeology for the people" and in the UK the PAS was part of it...

Anonymous said...

Macrinus, what a well-written piece of support for Paul. I’ve known him for some years myself and can confirm his only sin is concern for conservation, something for which he is continuously attacked – always by those who are engaged in taking for themselves or supporting them. I think that simple fact ought to be kept in mind at all times. If he was being blaggarded by generous spirited conservationists the attacks might be worth taking seriously. Since they invariably come from takers or takers’ rights activists they can be safely disregarded.

That particularly goes for Candy who I am prepared to bet is a slightly tubby middle-aged male non-recording metal detectorist masquerading as an attractive young gay woman (pourquoi?). How do I know he’s a non-reporting detectorist? Because of this sort of thing “The past belongs to us ALL - not just to archaeologists” which is what non-reporters say. Reporting detectorists, by their actions, show they know “belongs to all” doesn’t mean “up for grabs by all”.

I’m with you though, I hope Paul doesn’t bother with such people. You might as well talk animal rights with a huntsman. The discussion is essentially about ethics not arguing with people that are outside and opposed to the debate. Ignore the wannabe attractive secretary.

PS, I’ve just seen that Peter Tompa has added “I support your view that the past belongs to all of us”!!


Paul Barford said...

well, quite, I think "Candice" has failed to notice the significance of the type of people who she sides with. I have consistently argued that there is no way you can treat "artefact hunting" in the UK (ie metal detecting) in isolation from the wider issues of artefact collecting - which is precisely what the UK's limp "fluffy bunny" PAS approach does. That Tompa and his ilk have something in common with the "Candices" and Bazzas, Kevs and Dereks is something worth noting by both sides. The non-reporting artefact hunters are singing from the same songsheet as the no-questions-asked dealers and collectors of dugups.

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