Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bizarre: European Commission Rules Against Swedish Artefact Hunting Legislation

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Dr. Martin Rundkvist ("Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, public speaker, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, and father of two") writes today on his blog ('European Commission Rules Against Swedish Metal-Detector Legislation', 13th October) [ see also here from last week, you read it here first folks]:
Good news for Swedish metal detectorists! And for us Iron Age scholars who want the finds, the sites and the free expert labour these amateurs are eager to provide us. And also for any small-finds nerd who would like to have a labour market (who? me?), communicating with the detectorists and classifying their finds. The European Commission has ruled that the Swedish restrictions on metal-detector use contravenes EU rules for the free mobility of goods. If Sweden doesn't take measures towards legislative reform within two months, the issue will be referred to the EU Court of Justice. As I've argued in Fornvännen and Antiquity, I think metal-detector permits should be handled similarly to licences for hunting rifles. Apply for a licence, take a test to show that you know how to use the machine responsibly, then keep the licence as long as you don't turn out to be a hazard to the interests of others. I'd be happy to volunteer one day for the group that drafts our new rules.
Protecting the archaeological heritage from being dug over contravenes EU rules for what? (" the free mobility of goods"). Goods like potatoes, pig iron, German cars and Swedish porn. Dr Runquist is however jubilant, it means he can get amateurs to provide him with the freshly dugup finds, the sites holed like Swiss (not in the EU) cheese, and the "free labour" to dig these holes. Oh, and of course it makes a job for "small-finds nerds" like himself "communicating with the detectorists and classifying their finds". And he reckons he'll land himself a position in the influential group that will draft the new antiquity preservation laws. Here we see the mechanisms of spread of the British disease, by appointing themselves as champions of the "rights" of a repressed minority against an "Other", archaeologists like Rundkvist and a few others back in the UK who I will not name but they Know Who They Are hope to establish a position at the head of a band of loyal supporters, to help them maintain a position of influence.



Look at the picture, Rundkvist is digging in grassland on the edge of a forest, not even looking what he is doing. Buried just to the left of that hole is an important animal bone assemblage, not detected by the tool he has used to "detect" an interesting place to dig a little hole to hoik out the metal object which is an important piece of dating of that assemblage. To the right are important traces of economic activities that took place on that site which he is ignoring too because his machine did not bleep. What kind of investigation is it that looks only at evidence made of one material (that most easily found with the tools used)? What further use is a site where that evidence has already been removed from it totally at random? He has no GPS with him, no tape and no notebook, let alone bags, labels and markers to pack individually pinpointed finds. Wearing his headset over that silly hat he's not going to hear half the signals, so going to miss some of the metal objects the site contains anyway - what kind of a sampling procedure is that? What "rules" does he think he's going to create that will turn artefact hunting into amateur archaeology?

Well, at least he's not wearing wussy thick gloves and kneelers.

No, no, no. What on earth is the EU up to? Promoting tools for the trashing of the archaeological heritage so that "goods" can freely travel is surely NOT what the EU was set up to promote. I hope the rest of Sweden's archaeologists hold out and do not cave in to this blatant interference.

So, I guess it is Ireland's turn next?

What nobody has said yet is who brought this matter before the European Commission.

Free movement of goods - Commission requests Sweden to comply with EU rules as regards metal detectors IP/10/1223 Date: 30/09/2010 "The Swedish Heritage Conservation Act states that metal detectors may neither be used nor carried on the sites of ancient monuments and remains [...] The Commission considers that Sweden's current legislation, that places strict limits on the use and transport of metal detectors, is disproportionate to the public policy objective of protecting archaeological and historical sites,"...

Since the French have made the accusation, I think it would be very helpful if the UK made public their submissions to the body investigating the matter. After all it is in Britain alone that the use of metal detectors on the sites of ancient monuments and remains is seen as a "jolly good thing" and not at all damaging to those sites of ancient monuments and remains, so what part did British delegates and the opinions of British bodies such as the PAS play in arriving at this meddling decision? Perhaps the PAS would like to make a comment on the archaeological aspects of this decision? Somehow, I doubt it.

14 comments:

Martin said...

Actually, that shot shows me during a metal detector survey of a Medieval brickworks site that is currently in a garden. The grassland is a lawn. Sadly, we didn't find anything pre-dating the 20th century. Most likely this is because of landscaping for the garden.

I agree with you, Paul, that the English situation is not good. Primarily, singly found copper-alloy objects need to be declared Treasure. The Swedish legal situation is very different though.

Paul Barford said...

To an Englishman's eyes, that's an awful "lawn".

A survey is a survey, surely and systematic examination and recording are still required. So I am wondering about these "rules" you want to write. we need to improve standards if metal detecting is ever going to produce information of any use, not loosen them.

I do not agree with you that it is as simple as making all "singly found copper alloy objects treasure" in the UK, that is just silly and is missing the point entirely (inn any case I'd disagree about extending it only that far if you are going in that direction, when I was a small- find nerd, I was most keen on cruddy ironwork, archaeologically you can do a lot with iron - most detectorists in the UK throw most of it away). What is this "Treasure" distinction FOR?

No, we do not need "more metal detectors" and no, we do not need the interfering EU poking its nose into local, national, archaeological matters because they disagree with a TRADING policy. That is just stupid and arrogant and I hope that Swedish archaeologists and all concerned about looting in Sweden [if there are any] put up a decent fight).

Martin said...

In Sweden, if you find a copper alloy object (regardless of how you find it), you have to hand it in to the County Museum.

I think one of the prerequisites of a metal detector license should be a demonstrated ability to tag finds with GPS coordinates. If you can afford a metal detector, you can also afford a simple GPS navigator.

In Sweden, we must build a detectorist culture from the bottom up. I'm there now influencing that nascent culture's practices.

Paul Barford said...

Why would an archaeologist WANT a "detecting culture" when the rest of the world is trying to get people to stop digging things up to collect and sell?

Why not aim to protect the archaeological record and not promote its erosion and destruction?

I just do not understand the attitude. Promoting a "whaling culture", an "ivory poaching culture", a "tropical rainforest felling culture", a "Siberian tigerskin on the floor culture", a "guzzling up all the natural resources culture"?

Is killing an elephant really the only way to appreciate elephants? Is digging over an archaeological site and collecting bric a brac from it the only way to appreciate the past?

I'd say a better place for an archaeologist would be nipping nascent erosive "cultures" like that in the bud. What is wrong with trying to CONSERVE the archaeological record?

Martin said...

Your reasoning presupposes that if objects are left out in the fields now, they will all eventually be found in pretty good shape by archaeologists. Not true. The finds degrade rapidly and us archaeologists will never get there on our puny budgets.

I want a culture of responsible detectorists, like the Danish one, to locate and save the finds for science. These people make important discoveries that us archaeologists would never make ourselves.

I despise looters as much as you do. But I want a knowledgeable and responsible detectorist on every ploughed field in Sweden, to tell me what's in the plough soil.

Come to Sweden and meet my detectorist buddies! They're heavily into the local history movement, and they love both history and archaeology. They don't use their metal-detectors to supplement their incomes: on the contrary, they take a vacation from their well-paid jobs to metal-detect my sites with me without getting paid.

Paul Barford said...

"Your reasoning presupposes that if objects are left out in the fields now, they will all eventually be found in pretty good shape by archaeologists. Not true. The finds degrade rapidly"
Well, I do not know where you get that from. This is a view much espoused by British detectorists (and their archaeological supporters) to justify hoiking it out now. They never cite any literature though, do they? Just anecdotal "evidence" and "general impressions". I've got a book coming out (written with Nigel Swift) and devoted half a chapter to this looking at where this idea came from, and with a survey of the literature, including a number of alarmist items from Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden as I recall). We conclude that this is myth, but forgive me if I do not go into the whys and wherefores now.

"us archaeologists will never get there on our puny budgets". Never? So might as well damage the sites now, eh?
Well, Swedish biologists will probably never get to see every elephant alive, but that is no argument for filling the regions where they live with "knowledgeable and responsible" riflemen to kill them all is it?

We seem to be talking at cross purposes, I'm talking resource conservation, you are talking (metal) object centred dig-it-all-up-now-ism, justifying it with the "heritage hero-rescue" myth. This is just an extension of the collectors' object-centred argument isn't it? Like the ACCG coineys who don't really need much information about context, just the "objects" out of the ground.

See David Knell's
Object-based Universe - the danger of a blinkered view [http://ancient-heritage.blogspot.com/2010/05/object-based-universe-danger-of.html]

"to tell me what's in the plough soil." Artefacts are in the plough soil, I'll tell you that for nothing. So what?

But you will not be able to tell what they mean by secondhand information derived from the activities of (metal) artefact hunters.



Thanks for the invitation, you know we have metal detectorists here in Poland too. I am not exactly unfamiliar with metal detectorists and what they do in the various types of metal detecting, neither am I at all unfamiliar with the one-sided arguments used by people like yourself to justify encouraging artefact hunters and becoming their "partners". I am not sure why you think "Swedish" ones are/will be any different from Polish ones or British ones. Just because they are Swedish?

I really have heard all the arguments for supporting artefact hunting and collecting - I'm sorry, there is nothing you write here that has not been said a million times by the PAS and UK metal detectorists (including "we are different, not like the rest, we passionately love our history and archaeology and never sell our finds and are willing to help out on excavations if you let us").


Anyway we are getting a long way from the European Commission dictating to the Swedish authorities how they can and cannot attempt to protect the Swedish archaeological record from artefact hunting. That's what I am more interested in, particularly in that it conflicts with other EU documents on preserving the archaeological heritage.

Martin said...

Ullén, I. et al., 2004. The degradation of archaeological bronzes underground. Evidence from museum collections. Antiquity 78:300. York.

http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/078/Ant0780380.htm

I don't find this paper to be "alarmist".

So might as well damage the sites now, eh? Well, Swedish biologists will probably never get to see every elephant alive, but that is no argument for filling the regions where they live with "knowledgeable and responsible" riflemen to kill them all is it?

Surface-collecting and digging in the plough soil does not damage a site. It is often the best way to identify a site.

Your elephant analogy does not work. A live free elephant doing its elephanty thing in Serengeti is valuable in itself. A piece of metalwork in the plough soil has no value until it is found.

I'm talking resource conservation, you are talking (metal) object centred dig-it-all-up-now-ism,

That's true. I have little interest in conservation. I am a researcher. I want the data NOW. I would like to have half of the archaeological record (not just the small finds) out of the ground tomorrow, please. But I do not want nighthawks to obliterate data. I like to involve interested members of the public in archaeological research.

Artefacts are in the plough soil … But you will not be able to tell what they mean by secondhand information derived from the activities of (metal) artefact hunters.

There's lots of good research coming out of the PAS data. Lifting a metal find from the plough soil and tagging it with GPS is not a task that demands a PhD.

Some colleagues say that detectorists are a bad lot and we need to make the best of a shitty situation. I don't agree. The Danish example has taught me that detectorists are a huge resource that archaeological research needs to learn to use. Because our overarching goal is to find out about the past.

Martin said...

Ullén, I. et al., 2004. The degradation of archaeological bronzes underground. Evidence from museum collections. Antiquity 78:300. York.

http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/078/Ant0780380.htm

I don't find this paper to be "alarmist".

So might as well damage the sites now, eh? Well, Swedish biologists will probably never get to see every elephant alive, but that is no argument for filling the regions where they live with "knowledgeable and responsible" riflemen to kill them all is it?

Surface-collecting and digging in the plough soil does not damage a site. It is often the best way to identify a site.

Your elephant analogy does not work. A live free elephant doing its elephanty thing in Serengeti is valuable in itself. A piece of metalwork in the plough soil has no value until it is found.

I'm talking resource conservation, you are talking (metal) object centred dig-it-all-up-now-ism,

That's true. I have little interest in conservation. I am a researcher. I want the data NOW. I would like to have half of the archaeological record (not just the small finds) out of the ground tomorrow, please. But I do not want nighthawks to obliterate data. I like to involve interested members of the public in archaeological research.

Artefacts are in the plough soil … But you will not be able to tell what they mean by secondhand information derived from the activities of (metal) artefact hunters.

There's lots of good research coming out of the PAS data. Lifting a metal find from the plough soil and tagging it with GPS is not a task that demands a PhD.

Some colleagues say that detectorists are a bad lot and we need to make the best of a shitty situation. I don't agree. The Danish example has taught me that detectorists are a huge resource that archaeological research needs to learn to use. Because our overarching goal is to find out about the past.

Paul Barford said...

"I have little interest in conservation. I am a researcher. I want the data NOW. I would like to have half of the archaeological record (not just the small finds) out of the ground tomorrow, please."

Where is Heritage action when you need them? If this was a metal detecting forum I could put one of those yellow smiley icons with eyes wide open with astonishment. Thank goodness, it is not and I cannot, I can only say Martin: I am astonished.

Adding: ...and really have no desire to continue this conversation with somebody who would blithely say such a thing.

Have you thought of joining the ACCG? They'd make you their poster boy.

Paul Barford said...

No, that looks like a cop-out doesn't it?
1) Literature about soil corrosion. I did not discuss one article, but a whole range (which included that one). I really do think you need to go back to the origins of the idea with reference to MD first, but as I said I really do not want to go into the whys and wherefores. I believe that if you analyse this in more detail, it turns out to be a convenient myth that collectors and their supporters have latched onto.

2) Surface sites. Well, if we look at metal detecting surveys, fieldwalking surveys, time and time again, we see the pattern of "finds"(archaeological evidence) in the topsoil is far from random in every case. Ploughsoil archaeology has been developing apace - in part conected with development cntrol, and I see no reason why that development will cease.

"Surface-collecting and digging in the plough soil does not damage a site". Well, unless you want to examine a site through the surface evidence eh? Personally, being a fieldwalking survey type of bloke, I do not see the techniques of archaeology to be solely synonymous with excavation, thus there are several ways to damage a site - depending on what eidence you need for a particular piece of research. I know of many 'surface' (lithic) sites which while known in the nineteenth century literature have been collected away today, perhaps you do too. I know others which are in the process of being collected away, despite being scheduled. I know sites in England that lost any ancient coin assemblages they had in their topsoil already by the mid 1970s (Sheepen, Colchester a prime and tragic example). I know WW2 sites where you'll not find a single collectable gun or helmet or anything else that could be found there a few decades ago. The "site assemblage" has been altered by collecting (and yes, I conducted fieldwork on 1944 trenches).

I simply do not agree that you an remove material selectively from a surface site and leave it unchanged, and frankly cannot understand people that suggest you can.

In my view, there is more to topsoil archaeology than "identifying sites" and I think this is a field which is still developing - so how can we simply disregard this?

3) "Your elephant analogy does not work:" Well, we will have to disagree there, it is a analogy to what you are suggesting, I'm talking about conserving what is out there in the foields, you are talking about using it up now to fulfill a need to get hands on more finds (using free labour of amateurs).

"A piece of metalwork in the plough soil has no value until it is found" It has value as archaeological evidence IN the ground, when hoiked out by a collector it is a geegaw. Again, I a talking about conserving the record, you are thinking of ways to use it up (make it available to you) as quickly as possible. This is the collectors' mentality - perhaps you want to collect (selected pieces of) information, but it is still taking that information out of the patterns which recovered differently would give a fuller picture. You are giving the ACCG lots of fuel for their arguments here Martin.

4) "I have little interest in conservation. I am a researcher...". Aaaaarghh!!! Back! Back! "... ne inducas nos in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo...." [Makes sign of the cross with his trowels]

This is a joke, right?

Paul Barford said...

(4) [warning: I am now wearing garlic]
"I have little interest in conservation. I am a researcher. I want the data NOW. I would like to have half of the archaeological record (not just the small finds) out of the ground tomorrow, please." Right and the other half will be...? For goodness' Sake!

So when you've got that half, and published where every single archaeological site in Sweden can be found, how are you going to STOP the "nighthawks" (maybe not Swedes) going and taking the other half? Asking them nicely? What are you going to do with all those half-data?

5) "I like to involve interested members of the public in archaeological research" But why can you not think of a way of doing that without trashing a huge bit of the archaeological record? Involved as what precisely? Like retriever dogs that bring you [the gracious expert] the trophies of their searching? How are they "involved" in YOUR research?

6) There's lots of good research coming out of the PAS data. If I was a metal detectorist, I'd use a four letter word here too. The notions of "good" and "coming out" are relative. Much of it which we've heard about is very much the sort of "archaeology" Kossinna would have recognised. A lot of simplistic ethnocentric interpretations, dot distribution maps based on ... well, what? Do you knw how these data are gathered? What kinds of patterns of activity in the field they represent? No, nor do I but what I do know is that there are several sources of inherent bias in the manner in which these data are gathered. I also know that there is no sign that these have been studiued by the PAS - or even admitted to. The PAS is not very strong on archaeological theory and has instead basically set out from the other end of the research programme - the aim is to show (for obvious reasons) how useful the database is rather than starting from the question, can it be useful? The positivist assumption at the basis is "lots of data means good data". Is that true? I sincerely doubt it for a number of reasons, but set them out elsewhere at greater length than I can be bothered here.

7) Lifting a metal find from the plough soil and tagging it with GPS is not a task that demands a PhD. yeah, a trained monkey can do it. But I'd not claim I was involving trained monkeys in my "research". What do they get out of it?

But then you could say the same about tell-digging in Iraq, couldn't you, "digging a cuneiform tablet out of the sand and recognising what it is is not a task that demands a PhD". But recognising the relationship of that fragment to the other evidence on the site needs more than just a spade and a strong back. That is the problem isn't it? It is recording and then interpreting the relationships between all the types of evidence on a site (even if it is just a surface site) which is what the name of the game is, and GPS or no GPS, merely hoiking out the recognisable metalwork is not "doing archaeology". You cannot interpret incomplete secondhand data with any reliability, and once the evidence is hoiked out, you cannot put it back and extract it a second time.

I really do not see whence this lack of respect for the archaeological record and the methodology of your own discipline.

8) detectorists are a huge resource that archaeological research needs to learn to use. So are ploughsoil sites. So you see no alternative to "needing" them?

Because our overarching goal is to find out about the past. I would add in a manner which is as sustainable as possible and does not penalise those who will come after us and want to ask different questions than Martin Rundkvist in 2010.

Portable said...

Paul as usual picking your facts to suit you. http://www.finds.org.uk/research/projects/project/id/31

Paul Barford said...

Hi Dan, or Roger (I cannot keep up with who is who behind all these pseudonyms).

Frankly, if you do not actually know to what I am referring, then its really a little premature to accuse me of "picking my data" to suit. The study has not yet been published, has it?

When it was announced, I seem to recall enquiring about what was planned, and not getting a answer. It is really difficult to judge from that one paragraph just what is the scope of that research and what questions it addresses and in what manner. But I look forward to seeing it published and then we can discuss it in detail.

What was the third survey area chosen in the end?

[I bet I know what the conclusions are going to be, that there are no significant biases and the data are representative and everything is hunky dory and excellent value for money. Yes?]

But yes, you are right, I should have remembered that somebody had started to do this. Tom Brindle's work also verges on the problem a bit as I saw from a presentation he did once. So, thirteen years on it is nice to see that we are beginning to have these questions looked at. But until we have the results published to form the background to the interpretation of all the other research projects done on the basis of the PAS data, and I am aware that you have somewhere a whole page listing them, I think it is too early to say we've got "lots of good research coming out of the PAS data" for the reasons I stated.

What a shame that PAS no longer has a Forum where you can interact with ARCHAEOLOGISTS such as Martin over there in Sweden hankering for a PAS. There are so many issues like these biases that need open discussion and there is nowhere to do it, just scan the scattered blogs for snippets of information and opinions.

Martin said...

being a fieldwalking survey type of bloke, I do not see the techniques of archaeology to be solely synonymous with excavation, thus there are several ways to damage a site - depending on what eidence you need for a particular piece of research.

Being a fellow fieldwalking bloke, you will appreciate having the surface finds neatly GPS tagged in a box on your desk instead of sitting in the ploughsoil at a site of which you and the rest of archaeology is still unaware.

"A piece of metalwork in the plough soil has no value until it is found" It has value as archaeological evidence IN the ground, when hoiked out by a collector it is a geegaw.

It doesn't matter who hoiks it out as long as it is GPS tagged and ends up in a public collection, as is the general case in Scandinavia.

I a talking about conserving the record, you are thinking of ways to use it up (make it available to you) as quickly as possible. This is the collectors' mentality - perhaps you want to collect (selected pieces of) information, but it is still taking that information out of the patterns which recovered differently would give a fuller picture.

This criticism applies to all archaeological fieldwork, past, present and future.

So when you've got that half, and published where every single archaeological site in Sweden can be found, how are you going to STOP the "nighthawks" (maybe not Swedes) going and taking the other half?

Sweden's sites and monuments register has been published on the web for years. We have very few detectorists of any stripe, good and bad. I said ”half the archaeological record” because I trust our grandchildren will be even better fieldworkers than you and me, Paul.

But why can you not think of a way of doing that without trashing a huge bit of the archaeological record? Involved as what precisely? Like retriever dogs that bring you [the gracious expert] the trophies of their searching? How are they "involved" in YOUR research?

I don't think of my detectorist buddies as dogs. Paul. And, I trust, vice versa. We work together in the field, clean and discuss our finds at the hostel in the evenings, and I either credit them by name in my publications or co-write with them. Some also publish work of their own in the research journal I co-edit. The finds are in public museums.

The positivist assumption at the basis is "lots of data means good data". Is that true?

Controlling for sampling bias is kind a basic precaution in science, don't you think?

"digging a cuneiform tablet out of the sand and recognising what it is is not a task that demands a PhD"

You and me both agree that documenting the stratigraphical context of a find not floating in the plough soil is best left to an experienced field archaeologist.

GPS or no GPS, merely hoiking out the recognisable metalwork is not "doing archaeology"

Yes, it's one important task in modern field archaeology. And one that demands great skill that most professionals lack.

 
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