Thursday, 9 December 2010

UK Professor to Seek New Job?

In a comment to a post by David Gill on Looting Matters, Roger Pearse suggests
"If Martin Carver is correctly reported as saying "why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object?" then he should find another job."
Well, I believe he is correctly reported. Mr Pearse if he does not get Antiquity can follow the links given by David Gill to the online version of the editorial. Whether or not a Professor should consider "finding a new job" because of expressing his views on the importance of discussing the issues surrounding treasure hunting and archaeological value is a moot point. I think we need such discussion, Mr Pearse seems to think we do not.

In the UK, the obligation to report potential Treasure finds to the Coroner is a legal one. As is the obligation to report finds of human remains, it is exactly the same procedure in the UK. I wonder if Mr Pearse thinks Britain should introduce a reward system to encourage people not to behave like peasants when they find a dead body in the woods? How much would that reward be? The market value of any jewellery and gold fillings left on and in the body ? The value the skeletal elements would fetch on the black market for scientific specimens?

If Mr Pearse, instead of calling for Carver's head, had read carefully what he actually says, there is a second layer of meaning. He says we should be discussing issues like paying artefact hunters to DIG UP things like the Crosby Garrett helmet, hoiked out of the ground with consequent loss of contextual information, a loss of knowledge(which is what Carver and Gill were talking about) far greater than whether this reconstructed geegaw is displayed in this or that museum, in this or that country. From an archaeological point of view should we be paying for a loss of information just to get the material detritus produced by that destruction?

To that end, the Treasure Act has a Code of Practice which lays down quite clearly what should happen the moment any member of the public comes across potential Treasure, and adherence to which should determine the amount of discretionary (for it is not laid down in any law) reward paid. Funnily enough, "dig it all out before considering reporting it" is not in it. You would think Treasure hunters would make themselves familiar with its contents before they go out to "do it themselves".

Dr Pears loves poring over old patristic manuscripts. I wonder whether he'd be in favour of paying a manuscript hunter who searches monastic libraries for one of the few surviving partial examples of some elusive lost work to surrender the illuminations they've produced by utterly destroying most of the fragile codex itself. To stop them "being smuggled abroad". Surely the important thing here too is not actually just stopping the smuggling, but the process which led to the decontextualised objects which criminals are trying to smuggle. There are two moral crimes here, not one, whether or not both are illegal. So to put Carver's question another way using this analogy, should the public pay a cynically-commercial codex-cutter 1000 times more than a palaeographer and Patristics scholar to produce something from the newly-discovered manuscript? Why can't they pay and get the codex with the illuminations in their context in a text which is properly studied? Why cant we withhold payment if all we get from it are a few interesting and colourful drawings which look nice in a frame?

Professor Carver is asking us to consider what we are paying for and why, and I think that is a very pertinent question.


heritageaction said...

I think Professor Carver is not only querying what we are paying for but WHO we are paying.

The only bit of the Treasure process Roger Pearse didn't misunderstand or misrepresent was "What we do is ensure they sell that treasure to us" (and even that is factually incorrect although it does amount to that.)

The treasure is ours, we pay a "reward" for the acknowledged reason that if we don't a lot of metal detectorists will steal it. To suggest that "we" could steal it from them is just silly, but utterly detectoristic. (Why do we never hear such utter greedy nonsense from landowners, who are also entitled to a reward? A different species altogether very often, as anyone that has met both will readily confirm. Ever hear a landowner moaning the reward isn't high enough or selling things on the quiet or abusing atrchaeologists?)

So Carver asks who we are paying. And the answer is: people who we fear will steal our property if we don't pay them a ransom. And for raising a quizzical eyebrow about this, Mr Pearce thinks he should be sacked?!

Paul Barford said...

Well, if he read and understood what Carver wrote, that seems to be what he is suggesting.

I wonder what the PAS would say about all this, if it had a voice?

heritageaction said...

"I wonder what the PAS would say about all this, if it had a voice?"

What, the only remaining publicly financed archaeology outreach organisation making comments about issues like the Crosby Garrett helmet or Prof Carver's seminal article?

You're havin' a laugh ain'tcha?
Try the detectorists' forums, there's a member called Roger on one of them that I think you may know!

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I know there is. He does not tend to say much there either about best practice does he?

What are the chances that he'll be discussing Prof Carver's ruminations with his understanding "partners" on the tekkie forum then? Bet you a beer he does not.

heritageaction said...

Well if he did, the only possible line he could take is that paying a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object is perfectly reasonable. After all, partnership requires a meeting of minds.

Roger Pearse said...

I'm afraid that I don't recognise my comment in this representation of it, nor the views I hold in those attributed to me. I refer people to what I actually wrote.

Such carelessness about facts is one reason why I have lost much sympathy with this lobby. There are terrible problems with the art market, but they need to be addressed rationally. The law of unintended consequences will have terrible effects if we don't.

The idea espoused in the comments that all treasure belongs to the state is charmingly soviet, or perhaps feudal in the bad sense. In the fairytale the poor peasant might dig up a gold coin, and the wicked baron might rob him of it with a sneer and a blow. But at least the peasant didn't tell himself, as he rubbed his head, "well, the baron rightfully owned it", or lecture others on their duty to Sir Nogood the Bad.

heritageaction said...

"The idea espoused in the comments that all treasure belongs to the state is charmingly soviet"

What, my comment that the treasure is ours? But it is! What you are dismissing as "charmingly soviet" and "feudal" is the British Treasure Act, administered by Roger Bland and PAS! Is he your "wicked baron"?!

heritageaction said...

"The idea espoused in the comments that all treasure belongs to the state is charmingly soviet, or perhaps feudal"

Ummmm, but it does! Under the Treasure Act. Which is administered by PAS and Dr Bland. Is it he you are saying is charmingly soviet?

So who exactly is exhibiting carelessness (or worse) with the facts?

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