This is the third of a series of three posts addressing the questions raised on Candice Jarman's metal detecting apologist blog ('How about answering some questions Mr Barford?').
3. When does Mr Barford propose that the archaeological fraternity will be able to bring into the national heritage the equivalent number of finds currently being recorded with the PAS (and the subsequent information it provides for research)?Mr Barford proposes that getting decontextualised finds out of the ground in huge numbers and thus eroding the archaeological record is not the aim of (my part of) "the archaeological fraternity". This is the approach of the artefact fetishist (more on that later).
It is not clear what Jarman and Hewitt understand by "research". Despite being 'recorded' in the PAS database, there are huge gaps for example in the documentation of the Crosby Garrett helmet which do not allow much detailed "research" to take place on it, neither as an isolated artefact, nor in terms of an object in a context of deposition. In the case of the majority of the 800 or so "Treasure" finds dug up annually by Treasure hunters and now "brought into the national heritage", where are the full publications of the results of that "research"? For example all the coin hoards with full inventories and die link details? The truth is that such research is NOT going on on the thousands of "Treasure" finds hoiked out of the ground, except perhaps for individual select cases. Neither is there anywhere for it to be published in any detail.
"Numbers" of course is not really the most important quality where data are concerned, reliability is a more important characteristic. How "reliable" are the data reported to the PAS by artefact hunters when we know that this can considerably increase their saleability?
It's hard to escape the opinion that Mr Barford would prefer artefacts to lie in the ground and never to be found! Further, where would the funding come from for archaeologists to excavate all these objects, write them up and conserve them etc?Where is the money coming from NOW to get the finds found in uncontrolled digging by artefact hunters to be written up and conserved (how many metal detected finds from Britain in private hands are ever submitted to a trained conservator to stabilise, and under what conditions are they curated?). The whole point of conservation of a finite and fragile resource is exactly that, refrain from exploiting it away for short-term gain in favour of sustainable management and preventive conservation. According to the principle “Primum non nocere” yes, we would like the archaeological heritage left where it is when it is otherwise unthreatened, for future generations to deal with as they see fit, and not leave them an archaeological full of holes and wheelbarrow-loads of by-then totally decontextualised artefacts in the antiquities market.
Frankly, I do not see these so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as ones which after thirteen years of PAS outreach are somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me with these questions and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years consistently failed to address such questions?
Candice seems not to understand the notion of "conservation".
Mr Barford would rather objects were never found - just left to rot in the ground.in the same way as I do not think pandas, tigers and whales cease to exist because they are out there in the wild doing their thing and not locked away in a zoo or aquarium. Conservation is surely about creating conditions allowing their ability to stay out there in the wild doing their thing. I really cannot see what is so difficult to understand about this - well, I can, because of course we are seeing here again fetishisation of the object, decontextualising it from the more complex context as a component of something else. Finding ("having") the object is not the aim of conservation of the archaeological record (which is what David Gill's PIA article discussed here in adjacent December posts - but which the PAS refused to respond to - was about).
As said previously, most finds are made on private farmland and would never ever be excavated by archaeologists, because there is nothing to indicate to future generations that there is anything of interest in the soil there, except a 'beep' on a scope.Well, let "detectorists" do us all a favour and map all the "beeps" but leave the objects in the ground, then we can have the best of both worlds, they can "detect" and we can have our in situ preservation. But of course that is not what the hobby called disingenuously "metal detecting"; is about, its not about just "detecting" but "hoiking and having".
It really seems to me that Candice is saying the equivalent of: "what's the point of having all those rare wild orchids growing in a field where nobody can pick them and stick them in a vase?" Except of course orchids are slightly more renewable than the archaeological record.
Again I see these queries about "what conservation is" not see these so much as a "question for Barford" from UK metal detectorists as ones which, after thirteen years of PAS outreach, are somewhat misdirected. This really IS a question for the PAS, so my question is, why are these people coming to me for an explanation about how to understand the notion of conservation in archaeology, and not to the PAS? Is it because they are observant enough to notice that PAS "archaeological outreach" has for thirteen years while being very supportive of this hobby and these hobbyists as long as they "show them the stuff", has consistently failed to address such questions?