Friday, 27 May 2011

Fincham's "Collaborative network" involving Locals, Sans "Filth"

Since my earlier attempt to understand this was dismissed by Derek Fincham as Glennbeckian and "filth" (sic), I'll try again. Fincham wrote a lengthy review of "Chasing Aphrodite" on his Illicit Cultural property blog. The final paragraph of his text however posed some questions about responsibility for looting and how therefore to deal with it. It seems from this text and other things he has written that Dr Fincham differs from those of us who see the antiquities market as the main factor driving commercial antiquities looting. In the text to which I refer, while he admits that the book rightly highlights the "illegal and unethical conduct of the Getty", according to him:
the archaeological community and nations of origin have much to answer for as well. When these ancient cities are studied, concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react. What good is a trained archaeologist who painstakingly unearths parts of an ancient city, only to have her work undone at night by looters. [...] Moving forward how can we envision a collaborative network which follows the law, but also protects sites, allows for professional excavation, and allows us to steward these precious resources for future generations.
Let us note the term "collaborative network". Derek Fincham refused to answer my earlier comments, so has not revealed whether this is a reference back to his previous position (see here , here and here) that England's Portable Antiquities Scheme is a (the?) "way forward" to prevent looting. This is what he has suggested in the past and although the text presently discussed is somewhat garbled, it looks a bit like he still seems to believe this.

I pointed out that protecting the tropical rainforests does not consist of finding ways to professionally make things like tropical hardwood bookshelves from the trees, but preserving the trees in situ and sustainably. In the same way then conservation of archaeological sites (Fincham's "cities") does not mean excavating them all (however "professionally") to get the displayable goodies out right now, but preserving them as intact as possible. Excavation does not come into it. It looks a bit like in proposing a "collaborative network" allowing for "professional excavation" Fincham is thinking about 'stewardship' of dugup OBJECTS rather than archaeological deposits. In other words "art(sic)-protection" at the expense of "archaeological protection". material goods instead of information about our collective social past.

It also seems to me that Fincham is blaming "source countries" and "archaeologists" for not creating these "collaborative networks" involving locals and their "reactions". He does not see them as the victim of looting but one of its causes. I wonder if he would care to enlarge on that?

Advocating the setting up of Portable-Antiquities-Scheme-clones in antiquity "source countries" as a means of preservation (sic) is the kind of collaborative network postulated by Fincham in the past ("A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin" ). It would take into account "how the locals will react" having a plunderable source of collectables on their doorstep. I suppose those who believe the Brits are putting millions of pounds into research excavations on Treasure findspots (but they are not) which Treasure hunters have stopped disturbing the moment they realise there is reportable material there (they generally do not) might be conned into thinking the Treasure Act "allows for professional excavation".

Here's the recipe for setting up a comparable PAS-clone in the average antiquity source country (applying the 'Fincham Model'):

1) first of all you would have to remove the legislation, rendering the hoiking of collectables out of archaeological site by spade, pickaxe and metal detector legal (nobody is going to come forward to report finds if the activity is illegal).

2) Then you need to set up the PAS-clone Scheme at a cost of a few million dollars a year.

3) This will only be efficient at "building up numbers" of stuff in its database if it concentrates its activities on Treasure hunters rather than accidental finders. Obviously the more Treasure hunters there are, the more will be coming forward with finds to record. And the more 'wonderful things' we will have to show an admiring public glittering away behind security glass.

4) This will not achieve results comparable to the English PAS unless the Treasure hunters can be concentrated into groups, such as organizing commercial artefact-grabbing events rather like the commercial metal detecting rallies in Britain. In societies where metal-detector-ownership-for-everyone is ruled out by poverty, and dealers cannot be persuaded to 'sponsor a treasure seeker' this could have the form of a commercial dig-in, perhaps with the use of earthmoving machinery to give participants access to the finds-bearing layers (like the setup in Texas I discussed on this blog maybe a year ago).

5) Another approach is the 'club', entities which organize treasure seekers into groups where information can be gathered and they can swap stories about how best to plunder the archaeological record for finds for the Clone-Scheme to record.

6) The Clone-Scheme needs to monopolise the media in order to convince the public that short-term policies of plundering the displayable and collectable goodies out of the archaeological record is in no way an erosion of their archaeological values, that anyone who thinks it is must be a 'dinosaur', out of touch with the spirit of the times.

7) It needs to convince archaeologists and other heritage professionals that in order not to be labelled a 'dinosaur', they have to support organized treasure and collectable plundering and the Clone-Scheme. It needs to persuade archaeologists to succumb to the tendency to present archaeology mainly as a "search for shiny stuff" and "stuff to tell half-wit stories about to the press". It needs to combat any of those 'dinosaurs' who insist on recalling how much effort it took previous generations to present archaeology to the public as 'not a treasure hunt'. This may be more difficult in some countries that others, it depends on education I suppose. Certainly remarkable things have happened in the archaeological milieu in Great Britain, the archaeological sites of which are now a "treasure hunter's paradise").

8) Of course not everybody will come forward with their dugups for recording. But that should not matter so much, some is better than nothing. What needs to be done is to make a loud fuss about what has been recorded, take every opportunity to emphasise "how much" has been noted and keep very quiet about the stuff that is clandestinely dug up and spirtited away under the existing legislation. That's not positive news, its food for the 'dinosaurs' who cannot see that a "collaborative network" engaged in emptying sites for collectables is the way forward. At all costs a fuller public discussion of these issues is to be avoided. Transparency is the enemy of policy. Ignore the questioners, send them to Coventry.


heritageaction said...

I suggest that if liberalising metal detecting and setting up the PAS had been a positive influence on conservation the system would have been replicated elsewhere long ago in one at least of the world’s 198 countries. That it hasn’t happened says all that needs to be said. Wishful thinking by collectors doth not an effective conservation strategy make.

I’d like to add two points to what you said Paul:

First, the idea that archaeological excavation of Treasure find spots in UK happens much is of course pure fantasy – where did the idea come from? It is not just the lack of resources but the fact that it is hardly a secret that a main supplier of Treasure items is the nighthawking community – why wouldn’t it be? - who find fencing to the government less risky than to collectors. Naturally they give entirely false findspots.

Second, it is startlingly clear from their figures that PAS has become crucially reliant upon metal detecting rallies as a source of “numbers” to justify its own continued funding. That being so, I don’t know if Mr Fincham has ever witnessed a metal detecting rally but I have and he ought to know they are unspeakable crass, a vulgar and destructive assault upon the resource. I would not insult PAS staff by suggesting they don’t agree with that yet the continuation of the Scheme and their employment requires them to attend and pretend there is nothing amiss. If PAS was a lady no amount of press releases would obscure her profession. And Mr Fincham wants to set up similar arrangements elsewhere?! I think he will wait a long time.

Paul Barford said...

Oh now you've been and gone and done it Mr Heritage, now Derek Fincham can say we're talking "filth" again and refuse to discuss it...

But good points. I wonder how the PAS would answer the Treasure findspot connundrum (if they were interested in actually keeping the general public informed about issues like that). How DO they verify findspots?

heritageaction said...

“How DO they verify findspots?”

Is there no end to the awkwardness of your questions? This is not the route to popularity. People will start calling you an archaeologist.

As you know very well, they only verify about 0.002% of find spots and for the remaining 9.998% they write down whatever the finder says. We know that the nighthawks invariably quote find spots in a different County (psychology, see?) as a minimum, or even half a continent away. But even worse, a very large number of “legal” find spots are so imprecise as to be useless. Worse still, given the universal detectorists’ paranoia about “others poaching on MY site” it seems pretty likely that a high percentage of the “accurate” ones are completely falsified as well. Well you would, wouldn’t you, given the motivation – or are PAS going to kid us that’s not going to happen on a very large scale because their partners are nearly all fine fellows?

All in all it’s an unconvincing basis for holding the database up as pukka. But then, some ladies lie about their age in order to ensure they remain fully funded. I’m told.

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