Sunday, 15 May 2011

Rousing Music and a Spade

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There is some publicity material urging us to: "Follow James Balme as his search continues throughout 2011". James Balme is a multi-talented individual it seems who is "Director, Presenter & Producer" of "Historic Media Productions" (which is helpfully described as a "Media Production industry"). He is also an "Archaeologist, Historian & Broadcast Video journalist" (as well as being a trained chef). He describes his qualifications in archaeology as "Advanced, 20+ years experience", and as Historian also ("Expert, 20+ years experience"). But it seems the qualifications are from experience rather than professional training: "James has made many exciting archaeological discoveries from the prehistoric through to Saxon & Viking times including three seperate (sic) finds of Roman Silver artifacts (sic) all now declared National Treasure and secured for future generations to enjoy". What about the ones not declared Treasure; where will future generations of archaeology-interested members of the public "enjoy" them? Note that rather nice change to the official legal designation, "National Treasure" - just trying to make the point that this is a "discoverer" and not a mere "treasure-hunter". James is of course a metal detectorist from Warrington.



So here we see the ultimate expression of the karaoke-join-in-and-do-it-yerself society, get a metal detector and a video camera and get out there calling yourself an expert historian digging up the archaeological record and get yourself on TV. Nice music though. Awful trees, just what do they do to them up there?


UPDATE 21st may 2011: Mr Balme answered this, but put his comments under a completely unrelated post. There is a lot of name-dropping, he has also altered his in-Link page to figure the amateur society he once dug with. I made reference to the 'karaoke-society' concerning metal detecting and he disapproves of that comment (I can't see how it 'shows' my 'ignorance').

There are, it is true, some archaeologists who think artefact hunting is "archaeology for all", the whole PAS for a start, David Connolly and Gabriel Moshenska. I think there are a number of very good reasons why they are wrong. Artefact hunting is artefact hunting, and whenever we see a film announcing Mr Balme as an 'archaeologist' or 'historian', there is a C-Scope metal detector swinging wildly in the background, or he is shown spreading out his (metal) finds. In the Agden Hoard video he talks of 'the collection' (see here, 'Dream Finds' too), part of it is shown in the 'classic treasures' video. I have yet to see a video on the topic of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, or him doing a gridded fieldwalking survey plotting the distribution of pottery, tile and slag across the Roman site he is emptying of metal finds with his metal detector. Just film of his digging holes in fields and finding 'treasures' about which to utter glib platitudes about 'touching history', 'bringing history to life' and 'finding our ancestors', or adding gossipy details about an object. In the film above, "you join me as we are in search for more artefacts and more treasures left behind by the ancient ancestors of Britain" and „history, archaeology and metal detecting can all be knitted very closely as we go in search for the history of our ancestors”. Note when he suggests everyone can have a go at [digging up and] 'touching history' the film contains not a reference to what to do if you decide to have a go yourself - like go and see the FLO.

Mr Balme seems aware that if he were to call himself a "metal detectorist" or - worse "artefact hunter", he would project a different image than if he claims to be an archaeologist or historian, which seems to me why he is at such pains to present metal detecting as "archaeology". Apparently he never says outright on camera he's going a-metal-detecting, he uses terms like: "looking for archaeology and history and clues from our past". He's even got "Archaeological Field research" written on the side of his car... but artefact hunting and artefact collecting are quite a separate activity from archaeology, and when you examine the concept in more detail, the supposed "common ground" which fluffy archaeologists say exists between the two is, I would argue, rather more of a convenient illusion than they care to admit.

We never did find out about the mutant trees.

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