Thursday, 24 November 2011

"Torchbearer" of Ridicule Tires: Asks Tekkies for Help

It is one of the staples of modern heritage conservation policy that the whole thing should be based on wide public debate and consensus. This is at least what policy documents such as English Heritage's 'Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance' say. In the case of the use of the archaeological record for commercial purposes and as a source of collectables for entertainment, the public debate is a little lost, both in Great Britain and the other big anglophone market, the USA. In both areas the public is being kept somewhat in the dark about the issues, in both cases through archaeological indolence. The only body over there with a voice in the matter, the AIA is a bit diffident in getting its public information programme out among the masses, leaving it up to voluntary bodies such as SAFE. In Britain, there are vested interests in promoting just the one model of dealing with the destruction of the archaeological record through artefact hunting ("voluntary recording") to the detriment of a wider debate about the wider context and overall desirability of the activities involved. Of course it is very much in the interests of both dealers and collectors that there should be no such debate, and should questions be asked, to silence the opposition by any means available (including as we have seen, threats of the use of violence).

Dugup Dealer Dave Welsh says it is essential for collectors to continue the war of attrition with critics of the no-questions-asked trade but announces:
I am getting very tired of carrying this particular torch, and would appreciate some assistance from others in refuting Barford, and holding his disconnection from reality up as an object of public ridicule.
There cannot be many disciplines like US "professional numismatics" which see the way forward as merely ridiculing the views of people who have divergent opinions. Welsh argues that in the recent discussions provoked by his posts about me on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts Collectors' discussion list (from which I am banned by the moderator from answering such calumnies disseminated on his list), the "public persona" of anyone who presents criticism publicly on a blog, "is fair game for criticism [...] therefore when we answer him back, I believe we are free to say what we like about his views without being guilty of ad hominem attacks". Indeed, Mr Welsh makes very free use of his liberty to say what he feels appropriate to counteract the issues I raise. He has certainly given up trying to provide arguments of substance and reason. He has recently admitted that both Codes of Ethics in dealings in dug-up coins are desiderata only for the denizens of Cloud Cuckoo Land (he said it in German) that both are "unreasonable demands" on the coin trade and accuses me of delusions when I venture to suggest otherwise. So what kind of trade is Mr Welsh and his fellow ACCG Coineys trying to protect? One look at the way they face any attempt to address the problem from the fundamental issues will serve to show that even those engaged in it see no way to defend it by reasoned argument using verifiable facts instead of weasel wording and sleight-of-hand arguments. So they turn to the old ad hominem. Would you buy a second-hand coin from this man? I would not, methinks he protests too much.

Welsh naively postulates ("Detectorists vs., Barford") that in what he calls "the struggle to blunt and defeat the relentless drumbeat of anticollecting and antidetecting propaganda emanating from Mr. Barford":
detectorists have just as much at stake as do collectors. It’s time they were heard from regarding how they view Mr. Barford and his pretensions. [...] The standards that man seeks to hold detectorists to impress me as being just as ridiculously impractical and unreasonable as those he seeks to hold collectors to.
I could not hold back a laugh at that point. Mr Welsh should update his knowledge of the collecting scene by spending some time on a detecting forum or two, preferably ones that have archives going back a decade or so. I think he will find an abundance of evidence that "metal detectorists" have quite a few "views" and express them amongst themselves using quite basic Anglo-Saxon. The "standards" I allegedly "hold them to" are no more and no less than those that are embodied in the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and the PAS' assurance that they are doing valid archaeological outreach amongt them and introducing "best practice". What is inherently "ridiculously impractical and unreasonable" in that? (Unless we take the other view, that in fact this is impossible because the whole policy is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what artefact hunting is all about - which I do).

There is actually a good reason the "metal detectorists" (and their "partners" the PAS) do not try to answer the points I make (in fact they try very hard never to actually read any of it) and its the same reason the coineys have. They have no actual answers. Check it out.

Mr Welsh apparently is so wrapped up in his own business that he does not see the wider picture of why he and his fellows are on this blog at all. Perhaps I should explain. A long time ago I got involved in the public debate on artefact hunting in the UK. It's not just me, there are many out there who disagree, both privately and publicly about what is happening. The tekkies do everything they can to avoid this type of criticism surfacing. They have the PAS on their side, and hundreds of jobsworth archaeologists who do not want to see the boat being rocked - wimps. Because of this, they have the entire British media on their side. So the rose-tinted fluffy bunny bla-bla about benign artefact hunting gets spread and believed.

I noticed however some years ago - through John Hooker's attempts to offset the criticism UK detectorists were receiving in fact - that some of the archaeological "partner an artefact hunter and be happy" bla-bla was in effect the same set of arguments offered by the "buy smuggled coins and save the world" bla-bla from the other side of the Atlantic. The more I looked, the more the attitudes converged. How embarrassing then for the UK metal detectorist to put what they do in the wider context and demonstrate that they are comparable to another group which they have no problems in identifying as morally challenged. And more to the point they are Americans, from our old colony - whom deep down in the national psyche the Brits have no problems at all about looking down their noses at. That is why the ACCG is mentioned here, to show that "metal detectorists" are artefact hunters and collectors, and there are serious problems in artefact hunting and collecting, so therefore we really need to take a closer look at what the UK silly media insist on calling "metal detectorists' and ignoring that wider context. (The fact that I got angrier and angrier at the nonsenses being put out by the ACCG whipping boy, and then their personal attacks n better than those of the tekkies, and the discussion with the coineys took on a life of its own here is only secondary to that main purpose.)

Dealer Dave (with Old Man Sayles as I recall) came onto a British (and UK/US) discussion list a few years ago to try and punch holes in the arguments of the critics of no-questions-asked collecting and to orchestrate personal attacks and heap ridicule upon certain individuals who were of other views than two conservatively no-questions-asked coin dealers. They got a bloody nose, and it was interesting to see that among those arguing with them (look in the britarch archives) were "metal detectorists" supporting the PAS. The PAS of course is ALL about "where did this come from?" so wholly the opposite of the no-questions-asked trade engaged in across the sea. So I would say that it would only be the densest of metal detecting thickoes that is going to align themselves with Mr Welsh in this. There are a number of metal detectorists in the UK who are saying (to themselves, or openly) that there are issues raised on this blog which need addressing for the good of the hobby. There are the Thugwits among UK metal detectorists who adopt a more "Welshian" approach. Mr Welsh can find their names on metal detecting forums if he looks.

So yes, coin collecting ACCG-style has a good deal in common with the less reputable sides of artefact hunting - precisely in the area where both overlap with issues connected with site-plunder and looting. I am quite happy for these two groups to show this even more clearly to observers by their joint approach to the issues raised here about "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage" as long as they do so where the public can see them and I can reply. Let the public - the real stakeholders in the heritage - see just what these two milieus are, let them see how one is so similar to the other, and why that is problematic.

On the other hand, I am sure there are many UK detector users (and who knows, maybe a silent 49 000 or so) of US dugup antiquity collectors (though doubt any dealers) who certainly would not welcome people like Dave Welsh as their "torchbearer" leading them on the already too-long path to irresponsible collecting. I am no "torchbearer" myself, but stand on that path and ask those rushing into the darkness on the coat tails of the ACCG, "which way to responsible collecting?". The ACCG, not stopping, just turns, gives the finger and laughs.

UPDATE This is not the first time Dealer Dave has pretended to throw in the towel, nor I expect will it be the last. For what it is worth he now says:
It's time for others to get involved in the dreary, unpleasant yet very necessary task of answering [...] Barford, pointing out how unreasonable and illogical his fanatical rants are, and justifiably exposing him to the public disdain and ridicule his utterances so richly deserve.
Indeed, it would be nice to think that somewhere in the collecting community (or among the pro-collecting archaeology "partnership") could be found a couple of people who can actually engage in an articulate manner with the logic and reason of the issues raised here instead of the superficial and defensively dismissive non-sense these groups have until now alternated with silence and a pretence they've not understood the question. Otherwise it may well be that it is the nineteenth century neo-colonial views of the atavistic no-questions-asked collectors and antiquity traders that will be held up for the ridicule and public disdain they so rightly deserve.

Vignette: Put the torch down Mr Welsh, you'll only burn yourself.

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