Monday, 16 January 2012

Fitting the Stereotype

Over on the Dick Stout metal detectorist blog is a post about metal detecting on battlefields. It is in response to a newspaper article about metal detecting damage to a historic site on the western edge of New York state (Jamie Munks, 'Professor wants battle site protected from more damage', Post Star December 28, 2011).

Professor Matthew Zembo of Hudson Valley Community College has been working on the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield at Battle Hill at Fort Ann. He considers it doesn't have the necessary protection against people who might damage its historic value; he wants to see Battle Hill turned into a protected historical site. Among the threats to the site, because of the lack of historic protection, metal detectorists have been going through the site looking for collectable items. "The site deserves more respect than this," Zembo said.
He was involved with an archaeological dig at another historic site more than a decade ago, when a man approached him, saying he had been involved with metal-detecting at the Battle Hill site. The man mentioned that he had come across buttons and eye hooks, and described their formation in the ground, which likely means the man found bodies because of the way soldiers were buried during the Revolutionary War, Zembo said. "They were buried where they died - he found buttons (in one spot) but not anywhere else," Zembo said. "Either he or someone he knew probably found bodies, kept digging anyway and didn't tell anyone."There are likely others who have "raped that site," Zembo said. Zembo calls such people "pot hunters" - people who go through historic sites with metal detectors in hopes of finding an artifact to sell or add to a private collection.
In the States there are several organizations attempting to preserve "collectors' rights" and one of them is the Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights . This has taken exception to the idea that people should write disapprovingly of artefact hunting on historic sites like this and requests that people join in with their protest action. Dick Stout has joined in, saying: "It's another example of where we are being stereotyped without any basis in fact, and yes, once again labeled pot robbers". He suggests that if his readers "find this article offensive" they too will "take the time to respond to the author and share your thoughts". he then posts his own response:
Hi Ms. Munks,
My name is Dick Stout, and I have been involved with the metal detecting pastime now for over 30 years. I have worked for a major metal detector manufacturer, and have penned three related books. I also founded and was the first president of the Federation of Metal Detector and Archaeological Clubs, Inc..
The recent article concerning Mathew Zembo’s portrayal of the metal detecting community as “pot hunters” is presumptuous to the say the least. I can assure you that more archaeological sites have been discovered “because” of the metal detecting hobbyist, than those in the academic community who think they have the right to every inch of ground in the country because of their degree, or supposed higher education.
Of course every inch of ground may well hold historical treasures, but will they ever be found or will they simply decay and be lost forever? I encourage you to read the following, and then decide the merits of our pastime, and our right to enjoy it without being unfairly labeled as pot robbers. Thank you for listening to our side,
Dick Stout/
I've given my response to the John Winter "detractors" article earlier. Note the chip on the shoulder about the "education" and the old trope about artefact hunters discovering sites. But then does a place called Battle Hill, and marked as such by a plaque in the wall by the road actually need "discovering" by metal detectorists? It seems to me rather not. This is another case of artefact hunters targeting a KNOWN site as it is likely to be productive of collectable artefacts. Thus it is, a metal detectorist stumbled on what sounds like a burial (could have been a British soldier) and looted it (" kept digging anyway and didn't tell anyone") for the metal collectables, but did not report it at the time. Now this is worse than "pot-hunting", and is sheer selfish destruction. I really cannot see why any right-thinking metal detectorist would like to use this as a cause celebre to defend the reputation of artefact hunters, a far more effective strategy I would have thought would be for responsible detecting organization to join in with the criticism and condemn (whether sincerely or not) that sort of behaviour on a historic battlefield site. Instead Mr Stout and his Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights pals are objecting that anyone would write judgementally about such activities. Here's another group in the US that should be actively campaigning alongside the ACCG to get a PAS set up in the USA.

Let it be noted that there are now guidelines about the use of metal detectors on battlefield sites, published by the Battlefield Trust in the UK and it is a shame that metal detectorists elsewhere cannot take its recommendations to heart.

Vignette: metal detectorists discovered this plaque in the wall, so now we all know that at Battle Hill there waz this battle, see?

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