Sunday, 24 June 2012

Detecting under the Microscope: RESCUE makes a statement

Over a year ago the Trust for British Archaeology made a strong statement about the involvement of the British Museum in the production of a television programme ("Britain's Secret Treasures") coming to a small screen near you in just a few weeks [reportedly mid-July] and which will take as its focus the activities of artefact hunters and metal detector users. Let me remind readers what they said:

RESCUE has grave concerns that the apparent endorsement of this destructive activity by a body such as the British Museum will do nothing to lessen its impact on our buried archaeological heritage  [...] There is ample evidence of the damage done to archaeological sites by artefact hunters operating both with and without the consent of landowners [...] Even when the object is not a ‘fast buck’ obtained through the agency of on-line auction sites or the less than reputable end of the antiquities trade, the accumulation of private collections of objects ripped from their archaeological context is of little or no value in archaeological terms. We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of activities of archaic concept and damaging to the practice of modern archaeology. We urge the British Museum to break off negotiations with the television production company involved and to issue a strong condemnation of the practice of artefact hunting at the earliest opportunity.
That was written and sent to the British Museum well over a year ago. Not only did the BM not "break off" its contacts with the TV company, it has failed to come up with any kind of public outreach comment on artefact hunting, except to call those that do it "our partners" and those that question such practices "trolls".

Let us hope that the  broadcasting of this series will lead to some public debate about just what it is that artefact hunters and collectors are up to and why the PAS and the British heritage community cannot face up to their responsibilities to tell the public like it is. The public whose heritage is being ripped away in front of their noses while the archaeologists look on and applaud and seek some reflected glory.

RESCUE: 'British Museum to endorse TV treasure hunting programme?' (February 20, 2011)

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