Thursday, 5 July 2012

National Hoikery Encouraged by "Archaeology" Festival

In few countries would the unsystematic hoiking of collectable objects from the archaeological record be regarded as "amateur archaeology". England is the exception. There they pat collectors on the head and say "bring us some more".

 Thus it is that, as Heritage Action ("Festival of British Oikism")  point out, as part of  the 22nd Council for British Archaeology Festival of British Archaeology ("the annual celebration of our heritage") we find a celebration of those that take bits of it for their own personal entertainment and profit - metal detectorists. Search the website of the event and you'll find about twenty events doing just that.

Of these, the PAS "Finds days" are perhaps tolerable when they restrict themselves to "bring along anything you've found and we'll tell you what it is", fine when there is a range of finds to handle and people to explain what they are, what they can mean (so finds days in Merseyside, Derbyshire, Dorset, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire) but not when the emphasis is on the fact that the finds have been hoiked out of the ground by artefact hunting metal detector users and it is presented as something "useful", or - worse - "dig up a find and bring it along and get in free" (Dorset). Then we have those PAS "Finds Days" events associated with hands-on, give-it-a-go-try-it-you-may-like-it metal detecting demonstrations (machines no doubt loaned by a local dealer whose advertising will be plastered  all over the event) - Gloucester for example, Dover Museum, or non PAS events such as at Chelmsford (run, I am dismayed to see, by my old pal Nick Wickendon - how could you?  ).

Then we have the totally bizarre. We find advertised at Derbyshire "A day in the life of a metal detectorist.There's the one HA spotted: " The Great Coin Hunt - Metal Detecting for Kids in Wales (Merthyr Tydfil) ["Children aged 6 and up drop-in and use a metal detector to discover your own coin hoard [...] if you find a coin you get to keep it." ACE eat your heart out]. Then there is "Dig it!" at Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire ["A day of archaeology related activities - excavating, metal detecting, water dowsing. Lots of activities to help our understanding of the past"].

I am glad to see some apparent sanity further north at the Falconer Museum in Grampian..."learn about 'Metal Detecting - the Proper Way'..." [I'd like to imagine this consists of a big red-bearded man walking out and, theatrically admonishing "Metul detectin'.... Dinnae du ut!" and glaring defiantly at the audience, sadly I think it will be something about how to contact the Treasure Trove Unit].

Well, I do not know how many times one has to bang one's head against a brick wall to convince people over there in PAS-wunderland that


Those seem to be pretty self-evident truths to me, so why are British archaeologists (here, the PAS and CBA) telling the British public something different?

HA hit the nail on the head:
Where can the public go without being served up such pernicious messages? Well, the awful thing is most British archaeologists would tell them how it really is no doubt – but only in private. So the public can whistle for hearing the truth other than by persuading an archaeologist they won’t let on what he said.  Unless of course they happened to go to a gathering of amateurs – like our Megameet, a week next Sunday – where openly declaiming that Archaeology has an ethical bedrock that can’t be validly compromised has no career implications!
One might remark that it's not much of an ethical bedrock if it can be so easily traded for a quiet life. Shame on the lot of you.


kyri said...

what do you expect in a country that sells metal detectors in toy local smyths toy shop sells metal detectors with "treasure finder" on the cover for only £9.99[they have two others at £19.99 and £22.99].
do we realy need 10-15 year olds buying these machines and running arround the country digging up archaeological long as the media/government/pas, is telling them that its ok to do so and that buried treasure is
"out there to be found" what do we expect.
as for the british festival of archaeology,overall i think it is a good thing.last year i was involved with bruce castle museum in a deprived area of north london where they invite children in from local schools and talk about archaeology.i loand the museum a few greek vases and they set up a potters wheel for the kids to make their own one mentiond metal detectors or treasure finding.there are some good people out there trying their best with very little money but when you have even some of the top brass at the bm stifling debate its not easy.

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I think the problem is lack of imagination.

Its too easy to tip some coins etc on a table and let "the public handle" them. It's too easy to give them a metal detector and send them bleeping across a field. But then if they have the problem of presenting ARCHAEOLOGY without such stunts, then one wonders why they bother.

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