Saturday, 18 August 2012

Detecting Under the Microscope: The Struggle for Understanding

Texan veteran tekkie Dick Stout comments on his Stout Standards blog on a recent discussion of artefact hunting in Virginia (see the previous post on this). Mr Stout and his like-thinking sidekick John Howland are ever-quick in some circumstances to point out (like "Robbie"), how the information produced by artefact hunting benefits archaeological knowledge because all metal detectorists responsibly report their finds. Yeah, right, the other one has bells on it... So it is interesting to see the most recent candid comment from Mr Stout:
We hunt on private land, with the landowner’s permission, and as far as I am concerned, what we find is none of their [archaeologists' ]business. If that sounds harsh, so be it. [...]   If that happens to irritate them, I really don’t  care! Trying to communicate with them is like “pissing in the wind”.
Obviously it is while artefact hunters continually reveal that they have not the faintest idea of what the other side is saying and why. I do not think this hideous lack of understanding is because of the lack of information (remember this discussion is attached to Dr Barber's crystal-clear text). It is obviously due to a simple failure to accept [and a tendency to evade] the uncomfortable truths the points made by the preservation lobby reveal.

In the comments to this post, Houston metal detectorist "Robbie", tries to make the point that we should be glad that metal detectorists dig up the archaeological record:
If an artifact is in the ground  [...] unknown to the archaeologist for 150+ years, why does it upset them for a metal detectorist to find it and retreive it?? As far as they know it is NOT there…. they don’t have X-Ray eyes to see it in the ground!!! But now, if a metal detectorist digs it up…..all of a sudden it is IMPORTANT to them.
A wholly artefact-centred view, wholly ignoring the issue of conservation of the record (sites). According to relic hunter "Robbie", we should be "glad" that after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq that thousands of artefacts ("bin lost in the ground thousands of years and nobody knew they wuz there")  have since been dug out of the tells and cemeteries of those countries and brought to light on the antiquities market? I am sure collectors (relic hunters) are jubilant, I fail to see why the rest of us should be, the sites these geegaws were dug from have been totally trashed in the process. The same goes for robbing 'injun' graves in the USA for pots, baskets and personal ornaments for collection and sale. It seems to me that certain sectors of society just cannot get their heads around the concept of 'conservation'. Conserving whales or polar bears is not knowing where every individual whale and polar bear is every hour of the day.  I'd be quite happy not to see a polar bear in the flesh on the ice-pack, but the fact that I and most of my readers never have is not any kind of an argument that a hunter should feel free to go and shoot it to make a rug for someone's bedroom floor.

Whatever preservationists say, metal detectorists like other collectors here there and everywhere will presumably persist in their failure to understand anything at all. The really important take-away point here, however, is that Dr Barber is not addressing artefact hunters, in his newspaper article he is addressing the general public about artefact hunting and making good points. It seems to me that to a large extent, the period of trying to communicate with, to reason with, the collecting milieus is necessarily coming to an end. Exchanges like this show, as Mr Stout recognizes, this approach is getting nowhere. The longer it goes on, the more damage is being done under its umbrella. It is time to stop being privately "irritated" by the carelessness with which these people treat the fragile and finite archaeological record (resource) but to communicate that irritation to the wider community, through texts precisely like Mr Barber's. Artefact hunters can claim that this "detrimental coverage" is "misinformation" until they are blue in the face, however it seems to me that there is a limit to the time when it can be ignored by the wider public (the real stakeholders) that by their own words and deeds metal detectorists continually show that the reality of the picture painted by those who have issues with what is going on. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"We hunt on private land, with the landowner’s permission, and as far as I am concerned, what we find is none of their business. If that sounds harsh, so be it."

Mr Stout has achieved the impossible - made me grateful for the comparative good sense of most British artefact hunters!

I've read a lot of detecting forums and I've never seen anyone write anything as anti-society as that. Very Texas. Amazin'! Beyond the Palin!

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