Wednesday, 22 August 2012

e-Encyclopaedia of Trafficking Culture

The "Trafficking Cuture" website also has an online encyclopaedia of
"case studies, law, theory and methods and terminology". It seems to me that this has the potential to be very useful, but since it covers such a wide field of topics, when it grows it could be difficult to navigate without a proper index.

I am very glad to see the discussion of "illicit" versus "illegal" since a few years ago I had to explain this to a tedious transatlantic forum owner and coin dealer. The problem, I learnt, is that in Californian coin-dealer-usage at least, it appears that the word "illicit" has a somewhat different meaning in UK English from that which it has (or the manner in which it is used) in US English ("two nations divided by a common language" and all that). This illustrates the point that it is very helpful in a project such as this - and of such wide scope - to have some clear definitions of what it is, precisely, we are talking about.

From this point of view, I was therefore a trifle puzzled by the latest entries in the "terminology" section where we find:  Huechero, Huaquero, Nighthawk and 'Subsistence Digging'  and I'd like to know what the authors feel is the difference between, for example, a Huaquero and a 'subsistence digger'. I suspect that the latter a term used by us as a label for activities where the people concerned have not yet attracted a traditional collective noun to describe them. How is "subsistence digger" different from the (as-yet-undefined) "looter", one owns a car, the other does not?

I'd like to know (given that Suzie Thomas' definition of the term does not include going out in the dark) if one can be a "nighthawk" without a metal detector? What do we call a looter who loots for example flint tools from a scheduled site? Is that a nighthawk? I wonder too whether all metal detectorists in the UK would consider all four of the definitions given as "nighthawking"? Is (fourth definition) the metal detectorist for example who sells photos of even the most mundane finds from a site for 500 quid apiece without informing, agreeing and splitting it with the landowner a "nighthawk", and can they be 'done' for it? The 2009 Nighthawking report is mentioned, and the definitions given in the encyclopedia differ from those used in the official report, which is correct? Oh, and will we be seeing a definition of "metal detectorist" and how it differs across the international spectrum?

It is worth noting that as of yet there is no definition of either the word "trafficking" or "culture", which seems a pretty fundamental starting point here. What actually is meant by "culture" in this context? Does it include dinosaurs?

Also rather puzzling was the inclusion of the Beilitung shipwreck and the Antonine Wall as among the first 'case studies' in trafficking culture to be included. I am not sure what the connection actually is. The section on the Egyptian looting and the Cairo Museum events seem to avoid the issues rather than illuminating them, and again the connection with "trafficking" is unclear as the author does not discuss that aspect of the recent cases (there is quite a bit of information on that collected in this blog, all you have to do is read it). Still, early days yet, I am sure all will become clearer as the project develops.

Since there are so many sides to these issues and so many viewpoints, would the authors not consider it worthwhile to allow comments to these definitions? [I am sure metal detectorists would have a few things to add to Suzie Thomas's remarks on subjects close to them.]

Vignette: Trafficking (looters have cars?)


heritageaction said...

"Oh, and will we be seeing a definition of "metal detectorist"....

More useful would be a definition of "amateur archaeologist".

Paul Barford said...

Well, let's give them a chance, they've only got it up and going.

These few first entries suggest to me that for all their good intent, they might have bitten off more than they can chew in setting out to do this.

I also am unclear from looking at them, just "who" it is for, and "what" it is for.

And yes, I think its apparent proximity to the PAS already at this stage bodes ill if we were expecting a fresh look (and I admit initially I was).

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