Saturday, 21 December 2013

Let The Cat Have a Go

Heritage Cat posing as Bloomsbury
Pete (after Jennificus)
My Christmas wish is that Washington lawyer and lobbyist Peter Tompa, instead of trying to answer questions himself, or setting that person posing as Arthur Houghton III on his commentators, would let his cat have a go at answering the difficult ones. I am sure that we'd get more sense out of the cat.

A cat would not say to an archaeologist "I think we disagree about the value of archaeological context, I do agree that it has some value, but in many cases it's at best redundant", any more than a cat would tell a nun of the Order of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration , "I think we disagree about the value of virginity, I do agree that it has some value, but in many cases it's at best redundant". I am pretty sure that a cat would see more sense than to attempt such a line of debate. I see no reason why Mr Tompa's cat would be less intelligent than most other cats on the Internet. 

We were talking about the value of the use of decontextualised coins as a source for researching the past, as opposed to those from a known context of deposition and discovery. I'd imagine Mr Tompa's cat (cats being able to focus their thoughts on the task at hand) would not skip off onto another topic. Mr Tompa himself apparently would never be focus enough to be able to catch a mouse or bird, as in his reply, he skips off wildly onto a totally different topic (a version of hominid hyperesthesia syndrome?)
I also believe that programs like PAS and the Treasure Act help to preserve such context (or at least the most meaningful aspects of it). They also help preserve coins-- which can go into private collections where they are cared for [...].
What the....? Neither the Treasure Act nor the PAS "preserve context", they allow the recording of findspots of some of the artefacts hoiked by some artefact hunters, which is by no means the same thing, as any sensible cat would know.

My neighbour's cat ("Heritage") is very concerned about this notion that artefacts are "cared for" in private collections, she says it's not true, pointing to a whole range of You Tube videos and blog posts that show the conditions under which these objects are stored and handled. They are heaped on tabletops, or living room floors, stashed away in plastic tubs from ice-cream, some are laid out in unsuitable display cabinets bought from IKEA (or Lidl) or homemade ones doubling as coffee tables. In no case can one see that any of these finds are labelled, allowing their linking with a particular findspot, let alone PAS record number. They are just loose geegaws in a personal ephemeral collection, and when that collection gets split, will lose even that loose association in today's collecting-history-free, no-questions-asked, antiquities market. My neighbour's cat has not finished a museology course, but she says that it is clear to her despite this that the notion of "taking care" here falls well short of any proper standards as should be applied to archaeological material. I'm inclined to agree with her. She pointed me to a post I'd made here just the other day, the UNObservant Mr Tompa obviously did not see it, "UK Metal Detecting: Do You Own This? " a question which I have asked several times but is answered only by an embarrassed silence and shuffling of feet by the supporters of the "hoik it all out now" approach to archaeological resource management.  My neighbour's cat joins Bloomsbury Pete the conservation-minded pigeon in Russell Square (who speaks out where the PAS is silent) in categorising them all as gormless.

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