Monday, 24 March 2014

Opinion: "The Old 'Loss of Context' argument is Mostly FALLACIOUS"

No 'lost context' here either?
Over on an archaeological forum near you, one "P. Prentice" answers the question of metal detectorist Andy Baines which began:
I explained how the question started, which was because of [Paul Barford] saying detectorists are taking important information from the archaeological record by only taking metallic items from with (sic) the top layer
In answer to that, Mr Prentice states baldly on a public forum (and please do read the entire question and the entire answer of Mr Prentice):
[T]he old loss of context argument that is regularly trotted out by people who neither understand archaeology or metal detecting is mostly fal[l]acious
I really have difficulty in understanding why any archaeologist (I assume he is one) would write such a thing. The second aim of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is "to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them". Yet Mr Prentice asserts there is no such context for the finds the main group of people collaborating with the PAS are finding, that it is fallacious to assert that there is. Also the fact that many metal detectorists have absolutely no qualms about hoiking finds out of sites where the stratigraphy could be very close to the surface (for example when they cannot go onto arable land because of the crops, or they live in areas where the fields are all mostly grassland) seems to be being ignored here.

Crosby Garrett excavation at reported helmet findspot,
note shallow depth at which the top of the archaeological layers
appear, and the depth of the detectorists' hole. How can
anyone say with any seriousness that there would have
been "no context" here?  

This discussion has been going on for a month , and is spreading over several blogs, from Peter Tompa's to the metaldetecting blogs, now the BAJR. It is now getting increasingly bizarre, with semi-anonymous participants (and over on at least one tekkie blog, sock puppets) and some pretty odd counter claims and digressions. We see British archaeologists siding with the likes of Peter Tompa, Andy Baines and John Howland ('partners' you see). The PAS has kept completely out, as it generally does because its next to useless at actually doing any real public outreach for the money, and we are all "trolls" anyway when we expect it to say something.

I'm going to set out my own position here as shown by the posts I've made on it. I've also commented on Detectorbloke's "ResponsibleDetectorist blog" where there is a long series of comments (notably, at the time of writing, without a followup from the mysterious "Steve" who started the whole fuss off to the remarks questioning what he'd said).

'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: What's this all about?', Thursday, 6 March 2014

'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: More on What's this all about?', Thursday, 6 March 2014

'Lobbyist's "Red Herring" a Red Herring', Friday, 7 March 2014

'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Not Doing the Service to History People Say',  Friday, 7 March 2014

''Exceptions or Rules and Prevailing Trends in Archaeology?', Tuesday, 11 March 2014

'Wonky Reasoning in UK Metal Detecting', Tuesday, 18 March 2014

'What the PAS is not Telling YOU', Wednesday, 19 March 2014

'Archaeology's Alleged "Double Standards" and the Oreo', Thursday, 20 March 2014

'Patronising the tekkies Without Allowing them a Voice', Friday, 21 March 2014

'The Search For "The Truth"... ', Friday, 21 March 2014

'British Archaeologists: "Looting of Site Surfaces is NOT Damaging the Archaeological record" ..', Monday, 24 March 2014

I'd also like to draw attention to the wider implications of Mr Prentice's pronouncement. There is no difference, either in terms of what it is and its effects on the archaeological record, between what coyly is called "metal detecting"in England and Wales and artefact hunting in any other country, where it is called looting and usually the subject of legal sanctions.  If it is deemed "fallacious" to say that this artefact hunting is destroying context, then Mr Prentice is well in line for Britain's second ACCG "Friends of Numismatics" award. 


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