Friday, 4 April 2014

Detectorbloke on Deep-digger-dullardry


It is not a simple question of
archaeologists vs detectorists
 as there is no
us and them, I think there are just differently weighted
perspectives on what constitutes the best way to conserve history.
Detectorbloke

Edited screengrab
from film in public
domain
There is an interesting post on "The responsible Detectorist" blog by Detectorbloke. He takes Deep Digger Dan to task for his diatribe on how metal detectorists in the UK are victimised ('There is no versus' Thursday, 3 April 2014). He draws attention to my discussion of  the arguments offered, as well as discussion about the video on the Detecting Wales Forum. He does not share the view of the video's author.
I don't believe there is any archaeologists vs detectorists war nor should there be. What there should be more of is debate regarding how metal detectorists can best work with archaeologists and vice versa with the realisation that detectorists and archaeologists are not completely separate homogeneous groups. Where I disagree with Dan is that I think that if an archaeologist is going to spend years studying the best way to conserve history then they deserve the respect that their studies bring. Whilst they might not be right, just because they criticise some detectorist's practices doesn't mean they are all being 'snooty'. Many detectorists spend half an hour buying a detector and then say they are 'conserving history'. Isn't an archaeologist entitled to wonder and question just how they think they are doing this? [...] An archaeologist or indeed a fellow detectorist should therefore be able to show what metal detecting practices are not exactly 'conserving history' or that 'history hunting' with a metal detector might not actually be in the best interests of society without being accused of starting a war or breaking some weird unwritten tribal metal detecting code.
Detectorbloke draws attention to the fact that the issue is that one cannot treat all (non-nighthawking) detectorists as the same, they vary greatly in the degree to which all of what they find and take away gets properly documented and that record made available for public use.  He suggests "perhaps the more we as metal detectorists learn, the more weight our arguments might hold". Indeed, part of the problem seems to be a genuine lack of real understanding what archaeology is all about, and what the concerns are. Which is where, gentle reader, one might have thought that having spent sixteen million pounds on "increasing opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthening links between metal-detector users and archaeologists", one might have expected somewhat more visible effects.

7 comments:

bullockphoto said...

Hi Paul,

Just discovering your blog. As someone who has been very interested in archaeology from an early age, and having relatively recently fallen in love with metal detecting, I find myself wrestling often with issues that you raise in several posts here. Recently, I've drawn a ton of flak on metal detecting forums for defending the viewpoints of archaeologists, and have quite frankly been amazed at the vitriol that exists in the debate.

Arguments put forth from the 'detectorist' camp, by and large, do not have the same merit or reasoning as those coming from an archaeological standpoint. The idea of historical context is not weighed fully as it should be in many cases, items are generally not recorded, and many who detect are indeed out for monetary gain. The term 'saving history' makes me wince. The viewpoints, comments, and behavior of many metal detecting hobbyists that I read in forums also make me cringe. But there are others out there who attempt to go about metal detecting in a responsible way, and whose motivations are historical as opposed to monetary. I'd like to call myself one of them... and it is on their behalf that I write.

For starters, having spokesmen like DDD, or the 'Diggers' from television is also cringe-worthy. Those who get the most attention are generally those loudest and most brash, who certainly don't reflect the attitudes I carry into metal detecting. For me, detecting is a humbling and even somber undertaking, one which daily leaves me pausing to consider the daily, mundane details of lives long since past, and even brings me to confront ideas of my own mortality in a very tactile fashion.

Without getting too abstract, here's where I'm at, three years or so after getting into detecting...

bullockphoto said...

Hi Paul,

Just discovering your blog. As someone who has been very interested in archaeology from an early age, and having relatively recently fallen in love with metal detecting, I find myself wrestling often with issues that you raise in several posts here. Recently, I've drawn a ton of flak on metal detecting forums for defending the viewpoints of archaeologists, and have quite frankly been amazed at the vitriol that exists in the debate.

Arguments put forth from the 'detectorist' camp, by and large, do not have the same merit or reasoning as those coming from an archaeological standpoint. The idea of historical context is not weighed fully as it should be in many cases, items are generally not recorded, and many who detect are indeed out for monetary gain. The term 'saving history' makes me wince. The viewpoints, comments, and behavior of many metal detecting hobbyists that I read in forums also make me cringe. But there are others out there who attempt to go about metal detecting in a responsible way, and whose motivations are historical as opposed to monetary. I'd like to call myself one of them... and it is on their behalf that I write.

For starters, having spokesmen like DDD, or the 'Diggers' from television is also cringe-worthy. Those who get the most attention are generally those loudest and most brash, who certainly don't reflect the attitudes I carry into metal detecting. For me, detecting is a humbling and even somber undertaking, one which daily leaves me pausing to consider the daily, mundane details of lives long since past, and even brings me to confront ideas of my own mortality in a very tactile fashion.

Without getting too abstract, here's where I'm at, three years or so after getting into detecting...

bullockphoto said...

I realize that I'm a collector at heart - of many things... From birds nests and shells, to old photographs, modern art, and yes - the objects that I have found with my detector. Making artifact discoveries is about collecting and possessing, no matter what rationalization about 'saving history' people try to use... But now that the novelty of making finds has transitioned into something more commonplace for me, I have started seeing this collecting in a different light, and am now attempting to shift the focus of my efforts towards potential collaborations.

Towards the end of last year I was invited to detect a coastal tract of land here in the US that saw activity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Aside from being used by hikers, the land is in trust such that it will never be developed, but is also being overtaken by dense woods and underbrush. One house foundation exists on the site, but given how ubiquitous such sites are here in our state, and the fact that there are many on nearby land which would likely be considered of more historical interest due to specific events of the past or of the notoriety of their original inhabitants, I think its safe to say that this particular site would not readily be chosen as a prime candidate for an archaeological survey. That aside, the property consists of about 80 acres, much on very rugged terrain, which simply could not be feasibly surveyed in its entirety. The cost and time involved, to my way of thinking, and lack of heavy activity, would most likely preclude such an exhaustive excavation ever taking place - again, with such an abundance of other prime candidates in the vicinity. Pit test samples taken sporadically throughout the 80 acres would yield quite little, as most of the land was seemingly lightly used as farm fields. By going back, time and again, and putting in many, many hours of searching (most days uncovering absolutely nothing) I was able to put together a group of finds that reflected a small picture of early 19th century life - farming and logging tools, lead shot, shoes and buckles from oxen and horses, clothing buttons, coinage, and a handful of various personal items. Those finds were then cleaned as delicately as possible, professionally photographed, researched, labeled, and grouped by me. The final result was a presentation to the town's historical society, to whom the entire lot of objects was donated.

bullockphoto said...

My goal of outlining this one scenario is that I think there are circumstances where metal detecting can be justified and used to good effect. With the recognition of the fact that the resulting 'picture' of this site from my final result is much less rich than it would be accompanied by ceramics, glass, bone, and other non-metallic artifacts, with finds plotted in such a way as to demonstrate a more comprehensive visualization of the site, I think that my findings were a valuable contribution to my town's history. Furthermore, I think that many such sites, of perhaps less significance to the archaeological community, are ripe locations for collaboration. On some similar sites, bordered by hundreds of acres of woods, it seems plausible to me that while an archeological survey could be conducted in select areas, the proficient, careful, and thorough use of a metal detector could be a great boon to providing more historic information than would have otherwise been gathered. A last note about this site - while no one had ever been given permission to metal detect on the property before I was invited to, I nevertheless found the area around the house foundation pockmarked with holes, to my chagrin. So a further argument to be made would be one of 'responsible' metal detecting efforts being made, in a sort of 'race against the clock' with ignorant and destructive metal detecting. I'm sure that view would not win me too many friends on the internet forums, but so be it.

bullockphoto said...

What I'd love to see from you, if you have the time and inclination to do so, is an open statement/outline to detectorists at large, outlining all of the ways that one can improve their approach to metal detecting, towards the end of *actually* preserving history... Best practices towards dig sites, treatments of objects themselves, data recording, and perhaps most importantly, potential areas of collaboration with archaeologists. Perhaps stated in a palatable manner, such an outline is something that could be re-posted and disseminated to some effect within the metal detecting community online. Undoubtedly, it would fall on many deaf ears, but to those it did reach and positively impact, I think it would be well worth the effort.

Not sure I've gotten across all the ideas that prompted me to write, but for now, that's what I have for you. I'll be sure to check back to your blog regularly as I continue to personally navigate these issues. Thanks for reading, and all the best. Cheers... B

Paul Barford said...

Brendan,
thanks for that, there's a lot to digest there. As for "guide", obviously that would be a very complicated task as it depends on the types of sites involved. I was at one stage putting together something like that with some UK detectorists but that collapsed after a while. Something like that needs anyway to be a collaborative effort. I'll give it some thought.

As for "vitriol", there are morons everywhere, on the roads, in garden centres and tax offices, in metal detecting and in archaeology too.

detectorbloke said...

Thanks Paul. Also interesting to read Brendon's eloquent comments. Might have to repost them on my site :)

 
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