Tuesday, 8 July 2014

2014 Festival of Archaeology

The PAS in Iraq 2003-2013
Mercifully searching the CBA "Festival of Archaeology" website for 2014 using the keywords artefact hunting and metal detecting only produced three hits. One to a PAS "finds day" in Milton Keynes (Ros Tyrell and Paul Blinkhorn) to which "three local metal detectorists" have inexplicably been invited "with a display of local finds and to explain what they do and about responsible metal detecting". What they do is collection directed exploitation of the archaeological record, the finds presumably will be from their own collections and the PAS will be explaining why CDE is tolerated in the UK though largely condemned in almost every country in the world and they will be answering questions on looting in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Yes I can see it now.

There is a "Roman activity day" planned in Navenby  Lincolnshire "demonstrations and activities throughout the day including excavating a skeleton [...] metal detecting and much more". Perhaps participants in the 'hands on human remains game' will be asked to invent a second name for the deceased too. Most archaeologists consider that human remains are not playthings, so the skellie part of this seems even more dubious than promoting artefact hunting with metal detectors. Bonkers.

Equally dubious is an event called "Cilgerran's community - the first 800 years" in Pembrokeshire. At first sight it sounds OK, "following a dig and metal detecting survey held in the school and around the village in June, this display will show how we went about learning more about the community which grew up around the castle". The problem is that it's not really an excavation, and it's not really a metal detector survey being reported. Here's the local newspaper account ('Pupils' archaeology project' Tivyside Advertiser Monday 16th June 2014):
Pupils from years 5 and 6 at Ysgol Cilgerran took part in an archaeology project last week to try to discover more about their village. Together with members of the Pembrokeshire Prospectors metal-detecting group and Cilgerran Castle custodian Catherine Collins, the pupils conducted a survey of their playing field as well as putting in three test pits to discover what else they could learn about the past in Cilgerran. Their reports, stories and finds will be put on display in the school hall [...].
The photos of the metal detector "survey" show holes being dug in grass (so non-metallic finds scatters cannot be plotted), no grids laid out, no site plans, and the group photo at the end shows tubby kids in blue sweatshirst, three metal detectorists and a large orange plastic bucket. It's obvious to anyone that archaeology can be done with metal detectors used as a tool, but I'd love to learn that I am wrong in suggesting that what it looks very much like from these photos was that the kids were shown hoiking (artfact hunting) and told they were "doing archaeology" which is hardly getting a very useful message across to the general public.

While it's nice that metal detectorists feel that they are in some way part of British archaeology (after all Britain's spent 17 million quid trying to explain that to all of them), to what degree is the public seeing the distinction between the methodology of archaeology and mere finding, hoiking and collecting random artefacts?

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