Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "You may call me an ignoramus, but I cannot read it up..."

Eleven years, and twelve million quid, ago an organization told everyone that if they got enough dosh, and were given enough time, they'd tell their metal detecting partners a few things. It's in their "aims" ("raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research"). Eleven years later and twelve million quid thrown in the mud beneath detectorists' boots we read this from one of those partners, in connection with my comments on the ‘Dunelme hoard’:
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 Is context really everything? So here we go again, the archaeo-bloggers are having a field day yet again with regards to what they are calling destruction of the archaeological record. I personally call it, sounding like a broken record. How many times have we heard that context is everything and that unless it is properly studied by trained archaeologists it will be lost and we will never know how/why/when the item was buried/dropped/lost [?]. It seems to be the main argument that archaeologists or should i say the anti-detecting portion of archaeologists use to try and call for restrictions and or regulation of our hobby.
Here we have a pretty typical refusal to see the actual issue discussed. Instead of trying to understand the viewpoint being discussed, the detectorist dismisses it by dodging the questions of responsibility by playing the victim. This immature approach happens time and time again. The critics are not so much 'anti-detecting' as 'anti-bad-practice'. That what is being discussed here is bad practice should escape the notice of nobody who is not a question-dodging detectorist.
So what is context? what knowledge can be gained by slowly and carefully digging around a urn full of roman coins for example. How can we find out why, when and by who these coins were lost for us to dig up hundreds of years later. What is it that archaeologists are looking for when they spends (sic) days digging a hoard out of the ground [?]. It has always been my thinking that when a hoard of coins was buried it was due to a reason such as the person with the hoard was under some kind of threat or danger and wanted to hide their wealth to stop it being taken. Now, surely anyone who is hiding their life savings would be doing so as quick as possible to reduce the risk of anybody seeing them. I cannot imagine they would have taken time to drop things in the hole to add as evidence for the archaeologists to dig up hundreds of years of later so that we can complete the archaeological record.
First of all, modern interpretation sees a number of reasons that items could be accumulated and deposited in the ground. That aside, note how the only notion the artefact hunter has here of context is "what objects were dropped in the hole (deliberately)". This is the danger with outreach through the Portable antiquities Scheme, that any conceptualisation of the past is endangered with beicoming object-centred. Likewise the writer of these words seems to think the point is " slowly and carefully digging around" (the object), rather than any attempt to study the stratigraphic record and record the observations and interpretations made. Both impossible in a narrow raggedy hole.
So what else could context be? is it the soil type or what its made up of [?]. If this is the case why not dig a pit two foot away from where the metal detectorists dug the urn full of coins and go to the same depth surely this will be the same untouched soil and the same information will be there [?]
I think the artefact hunter is confusing archaeology with historical geology or pedology. There seems to be zero understanding her of the notion of stratigraphical context of archaeological information (artefacts). Zero. To be honest, I find that utterly astounding in anyone who claims to be "interested in the past" , and a "responsible detectorist" to boot.  To take responsibility for what you are doing, you need to understand what you are doing, to take the right (responsible) decisions. This guy appears to understand absolutely nothing about how the archaeological record is structured and studied. He therefore disqualifies himself utterly as anybody who can take a responsible decision in the field even in the simplest of situations (a complete pot in the ground). Archaeology really is not 'rocket science'. there are books (and every detectorist has seen "Time Team" on TV - apparently in this case without understanding even a fraction of what he saw and heard). 
I am not a trained archaeologist, in fact i know sod all about archaeology. I am a metal detectorist and as such have never been taught about context, so above are the conclusions i have come to by myself. I will quite happily concede that my own thoughts are rubbish if someone wants to comment on this blog post and correct me, someone who is trained and studies so called "context" on a daily basis. Because as far as I am concerned context is just an argument point that some use to try to drag metal detecting down. I eagerly wait to be corrected.
Detectorist, how about, instead of writing arrant nonsense and waiting for somebody to correct you (handing it to you on a plate) you go away and find one of those things called "a book" and try to read up about it? For goodness' sake, how long are British archaeologists going to go on refusing to engage with this sort of idiocy, yet having no qualms about letting them dismember the archaeological record piece by piece so the disjecta can be put as the million-and-first object on some dozy database of decontextualised finds? Why after all your "outreach" are so basic questions being raised by your "partners", and going unanswered by you?

[Silence from British archaeology].


Paul Zoetbrood said...

As a simple example why context matters:

Paul Barford said...

Nope, I reckon you have to draw it for this audience. Demonstrably as thick as they come.

Paul Zoetbrood said...

Hi Paul,

It was meant as an example of responsible detectorist.
As they are.
A follow-up by trained archaeolists;
and a preliminary of their findings (in press release).
No doubt a full report will follow.

As against the 'hoiking' you are reporting about.

Dumbing it down, as you suggest?, perhaps another day.



Paul Barford said...

Yes, I understand that, but that is what the Code of practice quite clearly says in black and white says should be happening EVERY time, so there should be hundreds of examples, not the odd one here or there.

Go on, PAS produce a full bibliography of archaeological interventions as a result of Treasure notifications. It should be easy, just summarise the annual reports you are required by law to produce. Show us the progress of your "outreach" that way.

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