Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Defending Hoiking

"Metal detecting" or pickaxing a
big hole right in the middle of the past?
Coiney John Hooker writes that he enjoyed the first episode of BBC's new sitcom, "Detectorists", which he found is (currently) on You Tube: 'Detectorists BBC Episode 1', posted by MonaichFother He continues mockingly:
I was pleased to see that no tremendously important object was found by the detectorists right away and that it showed the more typical finds that I remember from trying out a friend's metal detector ― such as a tab-pull from a pop-can. I did not even see any later on-line complaints from anti-detecting archaeologists explaining how it is the tab-pull's archaeological context that it is really important, how tab-pulls really belong to the people and not persons, or how the sale of tab-pulls is funding terrorism. Don't worry though, I'm sure that as soon as any of the characters discovers an ancient equivalent of the tab-pull then all these criticisms will start to appear.
The technical term is of course pull-tab (a tab pull is a furniture fitting). Obviously Hooker is deliberately misquoting his sources claiming that critics of current policies assert that artefact hunting with metal detectors in the UK and US is in any way funding "terrorism".

Equally Hooker's object-centred attempt at defence of artefact hunting is the same as some drunkard saying drink-driving is OK, because he's returned frrom the pub blind drunk in his car many times and, though there have been a few near-misses involving other road users, so far he's never hit anyone or anything. The "pull-tab defence" which we see here Hooker employing to defend the fictional characters depicted in this programme is a typical tekkie deflecting argument. This goes "most of what we dig up is trash" so we should not worry about the rest that is dug out of the archaeological record that is not. The logic of that is somewhat difficult to follow when it is precisely that other component which is of concern. No doubt if what Hooker calls an 'important object' were to be dug out and comments were made, this would be ascribed by him (according to the other popular empty-head-detectorist argument to "jealousy"), again totally missing the point actually being made.

What is not at issue however are those objects, but the manner the context they are removed from is treated. Archaeological sites and assemblages are treated by these people as a  playground to be mined randomly and selectively for personal entertainment and profit rather than being used for the generation of knowledge (" persone verus the people").

Even though some numbskull collectors may be totally ignoring the discussion on the way we use the archaeological resource, the issues surrounding current policy on artefact hunting in the UK have long been a theme of public discussion. I really think it does not need a sitcom, no matter how well acted, for the comments on the deleterious effects of this exploitive erosion of the archaeological record to "start to appear".

What I do think is that the continued display of ignorance and inability to follow the simplest of conservation arguments (as here) is why we really should not be all that concerned to engage the metal detecting community in any future rounds of the heritage debate. The majority of them simply cannot keep up and their attempts to compensate for that can only be disruptive.

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