Saturday, 3 January 2015

Academics Lose the Thread in Metal Detector Debate (Again)

There was an odd Twitter discussion going on last night prompted (it seems) by criticism of the way the Lenborough Hoard was dug on Dec 21st with the assistance of the FLO. Here is what Gabriel Moshenska has to say:
16 godz temu
I've spent all day fighting the urge to really lose my shit with anti-MD tweeps.
Oh go on Dr Moshenska, if you are sure that what you are criticising is indeed anti-UK-metal-detecting and not anti-bad-practice-in-UK-metal-detecting. These are two different things, though metal detectorists and their inattentive supporters consistently fail to see the difference. Lorna Richardson tweeted that looking for good practice in UK artefact hunting was 'clutching for pearls' (but has blocked me so I cannot find out why she says that). Moshenska, meanwhile again unhelpfully characterises the heritage debate merely as a simple issue of elitism:
16 godz.16 godzin temu
here its basically "Your working class hobby is spoiling our middle class hobby!" (But it isn't)
I'd really like to debate that with him. I think he misses a whole load of issues about archaeological resource preservation with such a simplistic view of the debate. Not that he or any supporters of the PAS will ever actually engage in any proper discussion of the topic.
The Lenborough hoard and its context were trashed and disgracefully, the FLO took part. Is this not something to discuss, or is it something we should all - shhhhhhh - keep an embarrassed silence about ? Because the latter is simply admitting that we simply can, never, do anything better than we are now - which is pathetic. The FLO concerned being on holiday until Tuesday, the PAS response so far? From the British Museum (the people who say that raising concerns about any of this is merely "trolling"):
16 godz.16 godzin temu
yes it will, but there's too much idealistic archaeological comment on this. PAS staff are at the sharp end.
It is now "idealistic" to expect the PAS to exert any influence on artefact hunters? It is "idealistic" to expect them to do anything else than join their "partners" in scooping out handfuls of shiny silver from two feet down on an unthreatened earthwork site, a known archaeological site? What crap is this? The PAS has a job to do, and what it needs to say here is "sorry, we ****ed up, we failed here", not "it is idealistic to expect us to do our job properly". 

Archaeology has a body of methodology which defines it, either something is 'doing archaeology or it is not. Digging down blind through the stratigraphy above a deposit and hoiking it all out (again blindly) at arm's length from below and from the middle outwards is not, I think most of us can agree, 'doing archaeology'. It is hoiking artefacts pure and simple. 

Now the Twitter discussion has developed into what metal detectors (the tool) can do for archaeology as an implement for surface survey... um, duh. But that is not the point, is it? But somehow this fascination with the technology is the way artefact hunting discussions always end up going. Archaeologists in general cannot seem to separate the issues and focus on one of them. So over the sea the Monytpellier project rears its transatlantic head.
16 godz.16 godzin temu 
Results have allowed us to refine our survey techniques. Metal detectors are integral to our approach to identifying sites
That's apparently supposed to calm everyone's concern that some (many) people are carelessly using the same machines for an entirely different purpose - trashing sites for personal entertainment and profit. There is a huge non sequitur here. As I pointed out:
9 min.9 minut temu
but cannot be used if sites have been randomly and heavily 'hammered' by collectors first as in the UK, can they?
Montpellier probably has not been hammered by various artefact hunters targeting the area around this known historical site and its appurtenances as a 'mine' to fill their pockets with collectables. If it had been, a large and random selection of the more diagnostic finds would most likely be lying unlabelled and unknown in any number of drawers somewhere and any distribution patterns of artefacts across the site found by a subsequent survey will be skewed to an unknowable degree. With ten to sixteen (probably) thousand artefact hunters on the UK all competing for access to perhaps less than a million (EH figure) sites likely to produce collectables, many legally- some illegally - you can see that the chances of a site which is surveyed now or in the near future not being eroded by their attentions is already pretty slim, and the problem will get worse unless there is some way of proper mitigation of the information loss. At the moment there is not, and there has not been since metal detecting started. And that - surely - is what we as archaeologists trying to use such information and concerned for the protection of the record for others after us to use - should be talking about. No?

Nigel Swift has commented on this exchange :
'Hoard hoiking: it’s not just the doing that’s depressing it’s the saying!', Jan 3rd 2015. The response to Moshenska was spot on:
We’re also against that working class hobby of wild bird egg collecting. What about you? Are you a bit middle class about that but a bit working class about metal detecting?)
The crux of the matter is as Nigel puts it:
So it’s very depressing. So long as Dan and Gabe keep talking like they do, those detectorists who don’t want to co-operate with Best Practice can rest very, very secure that they won’t have to. Tomorrow we’ll offer a simple measure that would end the worst abuses in a trice. Will Dan and Gabe pop over to say “Yay, we’ll support that proposal 100%!” We’ll see.
It is interesting to note however the tone of the social media exchanges that are going on about this hoard with some very real criticisms of what went on, and the PAS and its camp-followers well and truly on the defensive. Is it possible that there is at last a climate of change in the air and we'll be seeing some proper discussion of the issues soon?

Vignette: Ivory tower misunderstandings, different languages.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.