Friday, 1 May 2015

UK Metal Detectorists Fighting the Illicit Antiquities Trade?

Treasure hunters and archaeology
Ian Richardson, Treasure Registrar at the British Museum wrote a review of a conference “Archaeology 2008” at the British Museum in February of that year and mentions his boss in glowing terms ("citing a plethora of statistics that demonstrated the database’s popularity [...] rational approach providing the figures to reinforce the ‘feel-good’ reports [...] tireless and ultimately successful")
Bland and Moshenska urged archaeologists to follow examples of existing good practice, such as the PAS, and to encourage anyone interested in the subject to “get their hands dirty” by joining local organisations, exercising their right to dig, and “ignoring experts who tell you that you can’t do what you’re already doing”.
He does not clarify whether this is local organizations like archaeological societies and groups, or local organizations such as metal detecting clubs and commercial artefact hunting rallies. It is a shame that he does not make clear what he thought archaeologists should be encouraging. Whatever is meant, seven years ago, Dr Richardson was claiming this would bear fruit in "a shared sense of value for our past heritage and a desire to see it experienced by everyone":
This in turn enables an environment in which [...] can achieve success in tracking down offenders of antiquities laws. Michael Lewis (British Museum and Metropolitan Police) explained that the monopolisation of heritage, as manifested in the use of the antiques trade to support banal and criminal activity, is best combated from both sides of the professional divide. As I see it, the sooner that paid practitioners demonstrate their trust and respect for their lay counterparts, the easier it will be to present a united front to curb the trade in illicit antiquities. 
Right, seven years of demonstration of trust and respect for artefact hunters later - and what? My tracking software and the reactions of artefact hunters in their own forums to this blog indicates without a shadow of a doubt that all these people who claim to be "passionately interested in history" ("a shared sense of value for our past heritage") and most vociferously express "a desire to see it experienced by everyone" don't give a tinkers about any aspect of the trade in illicit antiquities. None of them even see that this blog (or any other for that matter) deals with the subject. They are blinkers-on and heads-down concentrated on their own selfish needs, and really have no interest whatsoever in the wider context of artefact collecting. Yet how many public pounds has the PAS spent in those seven years continuing to build that trust, encouraging the artefact collecting of their "partners"? How many times have collectors had their heads patted, their hands shaken, their egos stroked and their backs slapped by those paid practitioners egged on by Bloomsbury?

Yet how do these artefact hunters and collectors repay that? Have they fulfilled the promise that Richardson saw in them seven years ago? Will they do so given another seven years of back-slapping and archaeological bonhomie? My own feeling is that the evidence we have accumulated over seventeen years of the PAS operation that (a few individuals excepted) they will not, and we are wasting our time and public money on chasing a futile dream.

Hat tip to David Gill for pointing out the 2008 text.

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