Thursday, 29 October 2015

Archaeology is not Artefact Hunting: Artefact Hunting is not Archaeology


Mr Hooker promises more posts in his tekkie luv-fest, eulogising his great mate detectorist Dean Crawford who's shown him so many coins from his private stash.

At the end of the rather superficial name-dropping first post in the series ("Dean Crawford — Living among the Dobunni: Throckmorton Airfield and the Time Team"), he promises in future information about: "more archaeological excavations where Dean was contracted to assist" [Update: see here, four sites] . I would like to know who is contracting for archaeological work an artefact hunter who publicly states on forums and discussion lists that he's not going to report "his" sites, because if he does the sensitive ones in them will be taken into protective stewardship and he'll no longer be able to hoik collectables there.

 I am constantly amazed by the fluff-brain reasoning of the supporters of artefact hunting which relies on this leitmotif. Some artefact hunters sometimes use their machines as part of an archaeological project, when they are not using them to clandestinely fill their pockets with unreported artefact (archaeological evidence) from other archaeological sites elsewhere. When they do the latter, I doubt that they are using any of the methodological rigour that they presumably learn when taking part in a project. Yet this is taken to mean that "not all metal detectorists are bad" and therefore "metal detecting is not bad, indeed good for the heritage". That's obviously nonsense, but that is precisely what supporters of artefact hunting like the antiquarian fellow Hooker are proposing. Bonkers.

Archaeologists are perfectly able to operate electronic survey equipment, including metal detectors. I think there is a very strong case for arguing that in terms of archaeological ethics, card-carrying professional archaeologists should not engage in collaboration in their projects with people who themselves engage in artefact hunting and artefact collecting.

Vignette:  Archaeologists systematically probe the terrain of the 1410 Battle of Grunwald in Poland [Credit: PAP/Tomasz Waszczuk]

2 comments:

heritageaction said...

"Archaeologists are perfectly able to operate electronic survey equipment, including metal detectors."

Thank goodness someone else thinks that. I get heartily sick of archaeologists saying (and detectorists boasting) they utilise the "skills" of detectorists on excavations. No, detectorists have no great skills other than being able, sometimes, to know if a signal is "werfit". On an archaeological excavation ALL signals are werfit and as such anyone, be they first year archaeology students, retired history buffs or chimps, can quickly be trained to hold up their hind legs when they hear a beep.

heritageaction said...

"I think there is a very strong case for arguing that in terms of archaeological ethics, card-carrying professional archaeologists should not engage in collaboration in their projects with people who themselves engage in artefact hunting and artefact collecting."

Another nail firmly hit that archaeologists miss Paul. It will infuriate detectorists and the remaining detente minded archaeologists but it's a fact that such collaborations don't stand up very well to ethical scrutiny. Engaging with someone who toes the scientific, ethical line today but does the opposite, including pocketing and profiting by their finds tomorrow, requires some mental gymnastics, to say the least. Where's la difference if it only applies on Mondays and Wednesdays?

 
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