Saturday, 16 January 2016

"Responsible Detectorists" in UK Refuse to Discuss "Best Practice"

The idea behind setting up an expensive Portable Antiquities Outreach Scheme was that instead of opposing artefact hunters, British archaeologists would "partner" them and try to utilise their potential by getting them to work for the better preservation of the archaeological record. It was believed that through the right kind of "outreach" (read: education) metal detector users could be persuaded to use the took for general benefit rather than merely for selfish purposes. That was the theory. That model of achieving a British Artefact Collecting Nirvana was based on three primary premises
- that metal detectorists could/can help
- that metal detectorists want to listen, be persuaded and help
- that metal detectorists can understand the consequences of what they do and do not do and why certain practices are frowned upon.
The latter involves the metal detectorists' cognitive abilities, and while nobody doubts the first premise, the other two remain doubtful. The label "responsible detecting" continues to be broadly applied with no real discussion of what it actually means in terms of conservation and sustainable use of the archaeological record.

This is well illustrated by the "Nazi War Diggers"/"Battlefield Recovery" trash tv currently being broadcast as an exercise in "history seeking".   A variety of opinions and observations in a thread over on a metal detecting forum on this topic could be the ideal venue for an exchange of views on what would be best practice (a) on sites of this type, (b) in television programmes made in future with the involvement of forum members and (c) in drawing up of future contracts between metal detectorists and media companies. Not to mention, if "responsible metal detectorists" are partners - through the PAS - of responsible archaeologists, several of the latter could be invited onto the forum to represent their viewpoint on what is shown and what this means for future metal-detecting-legitimation-partnership and collaboration.

Did it happen? Take a look at the thread on one big metal detecting forum near you: ' Battlefield Recovery aka Nazi War Diggers' I discussed it earlier under "Tekkie backslapping", because that is what stands out, very few people writing on that thread at the beginning had any inkling that what they were watching was in any way bad practice. It was the typical emoticon-filled unreflexive warblings of a bunch of self-centred empty-heads:
I really enjoyed it/  thoroughly enjoyed it/  really enjoyed it/ enjoyable and informative/ love it!/ very well presented indeed/ Cracking instalment there chaps/ an easy to understand format/ I`m so excited to know a TV star!!!/ Well, that was good wasnt it [?]/ Spot on/ what was all the fuss about [?]/ what a fuss made over nothing/  'one in the eye' for the two-bob, nothing better to do anti's... /It gets better!/  keep going lads/ well done to all involved very well done to all involved/  Well done to all involved/ Well done guys/ well done to Channel 5/ Well done Chanel [sic] 5 free speach [sic] is still alive and well in this country/ [finding the] the wrist watch was pretty damn cool!! /  quite interesting/ good level of discussion/ Brownie points for the mention of Black diggers ( nighthawks) and their antics / seems to have gone down well with the Radio times and Mail online/  [emoticon] [emoticon] [emoticon] [emoticon] [emoticon] [emoticon]
As for the criticisms of what the films show, that, according to the detectorists may be dismissed as the views of "all six Guardian readers [emoticon] and the odd (very odd) Archaeologist or two". Member "Dave8472" (Wed Jan 13, 2016 5:28 pm) urges: "Don't believe what you read on the TwitterTwits LOL". Not surprisingly then, archaeologists did not feel invited to contribute to this segment of the discussion.

Despite efforts of a few artefact hunters to deflect discussion away from the issue, several detectorists thought, quite late on in the thread, that it might be a good façadist tactic to draw attention to some of the more obvious filmed shortcomings of the hoikers' field techniques, taking a lead from some of the heritage and methodological concerns raised by those so-called "Twitter twits". The retribution was swift. Forum moderator "Blackadder43" has stopped all further attempts to discuss best practice in this forum (Sat Jan 16, 2016 11:28 pm) due to the impossibility of artefact hunters to discuss any actual issue between themselves like adults:
Personal insults, swearing, aggressive posts! Some posts have been removed Thread locked, any new threads will be deleted. Any more personal insults and swearing then accounts will be suspended. Come on guys, fighting amongst our own ranks doesnt do us any favours. If you don't like the program don't watch it. 
Actually, I think the problem is not so much the favours being seen to attempt to discuss online best practice within the ranks of artefact hunters, but the fact that the ranks of so-called "responsible collectors" is seen to be divided between those to whom the term means something and those who shelter under its umbrella not having the foggiest what the term would mean to them. Here we also see the forum's lack of dedication to letting members find out. Any detectorist wanting to find some discussion of what is and what is not best practice on sites with battlefield evidence and human remains in situ will have to go elsewhere, the UK detecting forums do not cater for that need. They consider presenting a united front as the answer to the crisis that is beginning to face artefact hunting in the UK. I would say putting their own house in order in the area of demonstrating an understanding of and dedication to "best practice" will be the only tactic that has a chance of saving the hobby before the axe falls.  Apparently the main problem for the semi-literates among them is actually comprehending and analysing something much longer than 140 characters and lacking emoticons and pictures in order to gain more than a rudimentary grasp of the issues.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

Vignette: Metal detectorists

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IMO neither the forum owners nor the FLOs are capable of changing attitudes and 20 years of minimal progress has shown that's true. I think the reason is clear but rarely voiced: detecting is archaeology for those who are unwilling or unable to appreciate the need for best practice and (with exceptions) that's exactly what most of the participants in "the hobby" comprise. Quelle surprise, not.
If only that had been appreciated 20 years ago we'd all have been saved a lot of trouble and loss. An awful lot of FLO salaries have been paid on the basis that it's not true but it is. Quite a scandal really.

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