Monday, 25 January 2016

Rifts and Responsibility

'Mizaru, Kikazaru and
Iwazaru in British Archaeology
English blogger Matthew Thomas has an untitled blog post with no paragraph structure (Northern Ephemera 20th Jan 2016) which makes a number of mixed points about Channel Five's "Battlefield Recovery" and historical wrecks. The structure of the piece makes it difficult to follow his reasoning, but I spotted in it a couple of the typical things archaeologists say which I thought worthy of comment. [UPDATE after I wrote this Dr Thomas posted a reply, the subject of which is stated to be "Lord Blog" of all things. Who's the "name-caller" now? UPDATE UPDATE: Now he's removed the title and edited the page - that's a bit metal detectorish]

It seems it is being remarked (somewhere) that the comments by heritage professionals on the issues related to what is seen in the series "may well be fuelling the fire, so to speak" (without a closer definition of what he means by that metaphor). [UPDATE, since the metaphor is not preceded or followed by anything which would explain what the author had in mind, I ask again, what kind of "fire"?]. The author continues:
However, i feel that it is essential that we continue to work together to highlight the problems as we see them, so that the general public are made aware of them [..]. The more that the public are aware of the ethical and moral issues that have been brought to the fore by the series being made and shown on British terrestrial television, the better.
He holds that the number of public complaints made about the series "can only be bad for archaeology and heritage". I am not so sure that those comments are about the programme "being" archaeology or about them not being archaeology. I would say this is a pretty devastating result for metal detecting. The more the public are aware of the ethical and moral issues about artefact/historical relic hunting that have been brought to the fore here, the better. Thus I am in agreement with only the latter part of the following statement:
no good can come of this media firestorm other than that we collectively hold 'Battlefield Recovery' up as an example of how to never, ever make a heritage television series again
[UPDATE: in his reply to this post, Dr Thomas indicates that since this programme will be seen by the public as archaeology, any critical comments addressed to the programme will be received as addressed to archaeology. I still think this is the wrong attitude. If what is shown is bad practice, in archaeology or anything else, we should speak out against bad practice]. I got a bit nauseous reading the next bit, this is a typical view of British archaeologists:
As a side note i wish to add that we are in real danger of opening up the rift between hobby metal detectorists and those who work in heritage (including many very professional metal detectorists). 
First of all, what does he mean by that, "metal detectorists who work in the heritage industry"? Baz Thugwit has a shed full of uncatalogued Roman grots, Medieval buckles, Anglo-Saxon strapends and all sorts of other archaeological bric-a-brac. Baz is a collector, an artefact hunter and an artefact collector, the material from archaeological sites which he does not add to the piles in his shed go into a "scrap bucket" (or a skip when its ironwork inadvertently gathered). Other surplus bits go on eBay. Some bits might, or might not, get shown to the PAS. If Baz goes and over a fortnight scans a spoil heap for the local university dig, it makes no difference to what or who Baz is. Archaeologists who use metal detectors as one of their survey tools ("professional metal detectorists who work in heritage") are a completely different phenomenon from our Baz. Equating the two is typical of the terminological confusion that has crept into British archaeology, today unable to call a spade a spade.

In what way is there not already "a rift" between the activities of people whose idea of fun is ripping into assemblages of archaeological material, pocketing the bits they fancy for personal collection or sale and ignoring /discarding the rest and the archaeological method? [UPDATE Dr Thomas and I seem to be talking at cross purposes I write of a rift between collecting and archaeology, he thinks I meant collectors and archaeologists]. Dr Thomas talks of not "opening it up". I would ask how we could think we can "bridge that rift"? Because it seems to me that watching "Battlefield Larks" shows with the utmost clarity that two decades and millions of pounds or resources thrown at patting selfish devastators on the head and saying "you done well boys" in the face of execrable bad practice has done absolutely nothing whatsoever to even begin bridging that "rift". There is no need to speak softly to avoid "opening it up" as Dr Thomas suggests, because it is already, and always has been, a gaping abyss. Instead we should STOP ignoring it. For goodness' sake.

[Update, in his reply Dr Thomas says "Next up is a comment that, apparently, I seek to “open up” the rift. No, I really don’t, quite the opposite". I suggest he reads what I actually wrote. I say a rift exists, so to talk of opening it up is a nonsense.]

Dr Thomas really has not been paying attention to what is happening in and around artefact hunting in the UK. He's got the vague idea that the NCMD is in some way "Cuddly Metal Detectorists" [UPDATE: He admits to "being baffled" by that comment which he labels "childish". It seems quite clear to me what I mean. As explained below, I suggest he looks into what the NCMD actually do and have done all down the line before assuming as he apparently does that they are the cuddly archie-friendly ones]. Hmm:
At the time of episode one i contacted the NCMD, the body that oversees metal detecting in the United Kingdom, and asked them to condemn 'Battlefield Recovery' and to offer guidance to metal detectorists in Great Britain. The response, from General Secretary Mr Trevor Austin, dismissed the call for condemnation because the series "concentrates on European sites, which are different to the United Kingdom". It is clear that in both of the episodes currently which have been aired on Channel 5 that the presenters have breached the code of conduct set down by the NCMD and as citizens of the United Kingdom (in the majority) the presenters should be expected to uphold those rules and guidance around the world. I have again contacted the NCMD now that episode two has aired, asking them to now condemn the series and offer guidance to the metal detecting community, for the good of metal detecting as a hobby and for heritage as a whole.
First of all the NCMD does not "oversee" anything, it is a federation of metal detecting clubs, nothing else. It has (thank goodness) no legal status as any kind of controlling body. Throughout its long history, the NCMD may fairly be characterised as a bunch of temperamental and obstructive flat cap ranters. Just have a look, Dr Thomas, at their newsletters and how they attempt to block ANY conservation-orientated moves which may affect the freedoms of their members, drop collaboration in reports from the Denison and Dobinson one that eventually led to the PAS and the Oxford Archaeology Nighthawking survey and just about everything else in between. Dr Thomas, like most British archies neglects to do his research and just uses vague notions as labels.

So it is no surprise to anyone who watches what the NCMD do that they refused to take a stand on what is and is not "responsible detecting". No surprise at all - you might as well have asked Muffin the Mule and got a reply as useful as any from the dinosaurs at the NCMD. [UPDATE everybody who thinks of the NCMD as highly as Dr Thomas, take a look at the NCMD Code of Conduct and see which articles apart from 4 and 9 "Nazi War Diggers" was actually in breach of].

But what an answer eh? Austin "dismissed the call for condemnation because the series "concentrates on European sites, which are different to the United Kingdom"...". That's an idiotic statement for a start. If it were as the artefact hunter says a Glaswegian who learnt his or her skills on sites along the Antonine Wall could never excavate a site in Egypt or Iran because they "are a different kind of site".  That's just the sort of junk argument you'd expect from a metal detectorist.

"Here comes Muffin,
Muffin the Mule,
     Dear old Muffin,
playing the fool..."
But of course Trevor Austin is the man whose ambitions are to "lead" all of European artefact hunters  to victory over conservationists. He wants to have a European Council for Metal Detecting taking its lead from the NCMD. So yes, Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria and Spain. I wrote about this here. So what grounds are there for creating a European Federation based on a model from Bonkers Britain when " European sites are different to the United Kingdom"?   the only real difference is that the European sites are protected from collectables-pilferers by law, those of the UK are not. The NCMD owes us all a proper statement on involvement of British detectorists in "Nazi War Diggers" and Channel Five's "Battlefield Recovery". Is what we see in those films in any way what the NCMD would promote as "responsible artefact hunting"? Yes or no, no beating about the bush Mr Austin. Your European credibility is under question here. Poland says no. Finland says no. What does the NCMD say?

If it turns out that Kris, Craig, Steve and Adrian were engaging in excavations in Poland without  an excavation permit, what would the NCMD say about that? Did they have one? Time to ask again.

UPDATE 26th Jan 2016
Dr Thomas has attempted to reply to this ('26TH JANUARY 2016 (AKALORD BLOG)'), but it would have helped if he'd taken a deep breath first and tried to understand what I was writing before hastily dismissing it all (see my comments added as 'updates' above).

I wrote of intellectual superficiality in British archaeology's approach to artefact hunting, and we see that confirmed in what Dr Thomas thinks is an answer to what I said.

Now he's deleted it. Timewaster.

1 comment:

heritageaction said...

Perhaps you could add to those questions: "are any or all of the 3 British diggers members of the NCMD?"

I rather think the answer is yes, which puts Mr Austin in a tricky position as Clause 4 of his Code of Conduct says
"If you discover any live ammunition or any lethal object such as an unexploded bomb or mine, do not disturb it. Mark the site carefully and report the find to the local police and landowner".

Are we to understand that the thousands of his Members who detect abroad aren't bound by Clause 4 (or indeed any of the other clauses) because European sites are "different"? Someone should tell the French.

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