Monday, 29 February 2016

What is "Responsible Artefact Hunting"? Archaeology is not Rocket Science

"what do you mean by 'use a shovel'?",
"oh, oh, another horrible attack!!"

If you want to know what we should consider "responsible nuclear waste disposal" you can google it and get some pretty precise answers from the various government and watchdog bodies that concern themselves with that matter. As a stakeholder in that issue, not wanting radioactive iridium in my drinking water, I am thankful of that and that those who charged with the task of looking after this problem are not only up to the task, but are able to communicate the information to the public.

Now Google "responsible metal detecting" (in English) and see what the entire body of British archaeologists has managed to produce for you over nigh on two decades, gobbling up some 18 million quid on a PAS outreach programme (now Learning, Volunteers and Audiences outreach programme). It's a pretty pathetic showing by any standards. It's not really a concept you'll find being tackled much in any other European language either.

How difficult can it be to define what actually may be considered to be a "responsible" way to go about the collecting and personal use of artefacts in this day and age (assuming collecting ground-dug artefacts in the first place is accepted as something which is in itself "responsible" to do)? It seems British archaeologists find it awfully difficult to address this issue in anything but the most superficial and fragmentary manner. The attentive reader of this blog will know my opinion, that it is the Portable Antiquities Scheme that is the problem. I hold that for many British archaeologists (who apparently don't look far beyond it), it gets in the way of seeing the issue in its proper context (which I stress is quite obviously NOT the local, insular context).

A Sheffield academic wrote about a decontextualised hunk of metal found for him to admire "thanks to responsible metal detecting" and I asked a perfectly reasonable question - what should actually be meant by that term when uttered by an archaeologist? If we use a term to refer to some kind of methodology, then what is so difficult about defining what we mean by the use of the term? As archaeologists we work with specialists from other disciplines who are perfectly clear what is and what is not - for example - Raman spectroscopy and what we can expect from it. Why then can archaeologists not actually adequately define our own terminology? I find it difficult to accept that archaeologists are all utterly inarticulate bluffers loosely using words they cannot define.

The Sheffield academic apparently, and somewhat comically, cannot manage to define a term he's bandied about more than once. Preferring, as it would seem, to handle finds produced for him by artefact hunters, he dismisses the issue of the basis for archaeological collaboration in the collection-driven-exploitation of the archaeological record "boring". It may be less boring for some to fondle glomworthy ancient geegaws  than consider the implications of what they are doing, nevertheless that does not mean that some very real and important issues are being ignored here.

Dr Willmott gets some sympathy for his inability to address the issue raised from another British archaeologist who had earlier written on his blog a sycophantic paean in support of private collecting:
19.02    I think you get a badge or something...

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