Saturday, 13 February 2016

"Responsible Metal Detecting" and the Heritage Debate

A few days ago I commented on a series of Look-at-me tweets a "responsible metal detectorists" was making about his self-recording with the PAS   (see 'Tautology and Missing the Point', and 'The Alex Bliss Collection in February 2016'). He obviously thought this activity was in some way instructive and was acting as a good advertisement of his own brand of "responsible metal detecting" (that is, artefact collecting). I am less convinced than most that what is called "responsible metal detecting" in the UK is indeed a responsible way to be using the archaeological record - especially when the person doing it claims (as this one did) that he is a "qualified archaeologist", and I said so. And I said why. Instead of any kind of a proper discussion this "qualified archaeologist" first blocked me, then sent anonymous (and insulting) comments to this blog.

Now, if you follow the link to his twitter account you probably will see the same as me.

What this says is that "responsible metal detecting" is merely a label under which people like Mr Bliss find it comfortable to take shelter. It is a meaningless label, because what is meant by it is "some of my finds are mentioned on the PAS database". But then, the idea of the PAS database is that anyone's finds can be found there, the little old lady who finds a coin of Henry III in her rose garden too. But there is a difference between a little old lady picking up a silver coin from her rose border and taking it to the museum to find out what it is, and somebody who goes out equipped month after month to selectively remove the most appealing collectable bits of material from the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit.

Mr Bliss apparently felt that if he boasted about what he'd taken and shown to the PAS ('donating' a few items to a museum on the way) all he'd get was pats on the head and a universal green light to carry on collecting. And generally, he got what he expected, even FLOs were retweeting without comment his feelgood "what a good boy am I" messages. Week after week in fact.

Mr Bliss crumbles the moment when one person (a single person) published online a comment or two indicating why - using this real example as a starting point for discussion - what is called "responsible metal detecting" involves a lot of unaddressed issues. So self-assured when he thinks everyone accepts he is right to be personally emptying bits of the archaeological record of several counties into his pocket, his resolve falters when faced with an argument or two which calls that into question. Totally unable to defend his standpoint, he has suspended or deleted his 'look-at-me' Twitter account about his activities and apparently gone underground. I doubt though that he'll be hanging up his metal detector and spade.

This notion of "responsible metal  detecting" is merely a facade. It is a facade which is reliant on state funding and the continuance of the PAS. Yet that in itself is a questionable venture. The trouble is, absolutely nobody in British metal detecting (Alex Bliss included) or indeed British archaeology is very interested in addressing those questions. They prefer to dodge, hide, ignore the issues, hoping that if they can keep it up long enough, the problems will go away. Is that a "responsible" attitude?

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".  

1 comment:

heritageaction said...

It's worth reflecting that all the self-praise detectorists indulge in (real amateur archaeologists and stamp collectors and others don't do it!)is not to convince people in general but landowners in particular. As the farmers say about detectorists down the Galloping Tup: "They’m spinning so hard they could excavate their own holes!” ;)

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