Tuesday, 26 April 2016

An Anonymous Archaeologist Afraid to tell metal Detectorist What is What

Afraid of metal detectorists?
There is a nicely-written article in the Guardian about being an archaeologist (Anonymous, 'The secret life of an archaeologist: soil in your sandwiches and sexism on sites' The Guardian Monday 25 April 2016). The author mentions artefact hunters: 
Equally, metal detectorists can be the stuff of nightmares when on a dig. Those acting as treasure hunters, operating without a licence, digging under the cover of night, are not likely to be keeping detailed records. Once an object is removed from a site, it loses its context and its informative value is decreased to almost nil, depending on the artefact. When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks and you have to bite your tongue. 
The illegal chaps are unlikely to be the ones venturing onto a dig with an orange Sainsbury's carrier bag full of loose hoiked finds (the only reason they might be there perhaps is to scout the place out and see if it'd be worth risking a nocturnal visit there too). What she's talking about here is the other kind, the ones that are supposed to be archaeology's (potential) partners,  the non-nighthawking type (the so-called 'responsible" ones). All the expensive 'outreach' by well-meaning but misguided archaeologists is wasted if these folk are still coming to archaeologists with "a bag of artefacts"  - so, loose objects divorced from context and associations without individual bagging and labelling with findspots. Twenty years of 'outreach' has not produced the intended result. But why on earth is this person "biting their tongue" and not doing some proper outreach? What is the matter with British(/Irish?) archaeologists these days that they are afraid to say 'boo to a goose'? Or has 'dealing with metal detectorists' become in the archaeological mentality something that only the PAS have to endure to relieve others of the bother?

Hat tip Nigel Swift

Just one of the 233 comments under the original article referred to the 'metal detecting interlude' - but also totally misses the point, preferring to interpret what she is saying as archaeological standoffishness:
gez_smith 25 Apr 2016 16:13 "When someone walks onto site uninvited with a bag of artefacts your heart just sinks" Or how about looking at it as it really is, a detectorist is helpfully trying to share information with you? Nighthawks who strip sites and people who think detecting is 'treasure hunting' should definitely be stopped, but some of us detectorists record all our finds (which only come from context disturbed plough soil anyway) to 10 figure grid references, conserve them carefully, store them to archaeological standard and record them dilligently with PAS. You could encourage detectorists you meet to become more like that you know. The blanket 'all detectorists are bad' attitude of archaeologists stinks, and needs to stop. 
He cannot see how what is being described is not "helpful", the artefact hunter is taking for themself  and a loose bag of finds or a no-matter-how-many-figure NGR in some central database is absolutely no mitigation of the damage done. This goes also for selectively stripping out random diagnostic (collectable) material from a surface assemblage.  Note the de rigeur 'we are not all nighthawks' argument, it'd be refreshing to see a metal detectorist who does not trot this one out every time they put finger to keyboard.

What is worth noting is that none of the other comments under this article (so far) are not from enlightened metal detectorists expressing annoyance that a metal detectorist is ripping stuff out of the ground and curating it like that and by taking it to the archaeologist in that state is bringing the hobby into disrepute just as much as the nighthawks mentioned in the previous part of the extracted fragment.

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