Saturday, 3 September 2016

Archaeology and an Inability to Define the Subject of Discussion (Updated)


Go on, read Heritage Action's
text on what archaeology
is and is not, you know
you want to...
This morning Heritage Action made some comments about the way the British Museum defines archaeology. It seems the heritage community is having a lot of problems with definition at the moment. It seems now that there is some discussion of artefact hunting and collecting in EAA Vilnius (oh by the way the EAA code of ethics has something about this):
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 4 godziny temu
Come on! Let's not conflate hobbyist and illicit metal detecting #EAAVilnius2016 Academic debate is happening let's engage with it people!
I would say engaging in an academic debate would consist of starting off with defining just what, precisely, we are talking about before being urged to privilege one form of it . Here we see that pernicious and superficial "we aint night'awks' argumint" trotted out by an arkie from the Scottish equivalent of the Treasure Unit.
6 min. @DrTashaFerguson @SuzieThomasHY
In what, precise, way do they affect archaeological record differently? Always, Natasha? What is difference?
Whether or not it is done in accord with a "they can't touch you for it" law (made by non-archaeologists), surely as archaeologists what we need to be debating is what the overall effect is (a) on the archaeological record and (b) public perceptions and expectations of archaeology (real archaeology). Artefact hunting is NOT archaeology, archaeology (real archaeology) is - or jolly well should be by now - something else. I do not see the archaeological rationale for dividing so-called "hobbyist artefact hunting|" (what exactly does Dr Ferguson mean by that?) from any other kind of collection-driven-exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record. This blog's comments box is free for any archaeologist to come here and explain to us all just where they draw the line and why. Please, be my guests.

UPDATE 3rd September 2016 Evening

Dr Ferguson continues her support of artefact hunting. She now ventures:
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 12 minut temu
@MayaHoole @PortantIssues @SuzieThomasHY Illicit is illegal with intention to profit.
I pointed out that this is by no means always the case, artefact hunting and collecting with metal detectors is illegal over much of continental Europe, which does not mean that artefact hunters do not keep records and are not collecting (illegally) out of an interest in history and always is done to sell rather than collect the objects found. This is well- documented from Austria and Poland and a number of other places which seem to be out of NF's immediate line of sight). Whether that is or is not the case, they are damaging the sites which the artefacts they pocket come from - and that is the point I think underlies this whole debate. On being asked whether she'd like to expand on that in more than 140 characters, the reply is:
Oh don't worry, I am. Haven't you read my published work? You might find in interesting.
I guess this is it. I've read the "Biting the bullet" one, the rest do not turn me on all that much, it seems we are talking at cross purposes (as one often is when the basic terms are not defined properly) Dr F. is talking about the use of the metal detectopr as a survey tool, I am (and this blog is) talking about it as a tool used for the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, as a collector's tool. But yes, feel free Dr Ferguson to come here and tell me I am in some way 'wrong' to see it as such.

Meanwhile one Maya Hoole decided to archiexplain it all to me.We have a BM-dumbdown-compliant definition of "illicit" artefact hunting:
Maya Hoole ‏@MayaHoole 50 minut temu
@PortantIssues @DrTashaFerguson @SuzieThomasHY  Illict = no records or interest in learning: hobbie = keen to share, learn  join community.
One wonders what planet Ms Hoole has fallen from. My reply:
Rubbish; I asked "always". Check the figures on reporting. Knowledge theft occurs in both cases.
UPDATE UPDATE 3rd September 2016 Evening
I assume that this is arkiesarcasm:
Natasha Ferguson ‏@DrTashaFerguson 31 minut temu
@PortantIssues @MayaHoole @SuzieThomasHY Fair play to you for being able to tackle the issue in 150 characters. Takes talent...
Which is why I invited you to come and debate it properly. Why should we not, taking the wider view, treat "hobbyist artefact hunting" and "illicit metal detecting" as part of the same phenomenon which is the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record? Yes, there is a socking big "elephant in the senior common room" requiring academic debate, can you see it? Would it hurt to use social (and other) media to whisper a few truths about it?


7 comments:

Maya Hoole said...

No, it wouldn't hurt to talk about it, in fact, I think it's an excellent idea to talk about it, hence why I engaged in the subject. But can you blame people for not joining a debate when the lead professional on the topic defines their contributions as 'BM-dumbdown-compliant' and suggests they are from another planet? Or assumes they have a bee in their bonnet and are being sarcastic?
Yes, it's definitely time to have a discussion about artefact hunting and the impact on the archaeological record - but wouldn't it be more successful in a civil environment without the derision?

Paul Barford said...

Absolutely, you are 100% right. But NOW is not the time to have this debate, if not twenty years ago, at least fifteen years ago - five years into the PAS was the time to do that.

And yes, yes I did. I did try to do that. In an extremely civil tone. And what happened? Well, you cannot see what happened on the PAS forum, but the posts are still archived on CBA's Britarch - including the way the "metal detectorists" and - especially - the PAS (you know, that "archaeological outreach" project) reacted. The one side aggressively, the second dismissively - "the problems are minor ones" they insisted , "we'll sort it out given tgime". Well, they had not and two decades on, they have not. In fact they have worsened the situation.

The BM has produced a definition of "citizen archaeologist" (both I and Heritage Action discuss it on our blogs just a mouse-click away) which is the epitome of dumbdown. I point out that the opposing definitions of "illicit artefact hunting" and "hobby artefact hunting" offered in that thread were equally wholly inadequate to the complexity of the issue. They are part of the same phenomenon, not separate ones.

You see, the proposal was the same as the artefact hunters of the UK, the fact that they are not doing what they do illegally DOES NOT make EVERYTHING they do all right. That is their argument - "don't tar us with the same brush as the nighthawks (and leave us alone)". Go onto their forums (especially the secretive ones where you have to register first to see inside) and their blogs before telling us all how they all are "keen to share, learn, join". That's what the PAS will have you believe, but by no means are they all, you can find it documented here if you have not the stomach to go through all their crap. It is acknowledged by the PAS now that the majority of the finds these people dig up and pocket do not get reported to the PAS (which is what Heritage action and myself have been pointing out for over a decade and a half).

Yes, it is definitely well past time to have a discussion about artefact hunting and the impact on the archaeological record (and how to revise that UK Treasure Act) - but obviously the only way it would have any point would be in an environment when the people you are discussing it with do not come out with the same glib mantras trotted out year after year by people repeating them without any reflection or fact checking. That's why I am angered by British archaeologists who support the artefact hunters because it is quite clear that they have not really troubled to find out just what it is they are supporting beyond the rather unsatisfactory status quo.

But thanks for replying. Nothing personal in the above, there's a couple of thousand archaeologists who'd have said the same as you - but most of them are afraid to come here and put their ideas up for challenge.

Maya Hoole said...

Crikey, I'm seriously out of touch with the reality of the situation if what you say is true. Firstly, I've got to put my hands up and admit two things- first (obviously) I'm very new to this topic in general, and secondly, I am a wildling, residing north of the wall [more commonly known as the England/Scotland divide]. However, this in no way detracts from my concern for the things you highlight, it only heightens my surprise at how out of touch I am with this topic.
Ideally, do you see us in a situation where these activities are not only illegal but enforced? And if so, how do you envisage we get there?

Paul Barford said...

The legal situation north of the border differs from the limp-wristed English one, but still there is still a lot of under-reporting potentially going on north of the border. But that is it, isn't it? If the PAS was doing its job properly, there would be an actual report, updated every few years which tells the whole story warts and all and tell you (and the public what they need to know). What they've been producing as their annual reports tells just the Good News.

But this issue does not affect just Great Britain, but the English disease s now infecting the continent (PAS mixed up in that too). But hopefully Brexit will put paid to that.

No, let us not make it "illegal", but harness what can be harnessed and squash the rest. Let's make it work for us and the rest of society. Book going to print in two months time telling how I (Nigel Swifty and I actually) think we could get there but it needs the archaeologists to open their eyes and mouths.

Maya Hoole said...

Eyes and mouth open here - I hope I get the chance to read the forth coming publication. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me. I will endeavor to understand the situation better.

heritageaction said...


Maya, I'm confused (for dramatic effect): We have Natasha saying “Illicit is illegal with intention to profit” (which is a tiny minority of “nighthawks” says PAS) and you saying “Illicit = no records” (which is 70% of hobbyists says PAS.) You seem less "out of touch" than you fear!

Paul Barford said...

I think the fault is here with the totally useless approach of the PAS which is taking oodles of money to inform the public about portable antiquities issues and not only is NOT doing that (beyond "look wotta lotta stuff you can find with a metal detector") but failing to keep archaeologists up to date with what is going on.

You will seek in vain on the PAS website to find any kind of PROPER definition of "illicit antiquity" which is of any use in a PROPER discussion of the range of issues which concern them. The PAS are not doing PROPERLY the job they were paid to do. They satisfy their (apparently rather shallow) intellectual ambitions by being only cataloguers (or now, even, catalogue facilitators) and see that as the extent of their obligations to the rest of us.

 
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