Monday, 22 January 2018

Detectorist: Collectors are Rescuing History Opposed by 'Musty Yellow Puddle Dwellers'

Metal detectorist James ('Detecting is an Attitude') Fielding apparently does not think too much of heritage professionals concerned about the erosion of the archaeological record by artefact hunters :
'the old guard, somewhat yellowed and musty, in archaeological circles, organizations and institutions fought tooth and nail against it... as they still do here in America. The sounds of tiny gnashing teeth, an amazing side job in hysterically dissing artifact and coin collectors, along with the infantile name-calling habit, are still heard in certain puddles [sic] of these folks who choose to live in the academic basement of archaeological origins [sic] and practices [...] They cannot understand (nor do some of them want to... hate and discord becomes a life choice, in some cases) that old ways of doing things are becoming extinct, and it is important, maybe even imperative, to initiate [sic] and embrace new ways to open doors into the future, and more importantly, new doors to the past [...] The lights are starting to change, and those who don't change with it are doomed to be left behind, crying their eyes out and stamping their feet. Tantrums do not make good science.' (Thursday, January 18, 2018) .
Further on he writes that 'old ways die hard' and the expression of concerns about the long-term effects of collection-driven exploitation on the archaeological record are 'somewhat like a decrepit steam locomotive finally loosing a few rivets and the loud, inconsequential hissing of a deflating boiler, soon to be silenced'. I am sure Mr Fielding will claim, like they all do, that he is 'only passionately interested in the history' and that his disdain for the 'old ways' of studying it systematically according to a defined methodology (as opposed to hoiking out decontextualised bits of it to pocket or sell) is only apparent. There is of course no 'hatred and discord' in what metal detectorists like him write about archaeologists and their yellowness and puddles. Luckily for him, and collectors like him,
The metal detecting community in England and some of the more enlightened practitioners of the actual art and science of real honest archaeology, as well as the British Museum no less, have come together to discover, document, recover, study, curate and display the neglected artifacts of an ancient age. And they are making fantastic inroads in mutual cooperation, as well as historic finds, with their marvelous Portable Antiquities Scheme or PAS for short. As a result, English history and the tangible remains thereof, have received a tremendous boost in popularity, with the citizens and certain savvy academics, sporting [sic] a newly renewed interest in the lives of those who lived thousands of years ago through their everyday objects and coinage.[...] I roundly applaud the enlightened and intelligent purveyors of the PAS, archaeologists and metal detectorists alike, and the amazing database of knowledge it has spawned [sic].
This is his text: 'The PAS - Rescuing History'. In it he finds solace in the idea that
'some 21st Century archaeologists, however, making use of the old adage 'work smarter, not harder!' have been turning to experienced metal detecting practitioners for help in racing the clock in recovering items being destroyed by chemical-based farming, road building, new structures and the like'. 
So when development control archaeologists come along to investigate a site in the face of such a threat, they'll find all the diagnostic metal artefacts already stripped out of the accessible parts and in a collector's pocket? What kind of 'help' is that? Maybe Mr Fielding could explain what kind of 'smart' archaeology that would be. Beats me.  He seems insistent in, drawing on more folksy adages to tell us how archaeology should be being done by the 'musty yellow puddle-dwellers':
Another old saying[:] 'Old ways won't open new doors', seems to apply to those that seem to want to clutch at the old methods of doing archaeology, especially those who have lost sight of the goal of the supposed science, which was knowledge, not artifacts
 Oh pleeease. The whole problem is that the collectors' approach is directed towards the objects, the artefacts they want to pocket and collect. In their doing so, they destroy knowledge. Relic collecting destroys far more knowledge than it creates, PAS or no PAS. The problem is that all the evidence is that the vast majority of objects hoiked out of the ground by collectable-seekers never make it to the PAS. In that case, I cannot see that any kind of a case can be made for the notion that collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is a creative rather than exploitive process. The vast majority of it is 'knowledge-theft', pure and simple. PAS or no PAS.This comes out pretty clearly in one of the comments (Dick Stout January 19, 2018 at 4:47 AM)
Great post Jim. You nailed it. Our detractors seem to think that by doing away with the PAS we will all disappear. Well we will not and what will result is a loss of information for generations to come.
And that is exactly it, these people by their acquisitive collecting activities are not only depriving their contemporaries of the archaeological knowledge that comes from the context of the artefacts they hoik out to add to their growing collections (or put on eBay), but also future generations. take away the PAS and even what little we do know about what has been taken from (roughly) where is lost. Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is simply a destructive and selfish activity. Note that what the commentator is saying, even if there was no scheme to try and preserve some of that information, selfish collectors would carry on regardless. Without regard for the damage they do. Even an advocate of a liberal response to the artefact hunting threat notes
 a user-driven national inventory of metal detector finds as the basis for research and dissemination is a precondition for the liberal model; and that, in the absence of such an inventory, metal detector finds are better off if they were left in the ground.

Got that, Mr Fielding?

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