Friday, 27 April 2018

Finnish Talk Raises Questions

On Friday 27th April SuALT Project’s Dr Anna Wessman will be presenting the regular Helsinki Archaeology Seminar. The talk is entitled “Engaging with the Public: Introducing the SuALT-project”. I won't be there, but the abstract for the talk is as follows:
SuALT (Suomen arkeologisten löytöjen linkitetty tietokanta), or the Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Database, is a unique project within Finnish archaeology. The multidisciplinary project, funded by the Academy of Finland, consists of the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (HELDIG), Aalto University and the Finnish Heritage Agency. We are developing a user-friendly and open database that encourages metal detectorists, but also other finders of chance material, to record their finds in the SuALT database. These finds have a high scientific potential but are not used in academic research at present. By engaging meaningfully with metal detectorists and other stakeholders, the project hopes to ensure that more finds are reported than at present, including retrospective recording. Through our citizens science approach we also hope to contribute in democratizing archaeology.
The Finn seem to have ingested the PAS-bacteria. First of all, the people engaged in treating the archaeological record as a source of trophies and collectables may prefer to be called by some anorakish name, such as 'metal detectorists' but they are artefact hunters engaged in the collection-driven exploitation of the record, whatever happens to the things they find. Collectors are not "the public", they are a minority group with their own specific and personal interest in the archaeological record. By engaging with artefact hunters the SuALT people are no more 'engaging with the public' than they would be engaging with these guys (all mentioned on this blog from time to time):

'Encouraging metal detectorists'  is not a good way of promoting archaeology, it promotes the Treasure-hunting mentality that is a major cause of damage to the archaeological record from Jordan to Jyväskylä  and Jyväskylä  to Wansborough. I really do not understand why normally sane (?) archaeologists anywhere would want to encourage collection-driven exploitation of anybody'\s (everybody's) archaeological record. Just what are they thinking? 

What is 'citizen science' when it is exploitive and damaging? Is big game shooting 'citizen science' because it involves knowing where to wait with a gun to blow a hole in the animal in a place where you do not damage the pelt too much? Is that science? You get a pelt to display but the environment is all the poorer for it? In what context is the noun 'science' being used here? How does one define this understanding of the word? (That actually is a very serious question which an archaeologist should be able to answer before using the word). 

Are looting (collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, both legal and illegal), smuggling, the antiquities market and collecting actually a means of 'democratising archaeology'? It may enable lots of people to get their own 'pieces of the past' to hold in their hand, fire their fantasies, and act as trophies, but is that - in fact - archaeOLOGY? That is another serious question I'd like to see (real) archaeologists answering. I say it is NOT. Collecting is not archaeology, in the same was as amassing lots of costume Barbie dolls is not ethnology, and rhino horn acquirers and whalers are not ecologists.  

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.