Tuesday, 2 October 2018

'Collection-Driven Exploitation"of the Archaeological Record': How do we Start Debate without Defining What it is About?

Protecting sites from deliberate damage is surely one of the things that archaeologists should be agreed on and striving for. Yet, sites are being looted the world over because of the quest for collectable portable antiquities. We need a term to cover all aspects of the relationship between artefact/relic collectors and the archaeological resource that all agree is threatened by its use merely to produce collectables. We surely need to take a transnational view of the phenomenon and not focus on single aspects and insular issues. There would be nothing controversial in talking about the phenomenon of the damage done by 'collection-driven exploitation of the geological record' by fossil hunters and mineral collectors, why can we not talk about 'Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record by relic hunters and coin collectors without emotions being aroused?

Sadly, in part of the English-speaking world (and the UK in particular), the discussion on these issues has tended to be dominated by the views that surround the operation of, and support for, the Portable Antiquities Scheme of England and Wales. This has gdrawn most of the discussion into a narrowed framework, based on the 'discovery' paradigm, rather than taking a conservation-based and more holistic view. It then focuses on seeing and depicting artefact hunting (only) as 'public engagement with the past' rather than a more nuanced view of the wider phenomenon. The pervasiveness of this PAS-legacy view is one of the reasons I started this blog, to attempt to show the other side of the stiry for those that might want to look again at the issues.

It seems the PAS does not really appreciate my efforts, and generally refuse to take part in any discussion that goes beyiond the edges of the box that they've built. Recently, having the occasion to discuss it with a member of the PAS 'outreach' staff, I challenged Durham FLO Ben Westwood, who vocally disagrees with me about the damage done by artefact hunting, instead of his relentless labelling everything I say on the topic 'lies', 'fake news' and 'click bait' (sic), to explain in the comments under one of my blog posts about why he is of another opinion. One would have thought that somebody employed to do public outreach would be able to explain why certain people in the PAS expound views about artefact hunting that go against what most archaeologists - taking a transnational view - would say on the subject (here for example, here too, and here, or here, also here, here, but many, many more). So far, the FLO has declined to actually comment sensibly, merely plays the victim:
I'm willing, as i've stated many times, to discuss my views and opinions. But i don't really think that's what you want. I'm reaching the conclusion that you're just not interested in the opinions of others unless they neatly align with your own. Which is rather strange. [...] Does it occur to you that other opinions may be equally valid and yet reach different conclusions to you? 'Collection-Driven Exploitation' is a great example: how do we start debate with such loaded language? (Your terminology, incidently, that i've never seen anybody else use)
I would say better than merely talking about what he would have to say if he had something to say would be to actually say it, and then we could all see what he, as a FLO, has to say on the subject, no?

But he sees a problem, by not using an anorakish proxy term like 'metal detecting' and being asked to name the spade that he's trying to avoid calling a spade by using the term I am promoting here to describe what this blog is about, that is it is about 'Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record', the ball is in a different court from the one where he and the PAS tekkie partners generally play about in. 

The problem is, isn't it (really) that the only way his 'opinions' would even remotely be 'equally valid and yet reach different conclusions to [me]' would if he's not deliberately using vague proxy terms for the activity we are discussing. 'Collection-Driven Exploitation' is only 'such loaded language' for those who are attempting to deny that the main reason artefact hunters hunt artefacts with metal detectors, magnets, dowsing rods or the naked eye - or whatever - is related to their collection. And I think there is a good reason why the supporters of artefact hunting and artefact hunters tend not to use the term I promote here. But the activity of concern is, it jolly well is, 'Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record', and it is that which I am discussing in this blog. Yes we are, and anyone who wants to run away from the discussion framed in such terms, I would say, is an intellectual coward.

'Metal detecting' is an obsolete conventional term that I show elsewhere applies to at least six other hobbies that are not 'Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record' (depending how you define the latter). Beach detecting is not a problem for me, looking for placer gold in stream beds also not, token hunts do no damage. Coin shooting on 1930s fairground sites in the USA is not what I am writing about here. Meteorite hunting damages something, but not the archaeological record. Hunting for metal debris from modern warfare (Nazi War Diggers type stuff or aircraft crash sites) is problematic, but does not fall into the same character as Roman villas and DMVs. Metal detectors are used in airports and public buildings, factories and elsewhere.

I would say the best (and in fact only) way to start a proper debate is to first agree on what it is we are discussing. I think we need to be discussing  'Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record'. The Ixelles Six and the PAS so far have run a mile from the suggestion. Why?

I would also say labelling a debate about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record' as something else, using terms that may be partial, insular or vague, is in fact using loaded language intended to obscure, rather than highlight the real issues. 

Vignette: Mike Pegg and his heaped artefact collection, from one of my favourite metal detecting videos of all time.


Paul Barford said...

Ben Westwood Durham FLO seems not to be able to work out how to send comments himself, he replies:
"but then you may as well call excavation 'Data-driven destruction of the archaeological record'. And besides, collection's only part of it. Many may argue they are also recoverering valuable archeological data. I'd say 'CDE' is only part of the story, and has negative connotations. I'd probably compare it to the use of 'rescue' archaeology to describe archaeology done through the commercial/planning process: it doesn't reflect the actual process nor the value, and again has negative connotations."


Paul Barford said...

So if I understand his reasoning correctly (in the context of the argument about what the Ixelles Six originally wrote), what he is saying is that Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is LESS damaging than "Data-driven destruction of the archaeological record'.

Really? But if the data contained in that record (of which decontextualised collectables are only a part) are what matters, the subject matter of the -ology, then I do not see how he deduces this. He needs to explain further.

He goes on that only 'part' of what artefact hunters do is connected with someone building up a collection of artefacts/relics. I do not see how he can say that. That really does not tally with what we actually see happening in collecting circles. Of course his employer, the PAS, calls artefact hunters 'citizen archaeologists', but that is about as dumbass as claiming that collectors of wild bird eggs are 'citizen ornithologists'(or 'citizen ecologists'). They are just collectors, driven by the collecting urge, and what they learn about nature, birds, where they build their nests and how many eggs they typically lay in them is incidental to the aim of exploiting the nests in the first place as a source of collectable 'objects/things' (and the analogy is 100% applicable, Mr Westwood).

He says "Many (sic) may (sic) argue [that artefact hunters] are also recovering valuable archeological data". Well, they are not. And "many would argue"that they are not. Most of them are destroying contextual information every time they dig a hole and hoik out an artefact blindly from its context of deposition. What the majority are interested in is the isolated object, either to add to their own collection, or for sale so others can add them to theirs. A so-called "subsistence digger" is adding nothing to the archaeological record. I'd say that is the case even when we are dealing with "addressed sources" like the tablets from Irisagrig that I discussed here the other day. The 'information' they give would be far more 'valuable' if we knew what was found with what and in what situation (context of discovery)

Also I note that this "many" remains undefined. Who says that artefact hunters are actually "also recovering valuable archaeological data" when they dig stuff up and scatter it in ephemeral collections or on the market? Richard Elia? Zahi Hawass? Colin Renfrew? Neil Brodie? Simon MacKenzie? Teressa Davis? David Gill? Donna Yates? Sam Hardy? Stephennie Mulder? Douglas Boin? Nathan Elkins? Who? Even if they were (which in general they are not), that does not mean that the primary motive for digging it up in the first place is as a collectable.

I disagree with Ben Westwood's assessment that "CDE is only part of the story" because it is the whole story, the whole problem, the issue of concern - but can agree that it 'has negative connotations'.

I do not get the point about "rescue" archaeology, why bring in another topic entirely to a discussion of artefact hunting '- if not as a smokescreen?

Paul Barford said...

Durham FLO Ben Westwood replies:
"so before we've even begun to discuss [on Twitter], you've written yet another blog post. Why do you run from discussion? And surely your readers are a bit fed up of yet another post about the Durham FLO?"

Well, this is my blog, so I get to decide what I do or do not discuss on it. I am not pandering to anybody'else's likes or dislikes (that's odd coming from somebody who referred just a while ago to my posts as 'click bait'- you need a little bit of consistency in your line of argument Ben.)

If someone, FLO, metal detector user, coin dealer, paid lobbyist for the antiquities trade, heritage professional, heritage blogger, journalist whoever, writes something that I think worth discussing, I use this blog to discuss it.

I do not think I am "running" from any discussion in that there is a fairly full discussion above of what you wrote and represented as your opinion and in which I state why I find it rather simplistic. It is rather difficult to fit that into a tweet or two.

It is not so much that I just disagree, but I think you are finding it difficult to see outside the little insular box focussed on so-called "metal detecting". You seem to think that this is in some way different to the CDE of other countries and I say it is NOT. Please, carry on, prove me wrong, FLO.

Paul Barford said...

Ben Westwiood refuses to come and discuss this in a normal fashion, he wants to fill Twitter with fragmented PAS-burble and smokescreen fluff:
"I'm not going to drive traffic to your blog so you can brag (again) about how many hits you have. And why should I? This is neutral territory; your blog's not a 'safe space' for those that disagree."
The thing is, anyone who Googles "artefact hunting and archaeology" is more likely to find a post discussing the topic on a big blog with a lot of hits than some Ben Woodward's Twitter feed with 282 followers in the whole world. Quite right though, this is not "neutral territory" - bst stay among your PAS pals and metal detecting partners. They'll not be challenging your views and requiring you to substantiate glib "many may say"s.

Paul Barford said...

I also find it not a little humorous that a PAS FLO reckons that by commenting on my blog, he'd be doing me such a favour because thousands would be flooding here to see what pearls of wisdom Ben Woodward had written (Ben who?).

Either he has something sensible to say or he does not. I say collection driven exploitation of the archaeological record is damaging, and we need to be discussing the issues that current policies and legislation create.

Sam Ofnett said...

I've been following things with some interest, both yourself and HA make good points about how the use of language is biasing the debate on detecting. I am with you!

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