Monday, 25 March 2019

Would an Institute for Detectorists Serve any Useful Function?

RESCUE asks 'Would an Institute for Detectorists aid revision of the Treasure Act and implementation of the Valletta Convention?'. Apparently this is a major topic at RESCUE's annual open Meeting (Saturday 13th April, 2-4pm, at UCL Institute of Archaeology, Room 612). This group is also in contact with the CIfA.
The question of whether “an Institute for Detectorists” would “aid revision of the Treasure Act and implementation of the Valletta Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised)” surely depends very much on addressing another three questions. The first concerns the type of knowledge and expertise such an “institute” would bring to the discussion, the second the degree of influence it will have in the artefact hunting community and beyond, the third encompasses the scope and functions of such an “Institute” (and whether ‘we’ need one at all).

We already have a Portable Antiquities Scheme which liaises on the basis of a ‘partnership’ between archaeological resource management, the museums sphere and Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. This defines (has defined) ‘best practice’, which is promulgated by the (Revised) Code of Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales. To what extent has this organization reached an audience of (maybe- according to the latest estimate) 27000 active practitioners of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record? It can easily be documented that the extent of twenty years concentrated effort is disappointingly low – and we need to discuss why that is. Is that really because of the lack of a formal ‘institute’ instead of the voluntary partnership we now offer? Or do the reasons go deeper and lie in the nature of the activity of artefact hunting itself?

Is the fact that the NCMD Code of Practice is the one that is adhered to by most ‘metal detecting’ groups/clubs/rally organizers and ‘independent detectorists’ and that very few even advertise that they adhere to the official ’(Revised) Code....’ due to the fact that it requires more or less ‘responsible’ behaviour and sensitivity to the needs to preserve the information value in the archaeological resource exploited by these collectors? How would having an “Institute” affect that in any degree and with any realistic time frame? Just because it is one group of detectorists saying what the others ‘should’ do? We’ve seen where that’s ended up before.

We may guess that there is a risk that the type of knowledge and expertise an “Institute” made by detectorists for detectorists is largely going to produce will be there to promote the collecting interests of its members (and legitimise collecting), and so runs right in face of the matter the Valletta Convention intends to direct attention of state authorities to. One might address the issue of whether institutionalising Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record is what the Valletta Convention has in mind at all (likewise other conventions on the basis of which it is formulated: "archaeological knowledge is based principally on the scientific investigation of the archaeological heritage" - ICOMOS Charter for the Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage 1990). You cannot examine the taphonomy of an archaeological deposit or assemblage using a metal detector or as an adjunct to creating a private artefact collection.

Artefact hunting and artefact collecting are not archaeology, at the best they can be artefactology, but at their worst they are highly destructive activities,eroding the information value of the sites and assemblages exploited – which is why RESCUE’s policy for the future is currently phrased in the way it is. That is why many countries place legal sanctions on these activities, it is why the Valletta Convention places so much attention on permits for intervention.

One might ask how much one can expect the interests of the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage would be realised by placing the institutionalisation of its exploitation in the hands of detectorists – no matter how ‘responsible’ they claim to be.

Anyone intending to actually discuss this issue at the AGM might like to familiarise themselves with some of the claims that have already been made in the past on behalf of this non-existent “Institute” and some of the points raised in connection with them on the Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues archaeoblog.

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

Comment rejected. What I actually said, Mr Westcott, is that while you are blocking me from interacting with you on social media, you will recognize that it is entirely reasonable that I refuse to allow you to use MY blog as a vehicle for any more of your nonsense. Take your whining self-justificatory crap elsewhere, please.

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