Thursday, 30 July 2020

Thomas and Pitblado Uravelling (III): Deconstructing Their Response on Engaging With Collectors' Demand

European artefact hunters, Pitblado
and Thomas are going to tell them
how important context is and ask them
to hang up their metal detectors. Matter
of "will and effort". Watch them. 
In their response to the 'debate' articles in Antiquity Pitblado and Thomas (2020 'Unravelling the spectra of Stewards and Collectors') allot quite a bit of space to answering Morag Kersel's points  (for link, see my comments on it here). First of all, the sentence that I consider to be the key to all this is:
Kersel also emphasises what she sees as the importance of the definition(s) [...]  While we sympathise with the desire for black and white categories, we have found in our own work that hard and fast labels are generally unhelpful and sometimes counterproductive
Defining precisely what it is we are talking about is crucial, the only reason not to is so you can talk waffle. And waffle is what we find in this text. This is pretty symptomatic:
These messages can prompt receptive private artefact stewards to donate material they already have to museums and to cease further collecting—both clear mitigations of harm (Pitblado 2014). 
I can see it now, the Barsettshire Museum gratefully allotting shelf space to the 'Baz Thugwit collection of assorted bits of metal found near Ambleton-on-Slyme or thereabouts', from twenty years collecting. And a "receptive" (wasn't that "responsive"?) collector for Pitblado and Thomas is one that is going to give up being a collector when asked (Renfrew said in 2000 "the only good collector is an ex-collector").

There is also total lack of clarity in understanding how these two authors see archaeology. They talk about:
engaging with law-abiding collectors who share the archaeologists’ interest in ‘thinking from’ rather than ‘about’ things
There seems to be some confusion here. Loose objects are the preserve of museology and Jonathan Clutterbuck antiquarianism. It seems rather rash to try and make of all of archaeology merely "old-thingology". Yet that is what they do when they say:
Anyone who acquires material ‘collects’; both archaeologists and looters are ‘collectors’ in the strictest sense. Archaeologists collect artefacts legally, document their finds thoroughly, care not about the artefacts per se but about the people who made them, and ensure that their finds come to rest in the public sphere. Looters collect and/or sell artefacts illegally on the private market, caring neither about their provenance nor the people who made them. 
Whatever the people affiliated with Helsiniki think, archaeologists do not undertake reasearch just to "collect artefacts". I also suspect neither of these authors have ever spent much time listening to collectors talking about their objects because a lot of it is very much connected with the "people who made" and used them. Indeed what is this "thinking from things" they are talking about?

Again we find a call to "prioritise the needs of present-day communities, and those needs may not align with the wishes of archaeological science and its practitioners". Indeed, and most members of the public - stakeholders in the heritage - are neither archaeologists nor collectors. Yet Pitblado and Thomas here depict collectors as representing "the public". No, they don't. So this is nonsense:
In general, local populations care about their own heritage and that of others who occupied a place before them. We (and the SAA) advocate engaging responsible local collectors because doing so makes that heritage more accessible to them
To them, who? Local populations? They somehow benefit that Baz Thugwit has a whole lot of Roman brooches and medieval buckles in his shed and a quernstone under the bed? This is chalk and cheese, and this is precisely the effect of avoiding setting out in black and white what actually we are talking about. Fluff and unicorns.

Likewise, I do not understand this:
Our piece points out that archaeologists can, without contradiction, simultaneously acknowledge the harm collecting can cause and work to mitigate that harm by engaging with law-abiding collectors [...]
So we deal with the problems caused on the roads by people driving too fast by engaging with the law-abiding drivers that never speed, and ... what? The feelgood "solution" proposed by P and T does not address the harm done by artefact hunting and collecting, it skips that issue entirely by saying "not all collectors' do harm, we can work with the ones that don't, or don't want to ("responsive")"..., but that does not resolve the problem. This is just facadism. It is the same type of facadism that the PAS and its supporters promote, and when people like Sam Hardy attempt to assess the depth of the problem behind the facade, the Ixelles Six (of which Thomas is a member) write a nasty attack deflecting attention from the issue. It's what we see here, but now Prof Pitblado is roped in as support.

Writing in an archaeological journal published in England, these two writers assert that this engagement of artefact hunters is easy, they reckon:
Engaging people simply requires will and effort. Once engaged, archaeologists can share why context is so important to us and how one can be the best possible steward of material in the private sphere. 
No, actually it is not. Please Prof. Pitblado, spend a month on a typical British metal detecting forum or Fudgeworld facebook page (you have to register) and show us how it is done. "Share" there "why context is important" and "how one can be the best possible steward of material in the private sphere" (you'll have to use shorter words though). Then come back and tell us about the progress you made. I doubt you'll last two months. Engaging "people" is not the same as telling a group of people already engaged in doing an activity that you've got a better way. The misconception is that there is some "common interest", OK Prof. Pitblado, put that to the test with a group of collectors in the country where the way has been smoothed by 23+ years of PAS outreach on behalf of archaeology. Go on. Prove your point on what should be the most fertile ground imaginable. Ask your co-author to give some tips how to do it.  

If I was as patronising as Pitblado and Thomas, I'd comment here about this:
What a wonderfully teachable moment.

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