Friday 3 April 2009

More Typical Stuff and Nonsense from the US on "Where ancient coins come from"

Jorg Lueke writes on his “Ancient Coin Trade” blog that “at the most recent meeting of the Twin Cities Ancient Coin Club we were treated to a presentation by a long time member and metal detectorist”. He must mean Jon Buck "Medieval Keys and Coins," March 26th, 2009. Apparently Mr Buck “told a lot of interesting stories of himself and associates going on trips for detecting. A lot of the trips were in England. But through connections he has travelled to over 27 countries” ("metal detecting"?). Perhaps the trips to England were with the “England Detecting Adventure!”firm run by a mysterious individual known to outsiders only as “Roy” which has a pretty full schedule for guests from the US, paying a mere 2000 dollars a head a week to take away little pieces of the nation's archaeological record to brighten up their otherwise drab lives. Lueke reckons that:
in talking with people who have metal detected for decades it is clear that coins aren't found by detectorists stratified amidst sites. For one detectorists go to plowed fields which can't really be excavated in most cases certainly not in the plowed surface. Secondly coins buried for long times are succeptible to
be moved by erosion, water, animals, along with the plows and other tools of man.
Nowhere near as much as they are moved by “metal detectorists” putting them in their bags and carting them off to Minnesota.

Now tour-going US detectorists might not be aware too much what kind of sites guides like “Roy” select so their punters can have something to find, week after week, with different groups coming back to the same fields. I have no personal knowledge of “Roy’s” business practices, but do know that those “on the inside” and who know what-is-what accuse firms like this of “salting” fields so that finders can go home thinking they have not spent thousands of dollars in vain. So while on a metal detecting holiday, Mr Buck’s knowledge of field conditions is only reliant on what “Roy” and his firm show him.

Lueke concludes:

“Could it be that some archaeologists simply can't leave aside the paradigm of their education when it comes to field archaeology? Are they stuck believing in a process that works great for certain types of discoveries even though for other artifacts the process become sill suited? In other words do they see every coin floating in a field as a nail to be struck by the full weight of procedural excavation? If so that explains a lot. It would also imply that archaeologists need some new training to be able to distinguish a meaningful, stratified site where context is key from scattered small coins and artifacts dispersed by loss, time, and erosion. The obsession with archaeological context when it comes to coins is a prime example.”
Oh dear. Coin-accumulating Mr Lueke, who it would seem has never in his life read a proper archaeology book, nevertheless presumes to explain to the rest of the world that archaeologists have got it all wrong. Well, of course it is Lueke who has got it all wrong as he has obviously fallen for the stereotype that all archaeologists "do" is dig holes, and has apparently never heard of landscape survey (even though I know for a fact they do it in the US, though perhaps not in the middle of St Paul Minnesota). Mr Lueke, if you are going to try to dissect archaeological methodology, perhaps it would be an idea to find out what it is? It’s not rocket science.

What is obvious, surely even to a US coin collector, is that archaeological artefacts removed from an assemblage or site or any other part of the archaeological record cease to be archaeological evidence allowing that assemblage or site to be properly interpreted. The evidential value of a site is damaged and the artefact becomse a commercialised gee-gaw. The collectors who pay dealers from the coins coming from the commercial exploitation of the archaeological record are contributing to its erosion and destruction, and no amount of weasel-worded trying to pretend otherwise will change that fundamental truth.

Photo: Jorg Lueke (the anti-archaeological chip on his shoulder is not visible in this shot).


Nathan Elkins said...

I left this comment on Heritage Action, but since you are addressing the same sorts of arguments made by the same individual perhaps it is suitable here as well:

"Field archaeology isn’t suited for every artifact, if more archaeologists could adapt to the 21st or at least latter 20th century we would all be better off." -- Jorg Lueke

I wonder if he really believes this statement. In its earliest days archaeology was concerned about getting pretty things to haul off to museums and excavation methods had not developed, something we would essentially call "treasure hunting" today. Since the second half of the 20th century archaeological method has advanced significantly and its goals have changed significantly from two hundred years ago. Archaeology has moved into the 21st century, the indiscriminate market and self-centered commercial interest has not.

Archaeology and knowledge of the past would not be advanced by conducting an excavation and discarding "insignificant" finds like pot sherds and coins. In fact, such finds are essential to understanding an archaeological site and the past. If he really believes coins are not a significant part of the archaeological record, I would suggest he has not paid any attention to numismatic literature over the past 60 years, and especially that of continental Europe in the past 30 years. There is an entire monograph series solely devoted to the study and analysis of the "insignificant" finds in archaeological context. There's definitely some hubris in the room, but its coming from those who want scienitific inquiry and method to devolve to make an indiscriminate and self-interest market happy. Outlandish statements like the one quoted above demonstrate the proud ignorance, and unwillingness to learn, with which some people enter this "debate."

Paul Barford said...

same sorts of arguments made by the same individual yes, well this individual has not only started up his own blog on "the ancient coin trade" which is one long but completely incoherent anti-conservationist diatribe, but he also is a contributor to the ACCG "blog" and is currently popping up making similar comments all over the internet, all in the same vein, and all totally misinformed and therefore misleading.

If this is the best the "ancient coin collectors" can currently do, then it's not very impressive.

I really do not see what kind of contribution such misinformed people can make to any "understanding of the past" of educated society as a whole or debate about it since they are so isolated from what everybody else is contributing. It seems to me that this is a deliberate anti-intellectual stance - the Karaoke Society in action.

Surely, if someone wants to make a contribution to academic knowledge and debate, it behoves them to at least find out what has already been said and add to it - not pretend it is all irrelevant because it does not fit their pre-conceived notions. That is not knowledge. Over on Unidroit-L today one of the "Welsh
Boyz" have accused blogs like this of being full of "bullshit" Mote and beam I say.

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