Wednesday 10 February 2010

CBA is not going to launch a new STOP campaign against metal detecting

A recent Twitter says "CBA is apparently about to launch a new STOP campaign against metal detecting", repeating some metal detector forum gossip... and why not? What STOP stands for is "Stop Taking Our Past". It is the name of the campaign orchestrated by British archaeologists way back in the days when they had some guts. British archaeology then tried to stand up for what archaeology is supposed to be about against those who saw the archaeological record (regarded as a resource we all hold a common interest in - hence the "our past") merely as a mine for collectables to be taken for entertainment and profit (hence the "stop taking"). A perfectly legitimate message that archaeologists elsewhere are trying to get over to their public. The selective mining of archaeological assemblages as the source of a commodity which fuels the expanding collectors' market is undeniably damaging archaeological sites all over the world. The attitudes that lie behind it are undermining the raison d'etre of the discipline of arcchaeology. Archaeologists clearly need to take a stand against this damaging tendency as much as they need to oppose other forms of damage to and destruction of the archaeological record. British archaeology however does not see it that way, nor see the need to keep in step with their colleagues worldwide involved in the fight against this phenomenon.

The full text of the Twitter message is telling:
CBA is apparently about to launch a new STOP campaign against metal detecting. No we are not. But only responsible detecting is acceptable.
Note, "detecting" and not "collecting". This is the crux of the problem in Britain, the whole issue of the collection of archaeological finds (which they rename using the terminology of the Trade as "portable antiquities") has been subsumed by the need to pat "metal detectorists" artefact hunters) on the head as their "partners". IS "responsible detecting (sic)" actually "acceptable" to an archaeologist? Would responsible tell digging be "acceptable in Iraq" (or anywhere else except Britain) or responsible tomb-robbing acceptable in Egypt" (or anywhere else except Britain)? What is it that makes the exploitation of archaeological assemblages in Britain "acceptable" to British archaeologists (and the Council for British Archaeology in particular) whereas (one would hope) the same British archaeologists (and the same Council) would condemn the exploitation of Iraqi, Nigerian, Egyptian and other non-British sites as a source of arefacts to be sold on the international market for entertainment and profit? Is there some inherent quality of the British archaeological record which makes it infinite and somehow impervious to damage no matter what and how much is taken from it? It would certainly seem that those Brtish archaeologists who state that artefact hunting and collecting are "acceptable" would seem to think so. I do not share that opinion.

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