Sunday 11 April 2010

Artefact Thieves - Knowledge Thieves

At the recent Newcastle conference an attempt was made by the supporters of an archaeology-artefact hunting "partnership" to re-brand illegal artefact hunting with metal detectors as the work of “site burglars” in order to distance them from the artefact hunters who go out and empty sites of collectables in accordance with Britain's effete heritage protection laws . The term however is inadequate as any student of English knows, "burglars" break into buildings, but illegal artefact hunting is done in fields. Heritage Action proposes calling illegal artefact hunters "artefact thieves".
Adopting proper descriptive terms is always a good idea it the public are to be properly informed (spades are best described as spades, after all) but it’s mighty dangerous territory for detectorists (perhaps that’s why they have restricted their proposed linguistic reforms to nighthawks alone.) After all, if we all now start calling nighthawks artefact thieves then it’s only right and proper that we call non-reporting detectorists knowledge thieves. Yes? Who could possibly deny it? People who don’t report their finds to PAS are knowledge thieves. People who don’t report find spots with maximum precision are knowledge thieves. People who still detect on land where the farmer says they mustn’t report finds are knowledge thieves. People who say I’ll just keep my own records are knowledge thieves. The unreported majority of the ten million seven hundred and forty three thousand artefacts currently showing on our Artefact Erosion Counter have been dug up by knowledge thieves.
This train of argument is not only logical in itself, but fully in keeping with the internal topsy-turvy logic of the PAS-artefact collector "partnership" in Britain. So why am I sceptical that it will be adopted by British archaeology and british public opinion? Heritage Action exhorts:
Let us all, conservation campaigners, detectorists and archaeologists, combine to deliver those twin truths to the public. Let archaeologists at last make it clear to the public that they shouldn’t allow either type of heritage thief into their fields (like we’ve been saying for years) and let metal detectorists treat both of these two sets of thieves with equal contempt and disallow them from their forums, national associations and local clubs. Let there be an end to the disreputable British pretence that stealing artefacts is dreadful but that stealing knowledge isn’t just as heritage-damaging, selfish and wrong. It is.
Hear hear. That of course applies to all those who no-questions-asked buy and sell those artefacts from artefact thieves and knowledge thieves without a thought. They are equally guilty of being knowledge destroyers.
Vignette: Courtesy of Heritage Action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Channel 4, here in the UK, have a programme tomorrow on the Staffordshire hoard

(C4, 21.00)

it's being announced on TV as "the greatest archaeological discovery", etc. But it's precisely not an archaeological find-- a normal ripping out of objects from their archaeological context, tolerated by the oddities of UK law, and only exceptional because of the money aspect involved for the finder and the owner of the land.

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