Friday, 12 November 2010

Barford in "Metal Detecting and Archaeology"

I have been going on for more years than I care to remember about artefact hunting and suchlike and archaeology, so it was perhaps no surprise to see myself mentioned in passing (though not named) in Suzie Thomas and Peter Stone's book, "Metal Detecting and Archaeology". Being a book scribbler, the first pages got a few "this is a bit to note" (and a "wish I'd said that") marks in the margins, but page six attracted the first expletive. There Thomas is discussing the "antagonism" some people adopted on an archaeological forum to the notion of organizing a conference "Buried Treasure: Building Bridges" about how jolly super spiffing for the archaeological record artefact hunting with metal detectors is.
It was regrettable [...] that not only did none of the antagonists attend the conference [surely an ideal forum in which to debate their viewpoints?] but when three of the more strongly opinionated online discussants were approached to produce contributions for this book, all three declined to participate. Reasons ranged from not feeling they were sufficiently informed (!) on the subject to provide a reasonable chapter, through to disagreeing with the entire premise of the book. These individuals are of course entitled both to their opinion and to their choice not to contribute to the discussion, but it is nonetheless frustrating that people with such obviously strong opinions on the issue of archaeology and metal detecting were not prepared to lend that opinion to the debate being constructed here, leaving it up to this introduction to alert the reader to their - very strongly held- views.
Wow. What slimy people, eh?

Thomas is careful not to name names, but I am going to reveal that they are Chris Cumberpatch, Nigel Swift and myself. I believe I am the one who is represented as "disagreeing with the entire premise of the book" (and mine is the second unsourced quote given on the previous page, the one that calls the conference "fluff"). With regard to the other reason given, I do not see the reason for astonishment that a correspondent might have strong views but did not want to write without first delving deeply among the facts and figures to present a case in the face of what (from the conspectus all three of us received) was clearly indeed a "constructed debate" in favour of bridge building ("partnership"). Nigel and I thought hard about it, but decided that to do the task properly would require more than the dozen or so pages which the editor was prepared to assign to the task, and without seeing what others were writing/had written. This was when we decided to write our own book as an answer to Thomas and Stone. It came out longer than hers and gathering the facts and figures took several months hard work.

As for questioners of current British policies on artefact hunting not going to her conference full of metal detectorists from all over the north of England and on the topic of "Buried Treasure: Building Bridges"... read what was the keynote paper which opened it (Trevor Austin pp. 119-23) and ask yourself if debating conservation is going to make much headway in such an audience (that's where the rest of the scribbled expletives are in my copy). We were right that it was a waste of time, people who did make the journey told us afterwards that there was only very limited time for any discussion after the papers, so much then for "ideal venue for debate" on the topic.

There are more fundamental issues than "finding lottsa shiny stuff" ("Buried treasures") and "there's a good boy, thanks" head patting ("Building bridges") to be discussed here. A meeting chaired by fluffy bunny befrienders in a hall full of "get off our case!" metal detectorists "empowered" by the PAS partnership and egged on by the likes of Trevor Austin is clearly not the place where that kind of debate is going to be fruitful. In fact if one of us had turned up to debate the case openly, they'd probably end up being accused of "disrupting the conference" with their "negative views". This is so often the reaction met among these people to those who ask more searching questions than their glib justifications will withstand.

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