Monday, 22 November 2010

Crosby Garrett Helmet Fiasco: Evan-Hart and the Archaeological Community

Yesterday, in a post below this I briefly present a comment on what is revealed by the comments on a detectorists' forum by author and detectorist Julian Evan-Hart giving the artefact hunter's take on the Crosby Garrett helmet fiasco. In his text he extremely aggressively criticises the archaeological community and those who think the object should have gone to a museum. Let's take a look at that part of his text again:
[...] undoubtedly the £300,000 as if anyone can pre value such a find was perhaps more inspired and influenced by greedy officials hoping they could procure the find for such a paltry sum....tough one guys it appears not eh? [...] undoubtedly we all face a barrage of bleating from those who believe its should have been obtained for a lesser sum and should indeed be in a national collection And who will now set about trying to change the Treasure Act so that such a heinous "crime" cannot be repeated... [...] they remind me of the spoilt child at a party, who cannot bear other children to win prizes, makes no effort to join in the games, and sits in the corner whingeing and whining until its parents arrive and console it with a MacDonalds and trip to a toy shop to pacify their little angel and make up for his "traumatic real-life experience". I just hope this Government do not act as the consoling parents to this whingeing group....Museums are stuffed to seam splitting point with enough objects, its just this dinosaur like attitude that the common people should never even be allowed to find their own heritage let alone sell it for profit. They may deny that attitude..... but finding objects used to be pretty much an exclusive career (and dont tell me that these exclusive careers didnt sell finds back then as they still do today)...and now its not so they get galled about it... One rule for some and another for us eh?.....many of us dont sell things...but the choice to do so is a democratic right...something that should be deeply considered by our critics...many of whom never get off their fat swollen at tax payers expense backsides, and who amazingly make little to absolutely no effort to to recover our heritage themselves...and yet appoint themselves as self-elected custodians to tell us all what to do......with our bloody finds!!!!
Well, talk about a chip on a shoulder...

First of all, I am not sure how Evan-Hart thought the museum community placed pressure on Christie's to publish a low estimate. This is a common tekkie accusation, that archaeologists want to depress the true market value of artefacts in order that British museums can buy national treasures cheaply. These people might wonder why the British taxpayer should be buying these things back at all from Treasure hunters (as opposed to accidental finders). The reward is nowhere stipulated in British (UK) legislation, it is discretionary. If Crosby garrett showed anything it is just how uncertain the valuation of a few lumps of corroded and bent metal fresh from the field can be. An artefact is just a lump of crud, the value of which depends on a number of factors, in this case how many people were bidding how much to get their hands on the item.

As for "they remind me of the spoilt child at a party, who cannot bear other children to win prizes", if this had been found on an excavation the finders would not have got a penny (but, depending on the terms of the pre-excavation agreement the landowner might still). So no archaeologist has anything personally to gain by preserving the archaeological record in situ for further proper investigation.

We see the trotting out of the old "museums are stuffed to seam splitting point with enough objects" argument. Presumably intended to justify why this object should not g to a museum where everyone can see it and it can be properly studied. The cultural philistine tekkie/coiney "empty the museums" argument however really has no place in this discussion.

Concurrent with that is the People's Archaeological Relic Liberation Front argument about an alleged "attitude that the common people should never even be allowed to find their own heritage". Where does this come from? What has the PAS been set up for? I know Evan-Hart does not personally use it, but that is his choice and thousands do. I do not recall seeing anything in the archaeological literature about stopping the finding of archaeological artefacts by members of the public, the emphasis however on those that do sharing the information (at least) with the rest of us. Somehow I suspect the message of thirteen years of public outreach by the PAS has been falling on deaf ears.

Evan-Hart describes the critics of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting:
...many of whom never get off their fat swollen at tax payers expense backsides, and who amazingly make little to absolutely no effort to to recover our heritage themselves...
Well, I'm not sure how he envisages the mechanisms of backside swelling at tax-payers' expense, maybe he means buttock implants? More seriously of course it is taking the ranters of the pro-collecting ilk an eternity to realise that very little archaeology these days is directly funded by the "taxpayer". Most of the money that is available from the public budget goes on upkeep of sites and monuments (and then - even when bulked out by other rants and sponsorship - its never enough). I think the main focus of critics' activities (as perhaps the PAS should be explaining to these people) is not to "recover" "things" from the ground, but to ensure the preservation of archaeological deposits assemblages and patterns so that they may be interpreted by archaeological means in the future. It is called "conservation". The artefact hunter and collector have an eternally object-centred picture of the whole issue, again this is something thirteen years of PAS outreach has not dealt with, or at least made any headway with. Maybe they need to change their methods?

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