Tuesday, 23 November 2010

"The archaeological record is the imaginings of people with a mental disorder"

There is another priceless contribution to antiquitist insanity on the Moneta-L forum by ACCG's new employee, John Hooker. This one really takes the biscuit, it is too long and rambling to copy here, so anyone wanting to see what coin collectors are writing about archaeologists these days will just have to
register and follow this link and the next two Hooker posts and follow the subsequent desultory discussion. There they will find a curious mix of half-understood Internet derived post-modernist mumbo-jumbo fuddled with 'eighties thinking and served up in a sauce of neo-Kossinnist Celtic coineyism. The obfuscation is intended to lure the uncritical reader into believing that:

There can be no "archaeological context" without an observer -- so there is no such "thing" as an "archaeological record" that is not the product of individual(s) in present time [...] the building of an archaeological record requires people suffering from a mental disorder. [...] without an archaeologist, there can be no archaeological site, no archaeological record.

[so much then for the notion of a "people's archaeology" so beloved of antiquity collectors]

This is not the first time those associated with the ACCG have tried to deny the existence of the archaeological record or poke fun at archaeologists in this manner. A while back ACCG's Dave Welsh tried a similar ruse. As far as I can see those who collect coins and other antiquities tend to accept such arguments without a single murmur.

Hooker again mentions his stock argument "the dreadfully wrong dating for the Ferrybridge chariot burial" (adding now "apparently, bringing in a finds specialist was either never considered or was rejected"). From what is this apparent? Certainly not from the report of the site which has now been out many years which Hooker quite plainly has not read, basing his imaginary case instead on internet journalism.

According to Hooker, nothing exists that is not perceived and named. A tree falling in an uninhabited forest according to him falls noiselessly because there is nobody to hear it, equally it does not exist as such without anyone to see it and think "this is a tree". So there is no problem with disappearing tropical rainforests as long as nobody sees it happen. In the same way, he says, the archaeological record does not exist when there is nobody to read it. But on one level nobody is questioning that, when a looter digs blindly through different colours and textures of earth and stones to get collectables out of the ground, he does not see an archaeological record. He sees earth and stones in the way of what he wants to get his hands on. Does that mean however that there is no archaeological record because the person trashing it has a metal detector and a greedy smile and not the knowledge and experience and explicit methodology of the archaeologist under his belt? It would be a comfortable argument for those who buy looted goods ("no arechaeological site was destroyed because no archaeological site was reported as observed being destroyed by the person digging this stuff up") but is it true?

Did the geological record only materialise in modern times when we began to understand how we could read the "different layers of rocks and stuff" in terms of the results of a specific sequence of processes in the past, and therefore a key to understanding the geological past? Of course not, the patterns of strata in the walls of the Grand Canyon existed there well before there was anyone to 'read' them. It is nonsense to deny these patterns of deposition a physical existence in the eons before there was Man on the North American continent to look at them (the upper deposits through which it is cut, the Kaibab Limestone, are from the Permian period).

Hooker then tries to argue that there is in fact "no difference" between archaeological sites and archaeological artefacts because
"an object is only an object because someone says it is so. An object has parts - even if the object is a single atom it has its nucleus and its electrons, or looking even deeper, it has a whole menagerie of quarks or strings - whatever".

So, he goes on to say, do archaeological sites. This however totally ignores the issue that he himself raised that an archaeological site is not simply a sum of physical parts. The next leap in logic is therefore unjustifiable. He asserts that a single decontextualised artefact (like his favourite hobby horse the Celtic coins of Armorica) can be treated as a "site". The implications of this for the preservation of the archaeological record are however not revealed, discussion diverts to pictures of boars on coins and "round and long skulls" in Brittany.

John Hooker has already made a number of web-based contributions (some of which are discussed on this blog) claiming there can be no "cultural property" because there is "no culture", only "nationalism". Now it seems the collector is adamant in "proving" there is no archaeological heritage at all because there is no such thing as the archaeological record, archaeologial sites and all archaeologists who say otherwise have some kind of a "mental disorder". I really would like to see these collectors publishing such general methodological reflections not on internet forums to persuade other collectors, but in peer-reviewed journals where it can be subjected to the normal mechanisms of academic criticism. It is notable that all those "professional numsmatists" (like Welsh) and all those homespun "avocational scholar collectors" with their heap-of-contextless-coins-on-a-tabletop numismatics strenuously avoid doing this. Why? British Post-Processual archaeology, for example, is very open to alternative points of view, the collector cannot claim that their articles would be discriminated against because they are collectors. So what actually is stopping these authors unleashing their considerations on those unenlightened scholars out there who will never read the Moneta-L forum or the ACCG website? Could it be that these authors are in fact less than sincere in what they write? That what counts is effect rather than what they contribute to a wider discussion. If so, what "effect" do such texts intend to achieve?

Hooker has taken to signing his posts

"Numismatics is the window through which I look out on the past." Derek Fortrose Allen 1910-1975.

One can only remark it is "contributions" to the debate on archaeological resource preservation like this which show it is a very small and dirty window through which one can see only a small fragment of the whole landscape of the past and very foggily. If that narrow isolationist and distrorted view is how coineys want to see "the past", that is fine as long as in doing so they do not by their actions ruin things for those upstairs who have bigger windows and want to see a wider perspective and show it to a wider audience.



FlaviusSextus said...

Hooker portrays himself as an "expert" by using big words, citing philosophers and thinkers (of whose work he has a limited grasp), and the same anecdotes. The crap he writes is utterly absurd and tenuous, no wonder the ACCG loves him so much. If the "building of an archaeological record requires people suffering from a mental disorder" then doesn't the "building of a numismatic record requires people suffering from from a mental disorder" Without a numismatist there can be no numismatic record? What a twit!!

I'm glad to see his training in yellow journalism and black propaganda is serving him so well at the ACCG with it's flock of sheep.

Damien Huffer said...

Jeepers. I thought I'd heard every arguement the coineys and unethical middle-men and dealers could put forth regarding the "falacy" of archaeology! This is one small step away from the "extraterrestrials did it" camp's tent.

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