Thursday, 28 July 2011

More on the "Grey Metal Detectorists" in Britain

I found in Blogger's Spam Folder that a metal detectorist had sent this as a comment to my post on the three, not two, main groups of British artefact hunters:
"The greys will always be with us Paul, just take a look at the gray squirrel love them or hate them they are here to stay. The reds (or the archies) are being forced into little communities where they can frolic and play with there (sic) nuts all day. The problem is the majority of people love the greys, because they fill the museums with such wonderful things. If it wasn’t for the detecting community, the shelves would be bare, and just think the museums are paying peanuts for our finds, so it’s back to the squirrel theme again."
Well, there in all its naivity, we have it. I wrote of whites, blacks and greys, and here we have confirmation that for some members of the detecting community, it is the "greys" that are the core of the detecting community. Which is what I said. The problem is of course that "filling the shelves with wonderful things" is a short-term aim, having nothing to do with the sustainable management of the finite and fragile archaeological resource. This is an environmental issue, not one of "rights". The lumberjack does not have the "rights" to every and any tree in the land that takes his fancy, even if he makes the "shelves" to put the Treasures on.

The archaeologist is rendered in this vision of the study of the past into isolated groups of petitioners, ignored by a treasure-hungry public. It's worth thinking about that a moment, is that not exactly where the brand of outreach of the PAS is taking archaeology?

Metal detector users can plunder their way across the countryside, dealing with archaeological sites and finds which cross their path as they like, keep it, sell it, throw it away EXCEPT if they come across certain kinds of object or groups of object which the nation would like to look after. Despite their considerable freedoms to do what they do, not enjoyed by the majority of their fellows in the civilized world, even then their "rights" to the nation's archaeological heritage are not restricted. The state (and that means the British public) forks out for the privilege of getting back from the metal detectorist that which an inquest has determined belongs to the state. it is therefore the height of impudence for the metal detectorist to protest that they are getting "peanuts" as compensation for reporting giving up what does not legally belong to them.

And then they have the blatant impudence to say its "not about the money", and "we don't sell finds" when the Treasure process is nothing but selling finds back to the stakeholders on a massive scale. Certainly the cost to the British public of current policies on artefact hunting - even if we just look at the direct and indirect costs of the treasure process alone, certainly not "peanuts".

Added to that, its all done in secret, and heaven forbid that anyone should start discussing artefact hunting in more depth than merely patting the practitioners on the head and saying "carry on chaps, you are doing a wonderful job". They are not, they are depleting Britain's archaeological record, and are part of a global process of destruction of the archaeological record as a source of collectables and other commodities for personal entertainment and profit. The PAS will not tell the public that, they never have and under the present leadership they almost certainly never will. The other British archaeological bodies mumble in the background about their mild criticisms not referring to the "responsible detectorists [who are doing a grand job]". When a few heads appear above a parapet and say "yes, but..." what happens? Well over in Wales is an archaeologist who says such people are - what was the professional terminology he is reported to have used? Oh yes, "mouthy twat". The PAS pretends they've never actually read a word I've written, so like the House of Cards they are, they use the Francis Urquhart ploy: "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment". No, no they cannot, it's not difficult to see why, but then, what in blazes are they paid for if not to foster public debate about portable antiquity issues?

So what is Britain going to do? Carry on ignoring the problems, pretend they do not exist? Well, there certainly seems no inkling that at the moment anyone is going to start discussing them in any adequate manner. We saw David Gill's forum piece in a London academic journal a few months ago. He raised the fundamental issue of the effect of current policies and "mitigation" strategies on the preservation of the archaeological record. What happened? One archaeologist said there was "no problem" (Moshenska), one metal detectorist (Austin) told archaeologists in effect to "bog off and leave us alone", but most telling of all, the PAS refused to take part in the debate. The PAS are happy to talk to the press: "ooo, ahh, wotta-lotta-nice-stuff" but if they are ever required to go a step beyond that, consistently fall strangely and uncomfortably silent. When the issue is pressed (for example on discussion forums or in blogs like this one), the tekkies start their disruptive tactics, trying to shout down the 'opposition' (conservationists), like getting the forums and blogs closed down, and attempting to deflect discussion onto other side-topics. Then the sensitive bunny hugging professional archaeologists (like on the CBA's Britarch archaeological discussion list) get frightened that tekkies are raising their voices and being badly-behaved and urge critics to stop and "leave them alone" (thus precisely echoing Austin's admonitions). There is no robustly frank, open and wide-ranging public debate between the two main sides of these issues in Britain, even though the PAS has been in operation, doing "outreach" in "portable antiquity matters" for thirteen years now.

That basically seems to me to be the current state of the "metal Detecting Debate" in Britain today. Archaeology and resource conservation find themselves in a weak position, unable to stand up for or even decide (bah! even debate) what should be done to resolve these issues. The first step is to recognise (or perhaps more accurately, admit) that these issues exist. Just getting that far - for some reason - seems to involves a major intellectual effort on the part of the British archaeological community and heritage professionals.

Vignette: British archaeologist trying to avoid discussing "metal detecting". Stand up, man!

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