Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Debating Denkmals and Denkmal "schutz", Illegal Artefact Hunting and the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme

A few days ago I posted up my comments on the recent article of Bangor Professor of Heritage Studies Raimund Karl about illegal artefact hunting in Austria and England's Portable Antiquities Scheme. Since it had taken me so long to get around to it, and knowing he's not exactly a fan of this blog, so he might have missed it, I thought it only courteous to inform the original author that there has been a discussion of his views over here. I also assured him that he'd have unrestricted right of reply here should he so wish. He wrote back yesterday evening saying that he was unsure that he'd have time to read and respond to it over the next few days but:
"if not, well, I think many of the more important things have been said already, so it shouldn't be much of a problem (at least from my perspective) if it remains as is".
[The "important thing" I guess being his demonstration that if you make artefact hunting illegal, people will do it "underground".]

Well, it seems to be the way of things that people quite happily write lots and lots about how wonderful the jolly old PAS is and "how wonderful those nice chappies with metal detectorists all are" ("except the black sheep minority of nighthawks that get the hobby a bad name"). The moment anyone proposes an alternative view, backing it up with reasoned (reasonable?) arguments, these same people tend to try and pass it over with silence. The PAS itself does it all the time of course, for example, they declined participation in the recent PIA forum around David Gill's recent comments on preservation, another of their advocates Derek Fincham also refuses to discuss the details.

It's remarkably easy it seems easy to come out with glib and politically-correct, "look wotta lotta stuff we got" - "never mind the quality look at the sheer numbers" fluff. Anybody can do it. Its the deeper reflection on what it means, and what is NOT being said that tends not to be being done.

Yet, "heritage" surely is about open and public debate. That is, at least, what the British say in all their "heritage policy" documents. So when are we going to see some proper, informed, multi-aspectual, public debate about current British policies on artefact hunting, "portable antiquity" collecting and the no-questions-asked antiquities trade? The PAS and the universities surely should be at the centre of such a debate, but it seems they are simply dodging it for as long as they can. And how long can the archaeological record afford them to do that?

No, it is far from the case that it is "no problem [...] if it [what Professor Karl said] remains as is". The problem is that texts like his get picked up by people lobbying for the no-questions-asked trade (et cetera) and are then used to weaken resolve to deal with the illicit antiquities trade, "after all, it has been shown that...".

In the meanwhile, the tracking software suggests that apart from that guy down Cardiff way (a metal detectorist), nobody in the whole of Wales has looked at these texts - so I guess Professor Karl's "heritage studies" Bangor students do not read this blog either.

Vignette: Bangor University, metal detector-friendly UK academic institution.


Brian Mattick said...

"nobody in the whole of Wales has looked at these texts - so I guess Professor Karl's "heritage studies" Bangor students do not read this blog either."

I suspect they've been told to always study the primary sources first - which in their cases would be Detecting Wales.com It should be top of the list of required reading.

Alan, the moderator there, recently said
"in the local PAS report for our county, it reported that only 32 detectorists recorded finds with the scheme, yet we know of well over 700 detectorists attended clubs throughout the year!"

He seems to be describing a reality that doesn't appear in most of the literature yet who could suggest he was other than highly authoritative and believable?

Paul Barford said...

Ah well, I guess if we apply Professor Karl's logic, the 270 not reporting will be those going out illegally, so they cannot report what they find...

But let us not let little things like the real facts about PAS recording get in the way of a bit of academic story-writing, eh?

kyri said...

i hope dr karl finds the time to respond.it will be intresting to see if he would like some regulation of metaldetectors in austria or to adopt a clone of the pas/treasure act we have in the uk,were we still have hundreds of thousands of finds unreported.i used to laugh at heritage counters ureported finds figures but after looking closer at what is going on over the last two years i think they may be underestimating the figures,especially having read what brian had to say on what is going on in wales.

Paul Barford said...

Well, there is more than one question to which I too am eager to hear his response.

Don't hold your breath though. As I said, my experience is these people - both sides of the archaeological fence - never want to back up what they've said when they are challenged. I am not hopeful that the Bangor Celtologist will be any exception.

But if you look over on Peter Tompa's blog, http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2012/01/metal-detectorists-preserve-artifacts.html you will see Karl being quoted with approval (with exclamation marks no less), not a MENTION of the fact that there is some discussion of what he said elsewhere (a mouse click away), intellectual dishonesty or what?

This really is so pathetic. How can you treat such blatant superficiality at all seriously?

Yes, I think the HA figures (which were deliberately created to be conservative) are a vast underestimate, it could even be that they are as much as 60% too low now - which if that is correct is pretty horrifying.

kyri said...

i read peters blog allready and left a comment which has not been published yet.

Jakob said...

Hi Paul. Not as such relevant as a comment at the post here but just wanted to draw your attention to a little american piece: http://staugustine.com/opinions/2012-01-09/guest-column-veteran-archaeologist-takes-issue-treasure-hunters

Paul Barford said...

@ Jakob, thanks - I have already done a post on it, but I appreciate readers sending me relevant stuff I might not have seen.

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