Monday 20 February 2012

Coiney Total Nonsense

ACCG ideologist John Hooker, addressing thinking numismatist Reid Goldsborough, attempts to explain archaeology to him based on his correspondence with some people on internet forums and gleanings from Wikipedia. Hooker attempts to show why archaeology and coin collecting are "different subjects with different emphases":
Contextual archaeology focuses on incidents of abandonment -- a site frozen in various times as determined from the strata (including cuts into that strata as is shown using the Harris Matrix). Numismatics deals more with incidents of creation -- blanks, and the creation and use of dies -- weight standards, alloys etc. Perhaps, if you read more qualified archaeologists than Paul Barford you would not make such silly mistakes.[...] many current "field archaeologists" confuse archaeology with the specific theory of contextual archaeology, as does Barford, but they are not very hot on theory. [...] I think [Barford] made it as far as assistant lecturer (the one who arranges the chairs and sets up the overheads? I don't know.)
Apparently in Canada, archaeology students are not expected to be able to find their own place to sit. In my classes they were able to work that out for themselves, the good ones sat at the front, the time-wasters at the back.

The reader can think what they want, but I personally find Hooker's attempt to explain that in reality Barford knows nothing about archaeology somewhat puzzling in the circumstances. Hooker apparently does not understand what Hodder and other post-processualists considered as "Contextual Archaeology"; he accuses others as "not very hot on theory" (unlike Hooker, I taught it at university) but he himself only cites Wikipedia.

As for site formation processes (the name should give a clue), archaeological stratification, like geological stratification (not caused by the "abandonment of the earth", after all), is created by a range of processes. Despite what Hooker affirms, these include deliberate creation (roads and streets, ramparts, graves, walls, postholes for example) not just "abandonment". Perhaps coin collectors like to think they are examining just "creation" (of beautiful tactile objects) but of course circulation (and for example the damage - wear - done to coins in the process) and deposition are studied by REAL numismatists. There is a whole body of numismatic theory about that which I've never seen an ACCG coiney refer to - and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that most of them apparently just heap loose coins on a table and look at the pictures on them and try to put them in some sort of order on that basis (Mr Hooker's book on the Gaulish coin hoards for example). I have asked the ACCG coineys many times to point us to the textbook of the methodology of heap-of-coins-on-a-table "numismatics", but have never met one who could impart even such basic information about this side of the coin-collecting 'discipline' as the title of even a single work in the genre.

If by "contextual archaeology" (of the "field archaeologists"), Hooker means stratigraphy, it is not a "theory" but a methodology.

Archaeology is a proper discipline and as such has an explicit methodology (or may even have several), so where is the methodology of heap-of-coins-on-a-table "numismatics" explicitly formulated and taught? What about a theory of the same brand of touchy-feely numismatics? There is no end to the number of books, even if we restrict the search to those written in English, on the methodology and theory or archaeology, written from a wide diversity of methodological, theoretical and ideological positions. There is therefore no excuse whatsoever for the enquiring coiney (or dugup antiquity collector) not to know what archaeology is about. Let them follow the lead and produce the textbooks allowing us to understand what we have been asking for years about just what it is they imagine they are doing with all those accumulations of dugup ancient coins.

So far, the sum total of the coiney 'critique' of archaeology looks no different than that of Erich Von Daniken (who also took a great interest in contextless archaeological artefacts, on the basis of which he wove his own story about the past).

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