Monday 27 February 2012

Focus on Metal Detecting: "Fourteen years' Liaison, Fourteen Million Quid But We get 26 Masters and Doctors out of it"

I was astounded at the comments of the English Heritage official on metal detecting as reported in Bob Preece's, Yorkshire Post article (see post above).
"English Heritage expert Pete Wilson said [...] responsible detectorists have contributed so much. There have been something like 26 PhD and Masters papers written, based on material that has been found by detectorists.”
So the archaeological record (the common heritage of us all) is annually robbed of hundreds of thousands of diagnostic and other artefacts, ruining - for the most part - any chance of properly understanding the sites they come from - the history of the landscapes which millions of people have the right to enjoy is ripped out - for the personal entertainment and profit of a few thousand individuals ("in partnership", nota bene with British archaeology - represented by the PAS). But "it is OK" saith the bloke from English Heritage because 26 archaeologists have been able to advance their career by getting their hands on some of the information (!) Well, is this not confirming EXACTLY what the collectors are accusing archaeologists of? They say that archaeologists are against no-questions-asked collecting because they see collectors as the "Competition" and the so-called "radical archaeologists" (ie preservationists) simply want to keep all the information to themselves. "Hang Preservation", says Pete Wilson here, "what is important is that we archies can get our hands on the goodies and some of information". No, no from the point of view of sustainable management of the archaeological record it is NOT what is important if it is done at the cost of gobbling up what is left of the archaeological record.

Mr Wilson should bear in mind that archaeology does not exist as a public funded enterprise so a bunch of bearded jumper-wearing misfits (led by suit wearing jobsworths) can play scholars. How many of those 26 theses were ever published in a form that the general public (whose heritage is being robbed away as EH continues to ignore the artefact hunting problem) can directly benefit? What are the benefits to the WIDER public of having archaeological sites looted of collectables day and night, week after week? A PAS database of a few hundred thousand extracted artefact to gawp at? That's it? That is all British archaeology can offer for fourteen million jobs-for-the-boyz quid?

So that "something like 26 PhD and Masters papers written based on material that has been found by detectorists" is supposed to justify in some way the plunder. "Science was done". Does the fact that we sent a man to the Moon on the basis of work done by the Nazis using slave labour on the V2 project in some way "justify" the concentration camps? Because "science" demands sacrifices? Werner Von Braun created weapons of Mass destruction that were fired at civilian targets in my country and knew full well what he was doing, but instead of being hauled up in front of the Nuremburg court, he was given US citizenship, a research team and labs and feted. What about using in modern research the results of Nazi medical experiments on concentration camp inmates? Does the aim excuse the means here too? Or WW2 Japanese experiments with poison gas on US prisoners?

The AIA has a policy about using archaeological information from pillaged finds (and SAA); to the shame of British archaeology, none of its professional bodies has an equivalent policy. Yet Britain has a bigger problem with artefact hunters stripping sites all over the country for "interesting" collectable geegaws. British archaeologists just shrug and say if we cannot (be bothered to try to) beat them, then we might as well join them, and see what we can get from it for ourselves. Apparently 26 Masters and PhD theses 'for the boys' (I am sure PAS will correct me if the number is greater). At a cost of monumental proportions.

Bob Preece, 'Monumental cost to heritage as thieves and graffiti youths strike', Yorkshire Post, 25th February 2012.


Cultural Property Observer said...

I think this is money well spent. It is recording objects that otherwise would not be recorded, and providing opportunities for research. If you are looking for a waste of money, look no forward to the $1 million pound (or Euro) award to two archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors who already arrive at their reserach with preconceived notions.

Paul Barford said...

Do they? I hope they see that and sue you for making such a public statement.

Fourteen million for 26 theses, that's 580000 of public money for each archaeologist postgraduate who gets to put letters after their name due to all that pillaging. That's not "value for money", its scandalous.

Of course mere "recording of OBJECTS" is not what this is all about. That is antiquitism, not archaeology, nor is it leading to preservation of the archaeological record.

Paul Barford said...

But I guess Peter Tompa will NEVER understand that...

Dr Simon Mackenzie of Glasgow University is of course not an "archaeologist" but trained in law (like Tompa) and is a criminologist.

Cultural Property Observer said...

If Prof. Mackenzie is not an archaeologist he should ask the Scotish Sun to correct its article that implies that he is an archaeologist. See

In any event, I'm only expressing an opinion as to the probable value of their research, and certainly in more mild a way than I have seen expressed on your blog.

Paul Barford said...

Suggest not using tabloid newspapers as sole source of information:

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