Monday, 26 March 2012

UK TV "Archaeology": Travesty Heritage - Not "Rolling Over" but "Partnering"

So, like Spike TV's "American Digger" and the National Geographic Diggers", Britain is not going to be saved the spectacle of televised pandering to the treasure hunters. Apparently the UK too is going to be subjected to:
over a week of primetime television programmes [on metal detecting] being made for ITV, Britain's Secret Treasures, to be broadcast in July and presented by the historian Bettany Hughes and the veteran journalist Michael Buerk in his first appearance on the channel. Although filming continues, the arguments are already passionate as the team attempts to narrow down almost a million objects recorded by the British Museum to a shortlist of 50. Most were found by amateurs using metal detectors, but others were uncovered by the mudlarks who comb the muddy foreshore of the Thames at low tide [...] All the objects, from the most corroded Roman hob-nailed boot stud or lumpy fire-blackened pot to the gold and garnet glory of the Anglo-Saxon jewellery, are logged in the now vast treasure and portable antiquities databases held at the British Museum. Since the antiquities scheme was launched 15 years ago thousands of amateurs using metal detectors have been encouraged to report everything they find through a network of officers covering the country.

Well, this is not exactly what a leaked document I saw had projected, but it still sounds gruesomely antiquitist enough to make me think that this is going to be an archaeological public relations disaster. It is clear the PAS is deeply involved in this and as archaeology's "biggest public outreach" this should have been more widely consulted than it obviously was (has the PAS answered RESCUE's letter yet? Last I heard they had not stooped to do so).

Roger Bland, keeper of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said they were excited about the chance to highlight the success of the scheme, the programmes will also inevitably revive the passionate debate about the ethics of metal detecting for antiquities, which some archaeologists regard as no better than looting.

Too blooming right it will. On the "success" of the PAS, the brief post this afternoon by Heritage Action (simply called "Sickening") says it all. Still, it is nice to see the British media for once looking a little bit further than the PAS press-releases handed out by the Bloomsbury sub-office of the Ministry of Tekkie Propaganda and looking to see what else is happening outside Russell Square:

Paul Barford, a British archaeologist based in Poland, who runs a fiercely anti-metal-detecting blog, has already described the series as "a travesty", and one commentator posted on his site saying: "All archaeologists in this country should be speaking out against this rape of our heritage instead of just rolling over and letting it go on." A similar row has broken out in the US about two programmes on cable channels about antiquities finders: American Digger on Spike TV, starring Ric Savage, who has abandoned wrestling and his former alias Heavy Metal to take up metal detecting, and Diggers on National Geographic, which has been accused in a letter from the Archaeological Institute of America of encouraging looting and destruction.
"Fiercely"? I do not recall the exact comment Maeve Kennedy quotes, but it sure sounds like Nigel Swift. And yes, what excruciatingly bad timing, the PAS ITV special coming out at the same time as American Digger!! A massive home goal for the pro-artefact-hunting lobbyists among my archaeological colleagues. Let us see the difference between the reaction of the US heritage professionals and conservation-minded public and the British heritage professionals and conservation-minded public. Shame on ALL involved in this, and all who stood by and watched.

Maev Kennedy, 'TV treasure hunt show to pick Britain's most important archaeological find',, Monday 26 March 2012

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