Thursday 19 July 2012

CBA Distances itself from "Britain's Secret Treasures"

Most of us found out rather late in the day that the CBA had been involved in the production of the ITV production on Treasure Hunting ("Britain's Secret Treasures", July 16th to July 22nd 2012). Those of us who expressed concern were told that the CBA was involved to promote best practice, which we were assured would "'of course" be featured prominently in the series. I rather got the impression (though it was not explicitly said) that in the presentation of the issues there would be a slot where a CBA bod would express a number of home truths and thou-shalt-nots subtly woven into a interview with either of the two main presenters. From the first few moments of Episode one however it became clear that this is just not going to happen. The CBA input looks likely to be limited to a rather skimpy three-quarters page addressed to nobody in particular on ITV's website.

I imagine I was not the only one after watching that dreadful first episode asking just what it was the CBA thought they were doing. This I suspect is the context of a text that went up on the CBA blog just hours after them getting to work the next day. The CBA's information officer Mike Feider posted a text entitled “Archaeology is about Knowledge, not Treasure” which seems a reply to Henry Rothwell's witty review of the disaster (Henry "Digital Digging" works for the CBA). This text seems to distance the CBA from the  dreadful fiasco. As Heritage Action points out ('Britain’s Lost Treasures', 19/07/2012), in their latest text the CBA  "say things that don’t usually get said [in Britain]. Things that unashamedly champion archaeology not the collecting of it":
Remains in the ground “are best left undisturbed”!
If you are thinking of rushing out to buy a metal detector “think again “
“in many cases, it is better to wait… as long as it remains safe then it is better to leave the evidence for future generations to investigate with better techniques and with better-informed questions to ask.”
“intervention is only justified if the evidence is at risk of being lost or damaged”
“any excavation work has to be carried out carefully to ensure that we extract as many clues as possible not just about any objects that are found”
“Team up with an archaeology group”
“The best way to extract evidence from the ground is via controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation.“
“There are many groups across the UK who are capable of such high standards, both in the professional and voluntary sector, and it is best to join up with a local archaeology group if you have a passion for history and heritage”.
“Ethical metal detecting…. care is needed to ensure that ethical codes are followed” 
 This text really looks like a (belated) attempt to put a distance between the CBA and the PAS-inspired nonsense being pumped out by prime-time TV to nearly four million viewers that “Artefact hunting (done right) is good for you – and Britain”. Although attempts are made to dismiss such remarks as mere "trolling", as HA perfectly cogently point out:
There are th[ose] who think half a million finds with less than immaculate provenance doesn’t make up for the four million finds not declared to PAS in the same period!  Where’s the knowledge gain and national benefit from those? So it’s like this, nice and simple: to present a balanced account, five nights of jubilation about Britain’s Secret Treasures should have been followed by forty nights of outrage over Britain’s LOST Treasures. Only then would the public see the true, proportionate picture.
(they also question what is meant by "common ground" and "ethical artefact hunting"). I would add to that that none of the official codes pays an attention to the fate of the "portable antiquities" that are the target of the activity. The themes of conservation, documentation an curation of these items by the collector are only touched upon in the Ethical Metal Detecting Association Code - the one that is accepted by nobody, neither in archaeology nor in "metal detecting". Its article 8 is, surely, a minimum:
Members will properly catalogue and curate any finds not required by the landowner or museum (and recommend or help the landowner to do the same with any he keeps) and make arrangements to ensure they will be re-offered to a museum in the event of their demise. 
 Bravo to CBA for unashamedly expressing why they prefer Archaeology to artefact hunting and pointing out precisely why talk of combining the two is a foolish and impossible British aberration.

UPDATE 19.07.2012
I see this afternoon that the section penned by Mike Heyworth on "best practice" for the BST website  has now been moved from the prominent position on the website's front page to one of a number of "extras"

Vignette: Zaphod Beeblebrox

Britain's Secret Treasures, ITV 1 16th-22nd July 2012


Unknown said...

Hi Paul - one small correction - though I do some work for the CBA South West, I don't actually work for the CBA.

Paul Barford said...

ooops, I misread. Really enjoyed the review of BST.

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