Sunday 29 July 2012

"Outwitted"? A Continent and an Epoch Away

Over on another continent metal detectorist Dick Stout implies that he in some way has provided some kind of answer to the issues raised over here ('The Expected response and More of the Same') which refers to the response to an earlier post of his (which he also has edited).
I Knew it would not be long before I heard back for Mr. Barford and Mr. Swift, and it was quick. They apparently don’t like getting criticized [...] If you prove a point or outwit them, don’t expect to see you thoughts posted. Just the way they  run things. [...] here is their response, tired and old as it is…Potable Antiquities and Collecting Issues, Heritage Journal Response
I am only too happy to engage in discussion with those that disagree with the points made here, that's the whole point of putting them out in this form. Please, be my guest. Now, if anyone comes across anywhere where on "Stout Standards" either Mr Stout or his foul-mouthed sidekick John Howland actually have (ever) produced a well-reasoned response which "proves a point" opposed to the issues  raised by either a Barford or a Swift or "outwitted" them, I for one would be glad to hear and will not hesitate to provide a link. Criticise away, I am not the one shying from reasoned debate on the issues surrounding portable antiquities collecting. I cannot recall seeing Mr Stout even attempting such a thing (though perhaps some consider childish trans-atlantic name-calling some form of schoolyard "outwitting", but not even they could consider it "proving a point"), still less Mr Howland. Mr Stout continues:
I would like to think that at some time in the future this hatred for those of us who own metal detectors will come to an end, but after 35 years of trying, I  have given up. Never mind that we have brought more historical and more dramatic recoveries to light….they will never see us as equals, or people who actually further  and justify their positions and/or salaries.
He then for some reason cuts and pastes a definition for the word "jealousy" from an online dictionary (!).

I think part of the problem is that in their minds people like both Mr Stout and his contemporary Howland still inhabit the world of the late 1970s and the detector wars of the 1980s.They apparently find it very difficult to escape the preconceptions they gained in this period - witness the constant sequence of crude and insulting "archaeologist jokes" published on Stout Standards by those upholders of collectors' rights without collaboration or responsibilities.

The other part of the problem appears to be a real problem some people in certain circles have with reading something in plain English and actually understanding what it means. That requires seeing it in the context in which it is written. I do not think anyone has a "hatred" of "those of us who own metal detectors" (note the insertion there of the identity-forming "of us"). I for example have no issues with those who use them in airports, schools or government offices, I have no issue with looking for lost change or jewellery in the sand of tourist beaches, their use in gold-seeking or meteorite hunting in the desert, those who use them as part of systematic archaeological survey. It is not the metal detector that is the problem. The two problems that concern me (and though I do not speak for him, I am pretty sure the same goes for Nigel Swift) are what they are used for (where and how) in certain hands, and most importantly what is said about it. What I absolutely detest (and what this web-resource is about) are the lies and deceits, evasions, deflections, false logic, and mental short cuts promulgated by almost everybody engaged in supporting and encouraging artefact collecting in any form.

Mr Stout may find that difficult to understand without attempting to get his head around some of the issues seen from the 'other side'. He facilely assumes that the whole problem is some kind of personal "hatred", treating the problem merely as a racial issue. He obviously sees (and wants his readers to regard) people like myself and Nigel as some kind of retarded racial bigots. That is of course the easy way out, no doubt if he thinks that the attitudes of those he opposes are irrational, he can consider that this actually absolves him from having to discuss the issue rationally.

The problem for those who would dismiss opposing views as the rantings of a minority ("who nobody listens to because they are irrational lunatics") is that a deeper reading of this blog and what Nigel writes would reveal that the situation is much more nuanced. I leave it up to the reader to decide whether they can perceive the underlying rationality which it is certainly my aim to present.

Supporters of collecting in its present forms are however not going to read anything here. They obviously would prefer it if others do not either. Hence their constant and repeated attempts (aided and abetted it seems by the staff of the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme) to convince their readers that it would be a waste of time to reflect on what they find written by their opponents, the preservationists. They want the issues to continue to be ignored and simply cannot afford to have the brought out into the open and discussed. Why not? (See above.)

Mr Stout, like many of his fellows (J. Howland included) considers (and we have seen him use this same argument many times before) that the main justification to maintain the status quo over artefact collecting is that artefact hunters can claim:
we have brought more historical and more dramatic recoveries to light…
Nobody is denying that digging up tells in the Near East, Anasazi cemeteries in Utah or Treasure hunting in England with metal detectors produces all sorts of "treasures". In the latter case, how can it not with the Research and Development departments of a number of major equipment producers continually tweaking the design to make these machines increasingly capable of doing just that, and with the cumulative experience of detectorists themselves enabling them to target the more 'likely' areas? That though is not the point. Preservation of the archaeological resource (and contribution to the archaeological record) does not consist of merely finding things. It's no use finding the elusive albino White Rhino if it is as a skin on the floor of a taxidermist's workshop. "Finding things" (extracting them from their context) is not what archaeology or preservation are about.

Anybody who troubles to read what I have written about various "Treasure" cases in the UK (which I assume Mr Stout would never do) will recognize that I see a number of issues in the way this occurs under current conditions. If those issues are resolved (or shown to not have the significance which I ascribe to them) then I too will join in with the general jubilation that "metal detectorists" are the "unsung heroes" they claim to be. But I trust clued-up readers can understand why I will not before then. If these people want universal acceptance of their "bringing Treasures to light justification", then let them - instead of trying to ignore them - do something about the issues raised by their critics, or at least discuss them openly with us.

If Mr Stout wishes artefact hunters and collectors to be treated  as "equals", then why are they not making the effort to actually adopt equivalent attitudes concerning the treatment of the finite and fragile archaeological resource as those whose concern is the sustainable use of this resource for the benefits of all parties, and not just the selfish interest of the collector and those profiting from the collectors' market?  While it is continually rendered impossible for those attitudes to develop among collectors (that's the "best practice" model of PAS outreach by the way), then the majority of metal detector using artefact hunters will be merely selfish despoilers, and from the point of their effects on the archaeological record, it matters not whether they are 'silent despoilers' or 'despoilers with an attitude'.

Of course the other issue is that a discovery that goes unreported is not a discovery, it is knowledge theft. Very many finds made by metal detectorists (and I will suggest that it is not a problem of which the United States is free) simply vanish into scattered ephemeral personal collections without any report (and in many cases without proper documentation). Merely hoiking things out of,  in many cases, an archaeological context in the ground  is not by any measure "bringing them to light". Mr Stout's final justification is also an old one he shares with no-questions-asked coin collectors: 
they will never see us as [...] people who actually further and justify their positions and/or salaries.
Well, neither Mr Swift's nor my "position" will be furthered by any metal detectorists (nor will it be furthered by our current activism in opposing current policies on artefact hunting and collecting). Still less does artefact hunting in any form "justify my salary".

It is an interesting phenomenon that artefact collectors seem to see themselves as some kind of enlightened elite surrounded by a history-hating hoi polloi. The upshot is they think archaeologists should be in some way "grateful" to them for providing archaeology with some kind of an audience - if it were not for collectors, they kid themselves, archaeology would have no public support.  I think they rather underestimate the public interest (at least over on this side of the Atlantic before the PAS got at them) in proper archaeology.

Finally I really find highly amusing [having worked on, among others, sites from the Middle Palaeolithic, a couple of thousand year old hillforts and urban sites in Poland and Norway, Roman villas and forts in England, Anglo-Saxon villages, Late Iron Age saltworks, and more recently digging in Luxor Egypt not to mention in my career working through boxes and boxes of finds writing them up for publication] to have a Texas metal detectorist suggesting that my critique of the conservation aspects of current policies on artefact hunting and collecting is due to "jealousy". Of what? Finding Barber dimes, wheaties and corroded Confederate buckes and uniform buttons? He really has to be joking.


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