Monday 17 December 2012

Slinging Without Any Comprehension

There is a weird discussion going on over on something called Forum which is about "Stone Age Ballistics" (that's slings). For some reason a member (one 'Thearos ') posted a link to just one of my posts and said nice things about it (not often that happens). Anyhow, that prompted a member calling himself for some reason "curious_aardvark, Administrator" to have a go at criticising it. He reckons what I wrote about "two ways of interpreting history belongs to everybody" is "too simplistic" without really explaining where he sees any third, fourth or other manner of interpreting that phrase. I think the basic problem is once again a total misunderstanding of archaeology by those who insist they really know everything there is to know and how it "should be done". So it is that this "Curious" person (absolutely no idea who he is, where he lives and what he does for a living - but I'd bet there's a fair chance he or she is a collector) writes:
 I'm not so quick to differentiate between a grave robber after artifacts to sell to earn a living and an archaelogist being paid to find artifacts funded by a museum.   Both are doing essentially the same job for a living.  
Really? I would think about the last time an archaeologist was paid merely to "find arti(sic)facts" would be in the 1930s with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's excavations in Egypt - but then, even then Winlock was doing some pretty excellent documentation (I've seen it). Archaeology is a little more than just a hunt for artefacts... But of course presenting it as just a treasure hunt is exactly what British archaeology's "biggest public outreach" is doing, isn't it? Is it the public's fault that they are misled, if they are being misled by a fifteen million quid outreach scheme?

"Curious" also seems to think that all the "artifacts" found by "grave robbers" will eventually "get donated to or discovered by a museum at a later date" [to go alongside those they "bought" by paying for archaeologists to hunt them down like some Indiana Jones]. Needless to say, I think he is totally wrong about that too. The many hundred thousand artefacts in the PAS database will most likely never end iup in museums (and of those that do a large proportion will have lost any associated data such as even findspot,and who found them when). The larger bulk of the hundreds of thousands of artefacts the Heritage Action Erosion Counter shows are not getting recorded are most likely not going to end up in museums either. 

Then he comes out with a real howler:
 The sensible option would be for the western world to invest in places they want to conduct their professional graverobbing in so that the impoverished indigenes don't have to resort to graverobbing to fed their families.  
By "professional graverobbing" he apparently means archaeology. In what way would "the western world" invest in places where they want to do their archaeology in? Is he thinking of Hemel Hempstead and St Albans, or Tell-El-Lottsastuff in Luristan? I have a sneaking suspicion that we have here another neo-colonialist, "we feed the wonga-wongans and take all their stuff" type model.   I really do not see how this guy imagines that we can identify what might be archaeological research agendas two hundred years from now and act today to protect the specific sites needed to address those questions by building homes, schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, a McDonalds and sportswear factory next to it. Actually looting takes place where there is good stuff to loot which is easy to get at, rather than where the poverty is. Some artefact hunters hire mechanical excavatoors and have Kalashnikovs, not the equipment of your average one-cow-two-chickens peasant farm.

I think the Aardvark has not the foggiest idea of what I was writing about, probably because he started writing on a  pars pro toto basis about what he calls my "rhinocerus analogy" without checking to what I refer. It is not about hungry wongan-wongans feeding their families, but about selfish and greedy US collectors, and UK metal detectorists. These folk are for the most part not struggling to feed a starving family. My post is about their justifications for what they do. And yes, it is indeed an "us and them" approach to counter the "we are all partners" nonsense Roger Bland's PAS foist us all off with. Aardvark thinks I should be doing my bit to "help and clarify" the "complex situation". I rather thought I was trying to do that.

Then some other bright spark joins in. One "Atlatlista" is eager to let folks know how he considers I should see the problem of artefact hunting and collecting:
I think whining about the metal detecting community is a hugely stupid move on his part. The archaeological crew I worked with over the summer had two amateur metal detectors on the team, because they're amazing at finding artifacts.  By building a rapport with them, the professor leading the project has harnessed their passion for the good of archaeology.  Now, their finds are properly recorded and tagged and put in a museum, and they're basking in the glow of praise and recognition for the skills they have developed and the finds they have unearthed.  And if they go out detecting on their own, they're sure to GPS (sic) the coordinates of any finds to the archaeologist, and apprise him of anything that seems of substantial cultural significance.  Everybody wins.  If you take the attitude of this guy, what you get is hostility, and metal detector crews tearing through important materials, far too spiteful to consider inviting an archaeologist to examine what they're finding.
Brilliant. Now what we really need is a gubn'mint scheme (let's say costing a mere fifteen million quid) which could harness that passion and build a rapport with them (maybe even a "partnership", eh Atlatlista?). Then we could let them loose on the archaeological record, and by jove of course they will all, every man jack of them, willingly come trotting to the archaeologists, eager for the praise and recognition for the skills they have developed and the finds they have unearthed, the little pat on the head and a few peppermint sweets as a reward. Yes, and "GPS the coordinates of any finds to  (sic) the archaeologist" and "apprise him of anything that seems to them of "substantial cultural significance" (like all the goldy bits), having recorded in great detail all the associated information needed to interpret the context of discovery of each and every find they make and depositing it in an archive.  And magically, ripping all those artefacts out of the archaeological assemblages in huge numbers will do no damage to the legibility of the archaeological reecord whatsoever, will it?

"Everybody wins", eh Atlatlista? Heard of the Portable Antiquities Scheme have you? Know what it has been doing for fifteen years? If you don't know anything about what you are writing about, look it up. Probably if you Google it, you'll find something by that "hugely stupid " guy Barford explaining in quite sordid detail why it simply does not work like that, and if you look a bit deeper you will learn why  the overall subject of concern is not just "objects of substantial cultural significance". Have a look at a few metal detectorists' forums as well before saying any more. When you've done that and know a little more about the background to what I write here, then come back and tell me to my face how "hugely stupid" and hugely wrong I am.

One Bill Skinner  (gosh, could it be a real name?) reckons that the way forward is in "training the amatures" [sic]. He also has some advice: 
Tell the writer [I think he means me] to take his passion and intelligance [sic] and come up with a plan to educate those that will learn and to protect the sites and to prosecute those that willfully destroy.
I have a plan, its for the Portable Antiquities Scheme to actually get on with educating those that will learn with much more vigour and consistence than they do (that's what it was jolly well set up to do), and the rest of us to come down hard on those that willfully destroy and willfully take without giving anything in return. How's that Bill? Meet your approval? Now, how to get the timid British archaeologist to get his hands out of his pocket and start dividing the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the cooperative from the freeloader? Any ideas Bill?


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