Saturday 16 March 2013

Suzie Thomas on Metal Detecting

In her editorial in Internet Archaeology 33, Suzie Thomas goes a bit beyond her usual cuddly-fluffy-bunny approach to artefact hunters, which is nice to see. In the section 'What Happens Now?', she has this to say:
It may therefore seem timely to discuss the future of archaeology and metal detecting [...], any attempts from heritage organisations to address issues concerning or involving metal detecting must be carried out sensitively and transparently, taking the long-held perceptions of many metal-detector users into account. This requires patience and regular, open contact with representative metal detecting groups, as well as work at a 'grass-roots' level with individual clubs and hobbyists. However, the time also needs to come when metal-detector users as a whole are prepared to 'let go' of previous decades of experiences and confrontations. They need to accept, as many already do, that as long as they engage in a hobby that has a direct effect on the physical remains of the past, they too have a responsibility to record their finds openly and honestly, and to a standard acceptable and useful to archaeological research. [..] The debate might continue for many more decades, often with periods of strong disagreement. However, it is important that clear and open communication, even when difficult to maintain, is not disregarded in preference to paranoia and the pitfalls of second-guessing.  
The bit I highlighted in bold is what I see as the important statement, not seen so baldly expressed in her earlier writings, so very welcome.

I am not so sure as my colleague about this "sensitive" bit. There are two ways to deal with this issue. Suzie Thomas, like most people supporting the PAS still thinks we can achieve great things by being nice to each other. Getting all cuddly-wuddly with the tekkies. Well, the UK tried that, spent fifteen million quid on it. What have they got for it? You can read between the lines of her own editorial for the answer, rejection of the Code of Responsible Collecting, total disarray of opinions on "nighthawks" (so much so, it is a touchy subject). Suzie she avoids mentioning the pathetic recording rate discussed by Heritage Action (maybe Suzie does not believe the figures, or refuses to believe them - note she did not invite Nigel Swift to even contribute a comment to this special number of Internet Archaeology).

What these cuddly-wuddly folk are doing is just sweeping a whole load of issues ("sensitively"?) under the carpet. What we find is that when you do not do this, the metal detectorists retaliate, nastily. The metal detecting community in Great Britain has not the slightest interest in (or intention of allowing) any kind of proper discussion with heritage organizations, however "sensitive and transparent" they are. They will always find an excuse for disentangling themselves from such discussions. It is all the more odd to see Suzie Thomas advocating the cuddly approach to resolving the issues, when she herself details the NCMD walkout of her own conference to avoid just such participation in a discussion.

I do not favour the cuddly-wuddly approach. I think we should be telling it like it is. I do not believe the direction of academic (or any other) discussion should be guided by what is popular to say and what is not. We are talking about the future preservation of a finite and fragile resource, and like for the rhino and elephant and the natural habitats of many regions of the world, time is rapidly running out. Artefact hunting and artefact collecting ONLY exist as legitimate as long as the public allow it to. If informed public opinion turns against the artefact hunter and collector, or dodgy dealer, then the chances of tightening up the legislation in order to reduce the damage are increased.

PS This blog is not FOR artefact hunters, it is about them. No cuddles for you lot here.

Vignette: Beware of the unassuming white bunny

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"PS This blog is not FOR artefact hunters, it is about them."

Ah well, that's why it says things you don't hear many places! Conservation should be a conversation between conservationists about conservation, not with those who don't start from the same basic premise. The Code is perfect proof.

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