Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Many Faces of a Hobby

This video (UK Beach Hunting with AT Pro International) raises two issues. The first is why somebody whose hobby consists of searching sandy beaches for dropped change, lost property and buried cutlery, such as Bournemouth retiree John Howland would be at all concerned about critical comments raised about current policies on the hunting and collecting of archaeological finds. Yet Mr Howland hates archaeologists with a vehemence which comes through all too clearly in his blog (hosted by Texas tekkie mate Dick Stout - apparently an equally avid archaeophobe). The second issue that is raised is why in this blog I refer to artefact hunting and the attitudes of artefact hunters rather than use the term "metal detectorists" which is the one usually applied in discussions based in the UK. A metal detector owner may use the device for many things, they are used by gold prospectors, meteorite hunters, in beachcombing (as here) by builders looking for buried cables, pipes and surveying pegs. They are used in airport (and public building) security. None of these other applications are of much concern (though I'd not dismiss the health risks of the electromagnetic field they create). What should be of greater concern is the use to find and selectively remove archaeological evidence from sites and assemblages, which I think should be the subject of a broader (and informed) public debate. Mr Howland obviously disagrees with me.

Here are some more Garrett Detectors adverts showing more debatable use of the tools:
"Searching for Ancient Coins in Belgium" (detecting a castle site).
"European Mountain Hunt" ("a rally in the mountains to search medieval village sites for artifacts and coins")
"Roman Cache!" (not a GPS in sight, very little in the way of explanation)
 "1300s Gold Coin Found with Euro ACE" (detecting on hilltop permanent pasture with low earthworks somewhere "in Yurope" - coin worth lottsadollars, archaeological information content - now unknowable). 
"Roman Coin find with AT Pro International" (a familiar face digging in hilltop pasture at Corfe Castle)

 and not forgetting what pops up alongside them: 
"Chicago Ron's, England Barn Hunts. March 10th to 31st 2012" (using Minelab machines, "14 hammies apiece").

Is it really expecting too much to hope to see some decent discussion emerging within and from the metal detecting milieu of the UK about the issues concerning the preservation of archaeological sites and assemblages from wanton disturbance and destruction in order that a few can fill their pockets with collectable geegaws?  Discussion on what sort of archaeological sites can be searched, and what ones would an ethical ("responsible") artefact hunter would stay away from, and whether that really can be reduced to the simplistic formula "it's legal innit?" Can we expect (as a result of millions of pounds of archaeological outreach on the basis of a "partnership")  the emergence of a notion of responsibility for the preserved evidence of the shared past which goes beyond that which is and is not, permitted by the highly liberal UK laws? Have a look at some of their videos and their forums, and blogs like that of detectorist like Mr Howland and decide for yourselves what you think of 'policies' of holding a hand of "partnership" out and expecting that if we spend enough money on doing that and wait long enough in silence, everything "will turn out all right in the end". Given what we are up against, is that actually going to work as a policy for dealing with artefact hunting anywhere?

TAKE A GOOD LOOK, for these are precisely the sort of people which in the UK the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  

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