Friday 19 July 2013

American Digger's "Drive" to Bridge the Divide Between Collecting and Archaeology

Over on an anti-archaeological blog near you, Butch Holcombe and Jeff Lubbert, the relic Roundup Staff of The American Digger Magazine ("for diggers and collectors of America's heritage") announce "we’ll push forward in our drive to get relic hunters and archaeologists working towards a more common goal than petty arguing”. It is worth taking a look then at the magazine's webpage to see where and how that "drive" is reflected. The webpage is here. The magazine  is also on Twitter  and Facebook.

The blurb announces: "If you are a relic hunter, metal detectorist, or historical collector of any kind, this is your magazine!", why, if they claim to be in a "drive" to bridge a gap are archaeologists, historians and heritage professionals here excluded? Do they not "preserve" the past? Is this not a tacit admission by the magazine's editorial staff that the two are NOT in fact engaged in the same thing?  If you look through the front covers illustrated in the web, there are none (none that I saw) that carry a headline suggesting that inside is an article by an archaeologist setting out what is what from an archaeological point of view. I guess it's not that kind of magazine. So much for the "drive". 

The magazine proclaims it is "dedicated to those who preserve our past through responsible digging and collecting". This immediately raises a barrier. No mention is made here about preservation through documentation (record) nor indeed preserving a site by NOT "digging" holes in it, "responsibly" or not. There is notably no up-front definition of "responsible". The only clue is on the About Us page:
"Our Mission: To promote the responsible excavation and collecting of all artifacts related to America. We strongly oppose illegal recovery and wanton destruction of artifacts. Please dig responsibly. Our hobby depends on it!
So is for them the term "responsible" merely the opposite of "illegal"?  The webpage tells us what we will find in their magazine. Lots of information about isolated objects, how to recognize them, collect them, restore (sic), preserve them. Nothing mentioned about documenting a context, cataloguing and reporting them, getting them published or in any kind of public record. In other words, long on "collecting adventures" short on collectors' responsibilities. That obviously is no real foundation for working with archaeology or heritage organizations.

The links page is particularly revealing.  Listed are quite a lot of "great sites covering everything from US colonial era/or earlier to modern day relic hunting, metal detecting finds, equipment, preservation, artifact or equipment purchases, clubs and associations!" Oh yes! There are twelve MD clubs listed, but not a single mention of any archaeological body or association, which is odd if they are indeed advocating working with them. Plenty of dealers, though. There is also a link to the Stout-Howland anti-archaeological blog, a great expression of American Digger's desire to bury the hatchet with US archaeologists. Other notable links include the  World Wide Associate of Treasure Seekers ("Our Mission Statement: Preserve, Promote and Protect the right to the use of the Land and Natural Resources for “We the People” now and in the future") and a site selling Soviet military gear. You can also send a greeting to "a US military personnel (sic) stationed overseas" through the website, possibly sponsor a drone or support the personnel of a Black Site, who knows.

Most interesting of all is a link to Butch Holcombe's own artefact sale site: Greybird Relics
Butch and Anita Holcombe offer civilian and military relics and collectibles from the Civil War. Items range from buttons and bullets to Victorian jewelry. Both dug and non-dug artifacts.
He deals in, among other things, dugup antiquities. The collecting histories and provenances of the ones on the website are scant - no documentation appears to be offered confirming legally dug status (copy of landowner search permission and handover agreement for example). Findspots described in vague and cutesy terms: "from good ground near Chattanooga, TN", "From South Carolina Lowcountry", "found at a South Carolina plantation site", "Found in a privy in Port Hudson, LA", "The Confederate Wishing Well in Savannah, GA. This was a find made in the early 1980's, in which thousands of Confederate bullets were found, dumped per orders to keep the Yanks from getting them when the Confederates abandoned Savannah".

All of this flies in the face of the AIA Code of Ethics, which obviously hinders any archaeologist adhering to such an ethical code from collaborating in any way with Mr Holcombe and his pals. Not that there is any evidence from the website that this is indeed what its production team actually have in mind, and surely their website would be expected to spearhead such a "drive". The declaration that it is their aim to get relic hunters and archaeologists working towards a common goal seems instead to be little more than one of the measures adopted by artefact hunters to deflect scrutiny and criticism by providing their exploitive and archaeologically erosive hobby with a facade of respectability rather than an expression of a real need of the collectors and dealers hiding behind the facade to actually engage in such long-term collaboration.

It is insufficient to claim there is some kind of "common ground" ("old things"?) between archaeology and relic hunting, and dismiss as do Holcombe et al any attempts to discuss the issues more deeply as "petty arguing”. In order to build a bridge across any gap that exists, obviously one has first to define the width and depth of that gap, but also the precise nature and extent of the "common ground" which is to form the foundations of any such bridge. If there are fundamental differences in the foundations, then they surely have to be explored, understood and dealt with before one can start to build on them. Dismissing them as "petty" is no basis on which to build any kind of partnership.   

Photo: Riker-mount show-and-tell/ trophy antiquities. Battlefield archaeology turned  into commodity collectables.


Anonymous said...

Aah, the common ground between artefact hunting and archaeology! I've asked and asked where that is but I've yet to hear any artefact hunter or archaeologist define it.

Relic Roundup said...

You were offered the opportunity to debate any subject you wish on the air with us, yet choose instead to hold court here in the safe haven of your own blog. We however, have posted here in the hopes of bridging a gap which you have no desire in closing. You are afraid of taking such mutual steps. You are also threading on thin ice in accusing American Digger Magazine, Greybird Relics, or any other business owned by me of any illegal actions. Such accusations of illegal activity are false and border on slander.
As to "no archaeologist" being mentioned in American Digger Magazine, you are again showing a disregard for the obvious. Are NOT some archaeologists also private collectors? We also have had several interviews with archaeologists and "MD" clubs that have worked on digs with trained professionals. I'd previously said I'd not be drawn into your drivel again, but I stand corrected. Some comments by you are so ignorant and bitter that they must be addressed. However, I have no farther time for you. You have never read American Digger Magazine, have never had dealings with Greybird Relics, and do not know me-nor my wife- personally. I have shown you respect, but now understand that your hatefulness and bitterness leave no room for that. Please continue with your blogs and, if you wish, continue to visit our sites. But it is time to direct your venom towards a new target. Aren't lawyers already wealthy enough?

Paul Barford said...

"You were offered the opportunity to debate any subject you wish on the air with us,

That is not true, the wording of your first "invitation" (posted on the Anti-archaeological Stout Standards blog was quite clear what you expected and expected to do on that "show". That sort of language does not suggest that you were aiming to "close a gap". On the contrary.

You profess to be interested in establishing standards for responsible detecting. There has been some discussion in recent months about what the artefact hunter can do to set themselves apart from the cowboys (led mainly by Heritage Action, see also the so-called 'Glasgow Fourth'). This is a subject running through posts here these past few months, and that is the context of the remarks about the documentation that you offer the purchaser of your finds. Nothing else.

The point is however if you truly want to work with archaeologists the wording of the AIA ethics code does create a problem. I do not see why I should not point that out, and I really see no reason to get defensive about it, it is a fact. No "accusation of illegal action" is in my text.

I really do not see how you can aim to "work with archaeologists' if you get all defensive the moment a question like this comes up. They will. What's the problem?

But this illustrates plainly why I do not think any discussion under the conditions you propose would get anywhere. In my experience - quite long - metal detectorists get very defensive about what they do and simply cannot accept a frank exchange of views or anyone critically assessing what they do from another point of view, outside the hobby. Docile yes-men are what they want, not a true dialogue to thrash out the problems. The PAS treats its "partners" like little children, because that is the way they have to to stop metal detectorists turning their backs en masse (there have already been 17, think it was, threats by them to do precisely this when the PAS was even a little bit critical of them). What kind of a "partnership" is that? (What kind of "respect" is that if they think of them as like little kids?)

Thank you for the offer of a sample copy of American Digger magazine. It will join the others in my quite extensive library of metal detecting literature from around the world.

"I have shown you respect" No, I do not believe you have. Not for a minute. Neither me, nor the points I have raised.

You really are not going to get very far with the archaeological community like that. How about learning to listen and address what is said calmly and to the point, instead of shouting? That's what people look for in a debate.

Paul Barford said...

Metal detectorists' idea of "respect":

Butch Holcombe (on Facebook, discussing the debate with archaeologists):

"There are good and bad on both sides. For instance, the fellow who writes this blog:"
16 lipca o 05:53

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