Friday 26 July 2013

Lexington Metal Detectorist on Collaboration in Heritage Management

Scott Clark, metal detectorist, lives in Lexington, KY USA ("has been metal detecting since aged 15, researching historical sites, participating in archaeological surveys and enjoying the physical, social and intellectual benefits of the hobby"). He has contributed a text ("Metal Detecting and Archaeological Advocacy – Some Observations and Ideas from a Detectorist", July 26, 2013) to the Day of Archaeology 2013. Readers might know I am generally dead against this, I hold - for reasons set out here -  that "metal detecting" is not archaeology.

I did read, however, Mr Clark's transatlantic contribution with interest because as an example of the (US 'let's all work together') genre it is quite unusual. In the US, there is a rather superficial approach to this topic, seen well in the recent "discussion" between Stout and McIntyre discussed elsewhere here or the Butch Holcombe stuff. These people have not taken the opportunity to find out what the real problem is (the archaeologist in the trio has even not ever been metal detecting). As a result we get several themes gone over time and time again (metal detectorists taking part in archaeological projects, tekkies voluntarily showing archaeologists some of their pretty finds and documenting their findspots, "rescuing the past"). What we do not get from them is the setting of those elements in the wider issues concerning relic hunting and the archaeological record, or even any indication that they are aware of those issues.

Mr Clark, on the other hand, has been interacting with archaeologists and while working alongside them, has actually been listening to, and thinking about, the views of the heritage community on what the problems are. He has then set about thinking about concrete finding ways around them. While it is still in the realms of "wouldn't it be nice if...?", there are some good attempts to grapple with the issues which is the only way forward. Certainly an advance on the aggressive and confrontational Stout-Holcombe-Howland approach.

The problem is that in detecting, alongside the individuals capable of thinking and articulately presenting the position reached by reflection like Mr Clark and a number of like-minded individuals in the UK, there are a much higher proportion of detectorists, on both sides of the Atlantic, that do not have these abilities. They respond by knee-jerk reactions, they follow the crowd, engage in mobbish behaviour and simply do not understand how what they do fits into the wider scheme of things, moreover they adamantly refuse to even try to understand. The PAS tries to make out that the "metal detecting community" is for the most part composed of normal, concerned, responsible, intelligent folk engaged in a "study of the past", but who are just misunderstood. They need to because the government would not give them money otherwise.

The actual picture is far more complex, the thrusting on us all of the PAS one-sided rose-tinted spectacle vision totally obscures (and, shamefully, is meant to obscure) the huge element, an undercurrent, of individuals that are portrayed on this blog by the metaphorical device of the fictional Thugwit Brothers. These are the people we need to take into account whenever assessing the hobby, not the 20% who can be brought with varying degrees of success into the fold by persuasion and logic, but the 80% who are totally resistant to anything like that. Note that Scott Clark admits that his views on collaboration in heritage management has not won him many friends in the US metal detecting community.

With that in mind, I'd like to heartily recommend a reading of Scott Clark's text, he has some good ideas and appears to welcome further discussion. Mr Scott has a blog Readers might like to compare this with what is offered (ostensibly with the same aim) by "American Digger Magazine" (but do not say what you think too loudly, as the latter apparently tend to be very touchy about the issue)

Vignette: Lexington, Kentucky.

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