Friday 15 August 2014

PAS-Partnershipping for US Relic Hunters?

Over on Scott Clark's 'Detecting' blog (August 15th) there is an announcement of An 'Archaeological Partnership Program for Avocational Metal Detectorists' being organized September 13-14 in Chicago. It takes the form of a short instruction course for a maximum of 40 participants. The idea of the project is to create a small elite cadre of dedicated detectorists with specialist knowledge who not only strive to be 'responsible avocational detectorists', but will be able to 'partner, when feasible, professional archaeologists to assist in the preservation and study of archaeological resources', as partners in archaeological projects.. The members of this group will be entered onto the newly-created Archaeological Partnership Program Database of Responsible avocational detectorists.  The benefits for archaeology would be to be able to involve people from outside the profession in fieldwork, encouraging artefact hunters to learn about the methodology and approaches of archaeology, and also to help spread the notions of responsible artefact hunting within the detector-using community. Detectorists taking part would be able to expand their own knowledge and skills as well as, through participation as informed partners in a team doing systematic research, participate in making a contribution to knowledge about the past (which is what nearly all detectorists claim they want to do). Not insignificant is that through this means they would also get access to land and find artefacts that normally would be inaccessible (legally) to them. The event, of course, is being sponsored by Minelab (who in addition is running an essay competition for three sponsorships for attendance for those that cannot afford the $165 fee.
This class is intended for avocational metal detectorists who are serious about working with professional archaeologists to help preserve threatened archaeological sites. The long-term goal is to create a corps of APP-trained avocational detectorists who would be willing to work with professional archaeologists in pursuit of the shared goal of documenting history before it is lost. The class will be taught by Dr. Doug Scott (of Little Big Horn fame), Chris Espenshade, and Patrick Severts. All three instructors are professional archaeologists with long histories of using metal detecting in professional research. All three are also instructors for Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist. The class will include the following:
- A review the sometimes contentious relationship between archaeologists and detectorists;
- An explanation of how and why archaeologists approach sites as they do;
- A consideration of [the] major differences between professional archaeological research plans and typical avocational detecting;
- A discussion of the key concepts of context, replicability, redundancy, and negative and positive data;
- A discussion of how to record sensitive sites and other field data;
- A discussion of why partnership is advantageous to both parties, and ultimately benefits our historic resources and heritage;
- The delineation the ethical expectations for both professional archaeologists and avocational detectorists.
The class will include 8 hours of classroom discussion and 8 hours of field exercises demonstrating several typical archaeological approaches.
It strikes me that this is exactly the sort of thing the PAS in Britain should be running as part of their outreach and drive to gather archaeologically-useful information. Very probably the reason they do not is a lack of experience in explaining such things to members of the public.

Part of the US artefact hunting milieu, on learning of this interesting initiative, and completely disregarding the fundamental assumptions of the project, have already expressed the traditional hostility to the idea that archaeologists should be sharing some of their knowledge and ideas with them, and inviting them to participate in research projects. They cannot seem to understand that archaeology is more than just hoiking finds out of the ground, and that the participation of a group of people in a project as equal partners relies on all members of the team understanding what the project is about and the methods that are being used to achieve that aim.

The organizers are faced with the usual problem of this kind of partnership. The metal detector user is on site doing archaeology one week, then next week is back to the same hoik-and-have collecting (or even commercial) behaviour as before. We see this in the UK many times where artefact hunters claim the kudos of having worked with archaeologists, but then continue writing on the forums about their activities in a way which shows that (because most UK archaeologists will not say 'boo' to a detectorist's face or express any criticism whatsoever of the hobby) they have learnt absolutely zero about the 'major differences between professional archaeological research plans and typical avocational detecting' from the experience. This creates ethical problems for the archaeologists working alongside them in 'partnership'. The archaeologists taking part in this programme decided that they would only extend partnership to detector users able to sign a code of ethics. The idea is a good (and necessary) one. I think though the wording betrays a total misunderstanding of the collector's ethos, and has already attracted some criticism on US detecting blogs and forums from those unable to see what the APP is about. I think though the authors of the latter really do not see the difference between the 'White Hat' guys and themselves.It is rather comic (and revealing) to see them railing against the notion that a Responsible avocational detectorist is expected to keep records on the location of all materials they recover and record all discovered historical sites within 30 days with the state site files, and bewail the fact that instead of this they should get a US Portable Antiquities Scheme. This seems a typical misunderstanding of what the UK's PAS is all about - it is being treated here only as a means by which artefact hunting is legitimised and protected from criticism. But then, that more or less is the manner in which the PAS presents itself to its 'partner' artefact hunters.

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