Sunday 30 November 2014

Collection-Driven Exploitation: Two British Academic Fails

With a few notable exceptions, The British academic community is only an occasional participant in social media discussions of archaeological heritage issues when it comes to collecting and the antiquities trade. Perhaps archaeologists there are embarrassed that their biggest 'outreach scheme' is partnering collectors and collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record and they find that hard to explain away. Heritage Action quote an interesting example of the problems relating the two worlds using a quote from somebody commenting on this blog (so I am using their picture - seems fair). In a text published today called 'A naive defence of Metal Detecting' (Heritage Journal 30/11/2014), Heritage Action quote 'Lestak de Lioncourt IV' from Liverpool John Moores University, counting what he said as among the things that are said by academics in Bonkers Britain which "beggar belief":
Archaeology is “inherently (neo)colonialist, in denial of its own criminogenic creations and, therefore, eventually and essentially state-corporate crime enhancing”. So the massive loss of cultural knowledge isn’t the fault of non-reporting artefact hunters, the poor innocent puppies, they are simply “the criminogenic creations” of Archaeology. Bloody archaeologists!
This 'sins of the fathers' argument is quite common among collectors. Archaeologists did in the past things which we now consider wrong, which collectors argue gives them the right to continue doing damaging things in the present without criticism.

Mr de Lioncourt IV having said his party piece fluttered away leaving us all a little nonplussed as to what point it was he actually wanted to make. Jessica Dietzler at the same time and in the context of the same discussion had made a pronouncement from Glasgow which was equally puzzling. She addressed the current discussion on Syrian conflict antiquities, the notion that paramilitary militants such as ISIL are profiting from the sale of (among other things) Syrian antiquities. She announced that the research she is doing there on criminal networks and the antiquities trade led her to believe that dealer Wayne Sayles "is right that evidence is lacking" for this. As this is quite an important point, I asked her to expand on that and just what kind of evidence she is expecting, but she declined to engage in more substantive discussion of the issue. My guess now is that the young lady just prematurely shot her mouth off to gain attention, and was apparently not expecting that anyone would query what she said. I am going to guess that a reason for this might be that the level of polemic in doctoral seminars in a UK criminology department may be at a lower level of robustness than those in a central European archaeology/history faculty and it never occurred to the young academic that she might be expected by others to give reasoned argument supporting her statement. Mr Sayles and Ms Kampmann in the trade however are smiling, another academic supports them. The rest of us are simply perplexed. Bonkers.

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