Tuesday 25 November 2014

'Dugups' an "Offensive" term?

A graduate student whose fieldwork is in Cyprus and who was probably not even born when I began investigating the antiquities trade and collecting decided last night to tweet me to accuse me of lack of professionalism and give me some hints about how I should write what I think. Then a California classicist decided to join in berating me. Perhaps they were trying to be helpful, but 140 characters is not the way to have a proper conversation - and it would surely not too much to ask that they could present their remarks as comments under the text to which they refer.

They both seemed concerned that I was not writing with enough 'respect' about people I see (and want my readers to see) as unconcerned despoilers of the finite and fragile record of the past, that is no-questions asking dealers and collectors. I admit that this is indeed a criticism that can be levelled at my writing. I do not, because respect is not something I feel for those who have ivory doorknobs and shoot tigers for fun either. Collectors and dealers bend over backwards to present a harmless façade - one which is accepted by many of our colleagues who have not the inclination to look at the uncomfortable facts which hide behind it. These unreflexive and deluded researchers are precisely who the artefact hunters and collectors want to see,  they lend authority to the picture they want to paint (see the Kampmann invitation to Felch). For this reason, this is why academic, institutional and journalistic superficiality and apathy are so dangerous to open debate of issues. They help reproduce and magnify the superficiality of the picture that is presented to the public.

My polemecist queries my use of the term 'dugups' (as in dugup dealer). I find this triply incomprehensible. First on a semantic level, it is calling a spade a spade. I really see nothing wrong with that - indeed I think it vital in any discussion to be clear what it is one is discussing. This blog is not about paintings taken from the wall of a country house, or from a gallery owned by 1930s Jewish family, so not "cultural property" per se. This blog concentrates on those elements of collecting and the antiquities trade which impact archaeology and the archaeological record. That might include bits knocked- off or wrenched out from a standing monument, it might involve a theft from a museum case, but the focus of my concern is Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record embodied in sites and surface assemblages.

The second reason I do not understand where the student has a problem is that I actually took the term from a coin dealer's website - where he was offering what he called 'dugups' to potential clients, making it wholly clear what they were being offered. As I recall this was the group of coins from England that appear on the pages of this blog because they came out of the ground, and straight into the dealer's cupboard without going through the PAS - even though at the time coin dealers were praising the PAS as a means by which once could have a cake and eat it and insisting other countries "ought to" (on American demand) adopt a parallel system.

The third reason is the most important to me because it cuts to the core of what I think is a fundamental issue in the heritage debate. Again, the issue is defining what it is we are discussing. Many collectors and dealers define the object of the trade as "ancient art". See, for example, the name of the recently formed ADCAEA; the name "trafficking culture" falls into the same trap. The adoption and promotion of this type of terminology immediately has two effects. It focuses attention on the 'object' (so then we get rhetoric on looting of site to 'save the object/art') and allows the collector to be portrayed as an altruistic philanthropist/ benefactor and the conservationist as a "zealot" merely on an ideological crusade against 'art collectors'. Making the point that the issue is not about the objects that are collected (but where they come from and what is destroyed and discarded in the process of producing the commodity) is surely fundamental to cutting through the deflective spin with which dealers and collectors attempt to highjack the heritage debate and present it wholly in their own terms.

In short, I do not see why using the term  'dugups' for artefacts which are dug up, and the people that deal in them 'dugup dealers' should be offensive to the academic, any more than the word 'offcuts' for pieces of leather which are cut off, or 'printout' for something read on paper and not a computer screen. The fact that it is two archaeologists of US origin working on classical sites who here seem to be treating it as such says more about the attitudes of that group of scholars in general, to ('dirt') archaeology and artefacts made available for their study (when addressed sources) by the trade, than it does about the accuracy of my language used by me on my own blog.
I started this blog with a post about using the term 'artefact hunters', once considered an offensive term (when used to replace "metal detectorists"), but it seems now to be not-so-shyly creeping into archaeological parlance more often (PACHI Saturday, 12 July 2008, 'The Name of the Game: is "artefact hunter" an offensive label?').

UPDATE 25.11.2014
I go to a meeting, come home and find a whole series of tweets which I do not understand which seem to be related to this post. Apparently the author of those tweets sees what I wrote as "harassment".  He is quite welcome to come here and explain why he wrote that. Weird.

Vignette: There is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. In fact there is often good reason to use more precise terminology.  

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