Monday 22 December 2014

Keeping it as Shallow, Superficial and Fact Free as Possible: Censorship in British Archaeology

Pantomime castles for UK
pantomime archaeology
Nigel Swift alerted me to a discussion on Facebook of a post on the British Archaeology Jobs Resources Federation (run by David Connolly) by somebody called "Metal Detectives" of some photos of Sunday's hoard hoiking at Manor Farm, Lenborough in Buckinghamshire and a rather desultory discussion that was going on. The upshot of it was that several archaeologists (?) were questioning what they were seeing, and another group of archaeologists, led by David Connolly, were soothing them that the metal detecting was no longer a problem, and the only possible away forward is by partnering artefact hunters and collectors and anyone who says otherwise is a lunatic. In other words the same old shallow crap that the British pro-artefact hunting band trot out in place of real thoughts.

In the course of the discussion Heritage Action came under fire from said group of archaeologists, who betrayed a woeful lack of knowledge of what it is Heritage Action do and say and were thus misrepresenting both.

I was surprised to find that I was not a member of this facebook group, I have a clear recollection of being a member at the beginning of the year and posting several substantive comments in the thread on the Medway Anglo-Saxon grave trashing. Still, I rejoined, and made a brief comment questioning one of the glib justifications being offered for working with metal detectorists. That is as far as I got. While I was composing a reply clarifying what Mr Connelly had not understood about one other issue raised, I found I was unable to post it due to having been excluded from the Facebook group, five minutes from re-joining and my earlier two line post had been removed.

This is how British archaeology discusses metal detecting in the social media. The reason why there is no discussion of the issues about British archaeology's partnership of despoiling artefact collectors is because neither side wants such a discussion, and that includes the "professionals" of the archaeological world. What is it they are so afraid of? Is their 'right' of the kind that brooks no questioning?

Look at what comment received the approbation  ("Thats the spirit!") of Mr Connolly:
Caoimhin Ó Coileáin [...] What is reported is legal and not breaking laws of ethics (sic) that are in place [...]  Like so much in our industry we need to be realistic and accept what we can make changes about and what we need to negotiate with. Metal detecting isn't going anywhere. The ire, and I have plenty of it, should be directed to the night hawks and those breaking the rules. Otherwise improve what's their (sic) rather than whinging. 
 Whether what is reported actually is not against the ethics of archaeological recovery (the FLO is involved in this) or of responsible artefact hunting  is a moot point, I would say hoiking like this most certainly is flaunting both. The nighthawks are not the problem, the problem is the many artefact hunters who are not prepared to adapt their attitudes and practices to reflect (true) best practice. Certainly it is not "realistic" to expect change while the whole "industry" blithely says it does not matter and best practice is negotiable and the nighthawks are the only problem. How does he think we can "improve what's there" without criticising what is wrong with how it is now?

Quite what "rules" are being referred to in the penultimate sentence is wholly unclear when there are none. I would say ire is roused by the shoulder-shruggers in the archaeological community who shrink from the task of attempting to effect change. Metal detecting is "going" where society wants it, and it is not beyond the capability - or indeed remit - of archaeology to be informing the public in no uncertain terms where the discipline thinks it should be going. Of course we'll not see any discussion of that on Mr Connolly's facebook page.

The people busy blocking discussion and replacing it with trite substance-free feelgoodspeak are also going to be the first to complain when the rest of us fail to treat their verbal archaeo-fluff with any seriousness.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people that want to grab more and more millions of public quid to pretend they can make all artefact hunters into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

UPDATE 23.12.14
And keeping it off the Internet? Is it just me, or does everybody else get "content unavailable" when clicking on the link to the Facebook page thread on an archaeological group referenced above? If so, that's metal detectorist behaviour that is, hiding a thread when it starts to be discussed. We may guess what it is metal detectorists wish to keep hidden and why, but what have their British archaeologist "partners" got to hide?

UPDATE 23.12.14
It seems it is just me the thread is being hidden from. A reader informs me:
"I can see it but it hasn't been added to for 18 hours, since "Thats the spirit". I tried to join but nothing happens when I press Join Group".
That's the spirit David, shhhhhhh, eh?


Holedigger pete said...

You must love this Paul. Happy Christmas and new year.

Paul Barford said...

Attempting to discuss things with evasive propagandists, whether they be archaeologists, religious nuts or anything else gives nobody any pleasure.

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