Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Tautology and Missing the Point

The Sussex Detectorist Twitter feed redundantly announces "The ordinary artefacts I record are just as important as the special ones. Here's a sword-belt mount from E Sussex". A sword belt mount is hardly an ordinary artefact like a roof-tile nail or piece of cooking pot - but the latter are not regarded as collectables, and it is by that category which the item is being assessed.

The tautology of that short message obscures the main issue. Britain is one of the few countries in the world which treats the management of the archaeological resource in this way. Here an archaeological assemblage is being used merely as a quarry for collectables to feed any number of scattered, ephemeral and undocumented private collections. The "recording" is only half the story, the other is selective hoiking and taking. From what sort of site was this sword-belt mount pocketed? What does it mean? What else was there? Were the nails not found and recorded from roofing tiles or coffins?

All this warbling and bragging about what artefact hunters voluntarily record obscures the issue of the nature of the activity from which the recording is just a side issue. It is private collecting of archaeological artefacts in general we should be discussing. Just what artefacts does "Sussex Detectorist" collect, how many and from where, and what has happened to the information connected with the sites and rejected artefacts which were not added to this individual's personal accumulation?  To what extent is what this one does typical of what the other 15000 do, week after week?

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