Monday, 11 July 2016

Bloomsburian "Citizen Archaeology" with Naff music

Here is a chunk of what our colleagues in the British Museum are referring to as "citizen archaeology" at a commercial citizen archaeology artefact grabbing rally at Muchelney (warning, film has some really cheesy music):
The Muchelney Metal Detecting Rally October 2015.  Posted on You Tube by

What these people are doing is not archaeology, no matter what recording of the loose products of this collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is done. It is not archaeology. What does the British Museum mean by the use of the term? We are still in the dark, my request for an official statement seems not to be being treated there as a high priority issue. After all, the learning, audiences and volunteers department of that museum has a mission to inform only a small audience of 60 million citizens of the UK - why bother about what they think archaeology is? I on the other hand, think it is very important indeed that the British public are not given false picture of what archaeology is by some navel-gazing body out to trumpet its own success, irrespective of what effects that may have on others.

McKenzie Crook, the
British Museum's exemplar
of a 'citizen archaeologist'
An hour after I penned this, I received a reply by Hannah Boulton Head of Press and Marketing at the British Museum, indicating that she had been the author of the statement redefining British archaeology as in effect, the location, digging up and contemplation of old things. In other words, a notion in line with the current backward-looking 'encyclopaedic' ethos of the Museum, a definition that would apply to the eighteenth century Enlightenment humanists who founded it all those years ago. John Aubrey would have said that's what archaeology was. I really do not think, however, that there are many archaeologists today outside Bonkers Britain who would reduce the principles of the discipline to such atavistic notions. It is the next in line of a number of unfortunate and misleading terms used in the context of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to refer to artefact hunters, "heritage heroes"  and "partners" being the most notable. 

Furthermore in her reply, Ms Boulton attempts to confuse the issue  with reference to "[m]any national programmes run by the Museum" which according to her "focus on what we would describe as ‘citizen archaeology’" (without explaining why this is not simply public archaeology, a well-established term capable of wide use), in which "[i]n a similar way to ‘citizen journalist’, the phrase is intended to reflect the contribution some members of the public make to the study of our past". Artefact hunters are intent on building up collections of artefacts for their own personal use and profit. By the admission of the BM and PAS themselves, most of the artefacts removed from the ground through this activity contribute nothing to any understanding at all. My comment referred to the specific phrase in an official document of the British Museum:
“Citizen archaeology is a growing phenomenon with 82,000 finds recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme last year including finds by detecting superfan Mackenzie Crook”.
Leaving aside the supremely populist irrelevance of that last phrase, my point quite obviously concerned in what way artefact hunting can be equated with “archaeology”. This fundamental question went unanswered by the "Head of Press and Marketing at the British Museum". Perhaps Ms Boulton should hand the query over to one of the Museum's archaeologists as she apparently did not understand the nature of the issue involved in the phrasing she used in an official document issued in the name of the British Museum. Have they no "Learning, Audiences and Volunteers Department"? Can we get a more sensible answer from the "Learning" and "Audiences" bits? How does the British Museum define archaeology?

In parenthesis I would say there are a number of issues with so-called "citizen journalism" which might urge some caution  a major research institution equating their postulated "citizen archaeology" with this genre. Another term for it is "Guerilla journalism". 


Anonymous said...

As it happens, Farmer Brown has provided lots of evidence to suggest the Somerset Artefact Seekers are further away from being respectable archaeologists who farmers should allow on their land than any other detecting club.

David Knell said...

The music may be incredibly naff but the lyrics sum up their attitude perfectly ...

"Down and down into the deep
Who knows what we'll find beneath?
Diamonds, rubies, gold and more,
Hidden in the mountain store!"

"We do not fear what lies beneath;
We can never dig too deep!"

Yup, unabashed treasure hunting no matter how deep - parading as "archaeology".

TheFerret said...

I see you tar everyone with the same brush How sad,,,,

Paul Barford said...

That's what all the metal detectorists say, but those who use guns to slay rhinos are rhino killers, no matter what they take from the carcass and what they do with it. Those who use metal detectors on archaeological assemblages to pocket stuff are artefact hunting. How do you want me to categorise them? Depth of pocket? Cleanliness of fingernails?

TheFerret said...

Our land owners are happy in what we do and support us. We have raised thousands of pounds for many charity's on our digs even the land owners give the dig fees to the charity.

Paul Barford said...

Those who use guns to slay rhinos are rhino killers, no matter what they take from the carcass and what they do with it. Those who use metal detectors on archaeological assemblages to pocket stuff are artefact hunting. How do you want me to categorise them? Depth of pocket? Cleanliness of fingernails? The objects removed from the archaeological assemblages in these "charity digs", what happened to them? Why actually are there any "dig fees" if this really is "archaeology"? You really do not understand my point do you?

Paul Barford said...

Mr Howard, you confuse my blog with a discussion forum, there is a guide over in the left sidebar stating my policy on comments (not "posts"). My post was about so-called "citizen archaeology", comments underneath it should refer to that and you'll have to find somewhere to moan about the other side issues. Let us keep focus on the specific issue raised, eh?

TheFerret said...

Typical Always a one sided blog.

Paul Barford said...

I think I made myself clear, if you want to make a substantive comment on the notion, definition, meaning of "citizen archaeology" (which is the topic of the post on my blog to which you are replying), then be my guest. If instead of doing that you just want to use this post as an opportunity to slag off archaeologists and museums staff and administrators in general, then you can take it elsewhere. In the circumstances, what is in any way unreasonable about that? As I say this is my blog, not a forum.

I really would like to see some proper discussion of the BM's notion of "citizen archaeology". Since quite obviously we are not going to get anything at all sensible from the BM, maybe somebody else can fill the gap?

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