Thursday, 14 July 2016

"Citizen Archeology" The BM OFFICIAL Definition

I have just heard back from the British Museum with their official definition from the author of the review - Hannah Boulton. It's a cracker:
The Museum would agree with the Oxford English Dictionary definition, that archaeology is ‘The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains’.
I note they quoted the concise dictionary and not any archaeology textbook. So actually, the filmed exploits of the so-called ”Nazi War Diggers” fully correspond to that definition. These citizen TV presenters were "studying history" by digging holes in historical sites 

"excavating" a site
analysing the artefacts

"analysing" the artefacts

and physical remains.

Analysing the physical remains
So, if we take such an "anything goes" definition, you can see why they consider artefact hoiking as "archaeology" Most of us  who commented on Nazi War Diggers (as I recall, the PAS was relatively silent about the shortcomings of the antics of three metal detectorists and a dealer) were adamant that archaeology was the last thing those “citizen TV presenters” were doing. Indeed in the version broadcast in the UK there were added subtitles saying that.

Give Erich von Daniken a spade and send him to Nazca or the Pyramids and let him dig and "analyse" his finds and, according to the British Museum's definition, that would be  "archaeology" too. But then can there not be an archaeological analysis of Nazca or petroglyphs without digging? The British Museum definition says no.

Artefact collecting is not archaeology – any more than a pheasant shoot is ornithology. Enough of this nonsense. If a research institution like the British Museum cannot give a better definition that reflects what their own archaeologists do, I really do not think it is worth listening to them.

As the intellectual fruit of  two decades of operation of what was once proudly proclaimed as 'UK archaeology's biggest public outreach' costing millions of pounds, that is a disappointingly poor showing. In fact the best the PAS ever managed before that was the definition "archaeology is like a cake" (sic) on their PAStexplorers "learning resources" page (they never expanded on that when the inadequacy of that definition was pointed out a decade ago). The public once got a much better service from the webpages associated with the popular TV series 'Time Team'. All along the line the PAS has been about spin and propaganda of success than any real substantive achievements in the field of archaeological outreach to members of the public. That comes through in the rest of Ms Boulton's letter to me where she gaily mixes and matches information about the Museum's other "citizen involvement" initiatives as though they had ever been an integral part of the interactions between PAS and artefact collectors.

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