Monday, 18 December 2017

Look What Someone Wrote on UK Artefact Hunting

Mary Shepperson is a 'freelance archaeologist specialising in urbanism in Bronze Age Mesopotamia. She loves excavation and spends most of the year in Iraq covered in dirt'. When she's not doing that, she has just written an article for the Guardian ('The tense truce between detectorists and archaeologists' Guardian Monday 18 December 2017) which is a change from the usual crap even the big papers produce about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (at least when it takes place in the UK). The tagline is: 'Metal detecting is enjoying a resurgence, driven by good press and fantastic finds. But archaeologists are not overjoyed at the rise of the hobby detectorists. Why?' It starts off: 
There’s been reason for cheer in metal detecting circles, with the news this month that 2016 saw a record number of [Treasure PMB] finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This announcement has spawned numerous congratulatory reports – including in the Guardian – detailing the wonderful things found, the back-stories of the lucky finders, and the sometimes extraordinary sums of money their finds have fetched. The rise in finds is attributed to improved detector technology and an increase in the number of people taking up the hobby [...]. Within the archaeological community the response has not been quite so cheerful. Several archaeologists have complained to me about the Guardian appearing to promote metal detecting as a harmless leisure pursuit, and online there’s been a distinct rumble of archaeological discontent.
Since the PAS in all its soggy 'outreach' cannot get the point across, Ms Shepperson explains the issue:
The problem lies in fundamentally conflicting aims. Archaeologists primarily value information about the past; objects are important, but only within their archaeological context – their relationship to structures, deposits and the full range of finds – contributing to the wider understanding of a site or landscape. For metal detectorists, the primarily focus is the objects themselves, the collection of which by detectorists divorces an object from most of the information which makes it valuable to an archaeologist.
You'll not see the PAS explaining it like that. Nor like this:
However, it would be a mistake to think that archaeologists now live in perfect harmony with detectorists; distrust on both sides still bubbles under the surface. Many parts of the metal detecting community remain wary of archaeologists, suspecting (probably rightly) that, if they could, archaeologists would place greater restrictions on metal detecting. On the other side, most archaeologists privately believe that even responsible detectorists to do more harm than good, and the more extreme among them see all metal detectorists as little more than legalised looters driven by personal greed. For many archaeologists cooperation is a form of damage limitation; the least worst solution. Metal detecting encompasses a wide range of individuals, from the responsible society members with a genuine interest in the past, to the criminal Nighthawks, and all the detectorists who occupy the large grey area in between. The innocent and honest majority, groups like the cuddly, nerdish club depicted in Detectorists, champion metal detecting as a citizen scientist movement, democratising knowledge and encouraging a love of heritage. The problem for archaeologists is that metal detecting is fundamentally acquisitive, competitive, and potentially lucrative.
And there Ms Shepperson loses me, with that word 'majority'. How do you know Ms Shepperson? When the vast majority of artefact hunters with metal detectors do not record any finds with the PAS, how can you claim that its a cuddly majority and a [s]pikey minority?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The innocent and honest majority"
Yes that really ruined it. An extraordinary, widespread blindness to the fact tens of thousands of detectorists must have been failing to report, given the PAS's own statistics.

In the early years "innocent" was perhaps appropriate since news of PAS's existence may not have been adequately broadcast. Now however, after 20 years there can be no excuse for not reporting and no refusenik is innocent.

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