Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Ixelelles Six Reply to Hardy: Reducing Archaeological Resource Preservation to a Mere 'Ideology'

Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Natasha Ferguson,
Stijn Heeren, Michael Lewis, and Suzie Thomas.

The Ixelles Six have replied in a comment on his blog  to Sam Hardy's response to their long paper ('The complexities...') attacking his text ' Quantitative analysis of open-source data on metal detecting for cultural property: Estimation of the scale and intensity of metal detecting and the quantity of metal-detected cultural goods'. As readers will recall, Dr Hardy responded with a number of points that the Helsinki Gang (Ixelles Six) had missed about his work, and suggesting that they had misinterpreted his intent (which they had). In their comment, they do not actually address any of these points, instead starting out with a Two Wrongs argument in petulent-Donald-Trump mode protesting about the reception their attack subsequently got:
we feel that our paper too has been misrepresented in reactions elsewhere on the internet, sometimes in an unnecessarily vitriolic manner.
Of course the reader of any text about theirs can check back with the black-and-white of their original text and decide for themselves the degree to which it has been ‘misrepresented’ by those taking the discussion to a broader context. After all, is that not the entire function of published academic texts in academic discourse?

The Ixelles Six insist in this comment that  'it should be obvious that...' their response to Hardy's alarming conclusions '...was not intended to propagate a liberal, ‘pro-detecting’ viewpoint as a one-size-fits-all solution''...'.

The first point is the problems with that word 'detecting' in this broader (trans-national) context. That  broader context is collecting and collection-driven exploitation of sites and assemblages. In a trans-national context, that does not involve ‘detectors’ very much  (there are no Hopewell-point- or Mimbres-pot- detectors, no shabti-, papyrus-fragment- and mummy-mask-detectors). Why do the Ixelles Six, academics most of them, have problems calling a spade a spade?

Secondly, the black-and-white text of their attack ('The Complexities...') says quite clearly that the authors (Suzie Thomas, Natasha Ferguson, Pieterjan Deckers, Andres Dobat, Stijn Heeren and Michael Lewis) are all agreed that it is a “simplistic and incorrect basic assumption” and “fundamentally false” to say collecting is in fact damaging the archaeological record (pp 323-4) and then goes on (the whole fifth section, pp 328-330) to “focus on motivations for a permissive policy choice (sic) beside the number of finds OR finds reports it might yield”. The reader can decide for themselves to what degree this is propagating a liberal pro-collecting viewpoint and to what degree their current protests against seeing it as such may be ignored. To my mind, there is simply no two ways about it, it is there in black and white in what they wrote last year. Their approach is quite clearly pro-collecting and anti-preservationist (yet they accuse Hardy of being the one who is ‘biased’!).

In their comment, they apparently still stand to a man by the assertion that Dr Hardy's research is faulty:
by adopting the quantity of artefacts recovered through non-professional detecting as a direct proxy for cultural damage, regardless of circumstances, your study is grounded in a fundamentally erroneous and, in our view, biased assumption.
Note that the Six did not elaborate there more clearly on what they meant by that. It is rather odd phrasing in the circumstances, the annual number of deaths on Dutch roads that current evidence shows were due to drink-driving is not a 'direct proxy for' the alcohol-related death toll on Dutch roads - it is simply the death toll attributable to that cause. Anyway, they should look no further than the full title of Dr Hardy's paper to see where they themselves have consistently misrepresented its purpose.

Unless artefacts fall from trees like horse chestnuts, increasing numbers added to private collections, surely is the result of their removal from the archaeological record in increasing numbers. It seems to me, and the legislation of many countries in the Western and non-Western world, that this is cultural damage. That is why those countries have laws against this type of exploitation and we have international conventions promoting the respecting of those laws.

In their comment on Hardy's blog, the Ixelles Six juxtapose 'the gains of a permissive approach [to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record] which 'some may feel' ... 'outweigh that (potential) cost' [ie the destruction of part of that record]. But the costs are not 'potential', but very real. Hardy's original paper ('Quantitative analysis...') indicated a massive scale of information loss through the 'permissive' English (and Welsh) systems, a point totally avoided by the Ixelles Six – but it raises the very real (and practical) question of the costs of getting proper mitigation of that information loss – one of increasing urgency as the current means of financing the PAS ‘partnership’ scheme come to an end in March 2019. If those costs are not met, then cultural damage is occurring, and no pie-in-the-sky wishy-washy‘benefits if only’ arguments by pro-collecting ivory tower academics isolated from the basic truth on the ground can STOP that.

We all agree that - as the Ixelles Six say - political decisions about the legislative and regulatory steps needed to reduce damage caused by Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record should 'be informed by a thorough understanding of the phenomenon it is trying to regulate'. They bemoan the fact that 'so far, only limited progress has been made towards this latter goal', without recognizing their own responsibilities here. The UK archaeological and academic milieu, for example, remains not only complacent, but continually produces arguments about why it is (allegedly) not necessary to do anything ('we have the situation under control', 'no need to worry', 'artefact hunting is benign', 'we welcome all these finds being dug up', 'artefact collecting provides opportunities/can provide opportunities') and little else. In such a situation, the archaeological world and its academic front will not raise any awareness that the phenomenon that should be being better regulated needs any more thorough study. Archaeologists promoting the cuddly-wuddly picture of artefact hunting, instead of submitting it to a thorough critique, are therefore complicit in the destruction.

In their comment, the Ixelles Six then seem to suggest that the time has come to reject preservationist notions as old fashioned and 'ideological'. They apparently consider we should :
step away from mostly ideologically driven perspectives on [Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record] (i.e. ‘heritage engagement for all’ vs. ‘tragedy of the commons’) and offer a more data-driven approach towards assessing the effectiveness of policies within their local context.
Oddly, the information we already have about the scale and effects and ineffectiveness of 'outreach' through the longest-running Scheme of its type (PAS in England and Wales) suggests that among the tragedies of British archaeology of the past half-century and its effect on the common resource is the idea that Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record is any kind of ‘heritage engagement for all’. It is a narrow and unsustainable exploitative approach to the archaeological record and the benefits it could bring for all by a self-centred minority interest group. Is Roman coin/ shabti/ Mimbres pottery/metal detected Nazi equipment collection in fact ‘heritage engagement for all’ any way more than rows of entomological specimens on pins in a cabinet, or boar heads on the wall, are a form of ‘nature engagement for all’? I would say there is room for debate there. But I bet that is not a debate that any of the entrenched Ixelles Six will now be participating in. It seems to me that they have well-and-truly adopted a 'discovery' ideology of their own, and reject the conservation ideology that lies behind the same heritage policy as developer funding and all the rest.

On reading their comment, it seems to me that it really is more of the same smokescreening rather than addressing the very important issues they dodged in their first response to Sam Hardy's paper, they still hide behind their insinuation that Dr Hardy 'might’ have got the numbers wrong. But then, in the interest of setting the record straight, let us see theirs.

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I added a comment to Sam Hardy's blog which addresses some of the key issues relating their reply to what Sam had been researching, here.

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