Thursday, 4 October 2018

Artefact Collecting Primary Among Competing Values in Archaeological Heritage Today?

Case studies covered (in green),
left HRM, right CDE
I was sent a link to the publisher's blurb on Stuart Campbell, Liz White, Suzie Thomas (eds) 'Competing Values in Archaeological Heritage' (published by Springer), with the thought that I might like to buy the book. In considering that option, I was struck by a couple of things. The first is the question, 'what's it for?'. One of the editors admits that 'the current volume is by no means a conclusive picture of archaeological heritage management and that the parameters and the questions are in constant flux'. In which case, does this (rather expensive) book with its obviously very incomplete coverage (see map if nothing else) serve the purpose of advancing that debate - especially among the stakeholders the book itself identifies? I suggest not. The book serves to make a profit for the publisher (its lavish production intended to bolster the acceptance of the high unit price), the papers in the book are a medium for the career advancement of the individuals publishing there, and a tool in the editors' networking. The book in the format in which it exists cannot however be said to be an effective contribution to the wider public debate.

That I would see as the first 'competing value' that would have been be worth discussing, the function of the archaeological heritage as a tool for hermetic academic elites to strut their stuff and consolidate academic 'power', and the use by corporations to make a fat profit from their self-duplicating literary productions. On the other side of the conflict in values are members of the wider public, a lot of them vitally interested in that (their) heritage but whose contact with the ongoing debates is deliberately curtailed because they take place in such esoteric media as hefty hardback books produced for specialised academic libraries with substantial funding.  

In broader terms, what are these 'competing values of the archaeological heritage'? The selection of texts seem to be rather random, rather than selected to portray the complexities of that question. The abstracts suggest the reader is not, for example, going to get much input on thinking about 'whose heritage?' when that goes beyond a generalised 'public/society' (versus, for example collectors, see below). In a country with multiple cultural layers (and which country has not?), which of them are valued more and why? The stripping of the Acropolis in Athens or Egyptian temples of 'later' elements for example (but then summarily machining certain layers on urban sites to get to others or sample-digging large areas in rural excavations) are cases in point. In central and eastern Europe, where modern border changes have imposed one country and nationality on those of another (in my part of the world, Silesia and Masuria for example) what elements of the archaeological heritage are valued, and which ignored and why? Is this a good or a bad thing or merely inevitable? The cases in the book do not seem to cover the issue of the archaeological heritage in nation-building/identity construction, which is certainly a 'value' that it has had throughout the development of archaeology and I would argue is a paradigm that still functions today. Where is it discussed in this book? Conflict archaeology/ conflict antiquities is another issue, current in modern debate, but does not have a chapter here (and values placed on archaeological heritage in occupation zones). The recent Brazil museum fire and teh Stonehenge tunnel raises the issues of the costs of financing heritage protection by local and national authorities versus other social needs - which leads on to issues of museum de-accession (Sekhemka statue being one example) and the value judgements on which this is based.

There are nine case studies presented in the book, and it is at once striking and irritating that more than half are focussed only on Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological heritage.* A while ago when there was one of the few proper discussions of that 'British' perspective on portable antiquities initiated by David Gill (2010) Gabriel Moshenska wrote that the issue of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record was 'staggeringly unimportant' (sic). Here we see what aims to be a major work published by a prestigious international academic publisher that gives a great deal of importance and space to the issue. But even here this is only in the case of the use of 'metal detectors'. So - if the book discusses conflicts of values in terms of collecting archaeological artefacts - missing here totally even are such basic issues as the 'values' (which are?) of the archaeological heritage treated as object d'art by major auction houses, wealthy buyers (and their values are?) and the "ancient art trade" in general. Not to mention the even more extreme case of the separating out of numismata as a class of (archaeological) object given a exceptionalist value of their own by coin fondlers.

Coverage is pretty skimpy, the whole lot just deals with Europe, and even then there is a limitation of scope, two countries (England and Norway) are the subject of two papers in the collection, one on artefact hunting, one on general AHM issues. The latter topic is only touched on otherwise in a paper on Romania and Moldova and one on Slovakia (and raises the issue why those two countries were chosen to represent the range of issues that could be involved in any discussion of archaeological values) and a Baltic wreck off Finland. The are shown in green in the map on the left above.
Flanders says hi

The papers on CDE, once again, deal with those North Sea littoral countries that see the way forward in 'partnering'  collectors, and this is where a fuller discussion of the conflict in values between archaeologists/heritage professionals and collectors/dealers is most keenly felt. To be honest, in this regard, I think that in archaeology are at least two broad groups of us. There are those that are fed up to the back teeth of hearing the same old PAS-promoted fluff, to which we now have "Flanders" added - but basically regurgitating the same one-sided picture. Then we have another group who think this is all jolly interesting, and even "new" (Claire Smith, former President of the World Archaeological Congress from 2003 to 2014 - forward): 
For the first time, there is broad and nuanced consideration of the value that people who pursue metal detecting can bring to archaeological understandings of the past. Taken together, the chapters in this book call for greater cooperation between archaeologists and non-professional groups, including the metal detectorists that have routinely been demonised by archaeologists. Even as an advocate for a democratisation of cultural heritage management, I must admit I was a little shocked, initially at least, by the views of one group of authors who ‘hope to see professional archaeologists and metal detectorists working side by side on research projects’. (I will leave you to identify the chapter yourself.)

I really do not want to go into here the PAS-legacy arguments of the chapters on the UK, Flanders and what did the guy from Norway write ("implied restrictions in the law preclude the free private use of metal detectors on the same sites, regardless of whether the intention is to rescue endangered archaeological objects in the topsoil")**? This whole PACHI blog is full of why I reject these simplistic and one-sidededly narrow arguments. I am more interested in the two that come from further south, representing the third group, archaeological views that are not driven by the discovery paradigm, but conservationist approaches that see the prime directive as Primum non nocere and sustainability. So the paper from Slovakia, almost in the centre of Europe reveals (don't tell the Ixelles Six or Bangor's Prof Karl):
new strict legal regulation of unauthorised usage of metal detectors in archaeology, came into force. Since this time, estimated number of “treasure hunters” has decreased significantly. Currently, police and courts already know the values of archaeological heritage, and they respect its specific requirements. Although penal legislation should be applied very prudently, in legal and social conditions of states like Slovakia, it plays an important role in prevention of archaeological criminality and solution of its consequences.
And further west we see the same thing in Andalusia [see here]:
The regular enforcement of this policy has led to both a decline in the number of detector users freely seeking archaeological remains at archaeological sites and a proliferation of detector users on beaches. It has also encouraged the integration of detectorists in archaeological research teams. This model emphasises demand management, based on the understanding that archaeological heritage is a finite, non-renewable resource. It thus stands in contrast to other models that aim to manage supply.
Rather than a seemingly random collection of articles, partly repeating what is already available from the same authors in other recent publications, it would have been interesting to see (as a prime example of the conflict of values) the current status quo of the European debate on artefact hunting summarised transnationally. In the context of the volume, it is clear that this in itself embodies a conflict of values within archaeology itself, between the two archaeologies, discovery-fixated and conservation-focussed modes of conceiving what the discipline is basically about. The online publication edited by  Pieterjan Deckers, Michael Lewis and Suzie Thomas ('Topical Issue on Aspects of non-professional metal detecting in Europe')  fell rather short of the mark, being focussed as it was on promoting (and then later defending) the PAS-engendered 'English model'.

There seems to have been very little strategic planning put into creating this volume, and it is difficult to avoid the impression that this is a loose accumulation of ad hoc texts intended primarily to increase publication statistics of its authors and editors, rather than a well-thought out attempt make a proper contribution to any debate as a whole.  But that goes for a lot of these collected volumes these days.This ebook will cost you EUR 74.96...
* 1) one Baltic wreck; 2) developer funding etc in Norway; 3) Archaeological Heritage Resource Management in Romania and Moldova; 4) Metal Detecting in Slovakia; 5) Metal detecting in Scottish and British (sic) Perspectives [see here from 3 years ago]; 6) human remains and British museums, 7) Metal Detecting in Flanders; 8) Metal Detecting in Norway [Cf here]; 9) Metal Detecting in Andalusia)

** I hope that this statement is adequately justified in the text, it sounds like one of the sort of glib excuses that are put up by artefact hunters themselves to shield themselves from criticism rather than an accurate articulation of what they actually do and why. 

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