Friday, 9 November 2018

"Detectorists" Take over First Session of Charted Institute for Archaeologists Conference

Lenborough context from above
The draft programme of the upcoming Charted Institute for Archaeologists Conference (Archaeology: values, benefits, and legacies CIfA2019 Annual conference and training event 24 ‐ 26 April 2019, Leeds) is out. Its supposed to be for 'papers, seminars and activities that aim to provide a forum for delegates to discuss and explore ideas around social value, public benefit, and the creation of knowledge'.
It offers the opportunity to [...]  consider how a multitude of stakeholders - archaeologists, policy makers, clients, the public - value our discipline: financially, politically and intellectually and think about how effective we are in communicating that value through the stories we tell. 
Well, golly, what's the first confirmed session on the list? Uh-oh....
'Communicating the values of archaeologists to detectorists and embedding metal detecting into professional practice'. Organiser(s): Keith Westcott (Association of Detectorists (IoD) [...]
From the public’s perspective, metal detecting is a current and significant element within the heritage and archaeological environment. The accessibility of the hobby and the media propensity towards stories of ‘treasure’ offers the public a tangible link to our portable past whether through active participation or visually through news articles and museums exhibits. To many, the discovery of an artefact equates to success resulting from physically searching into the past, whilst little is understood as to how the interpretation of contextual information to be gained from a findspot can further the collective knowledge of our heritage. With artefacts being a depleting resource, it is important to address the social divide between academically educated archaeologists and the hobbyists protecting their current freedoms. How should archaeologists communicate their values in order to positively influence the mindset of detectorists? Is there value in recognising the potential of the metal detector by embedding their use into professional practice? 
Hmm. Anyone understand that? What magic mushrooms have the profession's Chartered Institute been sampling to get to that degree of gobbledygook?  Haven't they got archaeological editors in the Institute? In my opinion, this is all totally pointless.

1) The last bit first.  'Is there value in recognising the potential of the metal detector by embedding their [sic] use into professional practice?' eh? Why is this phrased as a question when many units actually do use them in their professional practice, all over Europe? How many times do you need to explain things to metal detectorists, for goodness' sake?  Tony Gregory was writing about this with Andrew Rogerson 34 years ago (and talking about the things this session wants to address) Gregory, T. and Rogerson, A.J.G., 1984. 'Metal-detecting in archaeological excavation,' Antiquity 58, 179-84. Why cannot detectorists check their facts before setting up a session to discover the wheel?

2) As for  'Communicating the values of archaeologists to detectorists' there is that obvious problem with the ambiguity of that name.  If a bloke has a metal detector he can do a lot of things with it. And in all of them he could call himself a 'detectorist'. He could, which is why I insist that - in order to avoid precisely this ambiguity - we need to be using a specific term for the activity that is of concern (including to this blog and the PAS). That term is - and I am open to alternative suggestions - 'collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record'. What the symmetrists call "metal detecting" is artefact hunting, and that is collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. No?

Now let's say it properly 'Communicating the values of archaeologists to collection-driven exploiters of the archaeological record'. That's what the session is about, so why not say so? But then, does that not reveal that there is a dichotomy, either archaeology OR collection? Well, not surprisingly, yes it does, which is why those who see artefact hunting and collecting as some form of 'citizen ' archaeology try to avoid these issues by using vague anorakish terminology instead of more precise formulations...

'How should archaeologists communicate their values in order to positively influence the mindset of collection-driven exploiters of the archaeological record?', I know, let's set up a scheme, it could be attached to a big museum for example, and invest over a million quid a year for decade upon decade to do that. Sort of like the Isolated Finds Program (IFP) once run in Florida, or that... oh, what's it called, you know that little thingy the British Museum has just started to run, oh what's it called? Finds, something - no, the something-antiquities-something. It's on the tip of my tongue. Is that not a way to communicate the values of archaeologists to all finders? You know: 
1) to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
2) to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
3) to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
4) to encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders
Does the CIfA not think it really is doing what it says on the box? (If they do, we are in agreement, but if they do think that, it is a shame they do not explicitly say so.).

Far more valid would be a CIfA session on the statement at the beginning of that proposal (written properly it is): From the public’s perspective, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is a current and significant element within the heritage and archaeological environment.  Does that not sound a bit off from the point of view of a statement being discussed in the CIfA? Should collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record be any part of the 'heritage' (what kind of heritage do private artefact collections represent? And is it an archaeological one?) and should it be any part of any archaeological (as opposed to antiquarian) environment? What failures lie behind the British public seeing what is called looting in most other countries and regarded as a problem being seen as a positive activity? I'd say both concepts are highly debatable, but to debate it properly, first you have to use the correct terms describing the activity. And it looks to me from this session proposal at their 'professional' conference, as if the CIfA is not ready for that yet.

Finally CIfA, what 'interpretation of contextual information to be gained from a findspot' do you envisage here in a keyhole dug down blindly by a metal detectorist because the machine signalled a metal something at 'X-marks the spot'? Context can be understood by the application of proper methodological means to recognizse and document it (see the post 'Lenborough Farmer wants More Dosh' PACHI Thursday, 31 December 2015 [with pictures for those that have problems with the abstractions of words]). I think if Mr Westcott is proposing a context-driven exploitation of the archaeological record instead of an object-centred one, then that rather knackers the idea of having hobby 'metal detecting' at all. what he's proposing is that instead of hoiking, these hobbyists should conduct properly conducted, observed and documented excavations. And how do we communicate archaeological values to amateur archaeologists is what he's asking.  

What the 'detectorist' cannot see in a narrow hole dug down blindly from above

Of course, we should not forget that one of the recommendations of the 2008 Nighthawking Report (p. 110, point 11.1.10) was 

Integrate metal detecting into the archaeological process, including development control briefs. This should apply to all archaeological investigations, not just developer-funded work. ALGAO and the PAS have agreed to promote this process. Archaeologists need to be aware of measures which they can take to protect excavation sites in their care such as those being developed by Kent Police (Section 9.8).  

ALGAO and PAS do not seem to have made  much progress in achieving this aim, now the CIfA is having a go - with the help of a non-existent 'Institute' of artefact hunters.

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