Friday 18 January 2019

Damage to Archaeological Stratification in Austria Caused by Artefact Hunting (1)

Wiener schnitzel
Last week, Raimund Karl inserted into a Facebook discussion on the increasing scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record in England and Wales a link to a survey he had done of Austrian archaeological reports that proved something-or-other. He stated there:
[...] if you are truly interested in some more data, based on the examination of c. 1.400 excavation reports, created based on a standardised methodology, on damage being caused to archaeology by 'collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record', here is one:  An empirical examination of archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting'). A case study from Austria. Archäologische Denkmalpflege 2, 2019, 1-34.  It includes lots of examples of collection-driven archaeological exploitation of the archaeological record. five of those are definitely, another seven possibly, attributable to the activities of metal detectorists.

Yet, there seems to be a lot of professional 'collection-driven archaeological exploitation of the archaeological record' going on, that seriously damages the archaeological record. This includes the unsurveyed (whether with or without a metal detector) removal of all topsoil contexts, including all archaeological finds preserved in them, with mechanical diggers in over 94% of all cases of professional, heritage agency-permitted, archaeological fieldwork in the country examined over a period of a full 3 calender years.  It also includes 89 proven cases of 'heritage crimes', committed by professional archaeologists working with a permit by a national heritage agency. While those cases are full well known to the heritage agency in question, which has even published proof positive that they were indeed committed in its official annual report of all archaeological fieldwork conducted in said country, it has not prosecuted a single one of these offences. This, of course, is despite the fact that it is required by law to do so if even only a suspected heritage crime comes to its attention, and has publicly stated it does have to charge every metal detectorist suspected of looting. So I think one does have to wonder who it truly is that causes the extremely serious damage. Just saying'.
Whoah. I'll just add that he goes even further and on p. 26 he actually suggests Austrian archaeologists might be publishing false reports ( "tempting to submit a false negative finding; rather than having to write up a possibly extensive report about archaeology that actually was discovered during their project"). I hope Austrian archaeologists take him up on that. Here, I am not concerned by this second aspect of what Karl writes so vindictively, which clearly serves mainly (unless there actually is another motive - below) to bulk out and blur the focus of the text on damage caused by artefact hunting, and has absolutely nothing to do with what his 'study' purports to be about.

The Background
It is worth paying attention to the structure and format of the text. Like quite a lot Prof Karl writes these days, it sounds rather like not only a strident wannabe nemesis of the Austrian heritage protection services (BDA), but above all what one would expect from a lobbyist of a metal detecting organisation - the same terminology, the same arguments ('Two Wrongs' arguments here) leading to the same conclusions. Karl was a few years ago (maybe still is) a great supporter of Canadian collecting-advocate John Hooker in his anti-archaeological tirades. Karl, like the Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang, seems to side with attempts to 'liberalise' heritage protection laws (at least as far as collection-driven exploitation goes) and a lot of what he writes seems headed in that direction (see also the interviews here and part two here). The selection of the people he attacks (he certainly has it in for Sam Hardy,* is dismissive and less than polite when dealing with me) and the way he goes about it are well within the 'metal detectorist mould' This paper too seems as if it is written with tekkie bed--fellows in mind.

Adding a link to this text to the original Facebook discussion was an odd piece of self-promotion since the discussion there was about artefact hunting in England and Wales not some obscure central European federation with what Karl so stridently attempts to graphically present as bad archaeologists and a corrupt heritage professional mafia. But for Karl, Austria is still the epicentre of the known world, and he wants us all to believe, it seems, that metal detectorists in Austria are on the whole the sweetest, cuddliest, excessively well-meaning, motivated and beneficial hobbyists in the world. It's apparently not them, he says in the paper under review here, but the corrupt archaeological system that's the problem. Yeah. Just like he says the same thing about the equally, no doubt, cuddly British ones, its not the metal detectorists that are preventing the recording of their deprivations, but the PAS (see a pattern here?).

Even though I do not see this piece of work as particularly useful (below - and I refer again to the way he pompously refers to Hardy's text*), I can see the potential it has for being used by lobbyists for Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, and so I think there should be an answer online to set the balance, and they do not just fall from trees. Certainly, I think the balance and objectivity are missing from this piece of Bangorian scholarship. 

First Principles
It seems a minor point, but with my editorial hat on, I'll say as a general comment that this paper is a good illustration of the general principle of getting a professional copy editor to look over a text like this before formal publication, especially when it is one written by a non-native speaker. This is not only to pick up stylistic, grammatical and lexical infelicities, excessive and unsystematic use of scare quotes and  repetition (this particular text is artificially bulked out with loads of superfluous verbiage on side issues and above all tedious repetition), but above all to elicit clarity in the use of terms.

The most important, for me, is the most basic one, how Raimund Karl uses the word 'archaeology'. The issue becomes a burning one right at the beginning, in the ponderous phrasing of the title itself: "archaeological damage caused by unprofessional extraction of archaeology ex situ ('looting')". Leaving aside the first, semantically debatable, adjectival use of the word archaeology, what on earth is the reason for the convoluted phrase that follows it? One could write three paragraphs on the ideology that probably lies behind this (and the attentive reader will also note the parallels with similar phrasing used by the Ixelles Six/Helsinki Gang in their productions). I will just concentrate on that phrase 'extraction of archaeology'. What here is meant by 'archaeology' seems, in the context of what the text purports to be about, quite clearly to refer to objects recovered by artefact hunting. But archaeology is the name of a discipline. Loose objects are not a discipline (and if they were it would be artefactology or antiquitism). Loose objects are not even 'archaeology' in the colloquial usage (not in the dictionary) that employs it as a synonym for 'archaeological evidence' - because that has a context (but see here).

This may look like a pointless quibble, but it is not, because part of the problem with the 'detector debate', if we can call it that, is that many of the people supporting and promoting collecting (among them those with an archaeological training) see only the Objects, the Things (see Moshenka here for example). Their whole approach to the issue is 'discovery'-orientated and 'object-centric'. But that is just one way of looking at the issues, but seems to blind them to the others.

The result of the author's lack of clarity in use of the terms to describe what he is actually talking about is that the first four pages of the text setting out the framework of the study are a conceptual muddle, the word 'archaeology' is used to refer to three or four separate things. I really do not see what is wrong with calling a spade a spade and getting the terms right. If he's employing colloquialisms, what is wrong with looting - without the scare quotes - cognate with the German terms he lists in Table 1? One might suspect that the whole reason for this is to construct a framework for the 'gottcha' accusations  of BDA and Austrian archaeologists on pp 25-8. The crowning example of the author's conceptual muddle though is in the phrase quoted above 'a lot of professional 'collection-driven archaeological exploitation of the archaeological record' going on' when he refers to topsoil stripping and delayed submission of reports. There is not even an imaginary connection here with private artefact collection (unless Karl wants to take his accusations further), this is simply unthinking misuse of a term. As I say, the problem of non-reporting of excavations is something for the Austrian authorities to deal with, but is a separate issue from the use of metal detectors and other tools to selectively 'mine' a site for collectables.

I'll also note those scare quotes. Looting is more or less an accepted term (Google, 13,500 hits) and most of us [?] are clear what is meant, but Karl seems undecided whether it is a misnomer or not and puts the word in scare quotes - although there is one very notable example where he does not, the heading on p. 25, when it is not 'detectorists' that are doing it...

Related to this is also the issue of the author  (p. 8) also treating ancient stone-robbing (etc.) as a form of looting that he regards as comparable to artefact hunting. This serves the author the function of further muddying the waters. It creates a convenient 'Two Wrongs' argument that questions the sense of challenging Collection-Driven exploitation of the archaeological record because there are other ways in which stratification is disturbed by digging. This in turn is leading to the (IMO dodgy) conclusion (p.  32) "we should be very careful who we accuse of 'looting'." Thank goodness he did not go down the road of also accusing earthworms.

In the next part, let us turn to what it is the author (says he) set out to research in this text.

* Mud-slinging: "is one of the worst pieces of 'scholarship' I have seen in a long time (and that is including first year undergraduate essays). It is riddled all over with fundamental and basic methodological flaws and even basic arithmetic errors; and effectively is comparing made up figures with other made up figures".

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