Saturday, 16 March 2019

What' in a Name? Knowledge Theft and Destruction by any Other Name is still Knowledge Theft and Destruction

UK's theft epidemic
In the wake of me saying on social media (in the wake of the  Cadbury's Freddos marketing campaign) that I am of the opinion that 6800 UK archaeologists should take a harder stand on artefact hunting and collecting, I am being cajoled by a fellow archaeologist on Twitter: 
[...] Can we agree that some metal detecting is not as destructive as other types? Promote that and go from there. [...]
This is a good example of the issue-dodging weasel-wordery used by the supporters of collectors. If by 'metal detecting' we mean the use of these tools to find hidden objects in airports and schools or in food products leaving a factory production line, or by archaeologists in a properly-designed archaeological survey with a specified research agenda and methodology, then the "metal detecting" is not damaging the archaeological record as much as when the tool is used to accumulate random but selected collectables from a site. I do not think the author of those words could legitimately ask me "Can we agree that some Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record is not as destructive as other types?". Yet that is exactly how a metal detector is used by the majority of (perhaps) 27000 active metal detector users in the UK.

If you think about the effects of collecting on the remaining parts of the archaeological record of that site, and is aware just how selective the pickup always is in artefact hunting and collecting and therefore the comparative worthlessness of any "x-marks the spot" 'documentation' compiled in the collecting process, then that is an evident nonsense. Which is why, I guess, the lazier archaeologists will employ the vaguer terminology in favour of naming the process as what it is.

There are a host of reasons why archaeologists, and archaeological bodies, in Britain should not  'promote' ANY kind of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, whether with metal detectors or unaided spades, whether it is called "responsible" or not. I doubt that there is a  way to "responsibly rob" somebody, and likewise I do not think there is any truly responsible way to loot the archaeological record for mere collectables.

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