Monday 5 August 2019

Collecting and Databases

Employees of the Portable Antiquities Scheme might do well to go back to the 'Philosophy of Science 101' notes from university from time to time, it seems that in the praxis of working with artefact hunters and other such folk, they are forgetting something. A disgusted FLO for some reason writes:
No Paul, you advise that we refuse to use a huge body of data on principal because of a vendetta against metal detectorists, hoping that demonstrating a complete lack of flexibility will convince the government that they should change the law when they've always proved reluctant.
He ascribes to me the same motives for questioning current UK policy as the collectors and looters. It would seem that as far as they are concerned, there are NO issues with current policy and the current status quo that suits them, but any criticism must be engendered by some personal grudge, thus "a vendetta against metal detectorists", and my questions about the reliability of the PAS "database" as any kind of archaeological data are just somebody being difficult "on principle", rather than any substantive issues.

Yet my problem is with the jobsworth UK archaeologists that see "engagement" and "partnership" with individuals and groups involved in the Collection-Driven dismantling of the archaeological record in Britain as the only possible response to the issue. They focus their attention on all the lovely artefacts that they can handle as a result, but archaeology is not just about the objects/finds. But for some (in the PAS too, or maybe especially), getting to see and record some of the collectors' collectables has become an end in its own right. They publicly claim it provides "data", archaeological data. This is of course untrue. This kiddy stamp collection is no "data" about the society that printed those stamps, its political and economical system or demography, or about the people that used them, and the specific purposes for and context within which individually they were used. The stamps are collected illustrative trophies, they are artefacts, can be described, but as shown here are not "data" of any kind. They have been selected and presented by a collector - just the same as the majority of the finds in the PAS database. But collecting is not archaeology (as I pointed out earlier today on the basis of a jubilant remark on the unbalanced artefactual content of what the PAS optimistically call their "database") .

I advise that we STOP wasting time and money on treating a loose group of random artefacts that are only a small percentage of what artefact hunters are taking day after day from the archaeological record  as any kind of "data" that represents the content of that record, or a document of what artefact hunters and collectors are taking from it. Its just a loose (unstructured) accumulation of pictures and words about artefacts. Like the kiddie's stamp album page. A collection of scattered pieces of information about some collectors' collections. Nothing else.

The problem is that it is archaeology's refusal to admit that is the case (because I do not think that only I have some kind of "insight" to see that, it's pretty bleeding obvious isn't it?) that is creating the difficulties. For 20 years archaeologists in Britain - and beyond - have been soldiering on in the spirit of "Better than nuffink" and pulling the wool over the public's eyes that UK artefact hunters (even calling them "citizen archaeologists") are actually "helping" rather than destroying. If archaeology, instead of this had had the confidence in itself and the importance of what it is doing, and had for those 20 years presented a loud and united front that as much damage is done to the record in Surrey as it is in Syria by digging random holes all over it and pocketing the accessible collectable bits and displacing the rest. If archaeology had engaged with the public with more than its customary dumbdown, and informed them of the (archaeological/conservation) pros and cons of letting these people just randomly pilfer all those collectables from the common archaeological record... I'd say if they'd done it properly, pretty soon there would be as much social acceptance for metal detecting as for bird-egg collecting, fur farms, whaling and fox-hunting. It is obviously then a short step from that to "convincing the government that they should change the law when they've always proved reluctant".

But that requires archaeologists to actually get their act together on this question, and not simply dismiss the issue and those who raise it in terms such as "a personal vendetta" to cover up their own indolence and clear lack of competence communicating archaeological values to the wider public.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.