Monday 23 December 2019

"No Skills Required", Jus' say they "Done Well" and You'll be OK

Interview with FLO (KMTV)
Kent FLO Jo Ahmet wrote on PAS social media a fluffy post about an artefact hunter and landowner who had donated an Anglo-Saxon gold pendant to the local museum:
Heard about this fantastic #AngloSaxon #Treasure #Donation to @MaidstoneMuseum ? Before It goes on display, get a sneak peak now and hear the finder talk about its' discovery. video/maidstone-museum receives find more info below: database record 917780 #ResponsibleDetecting #Thanks
This raises a number of issues - like the damaging one of muddling artefact hunting/collecting (whether "responsible" or not) with the Treasure Act. I was particularly annoyed by the fluffiness because this is right next to the Hollingbourne site where (a) Kent FLO reportedly told the artefact hunters "you done well" when quite clearly what they themselves put on social media shows they should have had the book thrown at them. Not only did this new find come from just down the road from Hollingbourne, but the puff video actually opens with a shot of the showcase with the objects concerned in it...

And how annoying it is to see that at last Kent's archaeologists are no longer in denial that this was so obviously a grave the artefact hunters dug right into (see earlier posts on this on this blog). It is a shame they could not bring themselves to criticise the metal detecting group that did this by admitting this right away. We may ask why there was zero media coverage of the inquest itself, or the reward paid out to the barrow diggers. But I could not be bothered to comment on Twitter, fed up as I am with Hollingbourne being swept under the carpet.

But coming straight from discussions in English with my Polish students, I could not let that lexical curiosity "its' discovery" pass without a bit of ribbing: " Eh? Does spending too much time with barely literate detectorists erode apostrophe awareness?". Readers of their forums will have observed that many metal detectorists consider that an apostrophe makes a plural (grocer's apostrophe: "apple's"), confuse "there' with "their", write "could of" instead of "could have", and so on. In general, archaeologists with higher education (as the FLO should be) would not be confusing them. That was my assumption. Durham (Durham again! It's often Durham, isn't it?) professor, David Petts reckons however that I need a lesson in political correctness:
I have no problem with you opposing metal detecting - but what a nasty unpleasant comment that was - reeking of snobbery - have you never made a typo?
Unfortunately, the FLO decided to join in and dispel all doubts:
Kent FLO  @Kent_Finds · 1 g.Thank you David. Also, for once despite my specific learning difficulty I believe ” its’ “, in this context is correct. Being as the sentence is possessive....”it is discovery” is not what I had intended to say
Oops. [In this context, as any Polish student of mine would tell the Kent archaeologist, "specific learning difficulty" or no, "its' " is 100% not correct. But that is by the by.]

In answer to Professor Petts, I tweeted the following:
I have made many typos, but as you see, the FLO says it is not a typo. It is just a mistake. The point is, isn't it, if we are going to use "metal detectorists" as"citizen archaeologists/-ogy", then the ability to observe context and formulate the reports of those observations/ in an articulate and accurate manner is important. The point that is skipped by all those "snobbery" comments is that a major part of the MD community in the UK has very clear literacy and comprehension issues. That is not snobbery, that is a fact we need to face/ in formulating any policy about how we exploit the archaeological record. Or do you think standards don't actually matter any more? "Anything goes" when it comes to engagement with artefact hunting and artefact hunters/collectors? link
This is something I believe in very firmly, if archaeology has to have any value, "anything goes" is not permissible, standards need to be upheld. But this point applies not just to the artefact hunters we work with, but to the archaeologists who should be setting and maintaining standards in any work they do that purports to be archaeology. It was therefore disappointing to follow the other link Mr Ahmet gave in that tweet that started it all. This is the PAS database, funded by public money to create a permanent accurate and reliable record of archaeological finds, with my editor's hat on:
Description: The pendant is ovoid and compromises a Roman intaglio set within an early medieval gold frame. The intaglio is a deep orange in colour and is engraved with two helmeted figures standing side-by-side, the figure on the right appearing to wear female dress and the figure on the right in male dress. Both appear to hold spears before them, and there may be an upright shield on the floor between them. The intaglio is set within a composite gold frame [...] The intaglio's orange colour suggests that it may be made from carnelian. After examining the object The Reverend Doctor Martin Henig comments that the intalgio represents the Godess Minerva and the God Mars, a very rare combination and one that has yet to be found in publication. Conclusion: The object fulfils the Treasure Act (1996) in that it is more than 300 years old and has a precious metal content exceeding 10%.
There are obvious problems here. I do not know what Professor Pett would do if a Durham student whose undergraduate thesis of PhD he was supervising produced a text looking like that. Maybe he'd fear it might be regarded as "snobbery" if he sent it back for the candidate to revise and put in proper English.  Would he recommend that student when they finish their studies at Durham to take up a job requiring outreaching to the pubic and making permanent public records through the medium of the written word?  Or would he recommend the student who can actually spell?

PS coming back to what he said, I do not "oppose metal detecting". I oppose current policies and unhelpful legislation on Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record of all kinds, and in particular, archaeologists who refuse to look at the issue more holistically and merely use political correctness as a bolster and a means to avoid looking at the issues more deeply and (ooo-errr!) trying to find other ways to do something about it.

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