Thursday 2 April 2020

Helen Geake on Archaeology vs. Metal Detecting

DigVentures 'Time Team' talk online:
Time Team's Helen Geake on Archaeology vs. Metal Detecting
DigNation 20 tickets are now on sale: Once upon a time, archaeologists frowned upon metal detecting. What was wrong with it? Why were so many against it? And why do so many archaeologists embrace it today? In this talk, Helen Geake traces the fascinating history of the developing relationship between archaeologists and detectorists. Slides available here:
"This talk was given at DigNation, a crowdfunded festival organised by DigVentures and Sir Tony Robinson in honour of beloved Time Team archaeologist Mick Aston. Learn more at"

Slides, nothing revelationary, the same old stuff, Derrynaflan chalice, Salisbury hoard, Icklingham bronzes, Wansborough. Basically if you were putting together a talk on this twenty years ago, these are the cases you'd have used then. Twenty years ago. So that was 20 years ago, and now? Things have moved on in 20 years, Jimmy Saville does not now host Top of the Pops. There have been papers produced, for example by David Gill and Sam Hardy, about why collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is still a problem. There is a RESCUE document setting out its views on why they 'frown' on what is now happening, not 20 years ago. This PACHI blog, Heritage Journal, Conflict antiquitiesAncient Heritage (and a few others) are full of cases where what metal detectorists do is highly problematic.* Why are they not in this talk, just some ancient old case from 20 years ago? Perhaps just a supremely lazy way to get out of thinking a bit about what some archaeologists are saying about the archaeological effects of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record, and the relationship between archaeology and artefact collectors?

Indeed, what kind of a question is "what WAS wrong with Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record?" A lazy one that dodges current issues. And they want you to buy tickets to listen to her answer.

Obviously she's going to go for the "plough damage" argument (slides 18-25). She's going to go for the "wotta lotta stuff we got - and a lot of its very shiny" theme (slides 28-30). She does not call a certain controversial piece of metalwork the "so-called Crosby Garrett  helmet" - why?

Looking at these slides I get the feeling that the answer to the question "What was wrong with it? Why were so many against it? is going to be a lazy "because nighthawks" (slide 11). Hmm. Is that really "it"?  Slide 32 is a bit of puff for the facadist "Institute of Metal Detectorists".

Slide 37 illustrates Ms Geake's known views on what she calls "accidental losses", that raise a WHOLE load of questions when you are dealing with the items brought along to a PAS FLO for recording - given what we actually know about what finds they take and what they know the FLOs are not going to bother with. These are not "accidental losses" (in the past) but an accidental accumulation of collectables that is a small proportion of a larger number of unreported objects. This is just completely bonkers.

"And why do so many [British - the rest do not] archaeologists embrace Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record today?"  My guess is that few of them have sat down and thought it through properly to the end, just got excited about all those exciting and interesting goodies for them to write about, rather than what they represent.

* PACHI has written about cases like Lenborough, Holborough, Holt, Bellingham, Licking Doggie (Gloucestershire) hoard (and here at Christie's) ,  Dunelme hoard’, Simon Wick's shop, David Williams' brooches, the disappearing hoard (shhhh), the Laindon summerhouse find, the Alexandrian tetras, and many many more.... 

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