Wednesday 17 June 2020

Metal detecting at CIfA in Leeds (3) What is Lost through Artefact Hunting

This post follows on from the one above and takes a look at the videos resulting from the session on "metal detectors" that for some reason, the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists decided to have at  their Leeds meeting (see above for the setting).

The second video seems on a similar pattern as the first. Vicky Nash talks about 'Using structured, supervised metal detecting surveys as a technique for investigating archaeological potential in commercial developments': (21 mins)
Since 2010 the Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service have been requesting archaeological contractors with the support of local metal detecting clubs to undertake structured supervised metal detecting surveys on sites subject to planning applications. The aim of this survey is to assess the application areas potential for subsurface archaeological remains not identified by historical mapping. This approach has been used effectively on a number of sites, in some cases allowing the identification of particular locations which may require further investigation or concluding that the archaeological potential of an area has been addressed by the recovery and analysis of the plough soil assemblage. Using the work of the Cheshire Archaeology Planning Advisory Service as an example I hope to show how supervised metal detecting surveys have a valuable role to play within professional archaeological practice either alongside other techniques such as fieldwalking and geophysical survey or as a standalone approach. 
Here's another one that has the format of "me just reading the slides to you", but her texts are longer (you'll not miss a lot by turning the sound off and reading the slides at your own pace).  Again, this seems to be the Brits rediscovering the wheel, if you have a metal detector survey, you find more metal objects... and....? If you do it using archaeological methods, you get archaeologically useful results... Ummmm...

Ms Nash goes through one example, Congleton Road, Sandbach (here). Then goes through the (metal) "things found" and what they look like plotted on a plan (no mention of whether other finds were collected and plotted) She has a slide showing the "positives" of archaeological metal detector surveys:

I wonder how many CIfA members pointed out in the comments session afterwards that these are the very same negatives that are related to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record with metal detectors. Vicky Nash shows here precisely what information is lost by unsystematic hoiking with minimal record, and what the scale of that loss is in the case of a single site. Hoiking the "finds" is one thing, what their position (mutual positions) tells us is another. the PAS records only the one, not the other. Indeed, look at the third point of her "negatives". This, actually is the key point that some of us have been hammering on and on about for years. metal detecting destroys sites:

There is no space here to consider some of the things she says about these slides - by this stage she is commenting more on the slides rather than just reading them. There are however a number of points she makes that should be considered by supporters (and detractors) of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. The presenter herself includes some in a slide called 'things to consider':

Here, one notices a pretty major disconnect between archaeology and the collector. The whole idea here is that volunteer artefact hunters spend hours and days systematically searching according to a regime finding stuff for the archaeologists. Who then throw lots of it away after they've done their stuff. Here I would like to see some discussion of the idea that stuff that is not retained for the project archive  instead of being discarded, is (the proper paperwork with the landowner having been completed) offered to the finder - or if not, why not. Involving collectors on a project requires addressing some of the issues collectors raise about what archaeologists do with artefacts - the traffic of "communication of values" cannot be just one way ("because we say so"). 

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