Tuesday 23 June 2020

New Web Resource: What the PAS is Not Telling You About "Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility"

Over lockdown, I put together a web resource called "Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility" (draft 1.1) which is at present in blog format, but I hope to migrate its revised contents to a website in the future.*

The premise is that if heritage professionals and the media are talking about "responsible metal detecting/artefact hunting" as a phenomenon that is having a positive effect and not at all damaging to the archaeological resource, then what does that look like? Sure, there is a "Code" but it does not really cover very much, and leaves a lot of questions open.

My webpage aims to open discussion on how to close those gaps from an archaeological point of view and the position of the primacy of preservation. I do not know how much discussion it will get from British archaeologists, but nothing ventured... and they themselves (PAS included) have never tried to do anything like this, which rather puts them at a disadvantage in any discussion.

I wanted it to be as objective as possible. In my text, I assume there IS some form of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record that can (truly, not nominally) be called "responsible", that this IS possible to achieve, given sincerity and dedication of those collectors "passionately interested in (preserving, studying and displaying) the past". On that premise that there is a non-malevolent form of collecting possible, and people that want to do it, I set out exploring in more detail what that means from the point of view of doing the activity in a way that damages the finite and fragile archaeological record the least.

I could not do this myself, I needed a co-author that steps aside from the bare theory and is able to put that in the context of artefact hunting practice, even if this means being sharply critical. Sadly, I was unable to find a British archaeologist to fulfil this role, but was lucky to persuade the nominal central European archaeologist, my colleague Tamara Prava-Kroftova (half sister of another well-known archaeologist) to give metal detectorists and other artefact hunters a running commentary. I have always said they need a comic-book character to get the message over, here is one.

This actually took a lot of time and effort to put together, I had to fit this in between my other work and other lockdown activities. I learnt a lot by trying to explain concepts we all take a little for granted to an outside audience and trying to make it all fit together, and work out how to explain it as clearly as possible. I cannot help think  however that the 30+ staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 3+ months of lockdown (a) could as a collaborative task have put together something like this with less effort, and (b) by now jolly well ought to have done to earn their keep. But now, I and Ms Kroftova have proposed for them a justified benchmark of what can be considered "Best practice" and "responsible artefact hunting/collecting". It's my present for them. I look forward to seeing them either using it, or discussing where (and why) our visions part.

Comments are welcome (over there or here below), they are however moderated and subject to my usual conditions. Please use real names. Thanks. 

* I am not happy with the blog template - especially what it does with quotations - and may migrate it to another one later but in the same place for now.

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