Friday 31 July 2020

"Metal detectors found more than 70 treasures across Essex in 2019"

Museum like no other
Ellis Whitehouse Metal detectors found more than 70 treasures in Essex', Basildon Canvey Southend Echo, 8th June
Essex's detectorists made 74 treasure finds last year – among more than 1,000 such discoveries across England and Wales. The British Museum said it was pleasing to see local museums across the country acquiring these "important archaeological objects", but urged treasure hunters to follow the laws surrounding metal detecting.[...] Lincolnshire was the best area for treasure, with 89 finds last year alone. In contrast, no treasure whatsoever was found in 23 areas.[...] With metal detecting being permitted again as lockdown lifts, Mr Richardson urged people to continue to follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting and report their discoveries, including Treasure.
Interestingly, absolutely no mention here of the Essex FLO Sophie Flynn. The journalists were probably wary of talking to her as she has an unapologetically irrational approach to discussing issues connected with metal detectorists finds in her region.

Thursday 30 July 2020

"My Friend Offered me onto his Permission"

Smirking - brought them
back the next day
Excavation of archaeological contexts by an illiterate. Can you imagine what a report would look like were these two to responsibly write one? Anyway here from "there" own mouths (Daniel Duke and Peter Major, 'My Friend Offered me onto his Permission' Minelab wreckers 25 Jun 2020):
As the tittle say my friend offered me onto his permission armed with his brand new 15 inch coil and with mine we were ready for a day detecting with looking at the land looked nice started off in a little field with a phone mask not a problem with the Equinox 800 and my friends equinox 600 with a few adjustments we were detecting after hunting for a couple hours and me getting couple of artefacts and a silver sixpence and my friend with couple more finds we moved on to the next field for another hunt and with being further away from the mast with tamed both Equinox up to full sensitivity for the hunt after a hour or 2 with not much coming up I moved back into the first field while my friend work his way down to the same field. I heard him shout me dan come here So went to see him for him to say theirs bronze in the hole so with moving a bit of dirt and looking at him I said that’s an axe head Bronze Age axe head at that he was gobsmacked and he started to unearth the Bronze Age axe head as it came to light the excitement was real with him only detecting for 10 months was a day to remember so I thought let’s check the hole only to hear the pin pointer go off again I said to him theirs more so we started to move more dirt from the hole only to see the edge of another axe head so we contacted our friend and detecting expert Graham Rushton from UNERTHEDUK for advice then about 3 inches below the first one as we got that one out just to the left hand side there was another signal from the pin pointer I said to him theirs another we were jumping with joy with what we were unearthing and for Pete to discover this as his first Bronze Age find was summit else so we carried on to dig the third pal stave axe head out the hole and with more checking there was no more signals petes face was a picture to what he has discovered we were both amazed and a day we will never forget if finding a hoard of 3 Bronze Age pal stave axe heads dating to 3500 years old we went home that day thinking what else could be their
There's the British school system for you. Now how are "archaeologists going to train" people like these who cannot distinguish there/their or use punctuation? There's more:
Different patina, will the landscape
 history of this area ever be known?
This lead us to have another dig to the same farm a day later with the heat this day and detecting coming harder we ventured into a new field not far away from the farm house after searching for around 3 hours with just the odd bit of lead and a copper George the third I came across a strong signal on the Equinox 800 in all direction and it being a signal for a long item so thought something big here so started to dig my plug in this hard rocky ground got down to about six inch and seen bronze I thought no it’s happening again is it a axe head so after moving more dirt I saw a point and thought what is this and slowly removed more dirt to reveal more of the artefact and knew what it was so shouted Pete and said we hit it again mate As he came running over and I removed the artefact from the ground only to reveal it to be a Bronze Age spear head in near mint condition and sharp as hell I couldn’t believe what I just found on the same farm me and Pete were over joyed jumping around What a couple of days we had detecting was unreal all finds are getting reported to flo and the farmer is over joyed with the discover on his land this is all to be continued with future digs We would like to thank Greame Rushton from UNEARTHEDUK for the advice he gave us on the hoard and spear head we found his advice has been invaluable and we’re we purchased our Minelab Detector’s and accessories
One wonders what "advice" this "expert" gave, and why (if they are going to report these loose items  to the FLO), why they did not contact the PAS for that "advice". It's what it is there for, to encourage best practice. 

My reader who spotted this and realised that it referred to sites local to him notes ruefully: 
"You could, until about 15 years ago, count the number of detectorists in this area on fingers and toes. Then the PAS started to publicise themselves through every treasure find and now we must have more than ten times that number [...] Don't they look pleased with themselves with their smug 'aren't we the dogs bollocks smirks'.."
It is going to take a long time to undo the effects of the PAS insistence that 'anything goes' as "responsible detecting". What these blokes did is damaging and therefore NOT (I don't care what PAS says) anything like a responsible way to treat the archaeological context these items were hoiked from. But they'll go along to Lancashire Museum when the pandemic is over and most likely get a pat on the head. 

Archaeologists will train amateur metal detectorists

Archaeologists being trained in
metal detecting, Finland (SuALT)
Mark Bridge, 'Archaeologists will train amateur metal detectorists' the Times Thursday July 30 2020
Archaeologists could help to train Britain’s growing army of metal detectorists under plans to promote responsible detecting. Historic England has awarded £50,000 to explore setting up an Institute of Detectorists to promote good practice and provide courses in collaboration with professionals. It would also seek to build bridges with archaeologists, some of whom have reservations about the hobby, and to examine how detecting has been beneficial in the investigation of archaeological sites and landscapes.
Oh yeah? That's going to be the first substantive discussion on that idea in 20 years? I mean an actual discussion with real facts and counter-facts rather than the usual shouting-down we saw from the PAS?

And what are they going to be 'trained' in, pray? Closing the gates and filling in their holes, or something more complex? All 27000 of them? Boggled will the minds be.

Thomas and Pitblado Uravelling (I): Compliance with Deckers

In their response to the 'debate' articles in Antiquity Pitblado and Thomas (2020 'Unravelling the spectra of Stewards and Collectors') deal quite succinctly with the text of Pieterjan Deckers (for link, see my comments on it here):
As our views align closely with those expressed by Deckers (2020), we welcome his contribution but will not say much more about it in this response.
Actually, they do not say anything about it at all, making it a bit of a waste of space in a debate. It is like he has nothing particularly relevant to say.

So, here's an equally pathetic unicorn.

Now for their response to SAA president Watkins...

Thomas and Pitblado Uravelling (II): Response to Watkins

Is this teaching archaeology and
preserving the archaeological
record? (Lenborough Hoard)
In their response to the 'debate' articles in Antiquity Pitblado and Thomas (2020 'Unravelling the spectra of Stewards and Collectors') at the end of their text respond to SAA president Watkins' comments (for link, see my comments on it here).

I wonder what the motivation is behind this. They say that while Watson 'highlights Society bylaws and principles that denounce looting', he does it 'without also recognising the importance of equally relevant principles and bylaws related to stewardship (e.g. Principle 1) and public education (e.g. Principle 4)'. That would be fair enough IF we ascertain that what those principles define as stewardship applies to what Pitblado and Thomas are talking about. One click of the mouse (it's all it takes ladies) shows that its not, because the SAA code is clearly and consistently talking about "the archaeological record" and not individual loose items ripped from it. Likewise a click of the mouse...  and oh dear:
Archaeologists should reach out to, and participate in cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record [...].
What kind of preservation of the archaeological record is extracting diagnostic finds from a surface scatter or stripping off all the flint tools? How do you teach archaeology (as opposed to artefactology) by metal detecting?

The Helsinki group may justify their research grants, networking 'mobility' jaunts and other projects by claiming they are 'encouraging public participation in archaeology'. They do not seem to me to have ever defined just what is archaeology. And I think they really ought to.

They apply a Two Wrongs Argument (beloved of collectors generally)
ongoing disturbance of archaeological sites [...] is an occupational hazard of the invasive methods of professional archaeologists, as well as those of hobbyists and looters. 
They then say that 'as archaeologists we mitigate these invasive methods by documenting as much as possible' hmm, that is part of what archaeology is, in fact. They then go on:
It is problematic, however, to assume, as Watkins seems to do, that only archaeologists can capture or share trustworthy contextual information. This is an example of the stereotyping of nonprofessionals by professional archaeologists that we take to task in our debate piece. 
Their dismissal of it illustrates their confusion, and the confusion that emerges from the PAS 'citizen archaeology' model of artefact hunting. If an artefact hunter captures[observes and documents] and shares trustworthy detailed contextual information, why are they then not amateur archaeologists? Nobody has any problems with amateur archaeologists, many of us have worked with them, helped them.

The problem that Pitblado and Thomas seem not to see is if somebody removes archaeological material from an archaeological deposit or assemblage and does not or cannot observe and document and then share trustworthy contextual information, then they are not archaeologists and are doing archaeological damage.

The problem for their 'spectrum' is that surely the only kind of "responsible" artefact hunting there can be would be  the first kind (therefore archaeology), and not the second kind, selfish acquisitive looting?

Which group is it when an artefact hunter wanders across a complex structured surface site (a lithics scatter for example), picks up a few tools that take their fancy, and then report, "I found them behind that hedge over there"? Is that archaeology? Is that "trustworthy detailed contextual information" about the site (not object) when the composition and nature of the wider artefact scatter(s) and the precise position of the sampled items within it/them were not recorded? And then if there is no such information about what these people did to that site (not object) is it really "ethical archaeological practice" to have anything to do with it? How?

But now we can turn to their response to the thought-provoking text by Morag Kersel.

Thomas and Pitblado Uravelling (III): Deconstructing Their Response on Engaging With Collectors' Demand

European artefact hunters, Pitblado
and Thomas are going to tell them
how important context is and ask them
to hang up their metal detectors. Matter
of "will and effort". Watch them. 
In their response to the 'debate' articles in Antiquity Pitblado and Thomas (2020 'Unravelling the spectra of Stewards and Collectors') allot quite a bit of space to answering Morag Kersel's points  (for link, see my comments on it here). First of all, the sentence that I consider to be the key to all this is:
Kersel also emphasises what she sees as the importance of the definition(s) [...]  While we sympathise with the desire for black and white categories, we have found in our own work that hard and fast labels are generally unhelpful and sometimes counterproductive
Defining precisely what it is we are talking about is crucial, the only reason not to is so you can talk waffle. And waffle is what we find in this text. This is pretty symptomatic:
These messages can prompt receptive private artefact stewards to donate material they already have to museums and to cease further collecting—both clear mitigations of harm (Pitblado 2014). 
I can see it now, the Barsettshire Museum gratefully allotting shelf space to the 'Baz Thugwit collection of assorted bits of metal found near Ambleton-on-Slyme or thereabouts', from twenty years collecting. And a "receptive" (wasn't that "responsive"?) collector for Pitblado and Thomas is one that is going to give up being a collector when asked (Renfrew said in 2000 "the only good collector is an ex-collector").

There is also total lack of clarity in understanding how these two authors see archaeology. They talk about:
engaging with law-abiding collectors who share the archaeologists’ interest in ‘thinking from’ rather than ‘about’ things
There seems to be some confusion here. Loose objects are the preserve of museology and Jonathan Clutterbuck antiquarianism. It seems rather rash to try and make of all of archaeology merely "old-thingology". Yet that is what they do when they say:
Anyone who acquires material ‘collects’; both archaeologists and looters are ‘collectors’ in the strictest sense. Archaeologists collect artefacts legally, document their finds thoroughly, care not about the artefacts per se but about the people who made them, and ensure that their finds come to rest in the public sphere. Looters collect and/or sell artefacts illegally on the private market, caring neither about their provenance nor the people who made them. 
Whatever the people affiliated with Helsiniki think, archaeologists do not undertake reasearch just to "collect artefacts". I also suspect neither of these authors have ever spent much time listening to collectors talking about their objects because a lot of it is very much connected with the "people who made" and used them. Indeed what is this "thinking from things" they are talking about?

Again we find a call to "prioritise the needs of present-day communities, and those needs may not align with the wishes of archaeological science and its practitioners". Indeed, and most members of the public - stakeholders in the heritage - are neither archaeologists nor collectors. Yet Pitblado and Thomas here depict collectors as representing "the public". No, they don't. So this is nonsense:
In general, local populations care about their own heritage and that of others who occupied a place before them. We (and the SAA) advocate engaging responsible local collectors because doing so makes that heritage more accessible to them
To them, who? Local populations? They somehow benefit that Baz Thugwit has a whole lot of Roman brooches and medieval buckles in his shed and a quernstone under the bed? This is chalk and cheese, and this is precisely the effect of avoiding setting out in black and white what actually we are talking about. Fluff and unicorns.

Likewise, I do not understand this:
Our piece points out that archaeologists can, without contradiction, simultaneously acknowledge the harm collecting can cause and work to mitigate that harm by engaging with law-abiding collectors [...]
So we deal with the problems caused on the roads by people driving too fast by engaging with the law-abiding drivers that never speed, and ... what? The feelgood "solution" proposed by P and T does not address the harm done by artefact hunting and collecting, it skips that issue entirely by saying "not all collectors' do harm, we can work with the ones that don't, or don't want to ("responsive")"..., but that does not resolve the problem. This is just facadism. It is the same type of facadism that the PAS and its supporters promote, and when people like Sam Hardy attempt to assess the depth of the problem behind the facade, the Ixelles Six (of which Thomas is a member) write a nasty attack deflecting attention from the issue. It's what we see here, but now Prof Pitblado is roped in as support.

Writing in an archaeological journal published in England, these two writers assert that this engagement of artefact hunters is easy, they reckon:
Engaging people simply requires will and effort. Once engaged, archaeologists can share why context is so important to us and how one can be the best possible steward of material in the private sphere. 
No, actually it is not. Please Prof. Pitblado, spend a month on a typical British metal detecting forum or Fudgeworld facebook page (you have to register) and show us how it is done. "Share" there "why context is important" and "how one can be the best possible steward of material in the private sphere" (you'll have to use shorter words though). Then come back and tell us about the progress you made. I doubt you'll last two months. Engaging "people" is not the same as telling a group of people already engaged in doing an activity that you've got a better way. The misconception is that there is some "common interest", OK Prof. Pitblado, put that to the test with a group of collectors in the country where the way has been smoothed by 23+ years of PAS outreach on behalf of archaeology. Go on. Prove your point on what should be the most fertile ground imaginable. Ask your co-author to give some tips how to do it.  

If I was as patronising as Pitblado and Thomas, I'd comment here about this:
What a wonderfully teachable moment.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

UK Vandals pillage heritage sites during lockdown

There has been a surge of castle break-ins, vandalism of ancient sites and illegal metal detecting as heritage thieves target Britain's history during the Covid19 pandemic lockdown. It is good to see that the trashing of ancient sites by metal detector wielding looters is treated on a par with vandalism in general  (Rory Tingle, 'UK Vandals pillage heritage sites during lockdown: Surge in castle break-ins, vandalism of ancient sites and illegal metal detecting', Mailonline, 29 July 2020).
There has been a rise in reports of illegal metal detecting by Hadrian's Wall, with several thefts recorded near Horsley in Northumberland. On July 12, police were tipped off about a suspicious car in the area and went on to arrest a 44-year-old man on suspicion of theft. Similar incidents were investigated by Cheshire Police as part of its Operation Roudhouse investigation, which involved a series of raids that led to four arrests. [...] Scotland has also seen a spate of heritage crimes during the lockdown. Since the end of March, six people have been arrested for illegal metal detecting, and a report was made of somebody digging at the world-famous Callanish Standing Stones on the Isles of Lewis. [...]. Inspector Alan Dron, chairman of the Scottish Heritage Crime Group, said: 'Over the lockdown period from April to June, rural crime fell by 39 per cent this year, fly tipping spiked and heritage crime also rose. It was one of the areas where we saw a significant increase.  

Kersel: Elegant, Archaeological and Cuts to the Point

What we are discussing in reality
Is this "Responsible" if the artefact
 hunters show some of the artefacts
that  they've removed, and say which
 hole they came from and how far
down, and then look after them nicely?
 I think not (Fifa, Jordan 2016)
The fourth and final response to the Thomas and Pitblado piece in Antiquity is an intelligent and well-written two pages that brings on-the-ground experience to the feelgood waffle of the preceding three texts (Morag Kersel, 'Engaging with Demand and Destruction' ). The title makes clear that naive engaging with collectors is an engagement with the commodification of archaeological material and the destruction of archaeological evidence. The first paragraph elegantly and succinctly summarises the eight pages of the original protagonists (though ending with the significant point that their dichotomy 'archaeologists/collector stewards' omits a mention of how the local populations benefit from what is proposed).

The second and third paragraphs relate what Thomas and Pitblado assert to what  Kersel has determined from collectors and artefact hunters actually on the ground, about their motivations and attitudes. She also questions how T and P define "stewards" (and collectors).

She then addresses the fundamental question that Thomas and Pitblado ignore (I'd put the word "responsible" in inverted commas there):
we should also ask whether the responsible and responsive acquisition of artefacts—by stewards or collectors—causes harm [...] In In the Holy Land and in the UK, ongoing demand for both legal and illegal objects can and does result in the ruin of archaeological landscapes. While Thomas and Pitblado are correct to advocate for greater collaboration with responsible and responsive stewards and collectors, this engagement must be one that highlights the clear connection between demand for artefacts and the destruction of archaeological sites and objects. .
and the information they provide when not treated as loose collectable commodities.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

UNESCO Strengthens its Database on National Laws for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

Since 2005 UNESCO has facilitated online access to its database on national legislation for the protection of cultural heritage—NATLAWS, an international tool for combating the illicit traffic in cultural property. This database allows users to search by keywords, name, country, year of publication, and contains crucial country information, such as contacts of national authorities responsible for the export of cultural goods or general information on the ministries responsible. To date UNESCO holds a large number of physical archives of national legislations transmitted by Member States since the 1950s.

In 2019 UNESCO began to update the NATLAWS database. This project aims to improve the quality of the documents available in the database and to transform its interface making it more accessible to users. This complete overhaul was made possible thanks to financial support from Switzerland. An inventory of missing laws is also underway, and a comprehensive index of cultural heritage laws has been created.

The project in progress since 2019 involves scanning all the existing documentation in high-definition. This initiative will safeguard the institutional memory that these archives represent. In total, the NATLAWS database includes 3022 different laws, decrees and amendments, allowing the user to easily access the title of the law, but also the content of the document.

The database is accessible here.

Rand Corporation Allegedly "Vindicates Antiquities Trade"

There's some real comedy gold on the internet these days around a recent RAND Corporation report that came out in May (Matthew Sargent, James V. Marrone, Alexandra Evans, Bilyana Lilly, Erik Nemeth, Stephen Dalzell 2020, 'Tracking and Disrupting the Illicit Antiquities Trade with Open Source Data' Santa Monica CA, USA). I downloaded the text a while ago, thinking to give it some attention, but took some time getting around to it. As, it seems did the antiquities trade lobby. I'm going to draw attention here to some of the things that lot have been saying and hope to get into the report itself next week. There are four texts worth noting as they are typical examples of the sort of crap dealers get up to. Just for now, take it that they basically have either got the wrong end of the stick about the report itself and/or are misrepresenting it in a most blatant way:
1) Anon ("ADA"), Rand Corporation Demolishes Current Thinking on Antiquities Trafficking. June 5th 2020;
2) Kate Fitz Gibbon, 'RAND Corporation Debunks Facebook and Dark Web Ties to Illegal Antiquities', Cultural Property News (ACCP) July 19th 2020;
3) Riah Pryor, 'Extent of Trade in Looted Antiquities is Exaggerated, Report Claims' The Art Newspaper 325, July?August 2020.
4) Anon, 'Art Industry News: A New Study Says the Size of the Illegal Antiquities Trade Has Been Wildly Overstated + Other Stories' Artnet News, July 28, 2020
I think the real status of the fuss is summed up by two comments in the AN article (which seems to draw on the ADA text):
Those in the trade have been quick to back the findings. Vincent Geerling, the chairman of the Association of Dealers in Ancient Art [IADAA], says “the report confirms everything we have been saying for years, including who is responsible for the misleading picture being given and why.”
Others say the debate over the scale of the trade has long been had. “The report is correct in its main conclusions, though they are what many specialists have been saying for some time,” says Peter Campbell, a maritime archaeologist who has written on antiquities trafficking.
The report is not without its problems, a major one of these is that it follows the US State Department sponsored narrative of the primacy of ISIL-looting (including, p.1, the Abu-Sayyaf documents)* and antiquities "funding terrorism" (sic). So it's not surprising that when the evidence is marshalled, a different picture emerges, as several of us have long argued (Sam Hardy, Michael Press, Chris Jones, myself and others). The problem with the trade lobbies' take on matters is their "what everybody says [about the antiquities trade]" in fact is "what some US journalist/not-terribly well-prepared US journalists have been saying".

Also it is worth recording that ADA notes specifically that (on page 3-introduction)** "the report blames “bloggers, journalists and advocacy groups” who pen sensational headlines for perpetuating the distortion". I only wish I could think of those sexy "headlines" that would replace my readers reading the text.

The ADA text starts off by stating, apparently in all seriousness, that the RAND report "reveals" that the "antiquities trade is NOT worth x-billion dollars". ADA might like to point us in the direction of any text in the last ten years when any serious researcher into the antiquities market says it is. Nevertheless there are many texts indicating that maintaining this straw man argument is a fixation mainly of the antiquities dealers and their lobbyists. They claim that the report shows that "illicit trade in antiquities is largely ad hoc rather than organised" obviously they missed the bits of the report that show it is both. Quoting as evidence of a smaller market and demand the "relatively low sell-through rates of legitimate antiquities at auction and through galleries" does tend to ignore the price factor. I did a post on some glass vessels sold at Christies a while ago for a major markup on the price that exactly the same items would fetch on eBay. The report does look at online sales, but somehow the conclusions drawn on that basis (and an old article of Roger Bland) seem not to have been noticed by ADA.
ADA Chairperson (Linkedin)
“ADA chairman Joanna van der Lande said: “As with so many of my colleagues and fellow association members, I am delighted that this report, from arguably the most respected independent research organisation in the US, confirms what we have been saying for years. “In exposing the propaganda and misinformation, the RAND Corporation also highlights how major international policy has been shaped by dishonest agendas rather than solid evidence, and this is truly shocking when one considers the cost not only to the legitimate art market, but also to cultural heritage protection. Those responsible need to be honest about their motives and be held to account in future if they continue to manipulate and misappropriate the evidence.”
Ooo. Can we hold dealers to the same account if we find them manipulating and misappropriating evidence? Please? What are their "motives"?

Triumphant smile
It would be difficult to find a more graceless text from the antiquities world than Ms Fitz Gibbon's  attack. This has less in common with any "cultural" policy but is sheer small-minded provincial nastiness. Her long monologue (like the ADA text), completely ignores what the RAND report determines, but concentrates on aspects of what, to nobody's real surprise, it does not confirm. In fact, it mostly concentrates on ATHAR and its recent campaign against the use of Facebook for spreading information on antiquities. Five of Fitz Gibbon's six pages discuss ATHAR, ATHAR and ATHAR, and people connected with it. Nasty.

Now, some posts on my blog indicate that I have not always agreed with some of the conclusions of ATHAR, questioned some of the material presented by The Antiquities Coalition, I think we need to look at a lot of things critically. But this text is sheer meanness. The American Committee for Cultural Policy, one hopes, should be able to do better than that.  I do not think the ACCP's text has anything useful to the discussion. It's just a disagreeable uncultured rant that serves as a monument to the ugliness rampant in certain segments of US society in Trump's America.

The  Artnet News text is short, derivative (sensationalist) and mixes two reports together.

*That I see as a forgery, and the "antiquities found" as a plant.

**and look at the irony of page 3's footnote 8, referring to that false US State-Department ISIL-loot model.

"There is somehow a lack of clarity in what Thomas and Pitblado are trying to assert"

Professor David Gill ('Knowledge destruction, confusion and collecting', Looting Matters 27th July 2020) enters the discussion of Thomas and Pitblado's Antiquity debate article:.
They create a 'straw-man' suggesting that some archaeologists assert 'all private owners of cultural material ... have ill-intent or engage in illegal behaviour' [...] Thomas and Pitblado do not provide any evidence to support their (flawed) assertion [...]. Which archaeologists have made this universal claim? [...]
I share his feeling that:
There is somehow a lack of clarity in what Thomas and Pitblado are trying to assert.
Gill's text takes the discussion away from the view privileging US arrowhead collectors and pot-diggers and NW European "metal detectorists" and nicely puts the discussion of  'private artefact collectors' into its wider chronological and geographical/cultural context.   

As part of his discussion of TanP's ideas, Gill introduces, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the example of metal detecting on a (known?) Roman site in East Anglia, even where this is legal, where are the bounds of responsibility? 
"Would Thomas and Pitblado suggest that this [...] was acceptable because those conducting the search were taking exercise 'outdoors', 'socialising', and taking an interest in the latest technology? [...] Who [...] are the individuals 'contributing to archaeological knowledge'? 

As Gill points out, we don't find any answers to such questions in the original article, there is nothing there to actually "debate".

Thomas and Pitblado suggest that private artefact collections can act as "potential sources of information about sites", and this information is lost "when responsible and responsive stewards are ignored or treated disrespectfully". In answer Gill points out that private collections may be structured in such a way that totally obscures exactly where the items it contains come from, that the creation of such collections even where they subsequently have "responsible and responsive stewards" is in itself a cause of an "irreplaceable loss of ... information".
This aspect of knowledge destruction is left unaddressed by Thomas and Pitblado. Thomas and Pitblado conclude: 'When we work with and listen to others, it is better for everyone—and it is better for archaeology'. Are they listening to those, such as Sam Hardy, who are raising genuine concerns about the destruction of the archaeological record?
Are they?

Joe Watkins Agrees, Agrees and Agrees with Thomas and Pitblado

Joe Watkins (SAA President)
The response  ('not with the same brush') by the current president of the Society for American Archaeology, Joe Watkins, to Thomas and Pitblado's Antiquity text seems to have neither structure nor substance. The author has not marshalled his thoughts and does not seem able to articulate his own opinion on collecting. He agrees with Thomas and Pitblado that it is a false simplification to treat all collectors as money launderers and criminals. Three times. Without recognising that it's a cheap unsubstantiated straw man argument. He is also one of the respondents that sees a mere bipolarity in the "competition between archaeologists and collectors", failing to see any other stakeholders to which both are responsible.  He writes something weak about "being concerned" about the trashing of archaeological sites, though has "less of a concern with individuals who primarily collect from the surface of archaeological sites"* and he thinks "the loss of contextual information about artefacts" is a problem (object-centred), and then says.... its a false simplification to treat all collectors as money launderers and criminals.

And then of course there's a chunky bit of American exceptionalism, "to ascribe these concerns to the majority of the North American pre-Contact period is, of course, somewhat excessive". The subsequent development of that statement is as bizarre and patronising as it is incomprehensible in the context of a discussion of the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological resource in Antiquity.

Watkins several times refers to then benefits that can come (as T and P say) from working with "responsible and responsive collectors"  (from the context, we can assume artefact hunters too, though less clear whether dealers are included). He says that "we can create them by education" by "informing [collectors] about the best ways to help gather information about the past". Eh? well, here, I'd return to his last sentence "we must carefully paint each individual with their appropriate colours". I think Watkins could easily test the veracity of his ideas by going to the land of the PAS that has been doing it for 23+ years, and take a look on the forums at how that is reflected in the attitudes, not of a 'broad brush' rosy-tinted spectacles characterisation, but individuals, such as   Tattooed Harry, Crazy Cressy, Kevmar, Deep Digger Dan, Detecting4Gold, John Howland, Graham Chetwynd, George Powell and Layton Davies, and all the rest - all real people, and all documented on the forums and elsewhere.

There remains however a problem that Watkins ignores. We may find males accused of being sexual predators that will "responsibly and responsively" leave an SAA meeting when asked, but how some individuals behave some of the time does not resolve the problem of sexual harrassment in archaeology. Recognising that among collectors there are some that do it "responsibly and responsively" does not resolve the overall problem of the effects of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record.

EBay today: Native American lithics on sale today:  18,848 Results in Cultures and Ethnicities . Most of these (2,147) are also Native American. So that's 20,000 artefacts collected and now being sold to other collectors... how many of the people involved in this process are "responsible and responsive collectors" and in what way is that related to the legal removal of archaeological artefacts from accessible surface sites right across the USA?

Watkins omitted Principle nr 1 of the SAA Code of Ethics:
"[...] It is the responsibility of all archaeologists to work for the long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record. Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation".
So is that about encouraging collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record as a source of collectables for personal artefact collections made for private entertainment and profit, or not? Watkins does not actually answer that question.

*Though I miss here the extension of this thought into "exposed by the plow and exposed on the desert surface"... 

Monday 27 July 2020

Joan Allen Detectors: Funny Idea of "Responsible" [UPDATED] Withholding the Treasure Reward in Cases like THIS Would Soon Teach Better Practice

 Joan Allen Detectors logos all over this display of "responsiveness" (sic)

Clueless: "Filming areselfs doin' it by th' book, in't we?"

Joan Allen Detectors@JoanAllenDetect 26th July
It's been quite a day today with A HUGE FIND of coins Worek pieniędzy STAY TUNED for tomorrow when we get the archeological team in! What an end to the week! Hats off to the lucky team: Luke Mahoney, Daniel Hunt and Matthew Brown #joanallenmetaldetectors

What a day for the Joan Allen Team! Roman Hoard? more! 😲😲 #joanallenmetaldetecting #findinggold #treasurehunting
Oh yeah, what a pandemic to go metal detecting in. I have some questions for these numpties:

How can you claim to be "doing it by the book" as you do in the film when you've already dug a huge hole right into it, and you are not plotting the positions of and bagging separately the coins from the scatter? Is this "responsible detecting"? How would you define that term in a case like this? Why have you got a "buckit" and not individual finds bags? Where's the GPS? Why can't you just fill the hole in with a GPS fix and wait? How will you ensure social distancing for the team that arrive? Is it not irresponsible to go metal detecting while there is still a pandemic? Who is your FLO? I can't see how they can work safely in a hole that size because excavating and documenting this is not something one person should be asked to do single-handedly, and you are putting your archaeologist in danger. Whose insurance covers them for work-related injuries if they contract CV through contact with metal detectorists, the PAS, or the third party insurance of the landowner, or detectorists? They should refuse to work in unsafe conditions. Tough, you'll just have to wait a bit longer for the Treasure ransom. Or perhaps it should not be awarded this time.

Update  28th July 2020

Piles of coins, DIY arkyology?:
Joan Allen Detectors@JoanAllenDetect·1 g.
UPDATE! Coin count and information coming at midday today... #joanallenmetaldetectors #questmetaldetectors #minelabmetaldetectors Aparat z lampą błyskową Luke Mahoney, Dan Hunt and Matt Brown
Do we get to see the plans and sections of the feature the coins were deposited in, and a plan showing its landscape and site context too? Or just the loose coins you've hoiked out?

Update updated:
Joan Allen Detectors @JoanAllenDetect · 7 min
GOING LIVE @ 12:30 with the main man Luke Mahoney to announce the winner of the coin guess... (Live feed will be shared on twitter as well) BIGGGG PRIZE! You don't want to miss it!
[emoticon] #winnerwinnerchickendinner
Meanwhile Mike Lewis in London confirms (pers. comm.) the FLO went out to this and praises his staff for their ability to work "in tricky conditions". Sort of like potential-viral-infection tricky, he means. Unbelievable.

1028 coins individually plotted, bagged and numbered in the field in just a few hours work. The internal structure of the hoard fully explored and documented. Now the "archaeological team", who "stayed alert", are sitting at home, wondering if they got coronavirus as a result of answering the Treasure hunters' call. I hope not.

If I was the FLO though, I certainly would walk away and not allow myself to be placed in a situation that might compromise my own health and that of members of my family that I live with just because these Treasure hunters cannot be reasonable. As would be within my rights as a local government employee.

The film shows the Joan Allen metal detectorists finding multiple coins before digging that hole. “Best practice”, and “responsible detecting” should clearly and unequivocally dictate what happens in such a course of events, and 23+ years of PAS “outreach” seems not to have sufficiently got the message through that digging a socking big hole that then has to be dealt with is not one of them.

If these blokes can’t get a GPS fix on the spot and walk away with the four or five coins to report and wait, let them dig it up if they want to. But PAS and local government archaeology services/museums should not allow their staff to endanger themselves to suit the whim of these Treasure Hunters. But then there should be a firm refusal to pay the Treasure Ransom to either finder or landowner (who has given permission for this).

The PAS will counter this with playing the victim and saying “it’s easy to criticise”, but I do not think I am alone in seeing that this is the kind of outreach that still needs doing. If PAS cajoling and head-patting don’t work (if this is in Kent, this is the county where the FLO said ”you done well” to a bloke that trashed an early Medieval grave), why can't the PAS get tough with irresponsible behaviour? Especially when it concerns Treasure which the finders are obliged by law to report what they’ve done (and get locked up – Leominster - if they don’t). Why is being firm in any way controversial? Beats me.

Some Thoughts on Pieterjan Deckers' Privileging "Archaeology's Awkward Allies"

An "awkward ally"
of archaeology?
Typical representative
of the milieu (photo
 Stout Standards
When I wrote my response on reading the Antiquity debate article on "Responsive Artefact Stewardship", by Thomas and Pitblado it was not clear that there were others, I think they only appeared later. Anyway, there are three of them, and then a response from the original authors.  The first of these responses was from Pieterjan Deckers (now Aarhus University) but Thomas and Pitblado respond by merely saying "as our views align closely [...] we welcome his contribution but will not say much more about it in this response". Since the all three take place in the same Helsinki project, I guess it would be difficult for them not to say anything else...

Dr Deckers' essay is short, but the way it is phrased lightly skips over a number of issues. He titled his piece "Archaeology's Awkward Allies" but it is not clear from his text in what manner that adjective is used.

The young academic first of all expresses surprise at the straw man argument constructed by Thomas and Pitblado about "everyone's" ideas about artefact collecting. As well he might, as opinions on these matters across the world are far more nuanced than it seems he can imagine.

Dr Deckers then goes on to seem to claim that his views as "an archaeologist working in North-western Europe" and those of the essay's authors are "reasonable and nuanced" (as are the "the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) recommendations" referenced in the article), and he seems confident that the rest of us that consider their approach to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record to be "highly problematic" will benefit from the "insights and experiences from both sides of the Atlantic" they can offer us. It seems he thinks that those who do not share his views do so out of ignorance and poor thinking. Arrogance.

This same "insight" claims Thompson and Pitblado's article to be "timely" in that it arose in the era of the Internet that we can now use for "content-sharing and social interaction"  and face the "globalising [of] communities of artefact collectors". This is a bit odd as it does not seem to recognise that the internet  (www) has been around since 1991 and the first metal detecting discussion group UKDN was founded in 1994, Moneta-L in 1990, Yahoo's ancient and medieval coins discussion group in 1999 and eBay in 1995. It seems that wannabe heritage theoreticians have a somewhat different sense of time from the rest of us! Deckers goes on to write:
With the rise of the internet and social media, new avenues of research on otherwise obscure but crucial aspects of metal-detecting and other avocational heritage practice have become available. 
It "rose" quite a while ago. Nigel Swift and I have been using it in 2001 onwards to study those aspects of collection. It's where the thinking and research behind the creation of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter (2007) had its beginnings. Both of us have been assiduously monitoring certain collectors' forums daily for the last decade and a half (at the beginning participating in them, now incognito). I doubt many archaeological supporters of artefact collecting, or PAS staff members even, can say the same. On that basis, I feel that Dr Deckers (probably a schoolboy when we started) is hardly in a position to lecture all of us about "who metal detectorists are" and "what could now be done with the rise of the internet". Arrogant.

Dr Deckers sees the collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (merely) as an issue of "opportunities for public participation in archaeology" which I guess means the thinks artefact collecting is archaeology (or maybe that archaeology is just digging up old things). It seems to me that a whole series of issues is lost in such a superficial approach to the discipline.

He says "the debate" [sic] "has become polarised between tolerance and prohibition" [but can be "moved forward"] if two basic conditions are met". Apparently the first is that "we" "must accept that others in society may have interests in archaeological heritage that only partly coincide—or even clash—with our own". Hmm, but then HE should recognise that equally there are many, potentially very many, in society that have interests in archaeological heritage that do not in any way coincide with a minority of grabby selfish individuals that want to pocket bits of it, and equally self-interested individuals who for the right money will help collectors satisfy those desires by selling such material. In the UK there might be 27000 artefact hunters, but the PAS is also there to serve (yes) the interests of the other 56,073,000 members of the population of England and Wales who are not collectors, but are nevertheless stakeholders. Don't give all the privileges to the acquisitive please Dr Deckers.* We should also consider ourselves responsible for preserving the archaeological record and interpreting it for the benefit of the larger group of non-collectors in the public too. 

I think also the heritage debate that involves and affects those 56.1 million people is far more complex than "tolerance and prohibition" of "avocational artefact collecting". It is furthermore obvious that this particular acquisitive hobby and consequent commercialisation of archaeological objects cannot simply be split off from that wider debate just because some blinkered academics abroad want to get their hands on some nice metal artefacts to make their dot distribution maps across the North Sea area. Arrogance again.

Deckers blunders on,
"A [sic] second condition transcends the level of professional ethics and day-to-day, interpersonal interaction. As trained experts, we have a duty to help in the formation of legislation and policy regarding avocational heritage engagements. In doing so, we must be willing to challenge the ideological stances that often govern the debate. As Thomas and Pitblado (2020) argue, blanket, unfounded assumptions that confuse and conflate a wide range of motivations and behaviours are unlikely to form a sound basis for appropriate reactions to the phenomenon in legislation, policy and practice. Instead, our responses must be grounded in fact.
Right, several of us would like to challenge the ideological stance precisely of those (like the Helsinki Gang to which Deckers belongs) that want to govern the heritage debate with their ideas of collaboration with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. When Sam Hardy attempted that, shamefully the band from Ixelles wrote an article that cannot be said to have challenged what he had written (by proposing alternative facts)  but simply poured patronising ridicule on it. That is claimed to represent the best these particular "trained experts" can do! (Deckers was corresponding author of that article.)

What we have to "do", Dr Deckers. as archaeologists is to help in the justification and formation of legislation and policy regarding the  mechanisms of protection and effective and sustainable use of the entire accessible archaeological record within the broader heritage catering for both cultural/social as well as scholarly needs, rather than just concentrate as you would have it on making a few tens of thousands of artefact hunters happy. And let's see artefact hunting as just one of the processes eroding that archaeological record.

Frankly, these "blanket, unfounded assumptions that confuse and conflate a wide range of motivations and behaviours" that he thinks so important really are beside the issue. Whether a collector of wild bird eggs loves or hates birds is irrelevant to whether that kind of collecting is right or not. The same with the people denuding the bluebell woods, because they "love the flowers".

What actually these "motivations and behaviours" can tell us is whether a programme of promoting "responsibility" through generating "responsiveness" will actually work. Well, the PAS has been doing it now for 23 years. And I do not care what Deckers, Thomas and Pitblado have kidded themselves the "facts" of PAS success are, I challenge them to produce the actual facts that prove the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is hugely wrong (and I do not care if they chose to do the original version, or my revised one using Hardy's figures - which they STILL have not disproven). Facts, Dr Deckers, facts. Yes please. 

Then - from the position of "trained experts" in (real) archaeology - what, actually, is truly responsible removal of selected artefacts from a complex pattern of any surface site. Is it really just recording an x-marks-the-findspot and walking away with it? Is that it? Or is an archaeological site a little more complex than the bargain bin in Rossman's? Is responsible tooth extraction just a matter of knowing the name of the patient?

Dr Deckers (who titled his paper "archaeology's awkward (sic) allies" ends: "It is important to remember that we have numerous potential allies, if we but reach out to them". Hmm. My bet is that by this he meant artefact collectors are our "potential allies". Not the millions of people that are not archaeological artefact collectors in any shape or form.

Some metal detector owners possibly are. Two (I think it is) UK metal detectorists have now because of PAS outreach done archaeology degrees, one of them at least hung up his detector. 27000 have not. I think Deckers is guilty of the same "unhelpful blanket generalisations" as those he, Thomas and Pitblado criticise.

If Dr Deckers had spent the time on (for example the UK) forums and detectorists' websites that some of us have, he'd have a list by now as long as both of his arms of screen names of UK metal detectorists that everything indicates will never be any kind of "ally" of archaeology, archaeologists and anything that stands in the way of them doing precisely what they want, where and when to the archaeological record and filling their pockets. This is not always for ignorance of what archaeology is, they "know", it is their attitude. I really do encourage Dr Deckers to go over now to one of them, and start his search for the "responsiveness" that he believes he will find there. Tell them you're an archaeologist and you support the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and you've come to offer them... well, what? Also you could ask a FLO or two how to go about it, it's their job, they are paid to know, they'll tell you. And they'll tell you why so few of them hardly ever go there to participate.... Try it and write an honest paper about the response. Ask Suzie Thomas about her outreach experiences on UKDN and the UKRallies site.

*With regard this elitism, it is worth looking at the discussions earlier on this blog concerning US collectors of ancient coins (search terms ACCG, CCPIA, Moneta-L, Unidoit-L, Dave Welsh, Peter Tompa)  that clearly see themselves as an elite whose interests trump those of others and in particular the citizens of the countries that the coins they collect were smuggled from. 

Sunday 26 July 2020

Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) and their work

PAS staff in happier days
From the PAS website, the current form of the text now seen is different from the original one in a number of important respects. This text is therefore put here for future reference before it too goes down the 'memory hole':

"Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) and their work
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has been extremely successful, thanks to the contribution of the many metal-detector users and other finders who have volunteered archaeological finds for recording. However, most FLOs are now working at capacity, and therefore unable to record all finds offered for recording. In some areas volunteers and self-recorders are invaluable, but it is nonetheless necessary for FLOs (Finds Liaison Officers) to develop strategies to decide what to record and meet finder's expectations.The aim of this note is to summarise the guidance offered to FLOs by the PAS Central Unit (British Museum) on how to work under these pressures.General
  • FLO areas are diverse in their geography, the number of finders and the number of metal-detecting clubs etc, and therefore the PAS needs to adapt to differing local circumstances.
  • All FLOs share a job description which is the basis of the funding agreement between the British Museum (which manages the PAS) and the host partners (which employ FLOs).
  • Although FLOs work flexible hours they should only work their contracted hours. Therefore they need to balance their time in and out of the office (in order to dedicate enough time to recording finds) by restricting non-office based activities, such as visits to metal-detecting club, finds days etc.
  • FLOs receive guidance on PAS policy from the PAS Central Unit via national and regional meetings, and by email. FLOs will normally refer to staff at the Central Unit for guidance on issues such as Stewardship Schemes, nighthawking etc.
  • Most FLOs welcome volunteers or self-recorders, but due to practical issues can only take on a certain number at any time. They also must work within the rules set by their local host partners.
  • FLOs attend training offered by the British Museum and the PAS Finds Advisers. However, they will refer to other experts about finds offered for recording as necessary. Unfortunately PAS staff cannot invest time investigating objects that are unlikely to be recorded.
  • Any misuse of social media or any other complaints should be reported to or PAS, Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, British Museum, London, WC1B 3DG. Tel: 0207 323 8611/8618.
Finds Recording
  • The core role of an FLO is to record archaeological finds to further our understanding of the archaeology of England and Wales. Outreach by FLOs is (normally) only undertaken to encourage the further reporting of finds (see above).
  • FLOs record on average at least 1000 records a year and these take time to produce. They include a description of the find, find spot details, weight and dimensions, and a photograph or photographs. The PAS ID for the find allows finders to see it on-line and download a report should they wish to have one.
  • FLOs will limit the number of finds they take in for recording, and this might vary from FLO area to FLO area. It is sensible for the FLO and finder to agree a time frame within which finds should be returned. FLOs will usually record finds on a first come first served basis, in order to be fair; occasionally there may be finds that require urgent attention that need to be prioritised.
  • Because many FLOs are working at capacity they need to be selective in what they record. It is at their discretion whether or not they record a particular find, based on local knowledge and experience."
Yet when the FLO changes, different criteria will be applied, even within the same recording institution... Hmm So basically the internal consistency of this "database" is close to zero. 

Artefact-productive Weyhill Fairground Stripped over 11 seasons: PAS has six objects recorded.

Fading memories of Weyhill Fair
Nigel Swift has drawn attention to an eleventh (!) session of artefact hunting at the artefact rich (apparently) site of the Weyhill Fair (TWO locations, 70,000 hours of acquisitive metal detecting! 26/07/2020)
If ever somewhere should be protected it’s there, where social and commercial interaction took place for at least 8.5 centuries. [...] it’s being progressively denuded for fun and profit (ostensibly “for charity”, even though everything found is kept by the detectorists) [...] Any chance PAS could express dismay? No? Would poor Wayne be upset?
So, I wonder what PAS Head Mike Lewis - majorly involved in using PAS data to study Medieval Fairs, exactly like this site at Weyhill has made of all the masses of data coming from this mega-exploitation of this site by metal detecting partners. It is probably because of the amount of material these many thousands of hours of detecting have produced that has prevented him from getting it out as a prime case -study in his research. We patiently await his professorial pronouncements of the relevance of these data in assessing the actual effects of artefact hunting on the archaeological record.
Failing that (and PAS is always failing to step up to the mark when issues like this are raised), maybe a "responsible metal detectorist" would comment here and enlighten us about how much (actual) knowledge we have gained to compensate for the massive stripping of collectable items from this bit of the archaeological record.

There is a problem. The PAS repeatedly claim that there is a "majority of" "responsible detectorists" that they claim to have got working for the good of society. So either (because a search of the database here: "Weyhill" produces 6 objects only, or the number of those responsibly reporting in this sample of artefact hunters is somewhat pitifully small.

Which is it PAS? Either admit hyperbole, or call out the organisers of these selfish site-stripping meets as "irresponsible" and bringing disrepute onto the "responsible detectorists" who work with you. One or the other. 

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