Tuesday 28 July 2020

"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?

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