Thursday, 25 November 2021

Looting the Past as a Sport in the UK?


   Archaeotrashing, a new national sport in UK   
The National Council for Metal Detecting bills itself as "The recognised voice of Metal Detecting":

The National Council for Metal Detecting is a representative body of elected volunteers formed in 1981 to provide a means whereby responsible metal detector users would have a democratic forum to discuss problems affecting the hobby and to provide an authoritative voice to counter ill -informed and frequently misleading criticism of the hobby. It does not represent the trade or archaeological interests.
So it has been going for more than 40 years. It seems that after some awkward scandals and fallouts within its cumbersome structure, a breakaway group has formed. It is called Association for the Metal Detecting Sport (MADS for short). While the NCMD has long been a member of the Sport + Recreation Alliance (formerly the Central Council for Physical Recreation) - nobody is really sure why, this group takes it a step further, and defines looting archaeological sites as a "sport". in the same way as certain off--road drivers in the UK treat driving over barrows, DMVs, earthworks and churning up moorland flint scatters as a "sport" (it has a name "archaeotrashing"). It's sort of like the Brexited British equivalent of the Cultural Revolution, an anti-elitist movement of everyman aimed at "sweeping away the past, levelling up now". Archaeologists see any form of interaction with the past, even something as destructive as "metal detecting [digging up and taking]" as an expression of an "interest in the past" even if that means the evidence is destroyed for selfish reasons. 

Anyway this MADS reckons they are going to promote and "protect" collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record:

.. and through them, Britain's 27000 "metal detectorists [digging it up and taking it away]" are going to have a "greater say in how metal detecting [digging it up and taking away] is to go forward". Interesting notion. In Britain, there are so many people that have an interest in the past as to join other types of organisations, not the "digging up stuff and pocketing it fer meself" type, but the preserving sites type. So the National Trust has  5.37 million paid-up members and English Heritage 1 million members. That means a 27000 strong minority trying to impose their will on over 2.4 million history-lovers more interested in preservation than ripping bits off and pocketing them. That's about 1% trying to impose their will on 99%. Of course what is needed is for those 99% to be fully informed about what the anorakish term "metal detecting [digging it up and taking it away]" really means and what effects it is having on the survival of shallow sites all across the country. that of course means British archaeologists getting their fingers out and doing something to inform the public about these issues.

I would draw attention to the unintentional symbolism of the first few seconds of the video used to present this new fraction:

We have now all sorts of organisations functioning on and offline all claiming to represent the interests of the hobby to the outside, but above all their own members. This is a result of a failure for the hobby to gather round a common set of principles. the ultimate result of this is a fracturing, a weakening, of the hobby in the face of external pressure rather than its consolidation and strengthening. Which could be used to the benefit of the heritage... could be, will British heritage professionals seize the opportunity this presents? 

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