Tuesday, 7 June 2022

And Now... Database of Metal Detected Finds in Estonia


I must admit that I had assumed that with the departure of Suzie Thomas, the Helsinki gang had packed up, but on... it seems the European detectorist-buddies are still networking

The film mentioned is here for those who like their dot-distribution maps in Estonian

Here's what Google Translator made of the text spoken by Tuuli Kurisoo:

Thanks to the discoveries of hobby seekers, several perceptions of Estonia's past have changed. If the protection of new antiquities does not become faster in the near future and hobby hunting is seen as a treasure hunt, there must be growing concern about the preservation of its past heritage, says Tuuli Kurisoo, a researcher at Tallinn University.
The honest answer is that hobby-seeking brings both benefits and harms. In Estonia, a search tool permit is required for hobby searches, which can be applied for after completing special training. All permit holders have certain responsibilities and obligations to the state, such as the submission of a search report and a search report.
When searching the terrain with a metal detector, you need to know where to do it. For example, it is prohibited in the monument and in its protection zone. It is also necessary to know in which case the search must be interrupted and the National Heritage Board must be notified of its discovery immediately. Among other things, the so-called three-find rule applies - no more than three finds can be picked up from a record.

The contribution of hobbyists
If the system were to work as intended, the focus could be on the positive. Thanks to the discoveries of hobbyists, a lot of knowledge about our past has changed. Take, for example, the discovery of Lasnamäe a few years ago. The copper winter found there shifted our understanding of the use of metal objects in Estonian areas even from the Bronze Age to the Stone Age.
More broadly, our knowledge has grown first in the view of finds: thousands of archaeological finds have been added, including several hitherto unknown types of objects and variations of the finds.
On the other hand, we have a lot of information about new sites, such as graves and settlements, which allows us to analyze past societies from a fresh angle. I deal with these aspects on a daily basis in my research, the MetDect project, in which I study the changing patterns of the spread of settlements, try to identify the work areas of local jewellers and map out developments in visual culture.

Non - renewable resource
At the same time, it must be remembered that archeology is a non-renewable resource that is best preserved in the intact earth's crust. As a result, we have a number of problem areas related to detectorism. Unfortunately, it is more common for hobby seekers to exceed their powers and dig up too many finds, which can seriously damage or even destroy sites (context).
Archaeological finds, however, have a much broader focus than just collecting beautiful artefacts, but detectorism has a reputation for treasure hunting. When excavating finds, it is important for archaeologists to understand the context of the finds, ie where and how the finds are located in the ground, in what soil layers they are, and how the objects are located in relation to each other and the surrounding environment. Based on this information, the understanding of the importance and significance of a particular site may change.
Another big problem is related to the protection of new antiquities, which is a very time-consuming and complicated administrative process in Estonia. As a result, hundreds of detectorists have discovered new sites unprotected. Every year, dozens of new sites from all over Estonia are added to them. So many such places, such as Viking graves, are rediscovered by another hobbyist. This practice, especially if there are already several discoverers and the rediscovery of sites takes a long time, breaks the context of the discovery.

In conclusion, if the protection of new antiquities does not become faster in the near future and the dominant image in hobby hunting is that of treasure hunting, then we must be increasingly concerned about preserving our heritage of the past.
It is nice to see something by an archaeological supporter of working with artefact hunters that says "The honest answer is...", find that phrase in anything written by the PAS or Ixelles Six.  

Here we see that the British Baz Thugwit is left far behind the Estonian metal detector users, with their permits and site reports (Baz Thugwit has problems writing more than eight coherent sentences). Baz Thugwit will not restrict himself to three finds from each 'productive' site, which have to be handed over anyway. I like the way the lady says the archaeologist uses the information from detector finds to gain information ON the new sites (ie looking at the site rather than the mere artefacts from the site like Baz Thugwit's mates in the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and that anlysing the distribution of these "new sites, such as graves and settlements, which allows us to analyze past societies from a fresh angle. I deal with these aspects on a daily basis in my research, the MetDect project, in which I study the changing patterns of the spread of settlements". Sounds great doesmn't it? Until then we remember that this is going to be based on the three artefacts a metal detectorist has selected, collected and brought in for recording.

There is a little more information in two papers available online: Kurisoo, Tuuli; Rammo, Riina; Smirnova, Maria (2020). Discoveries made by the users of searching devices and the public in 2019 and the new Heritage Conservation Act. Archaeological Fieldwork in Estonia, 2019, 263−288.

Kurisoo, T; Rammo, R; Smirnova, M; Kangert, N (2021). Searching devices, new discoveries, and issues related to them in Estonian archaeology in 2020. Archaeological Fieldwork in Estonia, 2020, 265-291.

A major leitmotif is that the amount of information coming in has completely overloaded the system, and both papers discuss what kind of shortcuts would release the burden.

Here is the author's project website:
Metal-detected past: a study of long-term developments in settlement patterns, technology and visual culture on the example of metal-detector finds from Estonia
MetDect Grant agreement ID: 101003387
Start date 1 September 2020
End date 12 July 2023
Total cost € 142 193
Coordinated by TALLINN UNIVERSITY Estonia
Project description

Past unveiled by metal detectors
Metal detectors used for the exploration of the past could significantly improve our knowledge about settlement patterns, local production of ornaments and visual culture. The EU-funded MetDect project focuses on an extended volume of detected artefacts finds in Estonia between 1800 BCE and 1800 CE. The aim is to demonstrate the critical role of metal detectors in improving knowledge about the past. It will combine humanities and natural science methods. It will use GIS mapping and spatial analysis to explore settlement patterns and chemical methods to examine the local production of ornaments while artefacts discovered by private detectorists will be compared with other visual sources. The first open-access database on metal detector findings will also be launched.

MetDect examines long-term developments in the settlement patterns, local production of ornaments and visual culture by using metal-detector finds from Estonia. Despite the inherent limitation of the data (uneven level of contextual and empirical information), MetDect will demonstrate that the vast amount of metal-detector finds will significantly advance our current knowledge about the past. [...] the results of this project will provide an important contribution to a wider debate regarding the usage of metal detectors by private persons. [...]
I am not sure what all that "visual culture" stuff is there for, or the chemical analysis guff (and "cross symbolism" - just happening to overlap with some previous research). Especially for a project spanning material from so many cultures over almost four millennia. It looks like grant-application padding to me, but which sets unrealistic aims. Especially if all this is to be got through and written up in a period less than 35 months, together with all the number-crunching on the settlemnets. So far, no results are available. Maybe her new Network pals in Helsiniki will help out.

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