Thursday 14 July 2022

Ivory Tower Strategy, Carry on Doing What We're Doing

             "Advances in Archaeological Practice" ?          

In a Cambridge Journal called "Advances in Archaeological Practice" (oh yeah?) there's an article by co-authors Anna Wessman, Pieterjan Deckers, Michael Lewis, Suzie Thomas and Katelijne Nolet recording their thoughts on the issue of "Metal-Detecting RalliesCharacterizing the Phenomenon, Understanding the Challenges, and Identifying Strategies for Heritage Protection" 11 July 2022. Here's the abstract:
Hobby metal detectorists search for archaeological finds as individuals and within groups, the latter being the focus of this article. Such groups come together as “clubs” and “meetings,” but also as part of large, often commercially run events typically known as “rallies.” All these activities are attractive to detectorists because they provide them with access to land to search, along with the promise of making interesting (even valuable) discoveries, and they have a social dimension. They are common in England and also well established in several countries in northwest Europe, partly due to changing legislation. Although policies and mechanisms are often in place for collaboration with individual detectorists and even local metal-detecting clubs, larger events (not least, the large-scale commercial rallies increasingly occurring in England) present challenges for professional archaeologists, specifically in relation to the capacity to properly record finds and manage potential damage to the historic environment. To respond appropriately to these changes, a greater understanding of detectorists’ events is needed. For this reason, we explore and define the scale, nature, and diversity of group events, relating them to different legislative and cultural contexts in Flanders (Belgium), England (and Wales), and Finland. Subsequently, we outline challenges associated with group events and identify possible ways forward.
Keywords: metal detecting, rallies, Europe, heritage management, recommendations
A few first thoughts. First of all, artefact hunting and collecting are NOT any form of "archaeological practice". The article's section on "Strategies..." is a little bit muddled and the authors seem really to be a bit lost in the gap between their ivory-tower pie-in-the-sky vision of how it is and the stark realities one sees on the metal detecting forums. Thus we find them writing of their proposals: "Such approaches will not necessarily provide immediate results, but over an extended period, they offer the opportunity to encourage more responsible and responsive behavior"... What, like the 25 years of outreach and partnership the PAS has already been doing? Actually a little less than this, because in the end the PAS stopped going to rallies, considering it was a waste of their time as the participants turned out not to be as "responsive" as they were hoping. So why is that "strategy" of non-presence not mentioned here in an article co-authored by the Head of the Scheme? Bonkers. 

I also find it a little risable that they say that "a greater understanding of detectorists’ events is needed". True enough, better late than never, eh? Most archaeologists advocating "partnership" and claiming "responsiveness" (or "responsibility") need to spend a lot more time incognito on the MD forums. But no, Helsinki to the rescue: "for this reason, we explore and define the scale, nature, and diversity of group events" Well, that is actually what they do not do in this text. They start their "Conclusion" with some feeble handwringing that five decades into being surrounded by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (and quarter of a century liaising with it in England and Wales), mainstream archaeology (ever afraid to call a spade a spade) have still not really worked out an adequate terminology for any of it, or being able to define anything. Also missing is any kind of detailed discussion of the related issue of "detecting holidays".

Coming back to that knowledge these rallies produce, I find it curious that no mention is made here of the 2007 Water Newton Rally or the 2012 Letcombe Bassett and Segsbury Camp rallies when in the 2010s the PAS was attempting to demonstrate how blanket recording of finds produced by such events would produce archaeological knowledge.  Did it? We don't know as a report never materialised. 

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