Saturday 27 August 2022

"Guidance" for Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in England and Wales


"Follow us on socials @dfttc5 #DFTT for fact sheets and guidance!" exhorts one of the Digging for Treasure Tonight presenters (the one that actually is an archaeologist) and some of those documents have just gone up. The one for England and Wales was first. It is anonymous, but bears the Channel five logo: 

"we don't blame you" for wanting to treat the archaeological record as an easy source of pocketable collectables, it says. Basically, if British archaeologists cower under rocks to avoid coming out and saying something about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, I guess there is no way for a typical member of the British public to know any better.  By hoiking archaeological objects out of their archaeological context and putting them in your pocket, whether or not the PAS knows where (x-marks the spot) it was found, are you really (really?) contributing to "archaeological knowledge" and discovering "hidden history below our feet"? What is archaeological knowledge and how does archaeology write history? What is "history" anyway? Object biographies, maybe? Is that where it begins and ends in modern British archaeology? 

"Avoid damaging archaeology"? What does that mean? Archae-ology is the name of a discipline, they mean avoid damaging the archaeological record. How does a member of the public know what that is, what it looks like, how different kinds can be damaged how they are not damaged? Those three words don't help anyone. The problem with looting (collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record) is that, by definition it erodes and damages the archaeological record. No? That is why most countries legislate to attempt to prevent this happening. The situation in countries like the UK, with the support of the archaeological community, may be said internationally to be actively undermining such measures.  Brexit or no Brexit, what should the British public think about that, Channel Five?
Surely the bagging and labelling of finds is what you do as you collect them by digging them out of the archaeological record, not just when you later decide to report them

There is no mention here of metal detecting clubs, no mention of the increasingly ubiquitous commercial firms (like Northern Detecting Events featured in the programme) that organise rallies, no mention of third party insurance, the sale of artefacts (or the antiquities market in general). What about artefacts the artefact hunter digs up but that are not wanted for their own collection, what should happen to them (before or after reporting)? What happens to privately held archaeological collections when the finder can no longer care for them? How can the heritage profession work with owners and finders to ensure positive futures for archaeological finds and their documentation? There is notably no mention here of not going out after dark, when it is difficult to observe soil colour and character (for example at the base of ploughsoil) or just general safety aspects (though there is film evidence that the programme producers themselves were in the fields after dark). There is also no discussion of the questions of the ethics of getting involved in any activity that blurs the boundary between the "search for knowledge" and commercial activity.

Also there is no "further reading" list. Just referring viewers to "the PAS website" is no use, as over the past few years this site has been nothing but a random mess of unconnected snippets, most of which do zero to even begin to address any of the issues and questions that need to be raised. Their FAQ has not changed in two decades, though their "aims" have. Needs a total revamp by professionals. 


Brian Mattick said...

As for archaeologists cowering from a truth that might not be popular, the fact that the proper Code is recommended and there's no mention that the NCMD code is an inferior and damaging copycat version, that is the essence of damaging cowering. Can't offend the NCMD lest they all stop recording? It's a decade long bluff.

It matters because detectorists show farmers an NCMD finds agreement with the inferior NCMD code on the back.

Here's a wild guess: just about every detectorist on this project will be insured through NCMD and hence their farmers will assume that's the right code.


Brian Mattick said...

No mention of the increasingly ubiquitous commercial rallies, even though PAS and CBA have both said they don,t like them as recording tends to be sparse.

Why is that?

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