Thursday, 6 October 2022

New Book Promoting Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in UK [Updated]

A British archaeologist is enchanted by a new book on "metal detecting" by travel writer Nigel Richardson (The Accidental Detectorist: Uncovering an Underground Obsession Octopus Publishing Group ):
I’ve just finished this beautiful book by . Its warm, quietly hopeful prose uses the medium of the British countryside to weave together personal reflection and rich historical detail. A love story to responsible detecting, and to the past under all our feet.
I was curious to see the other reviews, the Amazon ones are full of the predictable pop-culture references to the comedy series "Detectorists". As for hom much it contributes to the readers' understanding of what the british archaeologist calls "responsible metal detecting? (which in fact would be "responsible collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record") is shown by such gems as " Anyways, I’m now off to Silchester Roman Wall to bury this book in a nice metal box for some lucky nighthawker to find". One wonders what kind of archaeology (or pseudo archaeology) this book is promoting reading the reviewer write: "Each time Richardson finds something his imagination goes crazy and he creates a story about the item and how it came to be buried in the field he was searching, I loved these little stories, his energy is contagious and I could find no fault in his stories". And archsaeological contexts? My grandson makes up stories about things he pulls out of cupboards that he's playing with too. That is not archaeology. After I tweeted that, the archaeologist retorts that they were "not talking about archaeology". That may be, but as an archaeologist when I read about archaeological evidence becoming loose decontextualised items for someone's private collection by being ripped out of archaeological contexts for personal entertainment and profit, I ask why we would NOT be "talking about the archaeology"?

There is also a review by metal detectorist Kerrie Fuller in something called The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine (really about MD with a bit af "archaeology" thrown in to make it look good). This contains a telling passage:
But the most interesting thing for me, was the discussion around museums, archaeology and detecting. I love going to museums and feel particular joy when the item has been labelled as having been found by a detectorist but it’s rare! And yet, museums get some of their most popular and valuable exhibits from detectorists and over 90% of all new archaeological finds in any year are discovered by detectorists, so why don’t they get the recognition they deserve? The issue (as covered in the book) is the us vs them nature of archaeologists (degree educated professionals) vs detectorists (uneducated hobbyists). Although as one archaeologist Jenny says, the role of the FLO wouldn’t exist without detecting, and it has revolutionised our understanding of history. There is a perception that archaeologists want everything done a certain way, that is, by a trained archaeologist BUT I can tell you two things that might help here:
I’m not a trained archaeologist and yet I’ve volunteered on several digs (including one in Pompeii) and they have not at ALL been bothered by my lack of training or experience. In fact, most digs DEPEND on volunteers to get all the work done.
Also, please don’t confuse intelligence with academia. Intelligence means the ability to learn something, like metal detecting. Academia means the ability to write essays, pass exams and get qualifications. The world needs both. And just because you don’t have a degree, does not mean you are not intelligent. In fact, most FLOs will admit that the detectorists who come to them with their finds are more clued up than they are.
The writer misses the whole point of the archaeological concerns about the damage done by collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. In fact completely, 100% misses the point - reducing it to some kind of paper tiger classist "them and us" dialectic (a 'common man/academia' issue). Whose fault is it that the resource conservation issue is completely ignored? To some degree that a professional archaeologist would say "(in discussing this book) I was not talking about the archaeology" is a symptom of the wider problem that British archaeologists may be happy to chatter on about "artefacts" ("finds") ... and "the stories they tell"... they are less keen to address archaeological issues in public discourse. Why? Anyone's guess. Whatever else "archaeologist Jenny" said about this, it seems not to have impinged on the consciousness of the reviewers. 

[Update] On my commenting on the contents of the customer reviews and referencing the online review, instead of engaging with the points they raise about this "love story to responsible detecting", and "the [exploitation of the] past under all our feet", the original poster has just deleted their tweet (and thus all the tweets made by other users responding to it). This is typical of the UK's "metal detector debate", where anything not fitting the cardborad cutout positive picture is ignored and suppressed in order to maintain the pretty façade. What is the matter with people there? No wonder the country has gone to the dogs.


Hougenai said...

'Gone to the dogs'-understatement worthy of Robin the Boy Wonder.

'over 90% of all new archaeological finds in any year are discovered by detectorists, so why don’t they get the recognition they deserve?
-Perhaps because they only record a amall fraction of them?

Dick Stout said...

"This is typical of the UK's "metal detector debate"....

NO, this is typical of you just inserting yourself into every damn thing that involves metal detecting. If you're trying to be an annoying ass congratulations you hit the jackpot.

Paul Barford said...

So, you think "metal detecting" should not be being discussed by European archaeologists because it "annoys" "metal detectorists" when someone does? It seems Mr Stout and the majority of British archaeologists are singing from the same songsheet there, but I do not think that should be a source of pride for either party.

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