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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: in praise of metal detecting: was (no subject) longish

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 16 Jul 2003 21:43:19 +0200

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (111 lines)

Edward Thompson (or is it "Robert R"?) castigates:
> Its very disappointing that so called  professional people are
> indulging themselves in an  orgy of hatred, against  the very people
> who without doupt have found most of the most important artifacts
> in recent times.
well, of course professionals and non-professionals should be aware that
archaeology is not just about hoiking the most important artefact ourt of
the ground is it?

For many of us making collections out of artefacts as so many postage stamps
is an unethical exploitation of a non-renewable resource which could be used
better for the general good and not the greed and personal satisfaction of a
few collectors who can see nothing wrong in what they are doing.

> Some of you feel its ok to call these men & women crooks /
> thieves / grave robbers / looters and the like.  I prefere to think that
> they help to resucue and protect our heritage.
well, you are entitled to think what you like, as are those of us who
disapprove of this kind of activity. The question is what actually happens
to those little private collections of the dismembered fragments of our
"heritage" you claim they have "rescued"? In what way do they advance our
knowledge of the past? Collectors like the oft-quoted late Mr Hattatt are
few and far between, but many of us no doubt have experience of the many
more sad little men in and out of their anoraks who have little idea what
the metal bits they hoard actually are, and even less idea after a few years
where they all came from. Collectors like these are not saving anything or
helping anybody. The legend of the gentleman collector is no doubt a
convenient one to the cause as is the labelling of the ones whose activities
raise concern in the archaeological community as just "a few irresponsible
metal detector users". But of course quantifying that "a few" is still
difficult even in the days of more even FLO coverage, and dealing with the
problem is something the metal detector community seems not to have been
able to achieve (even if it had actually wanted to in order to preserve the
good name of the "hobby"). I would say a good analogy would be with wine,
the good quality of a few bottles from a vinyard is unimportant compared
with the frequency of the bottles of the same vintage which on opening turn
out to be of poor quality. It is by the latter that the vintage and vinyard
will quite rightly be judged. While the metal detecting and
artefact-collecting community cannot be seen to be able to deal with the bad
bottles in their own midst, you must see why many of us will  treat the
milieu accordingly.

Rather than being an "orgy of hatred" on the list, what you have seen is
concern expressed about several aspects of what you seem to consider to be a
harmless hobby. What however is your answer to the points which were those
being raised about the ebay sales and the dealers' sites quoted where we
find nothing which suggests that before they entered the market these finds
in any way helped to locate "new sites" or to "rescue and protect the
heritage"? Do you approve of the buying and selling of artefacts removed
from archaeological sites as so many pounds of potatos? Do you approve of
the exploitation of archaeological sites in order to obtain artefacts for
sale? Do you approve of attempts to collect as many types of Roman brooch as
possible, regardless of where they come from and how they were obtained?
Then again, what about those who collect the bent spoons and brass spiggots
of the eBay sale we were discussing? Are they too helping to "rescue and
protect the heritage"? This was the origin of this thread and it seems odd
to read your attempt to defend the practice without addressing these issues.

Nobody is doubting that archaeological sites have become known to the
archaeological community by the reporting of finds by metal detector users.
What however is of concern is how to stop the uncontrolled depletion of the
artefact content of sites by collectors after this aim has been reached.
What is the point of getting to know that a site existed in a particular
field if we also know that subsequently it was more or less systematically
depleted of part of the archaeological source material it contained by
artefact collectors? (and here we are unconcerned whether its "just" from
the topsoil or not).

>  You should all be ashamed of yourselves.
I see no rreason why, I would rather think in the light of what has been
said here over the past few days it is the metal detectorists and collectors
which should be wondering a bit more about the effects of what they are
doing on the archaeological heritage which you claim they rescue and
protect... This is an archaeology discussion list and discussion has
revolved around the aspects of the phenomenon of concern to British
archaeologists.

> Most of the detector finds your all shocked and upset about are
> found within the first few inches of topsoil, this is also known as
> the spoil in archaeological terms.
It is also known as the area where we do fieldwalking, finds distribution
studies and surface investigations. It is the surface we look at when
carrying out an initial evaluation of a site. Of course we can only use all
the information it contains if nobody has taken away an unquantifiable part
of it before we get there. It only becomes part of the "spoil" as you put it
when the site is excavated. It sometimes happensd that the topsoil contains
the finds from the latest layers on the site destroyed by subsequent
ploughing and which differ from those stratified below the topsoil.

In fact though one of the comments which you seem to have missed was about
the sale to artefact collectors of artefacts taken not from the topsoil but
war-graves. This highlights the problem that in the general laissez faire
which obtains at the moment there is more scope for the activities of those
who are not at all concerned about where they get the artefacts from, as
long as they have something to sell. There are also those who will buy such
artefacts and surely must be aware where some of them come from. This is of
course a more general problem in the antiquities market as a whole, most
dealers and collectors presumably prefer not to ask too many questions
(hence the lack of more detailed provenances on the dealers' lists we've
been looking at). .

> Perhaps some of you need to be more open minded in relation to
> detector & detector users.
There is no lack of people with such an open mind and friendly approach to
the metal detectorists in British archaeology (and on this list) but there
are also those of us who think that there are issues which need to be
addressed and perhaps we should discuss in more detail. It is to those with
the "open minds" that these comments are in part addressed.

Paul Barford

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