Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Opinions and Qualifications

Peter Tompa, a lawyer lobbying on behalf of American coin dealers, has made the barbed statement that "Real archaeologists without an agenda have acknowledged for some time that amateur metal detectorists do little real damage to the archaeological record". Paul Barford, the object of his scorn, has pointed out that in fact "real archaeologists" in many countries have claimed the precise opposite. Nor are they alone. In Britain too, no less a personage than Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, has expressed concern at the "huge amount of damage" sometimes caused by metal detecting.

Indeed, on the CBA website, Dr Heyworth advises those who want to buy a metal detector and seek treasure that "there are reasons why you should think again". The text echoes Barford's frequent observations that rather than digging objects out, it is often "better to leave the evidence [in the ground] for future generations to investigate with better techniques and with better-informed questions to ask" and that in "some parts of the country [...] top-soils are thin, and archaeological remains may be close to the surface. Even objects apparently adrift in plough-soil have an archaeological setting".

Having massively failed in his attempt to imply that Barford is alone in his opinions, Tompa then goes on to question Barford's "qualifications" to state them (a persistent tactic in his mission to undermine those who express opinions opposed to his own).

Paul Barford is a published archaeologist who has specialised in the study of looting for over twenty years, has written a forthcoming book on the subject, has studiously kept abreast of every new development in the topic, and is clearly very well informed. Whether you or I agree with every opinion he states, his "qualifications" to state them are not in any doubt. To turn the specious tactic back on the accuser, I have to wonder what exactly are Tompa's own "qualifications" to give an "expert" opinion.

Me? I'm just an interested bystander with a passion for history - but I have opinions too. Tompa has said that my response to one of his statements was "rude". Well, I'll make a deal. If he stops posting silly statements that insult everyone's intelligence, I'll stop ridiculing them.

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Update here.

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