Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Saving history?

Someone named James Warr has made a frighteningly uninformed comparison of Archaeology vs. Metal Detecting on his sadly-named TonyRobinsonsPants blog. After stressing the tedious and lengthy procedure of archaeological excavations, he trumpets metal detecting as the winner since it is simply a matter of "Find history. Dig out history. Save history."

He then comes to the equally simple conclusion that "This, is why the brats [archaeologists] have a problem with detectorists" (followed by a link to a recent criticism by archaeologists of the way some detectorists obliterated the context of a find).

No, James Warr; the reason the "brats" (and indeed anyone with more than a single brain cell) have a problem with some detectorists is that so many of them share your total incomprehension of what history really is and are actively engaged in destroying it.

Contrary to that emotive Hollywood soundbite, when you hold an ancient coin, buckle or whatever in your hand, you are not literally "holding history". You are holding a tiny component of an assemblage that may have the potential to reveal history if the whole assemblage is meticulously recorded and investigated within its wider context - and in the modern day that involves a team of trained people.

An object in itself is not "history". And "history" is certainly not an insane grabfest of finding, digging out and "saving" as many objects as you can get your hands on, sticking them in museum cabinets and then drooling over how pretty they are.

"History" is briefly defined as "the study of the past" and the word stems from the Greek historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation". Note the words "study", "inquiry" and "investigation". History is a cerebral concept. Apart from a book or document recording that concept, you cannot hold it in your hands. You can find, dig out and "save" ancient objects until the cows come home and stuff them into museums up to the rafters but unless the sites where those objects lie are properly excavated (and yeah, that can be tedious and lengthy), you are typically destroying and obliterating any chance of seriously adding to our knowledge of history. And that tends to annoy any person with the intellect to appreciate what history really is, not just a few archaeologists (or "brats").

1 comment:

Sam Ofnett said...

I must say I am finding it very confusing, trying to follow all these arguments. We are being given many conflicting messages about metal detectoring and it is difficult to decide what to believe. Certainly name-calling is not helping anyone.

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