Friday, 19 September 2014

Conservation vs. Metal Detecting - Part Three

Never say never. I did conclude my last post on this topic by saying that was all I had to say on it. However, I should try to clarify any confusion caused by the final paragraph in my last post and I added this comment to Andy Baines's blog post ...

Sorry for my poor formatting. That last paragraph in my comment was not specifically aimed at you (perhaps I should have used 'they' as a pronoun instead of 'you') but at a huge proportion of metal detectorists in general, particularly those who like to portray the hobby unconditionally as a 'saving history' movement. It is THAT attitude that I think is misguided and I do feel many of the arguments used unreservedly to depict metal detectorists as magnanimous crusaders who selflessly toil away to help the public are largely 'bullshit'. Unless they have taken the trouble to learn and fully understand the effects of what they are doing within the discipline of archaeology and undertake detecting responsibly, preferably in coordination with trained professionals, they pursue their hobby purely for their own pleasure and, very often, in the hope of personal profit. And while there may be 'occasional exceptions' (some finds have been extremely beneficial in advancing our knowledge of the past), I suspect that overall the unaffiliated and unrestrained conduct of the hobby does far more harm than good. 
Yet again, you did not read my previous comments. No, I would not like to see a total ban on metal detecting - I'm inherently wary of too many government prohibitions and they very often backfire anyway - but I would like to see a change in the way metal detecting is portrayed in the media and elsewhere, a more realistic acknowledgement of the danger it poses to true archaeology and the principle of conservation instead of the current unqualified gushing over every find. 
And, since so many detectorists don't appear to have the common sense to recognise that danger themselves or simply don't care, I would like to see the hobby limited or regulated in some way. I gather some of the more responsible members of the hobby would like to see that too. 
One of my greatest concerns is the sheer scale of the hobby and the lack of restraint. As I said earlier, "I am not against metal detecting if carried out responsibly but I am convinced that one of the most vital facets of acting responsibly in any pursuit that may threaten a fragile resource (whether it's bird eggs, wildlife or the archaeological record) can be summed up in a single word: moderation". Even supposing detectorists were never tempted to dig deeper, there needs to be a recognition that merely because artefacts are in topsoil or ploughed layers is not a carte blanche excuse to grab every single one of them - and there needs to be far fewer people doing that if the finite archaeological record is going to stand any chance of being more meaningfully interpreted in the future.  
I recently read one detectorist naively saying that future generations will thank them for digging up all the artefacts. No, they will curse them for it. A few items here and there are no big deal - and some finds undoubtedly point archaeologists and historians in the right direction - but a future in which museums are stacked with bits and bobs ripped from their context while almost nothing is still left intact where it could have meant so much more is not one I would relish. Those bits and bobs will just be bitter reminders of lost opportunities wrecked by the misguided generation of today.
After composing my comment yesterday, I was gobsmacked to read about another detectorist reinforcing the point I made in the first paragraph of my transcribed comment above. Defending his pastime, he stated, "My work is important to me ...". WORK? What, like collecting stamps or spotting trains? Get real, dude. It's a hobby.
(Since my original post, I have revised the first paragraph of my comment to clarify that truly responsible members of the hobby are excluded from my generalisations. 25/9/2014)

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