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by Nigel Swift
Brian Taylor (in The British Journal of Sociology – Amateurs, Professionals and the knowledge of archaeology) references the view that in the first half of the 20th century it was considered that the core defining characteristics that distinguish professions were:
However, Mr Taylor suggests an “alternative conceptualization” whereby amateurism is considered “a self-legitimising component of the vocabulary of professionalism itself.”
It’s quite a proposal, but very much in the spirit of the times, when the emphasis is on outreach, partnership, inclusivity, community archaeology and (on the quiet) filling the gaps left by funding cuts. But can it be valid? Can amateurs be seen as somehow closer to professionals than they used to be? Without question, yes. They are. Yet it’s also clear the above defining characteristics of professions are still valid whereas most amateurs patently lack the full range of characteristics to qualify as professionals.
So how has the trick been achieved? How have those who clearly lack the defining characteristics of archaeologists come to work closely and often effectively with archaeologists? The answer is hardly a secret. The most effective amateur archaeologists “borrow” the core defining characteristics of archaeologists by working in ways directed by or approved by professionals. There is no other way.
Which is the quarrel I have with artefact hunting and Britain’s failure to regulate it. Most amateur archaeologists borrow the defining characteristics of archaeologists whereas artefact hunters reject them. That really matters if Archaeology is seen as a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible and I challenge anyone, including the Culture Minister and the Head of PAS, to deny that metal detecting ought to be conducted in accordance with the core defining characteristics of professional archaeology.
Take just one of the defining characteristics, a code of ethics. Archaeologists (and hence most amateur archaeologists) have one. Artefact hunters don’t, which is tantamount to them shouting from the hilltops: “we are not prepared to accept that Archaeology is a finite resource from which maximum knowledge should be extracted whenever possible”. Well actually, I tell a lie, they DO have codes of practice but they are not the same as the ones that bind archaeologists and amateur archaeologists. They are camouflages – codes designed to divert the attention of landowners from the fact that those who cite them are not willing to behave like archaeologists or amateur archaeologists.
Number of detectorists who have adopted our suggested Ethical Detecting pledges:
Number of detecting clubs who insist on their members adhering even to the severely emasculated standards of the Official Responsible Detecting Code:
Number of detectorists and detecting clubs who say they are committed to the NCMD, FID or similar detectorists’ “Codes” none of which even require adherents to report all finds to PAS:
ALL OF THEM.
Next time you hear talk of heroism or what a lot of finds PAS has recorded please bear in mind those three numbers – zero, one and “all of them” and ask yourself why – and how much loss of knowledge they hint at.
As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.
“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.
When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?
Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?
Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”
Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?
They don’t get a penny in rewards or much mention in telly programmes yet they queue up all over the country to do their bit. All they seem to want is to do Archaeology right, just because it’s there. We mean of course the amateurs, the foot-soldiers of archaeology who are desperate to learn and who clamour for a role, no matter how humble in exchange for – well, absolutely nothing.
This week there has been some good news for them. The Heritage Lottery Fund has just awarded the CBA £500,000 to provide a further 24 Community Archaeology Training Placements, thus equipping would-be community archaeologists with the skills to work with voluntary groups and hence have a big impact on the thousands of amateurs involved in archaeology. (More details about the scheme and a video of it in action here).
CBA Director Mike Heyworth explained how it will have a good effect and will facilitate a new initiative relating to an issue of particular current relevance – getting young people interested in Archaeology: “This week’s decision means we are now able to more than double the number of bursary placements for the last two years of the project and also to introduce a youth-focus to the project in the additional bursaries we can now offer.”
English Heritage is to mobilise a volunteer Heritage Army – “the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk”. The idea is to get volunteers to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II buildings “to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.”
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England’s listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we’ll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.”
It certainly fits with something we’ve been suggesting for years regarding prehistoric monuments – there is already a passionate, knowledgeable army of enthusiasts out there who regularly visit those, even ones in inaccessible places. Many of them keep EH informed of their condition but a more formalised system including phone apps would certainly improve protection at minimal cost.
However Rescue News made an important point (on Twitter) :
“Involving the volunteer public in assessing Heritage at Risk is a great idea. But they should NEVER replace qualified professionals!” And of course, doing that may well be in the Government’s mind. They also made a sharp retort to Planning Minister Nick Boles:
“not making it easier to demolish those beautiful places and heritage assets we all value would be a help too”!
Kidderminster isn’t Winchester when it comes to heritage. It can boast about the carpet industry and penny black inventor Rowland Hill and 17th Century churchman Richard Baxter and superstar Robert Plant and the biggest church in Worcestershire but the list isn’t endless. So when a building that may have been associated with the Saxon minster that gave the town its name has been located and is being investigated as a community project in the churchyard of that church (see the blog here) it’s a source of a lot more local pride than would arise in many other places. When I was there someone approached me brimming with it. It was the pride of someone who clearly felt he owned it. Which of course he does, it’s his heritage.
That’s why he took a dim view of this, holes dug all over the chuchyard the night before by someone that was stealing his heritage. (They were back 2 nights later, the chuchyard is peppered).
“I don’t want to tar all detectorists with the same brush” says the archaeologist in charge “but this opportunistic looting of sites is damaging and very frustrating.” Agreed, but on the other hand I do feel that not tarring most detectorists with exactly the same brush is unjustly whitewashing them. By which I mean this: the ONLY distinction that can be drawn between most detectorists (who don’t report all their finds) and the people that attacked this site (and didn’t report their finds) is “lack of permission”. The damage they do is the same. Same action. Same effect. Same loss of knowledge for the rest of society. The damage inflicted on Kidderminster is identical to the damage inflicted on communities up and down the country thousands of times every week. Legally. People – especially landowners – should know.
The people that sneaked past this notice with detectors were plain nasty….
but please, please let’s not allow people to get the idea that such unpleasant, antisocial neanderdunces and their few hundred fellows do more damage than those thousands of perfectly legal non-reporters who get permission. That’s a damaging falsehood the public has been fed for 15 years. They do vastly less.
More about what has just been revealed at this community dig shortly. (They have an Open Day next Saturday, all welcome). Will it be as exciting as the remarkably similar community dig currently going on at Polesworth, Warwickshire? Of course! Kidderminster has loads of heritage!
The current edition of The Big Issue (No 1064) contains a significant article by the new President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sir Andrew Motion.
So what IS wrong with nimbyism? The Government and some developers often imply such people are misguided, selfish – unpatriotic even. Sir Andrew begs to differ. It’s about time someone did. As the Big Issue says: “What if they are the new radicals, those who are concerned enough to sit up and fight for what they believe in?” For the article Adam Forrest talks to the former poet laureate about his involvement in a campaign against new builds, and then goes into “a journey to the heart of nimbyism”.
Not demonising nimbies is perhaps of particularly importance when it comes to heritage matters. If a major development is proposed near to an ancient site, damaging it’s setting, who can be most relied upon to fight tooth and nail against it? Not always EH, sadly, now the Government has diminished it and effectively changed it’s role. Not always Councillors who may not see ancient sites as significant. Not always Planning Inspectors whose decisions are often shackled by government policy. Not those locals who are told they will benefit from a share in the profits. No, it will probably be nimbies – in the form of local history societies, amateur archaeologists and antiquarians!
Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at email@example.com).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
We hear a lot about how important it is for university academics to get out of their ivory towers and be involved in ‘public engagement’ and fortunately in our particular field of interest a fair number of professionals (although not all, sadly) recognise the importance of not staying aloof.
In fact, there are probably few sciences/arts in which professionals and amateurs can get more intertwined than in archaeology and especially prehistory. You only have to look at the number of “megalithic” websites and forums – The Modern Antiquarian, The Megalithic Portal, Stone Pages, etc., to see evidence of it. Some amateurs take what the professionals produce and construct truly crazy theories. Some use the professionals’ output as a starting point for high quality work of their own. Most people are somewhere between those two extremes but all of us have one thing in common: we all tend to “consume” the flow of theories and revelations coming from books, talks, digs and papers from professionals in our field of interest. In fact, it’s the bread and butter of our hobby and I’d venture to suggest that without that continuing professional input our public fascination with the subject would falter or even end – and with it would go a lot of highly beneficial amateur involvement with prehistory including countless visits to monuments, amateur research and inherent public stewardship.
Of course, there are good pros and bad ones, friendly ones and arrogant ones – as a brief look at some of the forthright comments on the forums will reveal. The good ones are undeniably excellent though, and if one example of really good public engagement in our field in terms of accessibility and publications had to be specified it would probably be the Longstones Project 1997-2003.
We’re now past the half-way point in Heritage Action member Sue Brooke’s story concerning Caerau Hillfort in Wales. New readers should start at Part 1 or put Caerau in our search box to see previous installments and get up to date.
So, off to Cardiff University I go – clutching the latest draft of my very precious research. I was meeting Oliver Davies in the café of one of the many buildings on the campus in the centre of Cardiff. Olly talked in depth about a project that the University were looking at starting in the area. He knew of the hillfort area and thought it may be good to link in with the work we had been doing at the school and at the church. It was a case of you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
This was a brilliant idea. The project was just what was needed to work with the young people in the area and to help with understanding exactly what we had tucked away here in Caerau. So, we met again to discuss this with the others involved and it was agreed to go ahead. The CAER (Caerau And Ely Rediscovering) Heritage Project was born. So, from the initial dining room table discussions this project was now becoming something properly formalised and, more importantly, funded. For more information on the project, see the project website.
We met regularly at Glyn Derw High School and various activities were now taking place with properly trained archaeologists and geophysicists all becoming involved. Artists worked with the young people from three local comprehensive schools up at the site and professionals worked with adults, increasing their skills. Something called Time banking was introduced which meant that locals who volunteered at events could collect Time Credits in exchange for their time. These Time Credits could actually be used as a kind of currency – being spent at various venues or used to pay for certain trips. The communities of Ely and Caerau were all involved and it was going really well.
I received telephone calls from the local press – I answered many questions, gave my opinion as ‘local historian’ and generally talked about the church area to anyone who may have been interested. I had even been photographed up at the site when special features had been run in our local paper on the area. One of the most unflattering photos of me, ever taken, was up at the church site one grey rainy morning. This actually caused much hilarity amongst friends and work colleagues, particularly as for some reason the media deemed it fit to mention my age. How rude!
Then at one meeting at the school there were quite a few new faces present. Not that unusual really as often people came along to meetings to discuss specific things. For example members from St. Fagans Museum of Welsh Life or someone from Glamorgan Records Office would often attend to update on a specific issue. However the words Time and Team were now being mentioned. Together and in one sentence. Apparently Time Team had been in touch with Cardiff University looking for a Welsh site to excavate. Someone thought the Caerau site may be suitable.
From previous discussion it’s probably been possible to pick up on the fact that this triangular shaped field over my garden fence was of real importance to me. It may have been full of poo and biting insects but for the last seven years or so it had been my field. No-one else had shown the slightest interest in it except me and Mr B and, occasionally a very reluctant Brooke the dog. I had enough research under my belt to know that this was where the early Caerau people had lived and possibly died. I had spent the last few years researching, photographing, walking and referencing an ever changing and ever expanding document to show my findings and explain how I had come to them. The place held its own secrets that I had yet only been able to guess at. It was a physical place that would be no more if it was dug up and carted off in boxes to some backroom in a museum.
I had absolutely no expectations that there would be any Staffordshire Hoard type discoveries to be made but I thought there may be some evidence of how the people lived up there and, even perhaps why they chose to live there. If it was defensive who were they defending themselves from? Did the Romans live there? Why was the church built at the top of such a steep and inaccessible area?
If word got out about this place would it be dug up at the dead of night and carried off in wheelbarrows, appearing on eBay sometime soon? Would the whole place end up as an area of square box houses with commanding views across Cardiff? What happened if they found human remains?
Of course, being Mrs Angry from Caerau means that at such awkward moments, everyone turns and looks at you. Especially Mr B, who had mentioned this before, only to receive a resounding NO in reply to his question, I think he did actually hold his breath.
Shall we just say that, at this point, I probably mentioned I had serious misgivings.
Follow the story in the next installment, coming soon…