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It’s not hard to see why things like public talks in which people recount their metal detecting experiences strike discordant notes when billed as part of the Festival of British Archaeology. Or why the Finds Days run by PAS stick out in the event listings like an embarrassing sore thumb. It’s simple – activity that doesn’t conform to archaeological ethics or aims isn’t Archaeology and no words can make it otherwise.

But what about dowsers being part of the Festival? Whatters? Dowsers! People who believe they can sense the presence of buried archaeological features. Surprisingly, they’ll be making a number of appearances. Of course, they’re not the acquisitive lot, they have nothing but good motives towards archaeology. Trouble is though (and this is the only criticism of them) they haven’t persuaded most people they can really do it.

So here’s the problem: at a time when it’s vital to convince the public of the importance of Archaeology and the need for it to be adequately funded, they are being sent a message about how it embraces both dodgy ethics and a minority view of the nature of reality! Archaeology ought to be a broad church alright, but not as broad as that surely if it wants funding? Not when politicians up and down the country are struggling to justify paying for it (see Rescue’s map of the cuts for confirmation). Shouldn’t the only message being broadcast by archaeologists be that Archaeology, whether professional or amateur, is an activity that is conducted in a professional manner? Why would the hard-pressed public put its hand in its pocket to support it otherwise? Would you?


June 2012

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