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by Nigel Swift
They’re making a second series of Britain’s Secret Treasures? “Are you all completely insane over there?” asks my archaeologist friend in France. Here are 5 questions on the matter. No-one will answer of course but the silence will tell all and I’ll tell Philippe.
1.) Has anyone heard archaeologists disputing last Summer’s statement by Diana Friendship-Taylor, chair of Rescue: “We are, frankly, astonished, that the British Museum is prepared to lend its considerable weight to the furtherance of a method of historical inquiry which belongs in the distant past, and which has as much relevance to the practice of modern archaeology as the use of the cranial trepanation has to modern medicine.” No? So where did the push for a second series come from?
2.) Has anyone made an effort to find what effect the first programmes had on sales of detectors? Apart from us, that is. We visited Britain’s largest metal detector retailer and asked them. They said sales have rocketed since the programmes, especially of starter machines. So another question arises: if PAS was set up to mitigate the damage that metal detecting does, how can that purpose be served by increasing the number of people metal detecting?
3.) Cui bono? Who are the two big gainers out of these progammes? Metal detecting manufacturers and PAS, very clearly. Is that a good reason for making them?
4.) Have you seen CBA’s statement (retweeted by English Heritage) about the first programmes? “Archaeology is about knowledge, not treasure…..The best way to extract evidence from the ground is via controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation….. it is best to join up with a local archaeology group if you have a passion for history and heritage…… if you are thinking of rushing out to buy a metal detector to seek out your very own ‘treasure’ you should think again” …. and so much else, all expressing views that are far from supportive of the activities the programmes are inescapably encouraging. So it seems the programmes have had unintended consequences – they have widened the fault line within British archaeological opinion to a degree where it can no longer be concealed. Good. That at least is a plus.
5.) So will EH or CBA say they welcome this new series? I’m betting not. If they believe their own joint survey they’ll reflect that in the ten days the programmes are jubilating over 50 objects we’ll lose another 10,000 bundles of archaeological knowledge. It’s a juxtaposition that just can’t be represented as tolerable. CBA say it all: “Archaeology is about knowledge, not treasure.” What other message should Archaeology be sending?
On the other hand, will they be tempted to lend their names to the programmes in exchange for being allowed to deliver a few home truths to camera – which will then be left on the cutting room floor? We’ll see.